Cardboard Boxes

We’re making the shareholders of Container Store a tad happier this quarter: It’s cardboard box time again. I don’t mind buying and folding and taping all these boxes. No, it’s selecting which items to put in those boxes that makes me feel as if time itself were something else to pack.

But this painful triage of property evokes a pleasant memory: Years ago, sitting with Mary on Oak Street Beach early one summer morning reading aloud from Basho’s Back Roads to Far Towns (aka The Narrow Road to Oku, or Narrow Roads to the Deep North). I’ve never forgotten Basho’s rueful comment on the burden of gifts. Here are four different translations. Plus a song lyric. Plus a scribble.

We barely managed to reach Soka Post Station that night. My greatest trial was the pack I bore on my thin, bony shoulders. I had planned to set out with no baggage at all, but had ended up taking along a paper coat for cold nights, a cotton bath garment, rain gear, and ink and brushes, as well as certain farewell presents, impossible to discard, which simply had to be accepted as burdens on the way. (Translated by Helen Craig McCullough)

The pack of things on my bony, thin shoulders was giving me pain. Setting out with nothing but what I could bear myself, I carried a stout paper raincoat to keep out the chill at night, a cotton kimono, raingear, something in the way of ink and brush – and various things given me as farewell presents and therefore difficult to dispose of. It was the traveler’s dilemma, knowing them a hindrance and unable to throw them away. (Translated by Earl Miner)

What I find most trying is carrying my belongings on my thin, bony shoulders. I set out thinking to travel light, in only what I was clad, but I needed a durable paper coat to keep out the cold at night, a cotton kimono, rainwear, and such things as ink and brushes. Then there were various farewell gifts I could not refuse and cannot very well throw away, so these are burdens I shall have to bear. (Translated by Dorothy Britton)

Thin shoulders feeling packs drag. Body enough, but burdened with a set of kamiko (extra protection at night), yukata, raincoat, ink-stick, brushes as well as unavoidable hanamuke, etc., somehow hard to let go of, part of the trouble in travelling inevitably. (Translated by Cid Corman — this is the one I read on Oak Street Beach. People in the know say it’s a lousy translation, but I’m not in the know, so I like it the best.)

Loudon Wainwright III — Cardboard Boxes

I’m gonna go to the supermarket,
I’m gonna go to the liquor store,
I’m gonna get me some cardboard boxes,
You know what them boxes are for,

We’re gonna move,
We’re gonna move

Give it to the Salvation Army or the Goodwill,
We got so much junk it’s a joke
Wrap a knickknack in some old newspaper
I know it was a present, but the damn thing broke

...somehow hard to let go of, part of the trouble in travelling inevitably.

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