Oriori no Uta : Poems for All Seasons

If I lived with the fishes
in the deep blue ocean, sea
flowers swaying beneath
the waves, would this
pain, this anguish be eased?

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke

From Akutagawa’s collected letters. Akutagawa wrote this tanka, one of his earliest works, on a picture postcard he sent to his close friend Nishimura Teikichi while vacationing at Chōshi, Chiba Prefecture. It was the spring of 1909 and he was 17. It is easy to dismiss this poem as an expression of youthful sentimentality, but modaezaramu ka (“would this/ pain, this anguish be eased?")has a concentrated power, as though his melancholy had forcibly squeezed it out. Akutagawa continued to send tanka to Tsunetō Kyō and other close friends until 1916.

青海原(Ao-unabara)(mo)(no)(hana)ゆらぐ(yuragu)(nami)(no)(soko)(ni)(uo)(to)(shi)住まば(sumaba)悶えざらむ(modaezaramu)(ka)

芥川龍之介(あくたがわ りゅうのすけ)

書簡集より。明治四十二年、府立三中最後の年の春、千葉県銚子に遊んだ時、親友西村貞吉に送った絵葉書にしるした歌。芥川の短歌では最も初期に属する作である。海底で魚と一緒に住んだなら、悶えることもなくてすむだろうか、と。少年の感傷と言ってしまえばそれまでだが、「悶えざらむか」には、憂鬱のしぼり出すような力がある。芥川は大正五年ごろまで一高以来の親友恒藤恭ら何人もの友人にしばしば短歌を書き送っている。