emoment with carl

While Elizabethtown College’s motto of “Educate for Service” springs from deep roots in the Brethren tradition, we draw as well from cultures around the world. Some of the most inspiring words I pass on to our students come from the Japanese poet Miyazawa Kenji. The poem, “Ame Ni Mo Makezu,” has been translated as “Be Not Defeated by the Rain,” “Unperturbed by the Rain,” and “Someone Who is Unfazed by the Rain.” In Kenji’s region in Japan, the growing season is short. Too much rain made planting difficult and the harvest meager. Rain is a concrete obstacle and a symbol of life’s challenges. Of all the translations of his poem, the one I like best is entitled, “Strong in the Rain.” It begins like this:

Strong in the rain
Strong in the wind
Strong against the summer heat and snow
Nurturing his health
Free from desire
Never losing his temper
Nor the quiet smile on his lips

He does not consider himself
In whatever occurs
His understanding
Comes from observation and experience
And never losing sight of things.

Kenji’s own life has been an inspiration to millions because it’s so astonishing. He was a teacher in an agricultural college in a poverty-stricken region. Hardly any of his work was published in his lifetime. Ill for much of his life, he left notebooks of poetry at his tragically early death at age 37 in 1933. For decades, his writing, even when published, was ignored. But Kenji’s poem “Ame Ni Mo Makezu” inspires for more than its call for strength. Kenji did not strive to be strong only for himself. He devoted much of his life to helping the poverty-stricken farmers in Japan to improve their agricultural methods, form cooperative businesses, and continue their education. Kenji died young, his poetry unnoticed, but he was beloved and admired for service to his community. Why should one be strong? “Strong in the Rain” goes on, talking about the life of Kenji’s nameless hero:

If there is a child in the east
He goes there to nurse him
If there’s a tired mother in the west
He goes to her and carries her sheaves
If someone is near death in the south
He goes and says, “Do not be afraid”
If there are strife and lawsuits in the north
He demands that the people put an end to their pettiness
He weeps at the time of drought
He shares the burden during the cold summer

Without being praised
Without being blamed
Such a person
I want to become.

Written, yet forgotten for decades, Kenji’s poem is now the most celebrated poem of contemporary Japan. It has inspired millions of readers, including many of our E-town students. Strong in the rain. Facing life’s challenges, knowing how fearful they can be. In harmony with one’s self, and thus empowered to serve.

Thanks to dedicated faculty and generous support from an alumna, the College's Japanese Program is one of the most successful at any college our size and teaches Kenji in both Japanese and English translation.

Enjoy the moment,

Carl J. Strikwerda,

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