Poetry Friday: Bashō x 3

h1 September 12th, 2008 by eisha

And now, your moment of zen.Wanna see something cool?

Remember a couple of weeks ago I featured the poem by Sappho, and linked to a page that showed a bunch of different translations of it? It got me kind of interested in the whole process of translating poetry into English, and what vastly different interpretations can result from different translators. Well, I found a web page that shows several of Bashō’s haiku, as translated by three people: R.H. Blyth, Lucien Stryck, and Peter Beilenson. Here’s an example:


From time to time
The clouds give rest
To the moon beholders.


Clouds –
a chance to dodge


Glorious the moon
therefore our thanks, dark clouds
come to rest our necks.

Wild, isn’t it? I think my favorite is the first one — it’s simple and elegant, which is what I generally appreciate about good haiku. But the Stryck version has a sardonic appeal, too. Beilenson’s is a little florid compared to the other two.

For even more adventures in comparing translations, here’s 30 different versions of Bashō’s frog haiku.

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Need more poetry? Of course you do. Go see what the other Poetry Friday posters are up to at Jennie’s Biblio File.

12 comments to “Poetry Friday: Bashō x 3”

  1. Earlier this past week I saw a piece on what happens to English after five translations — there’s a neat little program that shows you — which makes me wonder how much of what of Bashō wrote is understood.

    I like the first one, too.

  2. I’m with you — the first one is far and away my favorite. What an awesome thing to examine.

  3. As an interpreter myself (should I say “former” interpreter at this point? I haven’t done my hand-flappin’ since my four-year-old was born!), these issues of translation always always always fascinate me. Thanks for this…I hope to find time later to go explore the frog haiku.

  4. Somewhere in an old cardboard box at home, I’ve got a floppy disk which contains an MS-DOS program called Babble. It was pretty wild… …[googling]… Gotta love the Web. Here‘s a review which covers it (and OMG, a link to DOWNLOAD it!). Like it says: feed it text, select one or more “filters,” and it converts the text to that particular lingo, or combination of lingos. Quite hilarious, especially if you’re in a giddy mood to begin with. (Hmm. I may have to blog about this myself now…)

    I go with the consensus on the haiku: the first. The “moonviewing” in the second is sort of artificial — faux-cummings, y’know?

  5. My daughter has high-powered, but heavy, binoculars which we use to “moonview.” I have to say, the biggest problem is the “come to rest our necks.”

    However, the last two translations do seem to editorialize the poet, instead of simply presenting Basho’s imagery. With haiku, I think the more straightforward, the better.

  6. I’m with you in preferring the Bly. The others went from obervation to insinuation, somehow, thereby imposing a point of view. Then again, I can’t read the original, so maybe a point of view is supposed to be there. But I like being able to appreciate something with nuance.

    I’ve been translating some Neruda and Rilke recently, and finding that I sometimes differ dramatically from the translation inside the text I’m using. So much is lost when you seek to impose additional meaning on simple words, or when you can’t think of the right idiom to explain what the original really was getting at.

  7. TadMack! That web site is awesome! I just put in “Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?” and got “Why the birds appear without the receipt requested determine them that all the times are following?” I will be playing with this for days.

    Thanks, Liz.

    Jules, I always think of my sign-language-interpreter-major days when I read anything translated. It taught me a lot about how hard it is to capture what someone is really trying to say, in some approximation of their “voice.” Which is why I quit and became a lit major.

    JES, I’m very intrigued by this program, especially given that it can translate your text into Elmer Fudd-speech. Kind of like how Google will let you choose interface languages like Elmer Fudd, Bork Bork Bork (Swedish Chef), Klingon and Pig Latin.

    Right on, Sara. I want some of those binoculars.

    Kelly, it depresses me no end that I can’t read either Neruda or Rilke in the original. I love them in translation, but now I wonder if I really love Neruda and Rilke after all. I’d love to see some of your translations.

  8. Eisha, pretty funny — when I went to the Google page you linked to, I completely missed the drop-down list of languages which Google itself can “speak” and looked below it, to the section labeled “Prefer pages written in these language(s)”. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to retrieve only pages written in Fudd, Bork Bork, or Klingon, couldn’t imagine there even WERE pages written in those languages.

    And then I got annoyed when I realized those languages weren’t among those choices anyway — felt like Google was unfairly cramping my search style. 🙂

  9. JES: dude, for serious! Google needs to understand the discrimination and alienation we Bork Bork Bork speakers already go through, and at least grant us the ability to find web pages written in our native tongue.

  10. Theses are great. I love the simplicity of haiku. This post makes me want to race out to the library for more. First is my favorite.

  11. Dude! You totally picked my all time favorite haiku!! I like the translation by Harold G. Henderson (An introduction to haiku. (1958). New York: Doubleday Anchor Books)

    Clouds come from time to time –
    and bring to men a chance to rest
    from looking at the moon.

    I tend to change it to “Bringing us a chance to rest..” just because it’s more inclusive.

    You KNOW that’s where I got my name.

  12. Ooh, cloudscome, I totally didn’t recognize it, but I should have. Henderson’s translation is nice, indeed.

    And thanks, jone!

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