Tag Archives: haiku

Translation: Matsuo Basho

To start, here is the original text of one of the most famous haiku ever written:

古池
蛙飛び込む
水の音

furuike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

— Matsuo Basho

(More background on and other poems by Matsuo Basho.)

Next, five of many ‘straightforward’ translations:

A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps…
Apart, unstirred by sound or motion…till
Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps.

Pond, there, still and old!
A frog has jumped from the shore.
The splash can be heard.

Ah! The ancient pond
As a frog takes the plunge
Sound of the water

The old pond, yes, and
A frog-jumping-in-the-
Water’s noise!

old pond……
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

old pond
frog leaping
splash

This poem also drew the more experimental efforts of bpNichol:

———

The Queerness of It All

frQg
pQnd
plQp

———

Basho Update
as read in a newspaper

Frog Pond turns into
a gold mine

———

(“His last variation, apparently never published…the circle is the pond, and the tail is the frog’s diving board.”)

———

Following in bpNichol’s footsteps, here are some other experimental translations of this haiku.

———

So what do you like best? The traditional or the experimental? The textual or the visual? What’s the most faithful translation? How much should ‘faithfulness’ matter when translating poetry?

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Billy Collins

Japan

Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It’s the one about the one-ton temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

— Billy Collins

From Picnic, Lightning (1998).

More background, and other poems: