Basho's thoughts on...
• Introduction to this site
• The Human Story: Basho
• Praise for Women
• Love and Sex in Basho
• Children and Teens
• Humanity and Friendship
• On Translating Basho
• Basho Himself
• Renku, Haiku, and Tanka
• The Physical Body
• Food, Drink, and Fire
• Animals in Basho
• Space and Time for Basho
• Basho Letters Year by Year
• Bilingual Basho 日本語も
• 芭蕉について日本語の論文
• 370 Basho Renku, 芭蕉連句
• Women in Basho
• BAMHAY -- Basho Amazes Me! How About You?
• New Articles


Matsuo Basho 1644~1694

The only substantial
collection in English
of Basho's renku, tanka,
letters and spoken word
along with his haiku, travel
journals, and essays.

The only poet in old-time
literature who paid attention
with praise to women,
children, and teenagers

Hundreds upon hundreds of
Basho works (mostly renku)
about women, children,
teenagers, friendship,
compassion, love.

These are resources we can
use to better understand
ourselves and humanity.

Interesting and heartfelt
(not scholarly and boring)
for anyone concerned with
humanity.


“An astonishing range of
social subject matter and
compassionate intuition”


"The primordial
power of the feminine
emanating from
Basho's poetry"


Hopeful, life-affirming
messages from one of
the greatest minds ever.

Through his letters,
we travel through his mind
and discover his
"gentleness and humanity."

I plead for your help in
finding a person or group
to take over my 3000 pages
of Basho material, to edit
and improve the material,
to receive 100% of royalties,
to spread Basho’s wisdom
worldwide and preserve
for future generations.

Quotations from Prose


Days and months are guests
passing through eternity.
The years that go by
also are travelers.



The mountains in silence
nurture the spirit;
the water with movement
calms the emotions.


All the more joyful,
all the more caring


Seek not the traces
of the ancients;
seek rather the
places they sought.



Basho Spoken Word


Only this, apply your heart
to what children do


"The attachment to Oldness
is the very worst disease
a poet can have."


“The skillful have a disease;
let a three-foot child
get the poem"


"Be sick and tired
of yesterday’s self."


"This is the path of a fresh
lively taste with aliveness
in both heart and words."
.

"In poetry is a realm
which cannot be taught.
You must pass
through it yourself.
Some poets have made
no effort to pass through,
merely counting things and
trying to remember them.
There was no passing
through the things."


"In verses of other poets,
there is too much making
and the heart’s
immediacy is lost.
What is made from
the heart is good;
the product of words
shall not be preferred."


"We can live without poetry,
yet without harmonizing
with the world’s feeling
and passing not through
human feeling, a person
cannot be fulfilled. Also,
without good friends,
this would be difficult."


"Poetry benefits
from the realization
of ordinary words."


"Many of my followers
write haiku equal to mine,
however in renku is the
bone marrow of this old man."


"Your following stanza
should suit the previous one
as an expression of the
same heart's connection."


"Link verses the way
children play."


"Make renku
ride the Energy.
Get the timing wrong,
you ruin the rhythm."


"The physical form
first of all must be graceful
then a musical quality
makes a superior verse."

"As the years passed
by to half a century.
asleep I hovered
among morning clouds
and evening dusk,
awake I was astonished
at the voices of mountain
streams and wild birds."


“These flies sure enjoy
having an unexpected
sick person.”



Haiku of Humanity


Drunk on sake
woman wearing haori
puts in a sword


Night in spring
one hidden in mystery
temple corner


Wrapping rice cake
with one hands she tucks
hair behind ear


On Life's journey
plowing a small field
going and returning


Child of poverty
hulling rice, pauses to
look at the moon


Tone so clear
the Big Dipper resounds
her mallet


Huddling
under the futon, cold
horrible night


Jar cracks
with the ice at night
awakening



Basho Renku
Masterpieces

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet
Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven


After the years
of grieving. . . finally
past eighteen
Day and night dreams of
Father in that battle


Now to this brothel
my body has been sold
Can I trust you
with a letter I wrote,
mirror polisher?


Only my face
by rice-seedling mud
is not soiled
Breastfeeding on my lap
what dreams do you see?



Single renku stanzas


Giving birth to
love in the world, she
adorns herself



Autumn wind
saying not a word
child in tears


Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus


Easing in
her slender forearm
for his pillow


Two death poems:


On a journey taken ill
dreams on withered fields
wander about

Clear cascade -
into the ripples fall
green pine needles




basho4humanity
@gmail.com




Plea for Affiliation

 

Plea For Affiliation

 

I pray for your help

in finding someone
individual, university,

or foundation - 
to take over my

3000 pages of material,   
to cooperate with me 

to edit the material,
to receive all royalties 

from sales, to spread

Basho’s wisdom worldwide,
and preserve for

future generations.


basho4humanity

@gmail.com

 



Home  >  Topics  >  On Translating Basho  >  D-17


Syllables, Words, and Beats

My Way of Translating Basho

Legend:
Words of Basho in bold
Words of other poets not bold

I aim to reproduce Basho's words in clear natural English with  a consistant rhythm of four beats to a measure (including silent pauses) and lots of empty space for your imagination to work. 

 

Japanese for a thousand years before Basho wrote poetry in alternating stanzas of 17 and 14 “syllables,” the former in three segments of 5 – 7 – 5, the latter in two segments of 7 – 7. I put “syllables” in quotes because in Japanese these are merely single sounds; usually two of them form what English calls a “syllable” – as in the very well-known Japanese word raman which is two syllables with four sounds: ‘ra-a’ and ‘me-n. The Japanese sound unit would better be called a “half-syllable.”

 

 Words 

 

The average basic Japanese word has two sound-units, so 17 Japanese syllables is room for just about seven words plus a few particles for grammar. The upper segment has two words, the middle three, and the lower two words 


Kao bakari                        Only my face
sanae no doro ni              by rice-seedling mud
yogorasazu                       is not soiled

 

With just seven words (plus a few particles ) Basho cannot explain anything. The art of Basho lies in NOT SAYING what is meant. As one Japanese poet told me “A verse must not be overly understandable.”

Basho’s seven words suggest so much because they say so little. We feel the discomfort of this rice-planting woman from having mud all over her body and clothing, along with her satisfaction that her face remains clean. We come to his meaning through actual experience of femininity, work, dirt, and cleanliness.   In a way, Basho verses are like riddles. Use the clues in his words to find the hidden meaning. The translator should not give away the answer.

 

In his 1681 letter to his follower Biji Basho presents five points foroetic expression, which for Basho meant avoiding oldness and heaviness. Here are two of them:


Without a sense for using ordinary words,
you will get mixed up in an old style.

 

Years later he said something similar to his follower Doho:

 

Poetry benefits from the realization of ordinary words

 

Haikai wa eki no zokugo o tadasu nari       諧は益の俗語を正すなり


A stanza may have extra sounds, 3, 4, even 5 or 7;
if the phrase resonates, it is okay –
however if even one sound stagnates in your mouth,
 you must scrutinize the expression.

Basho advises to speak the verse out loud to insure that the phrase does not “stagnate” in the mouth -- like water in a stream stuck behind a wad of fallen leaves, old and heavy -- but rather emerges to resonate in the minds of readers.


I came to appreciate the power of active lively words from an example in a small paperback, The Golden Book of Writing, I once had: Consider the phrase “when Elizabeth was queen:” The inactive verb “was” has no power to give the phrase which falls flat. Now, change that to “when Elizabeth reigned” and feel the glory and dignity comes from the active verb “reigns.”

 

The words in Yesterday are short, simple Old English words. William Strunk, Jr. in The Elements of Style points to the “vigor” in the short, simple words of Ecclesiastics;


I returned and saw under the sun
that the race is not to the swift
nor the battle to the strong…
but time and chance happen to them all

 

Strunk says,

 

“ To arouse and hold the reader’s attention” words must be “specific, definite and concrete … the greatest writers – Homer, Dante, Shakespeare – are effective largely because… their words call up pictures.”


People use fancy academic words to show off their higher education but actually the grade school words carry the power. Strunk illustrates:


He showed satisfaction                           He grinned as

as he took possession                            he pocketed the coin

of his well-earned reward

 

Ordinarily “pocket” is a noun, but by converting it into an active verb, Strunk realizes the power of the word.

 

Consider a tanka in Ki no Tsurayuki’s semi-fictional Tosa Diary: A government official and his family are returning to their home in the Capital after a five year absence in which his little daughter died. Compare the lyrical and academic translation on the left versus my ordinary words on the right:


What sadness to see                         She was born
how young pines have sprung up    but shall not return
inside the garden                              to our home
Of one who is bereft                         where the young pines
even of a child once born                 we watch in sadness

 

Helen Craig McCullough has gone to great trouble to make her translation “poetic” and so has lost the simple unadorned beauty of the original. Her refusal to use pronouns (because the Japanese has no pronouns) makes the English grammar especially difficult (“even of a child once born”). She challenges us to figure out “bereft,” the past-participle of ‘bereave,’ although the original simply says miru ga kanashisa, “watching is

sadness.” There are too many words for us to find a beat or to feel the grief of losing a child.

 

My translation has exactly the same ordinary words as the original in essentially the same order; the only words I have added are the personal pronouns which allow the English to flow smoothly and ‘shall’ for the

future tense.Many translators avoid personal pronouns because the Japanese has none. In Japanese this is natural; in English stilted, depriving the words of their native power. The pauses which occur naturally after “born” and “home” are crucial; here is where the feeling emerges. The words and pauses naturally take on a 4 – 4 – 4 – 4 – 4 pattern of beats, as does the original.


I have tried to follow Basho’s originals of Basho. Scholars or literary types may find my translations too simple, not ‘poetic’ or ‘educated’enough, but I believe Basho gives us a different, more simple beauty than

that in Western poetry. He joins the Elements of Style in advocating simple ordinary words “to call up pictures.” 


 Cherries in bloom

again she climbs the hill
to his grave


The active verb “climbs” in the center of the verse gives it life and activity.

 

 

         Syllables

In the 20th century it was widely assumed that a haiku translation must have 17 syllables because the Japanese has 17 sound-units. The 21st century brought the realization that 17 syllables are much longer in actual sound duration than 17 sound-units, and recent translators have abandoned the 5-7-5 syllable pattern, but thereby abandoned all fixed form, so syllable counts of recent haiku vary as freely as the wind.

I, on the other hand, insist on a steady even rhythm of beats in every line of every translation although the syllable count does vary somewhat; the syllables expand or contract to fit into a consistant four-beat rhythm

(including silent pauses).     

 

If we reproduce Japanese directly into English, adding nothing and removing nothing, however smoothing out the grammar, the segments of five Japanese sounds usually come out to three syllables in English,    while the Japanese sevens become four or five English syllables. Many haiku translations in this book have exactly a 3 – 5 – 3 syllable pattern; others have a few more or less syllables.  Unaccented syllables have no beats, so for rhythm we count only the accented syllables. The syllables expand or contract to fit into this rhythm of beats.    

  Beats

I maintain that Japanese poetry, and in particular Basho poetry, is a form of music.  Basho said,


The physical form must be graceful
then the musical quality makes a superior verse

 

The 20th century novelist and haiku poet Akutagawa Ryunosuke (author of

Rashomon) said about a Basho verse 

 

“During that long span of three hundred years Basho alone
was capable of creating such solemn verbal music.”

 

My research assistant Shoko, from her long years of practice on the piano, showed me that this is how 

Japanese musician score haiku:  two sound units pair off into a single beat, and the odd sound stretches to a full beat, so five sound units becomes three beats, and seven sound units becomes four beats -however there is a one-beat pause following the three-beats, so every measure have four beats.  I aim to give each one of my translations the same four-beat as it has in Japanese. 

 

The beats in Japanese line up perfectly with the beats in English:

Kao baka -ri   ( )   // sanae no doro ni     // yogo-rasa- zu     ( )

I       I      I     I    //     I     I    I      I    //      I      I     I        I

Only my face ( )  // by rice-seeding mud //   is    not   soiled ( )


3 beats and pause, 4 beats without pause, 3 beats and pause. 


In Japanese as in English, the same four beats to a measure, the rhythm of most of the world’s music, with pauses to “regulate the rhythm” so every line an even steady four beats. Japanese score a haiku with all

notes on the same pitch, so the haiku is a sort of chant or mantra. The four beats per measure strike with perfect regularity to calm and steady the mind.

 

Lake ripples
and the wind’s fragrance
one rhythm

 

To sense the rhythm of four-beats to a measure, consider the score for two measures known everywhere in the world:

 

(I-I)  (say)   (pause)

(some) (thing) (wrong) (now I)

 

The first “I” stretches out to two beats, “I-ye,” a half- note, Said” is one beat followed by a one-beat pause

“Some,” “thing,” and “wrong” each take one beat while “now” and “I” combine to form the final beat of this measure Listen to or sing the words to yourself; notice how the first ‘I’ stretches to two beats, while the second “I” is just a half-beat. The first measure is just two syllables, the second is five – but both have four beats. Syllables contract or expand to fill the four beat rhythm.


Although the pauses are silent, they are definitely present. (Laura-Mae’s grade school piano teacher slapped her hand when she ignored them.) Shoko, from her years of experience on the piano, says that

the pauses “regulate the rhythm” (choshi o totonoeru). And so it is: between “I said” and “something wrong,” Paul McCartney gave us a pause to regulate the rhythm. The pause fills out the measure so it comes to an even four beats

 

 

Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus

 

 

A “solemn verbal music” is what I feel coming from the four-beat rhythm in Basho’s originals, and the four-beat rhythm in each and every line of poetry in this trilogy is my attempt to recreate that graceful

musical quality in English.

 

              basho4now@gmail.com






<< Hospitality (D-16) (D-18) Difficulties and Solutions in Translating Basho >>


The Three Thirds of Basho

 

 

I plead for your help in finding a person or group to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material, to edit and improve the presentation, to receive all royalties from sales, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide and preserve for future generations.

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com
Basho's thoughts on...
• Introduction to this site
• The Human Story: Basho
• Praise for Women
• Love and Sex in Basho
• Children and Teens
• Humanity and Friendship
• On Translating Basho
• Basho Himself
• Renku, Haiku, and Tanka
• The Physical Body
• Food, Drink, and Fire
• Animals in Basho
• Space and Time for Basho
• Basho Letters Year by Year
• Bilingual Basho 日本語も
• 芭蕉について日本語の論文
• 370 Basho Renku, 芭蕉連句
• Women in Basho
• BAMHAY -- Basho Amazes Me! How About You?
• New Articles


Matsuo Basho 1644~1694

The only substantial
collection in English
of Basho's renku, tanka,
letters and spoken word
along with his haiku, travel
journals, and essays.

The only poet in old-time
literature who paid attention
with praise to women,
children, and teenagers

Hundreds upon hundreds of
Basho works (mostly renku)
about women, children,
teenagers, friendship,
compassion, love.

These are resources we can
use to better understand
ourselves and humanity.

Interesting and heartfelt
(not scholarly and boring)
for anyone concerned with
humanity.


“An astonishing range of
social subject matter and
compassionate intuition”


"The primordial
power of the feminine
emanating from
Basho's poetry"


Hopeful, life-affirming
messages from one of
the greatest minds ever.

Through his letters,
we travel through his mind
and discover his
"gentleness and humanity."

I plead for your help in
finding a person or group
to take over my 3000 pages
of Basho material, to edit
and improve the material,
to receive 100% of royalties,
to spread Basho’s wisdom
worldwide and preserve
for future generations.

Quotations from Prose


Days and months are guests
passing through eternity.
The years that go by
also are travelers.



The mountains in silence
nurture the spirit;
the water with movement
calms the emotions.


All the more joyful,
all the more caring


Seek not the traces
of the ancients;
seek rather the
places they sought.



Basho Spoken Word


Only this, apply your heart
to what children do


"The attachment to Oldness
is the very worst disease
a poet can have."


“The skillful have a disease;
let a three-foot child
get the poem"


"Be sick and tired
of yesterday’s self."


"This is the path of a fresh
lively taste with aliveness
in both heart and words."
.

"In poetry is a realm
which cannot be taught.
You must pass
through it yourself.
Some poets have made
no effort to pass through,
merely counting things and
trying to remember them.
There was no passing
through the things."


"In verses of other poets,
there is too much making
and the heart’s
immediacy is lost.
What is made from
the heart is good;
the product of words
shall not be preferred."


"We can live without poetry,
yet without harmonizing
with the world’s feeling
and passing not through
human feeling, a person
cannot be fulfilled. Also,
without good friends,
this would be difficult."


"Poetry benefits
from the realization
of ordinary words."


"Many of my followers
write haiku equal to mine,
however in renku is the
bone marrow of this old man."


"Your following stanza
should suit the previous one
as an expression of the
same heart's connection."


"Link verses the way
children play."


"Make renku
ride the Energy.
Get the timing wrong,
you ruin the rhythm."


"The physical form
first of all must be graceful
then a musical quality
makes a superior verse."

"As the years passed
by to half a century.
asleep I hovered
among morning clouds
and evening dusk,
awake I was astonished
at the voices of mountain
streams and wild birds."


“These flies sure enjoy
having an unexpected
sick person.”



Haiku of Humanity


Drunk on sake
woman wearing haori
puts in a sword


Night in spring
one hidden in mystery
temple corner


Wrapping rice cake
with one hands she tucks
hair behind ear


On Life's journey
plowing a small field
going and returning


Child of poverty
hulling rice, pauses to
look at the moon


Tone so clear
the Big Dipper resounds
her mallet


Huddling
under the futon, cold
horrible night


Jar cracks
with the ice at night
awakening



Basho Renku
Masterpieces

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet
Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven


After the years
of grieving. . . finally
past eighteen
Day and night dreams of
Father in that battle


Now to this brothel
my body has been sold
Can I trust you
with a letter I wrote,
mirror polisher?


Only my face
by rice-seedling mud
is not soiled
Breastfeeding on my lap
what dreams do you see?



Single renku stanzas


Giving birth to
love in the world, she
adorns herself



Autumn wind
saying not a word
child in tears


Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus


Easing in
her slender forearm
for his pillow


Two death poems:


On a journey taken ill
dreams on withered fields
wander about

Clear cascade -
into the ripples fall
green pine needles




basho4humanity
@gmail.com




Plea for Affiliation

 

Plea For Affiliation

 

I pray for your help

in finding someone
individual, university,

or foundation - 
to take over my

3000 pages of material,   
to cooperate with me 

to edit the material,
to receive all royalties 

from sales, to spread

Basho’s wisdom worldwide,
and preserve for

future generations.


basho4humanity

@gmail.com