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My Thought on Haiku


open blinds

red camellia bows

morning sun


I usually write here first and go to FB to show my link, but this time, I wrote on my FB wall and Haiku Tid-Bids and copy it here because I enjoy exchanges of ideas and comparative anything. 

I'm not a haiku poet, but my father was.  Here is my thought on the difference between English and Japanese haiku.  Masters emphasize that capturing the moment is the utmost importance. But Japanese don't think like westerners.  So, the level of importance is different, I think.  It is not just how much we think the moment important, but how we think and live becomes important. But "How" is not easy to explain, so the below is an example which I’ve mentioned in my past blog a few times, and Rebb made a comment on it and helped me polish my translation of the Japanese professor’s poem. 

Once, a Japanese professor on poetry dance was telling me that his British professor friend kept trying to get him agree that he would think like Hamlet such as who am I  and so on. The Japanese professor said he replied, "No, are you kidding? No, we don't think like that." He was laughing hard when he said this. I admire the Japanese professor. He is so honest, and what he said is true although there are exceptions.

After I wrote above two paragraphs on FB, I searched for Basho’s famous old pond and frog poem.  The site shows 30 translations.  Wow.  My translation in my heart does not match exactly with any, but at the bottom, I found one that match closely.  I think it was written as this.


old pond

 frog jumps in

water’s sound


Above ku as an example, we can see Japanese word order and absence of articles and plural/singular as I’ve mentioned them in my past blogs.  My private heart translation is closer to below although I would not normally share this kind because of apparent criticism.  I’m not writing out of disrespect, but to reveal how my brain works.  Smart readers probably figure it out by now!


old pond

frog jump in

water sound   


But if I ask English speakers to correct it, they will turn it to something like this, of course.


The old pond.

A Frog jumps in.

The sound of the water.


This made me think.  As I was explaining to a haiku member about the above Basho’s poem, he was confused.  This is the simplest poem although it isn’t easy to achieve this simplicity.  But I wonder why anyone would get confused with this simple haiku.  Now, this is deep.

To me, by reading “old pond,” readers have freedom of creating an image in their head the kind of old ponds which can be not just one of many ponds or the pond you choose or you choose not to choose.  By the way in Japanese ku, you’ll see “ya” at the end of “old pond.”  “Ya” speaks to us in soft, loving sound, not an exclamation-mark-like.  So, “ya” helps set a tone for over all image. 

About “water’s sound,” if we analyze English phrase,” the sound of the water,” the sound comes before the water as we read or say.  I think English speakers do not think this anymore because it’s so ingrained into their brain, so this is natural to them.   To master this word order is hard for Japanese speakers.  But when we really think about it, the sound does not come before a frog hits the water.  You might think I’m crazy saying this, but please be patient.

I didn’t think about this until today.  This is very interesting.  I think we say and write as it comes.  Of course, we all do.  Well, do we really?  


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Heart's translation

I think writers (and probably more especially poets) want the 'real translation' to be the heart translation...otherwise poems and stories would come with  a large book of instructions.


What really impressed me was how simply Basho explained a complicated scene. Westeners (esepcially Americans) have the disdain for the simple. But what Basho was able to do was paint a complicated picture and  allow us to fill in the detail work.



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Joshua, For me, learning


For me, learning English has been mainly learning mechanics of it.  Art part remains in Japanese, I think.  Actually, the poem is more like this.




Smiles.  I was nineteen when I came to the U.S., and I think I've been unconciously and conciously kept up with my own language.  That's probably why I still have strong accents and makes grammar and other errors.  Also, this is great excuse depending on situation.  Anyway, this is just perfect for my writing adventure.  

This is coincidence.  I just received an email including the following site.  I read it, and it is excellent.  The author lives in Seattle!!   

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couldn't edit my comment

I think the author wrote about Basho's old pond haiku as probably stale to Japanese I guess because it's too popular for too many years, but that's not how I feel.  I'm sure most of haiku lovers feel the same.  Those fine ku live forever and never get stale.  I'm so glad you like the haiku.  I do, too.  Every time I recite it, the scene appears in my head, and whenever I come to a pond even in the local botanical garden in Claremont, I recite that ku.