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The Song of Loneliness
A state is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”
Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
Finally these guardian deities of the lonely spirit brought the war.
You are not to blame. I, of course, am not to blame. Everything is the doing of loneliness.

Loneliness made them carry guns, even made them, with the bait of loneliness, shrug off their mothers and wives 
and leave toward where the flags flapped. 
Trinket makers, cleaners, clerks, students,
all turning into folk shaken with the wind.(1)

Every and each one, no distinction among them. All taught to die was best.(2) 

Petty, timid, good-natured people, their thoughts darkened in the name of the Emperor, went off like brats, delighted, hubbubbing.  

But on the home front, we’re nervous,
fearful of an arrow with white feathers, (3)  
forcing ourselves to push aside skepticism and anxiety,
we try to spend just this one day, we’re all doomed anyway, 
drunk on the sake given out. (4)
Egoism, and the shallowness of love.
Bearing it in silence, women wait for rations,
linking themselves like beggars.     
People’s expressions growing sadder day by day,
the fate of the folk of an all-out nation,  
I had not seen, since my birth, a loneliness so immediate, so profound.
But I no longer care. To me, such loneliness doesn’t mean anything now.

The loneliness that I, I now truly feel lonely about  
is that I can’t feel, around me, any desire, not even of a single person,
holding his ground in the opposite direction of this degradation, trying to find the very roots of loneliness as he walks with the world. That’s it. That’s the only thing.

                                                                                                                         On 5 May 1945, Boys’ Day (5)  

Translator's Note: This poem is taken from the collection Human Tragedy, which includes, according to Kaneko, many of the poems he wrote from the time of the China Incident in 1937, when Japan’s war against China took a serious turn, until ten days before Japan’s defeat in 1945. They were anti-war poems, but Kaneko managed to publish many of them with the “conspiratorial collaboration” of the famed editor of the monthly Chuhoh Kohron, Hatanaka Shigeo. ‘The Song of Loneliness’ is the last poem in the collection, and consists of four sections. The poem is based on Kaneko’s perception that every aspect of what makes the Japanese Japanese – the land, society, behaviour, customs, psychology, clothing – is a manifestation of sabishisa, ‘loneliness’. At one point in the poem, he asserts: “I was born / out of the deep fog of this land, which is covered with loneliness,” and, later, “In this country, / only loneliness is always fresh.” The final section of the poem is translated here. (1) A allusion to the Bible, Luke, 7:24: “What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?” In 1906, when he was eleven, Kaneko became a catechumen. He wrote a number of poems with biblical allusions. (2) In Japanese tradition, becoming a soldier was equated with readiness to die, if not to outright death. See Hiroaki Sato’s online article, “Gyokusai or ‘Shattering like a Jewel’: Reflection on the Pacific War” at (3) In Japanese folklore, a deity wanting a human sacrifice (usually a pretty, young woman) shoots an arrow with white feathers into the roof of the house where she lives. Here it represents a draft notice. (4) When a young man received a draft notice, his family would turn it into a celebratory occasion, throwing a party for friends and relatives, before sending their son off with the word “Banzai!” (5) A national holiday in Japan. Originally Chinese. Girls’ Day, also originally Chinese, occurs on March 3.