(The increasingly less) Daily senryu thread

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Previous senryu

  1. 猫に手を貸したいくらい今はひま
    bored enough now / that i would help out / even a cat


Good team effort on this one. This one also gets a gold star in the top post.

Thanks in particular to @pm215’s explanation for the expression 猫の手も借りたい. I’d not heard that one before.

I find the grammar in this one interesting. In particular, the は particle at the end seems particularly “Japanesey”.

If I were saying this in a conversation, I’d almost certainly have used の instead. I don’t think it would change the overall meaning, but the は imparts a slightly different nuance, I think.

Grammar discussion. WARNING: contains diagrams — but it's worth it!

The first two stanzas (12 (おん)) of this senryu consists entirely of what I’ve been calling “modifiers” (there is probably a better linguistic-grammarian word for this). They explain just how bored/idle the author is currently.

The most interesting bit to me is the final stanza: 「今はひま」.

As I mentioned, I’d have probably used の here instead of は. Using the latter seems extremely Japanese to me, so I want to explain my understanding. Let’s explore:

I initially interpreted this poem as being about boredom (I know what you’re thinking — bear with me).

I thought it was fair to assume that the final word was 名詞(めいし) (a noun). Specifically, the noun (ひま) (which can also be a だ-type 形容詞(けいようし), an adjective, but here it definitely seems to be a simple noun).

I think the only possible way to interpret this senryu is as a sentence fragment, much like the one about the (はな)ピアス in a train station a few months ago. It’s a poem about a noun, but it’s not a complete sentence because there is no predicate (no action).

Since a noun without a verb isn’t a complete thought (it’s not a sentence) I thought it also fair to assume the poem is about the mere existence of that noun. Exactly as with the other senryu about the 鼻ピアス, I thought the “core” sentence implied by this senryu was:

Because my weird western brain thought this was the implied “core” sentence (incorrectly as we’ll see), I wanted to interpret this as 今の暇, or “now’s boredom/idleness” (more colloquially, “my boredom right now”). This form uses the possessive の to act like a label-maker: using one noun as a “label” to modify another.

The word (いま) can either be a 名詞 or a 副詞(ふくし) (adverb).

Here’s how I’d diagram the sentence if it actually used の instead of は:

But the senryu actually uses the particle は, not の. The は in 「今はひま」 acts as a topic marker here (it’s not a “contrastive は”, it’s a real honest-to-goodness topic marker).

The topic of 「今はひま」 is now. Further, thanks to the magic zero pronoun, the subject of this sentence is NOW, not boredom!


That is, the final stanza uses an implied だ as a copula. It’s an “A is B” sentence, not an “A does B” sentence like 「今の暇 [が] [ある]」.

Thus, I believe the diagram for the entire senryu is as follows:

You would read this diagram as follows:

  1. The “core” is on the horizontal lines, you would read it aloud as 「今は暇 [だ]」.

  2. The zero particle (“it” in this case) is still the subject conceptually, but because the topic is explicit we don’t need to read it aloud, we can simply read いま instead。

  3. Adding the first level of modifiers, we’d read this as: 「今は貸したいくらい暇 [だ]」.

  4. Adding the final level of modifiers, we end up with the complete sentence: 「猫に手を貸したいくらい今はひま」.

I have to say that this feels like a sweet payoff after several weeks of struggle. I’ve been trying to figure out how to show how my brain parses Japanese sentences. This is a pretty nuanced discussion. It would have been almost impossibly difficult to explain without diagrams! (I’m no Cure Dolly nor Jay Rubin.)

Thoughts? Comments? Corrections?

[EDIT: Follow-on commentary here with a diagram for the full version using の: Please help me create Japanese _sentence_ diagrams for beginners - #187 by Rrwrex]

Current senryu challenge

Volume: Hearfelt (しみじみ編)

  1. たったあれだけなのに母は嬉しそう

No hints today. I’m too worn out from all grammatical diagramming!

Remember to please use the spoiler tag with your translation attempts! Also, please include the reading in kana with your submission.

Everyone is encouraged to participate, no matter your level! Questions and comments are as valued as translation submissions.

Please try not to be disappointed if your translation isn’t selected or if you disagree with the daily choice: the judge isn’t terribly consistent with his grading (and has awful taste!).
Online tools like dictionaries, sentence databases, and even AI translation engines are fair game and can be extremely helpful. Yomichan is particularly handy if you use the Chrome or Firefox browser. The 語源(ごげん)由来(ゆらい)辞典(じてん) is also an excellent resource for researching the etymology of various words and expressions.

Here are the links to the 356 Japanese originals (spoiler free) and to the the spreadsheet with all the upcoming senryu as well as the translations to date.