An old pond… the turning point … [Translations]


According to The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader (Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker, eds.), the turning point “both in poetry and Zen came” with Matsuo Bashō’s famous poem of a pond, a frog, and sound – cir. 1686.

Furuike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto
                            [Japanese version of the poem, Harold Wright, “The Art
                                                     of Translation,” Kyoto Journal, 1995]


Here are a dozen translations:

     The old pond—
a frog jumps in,
     sound of water.               [Robert Hass, 1994]

At the ancient pond
a frog plunges into
the sound of water               [Sam Hamill, 2000 | from The Sound of Water: Haiku by
                                          Bashō, Buson, Issa, and Other Poets
, Hamill, trans.]


For me Hamill’s translation is perfect. The connection is made between the frog and sound – as opposed to frog and water. The water or pond, according to Hamill’s translation, is the necessary point of meeting, but is secondary to frog’s plunge into [emphasis, mine] the sound. The same notion is found in the poetry of Yosa Buson, again translated by Hamill:

     In a bitter wind
     a solitary monk bends
     to words cut in stone

Buson is capturing the motion as the monk bends toward the words. Here, the stone is secondary. The monk, no doubt, is reading as he moves with, and not against, the wind. Both poems create a strange but wonderful dynamic – a juxtaposition that is both real and unreal – and ever moving. For Bashō, as filtered by Hamill, the sound is the reality; for Buson, the motion that occurs between the wind and the stone is the reality – words entering the mind.

Back to Bashō’s frog and pond…

Old pond—frogs jumped in—the sound of water.               [Lafcadio Hearn, 1898]

An old-time pond, from off whose shadowed depth
Is heard the splash where some lithe frog leaps in.               [Clara Walsh, 1910]

An old pond —
The sound
Of a diving frog.               [Kenneth Rexroth, 1964]

     The still old pond
and as a frog leaps in it
     the sound of a splash.               [Earl Miner, 1979]

The old pond—a frog jumps in, kerplunk!               [Allen Ginsberg, 1979]

Listen! a frog
     Jumping into the stillness
          Of an ancient pond!               [Dorothy Britton, 1980]

Old pond
leap — splash
a frog.               [Lucien Stryk, 1985]

Hear the lively song
of the frog in
Plash!               [Clare Nikt, ?]

                    plop     [James Kirkup, 1995 | This translation was included in Hiroaki
                                   Sato’s book, One Hundred Frogs.]

          an old pond
      a frog jumps into
     the sound of water               [Jane Reichhold, 2010 | Her translation is similar to
                                               Hamill’s in approach and is located in her essay “A
                                               Discussion about the ‘Old pond’ Haiku by Basho”.]




~ by samofthetenthousandthings on September 14, 2016.

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