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-18


Difficulties and Solutions in Translating Basho



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

 Five areas I focus on:

1) Interpersonal messages

2) Realization of ordinary words

3) Lively, active verbs

4) Opposition and coherence

5) Syllables, beats, and a musical quality

 

Background: Haruo Shirane says

Modern readers have tended to read Basho’s poem monologically, in isolation… as an expression of the speaker’s subjective state… or as a reflection of the external world as perceived by the speaker. This tendency overlooks the crucial fact that much of Basho’s prose and poetry… functioned dialogically, in a communal context… complimenting a host, expressing gratitude, bidding farewell…

 

In other words, modern readers have assumed a Basho poem was a monologue, Basho speaking to himself of his own experience, missing the “crucial fact” that Basho wrote the poem to express a message to another person or people. Based on this misinterpretation, they have concluded that Basho was “impersonal, detached” when in reality many of his poems are not only personal, but inter-personal.


      Interpersonal messages

 

Difficulty: To have the translation convey the same interpersonal meaning, as Basho had in composing the original. Unfortunately, for many Basho haiku, the background information is not available in English,

Solution: I translate the background information as well the poem itself. then use the personal pronouns and grammatical number appropriate to this information.

 

京に飽きて /この木枯らしや/冬住まい
Kyo ni akite /kono kogarashi ya / fuyu-zumai

 

Jane Reichhold in her Complete Basho Haiku translates this haiku as a monolog:

 

tired of Kyoto

this withering wind

and winter life

 

In her commentary Reichhold says the verse “ties together the three things Basho is tired of: Kyoto, the cold winds, winter life.” When I first read this, “I thought something is wrong; Basho would never write a verse of so much complaint.” Upon looking at the verse in Japanese and studying Kon’s commentary, I quickly recognized four things:

1) there is a cut word after “withering wind,” so only two things are “tired together” – the “winter life” is separate;

2) Basho has just left the Kyoto area traveling on foot back to Edo; here he is the countryside around Nagoya.

3) this is a greeting verse to the follower who gave him a place to stay the night, so the point is to  convey a positive message to his host;

4) -zumai means "winter home" and in this case, "your home in winter"

based on these points, I translate this haiku:

 

Tired of Kyoto
and the withering gusts –
your winter home

 

Basho is not saying he is tired of winter life; he is complimenting his host for having so fine a refuge away from the uptight sophistication of Kyoto and from the miserable winter wind. His complaints about Kyoto  and the withering gusts are only in opposition to his praise of his follower’s home as a refuge from winter. Basho writes the verse on a poetry card as a present to his host who will keep it as a memento of Basho’s visit. Many times through the years the host will look at Basho’s message, or merely think about it. We can imagine how Basho’s gift will enhance his appreciation for his home in the country.

 

The crucial difference between Reichhold’s translation and mine is that personal pronoun “your.” Some translators avoid personal pronouns because they are not in the original – however we need to remember that in this context, Basho clearly meant “your winter home” – the personal pronoun is implied, even though it is not stated in words. Basho, the poet of positive messages – if the message is translated with necessary pronouns so the English reader can get the positive meaning Basho intended.

 

For my second example, let us consider this haiku Basho wrote to begin a linked verse at his follower Bokusetsu’s tea hut in Otsu; with him and the host were Shiko and Izen. Four-and-a-half tatami mats (about ten feet square) is the size of a one-room tea hut. As usual in Japanese, singular or plural are not indicated.

 

秋近き /心の寄るや /四畳半
Aki chikaki /kokoro no yoru ya / yojouhan

 

The late Zen priest Robert Aitken translated:

 

Autumn nearing

Inclination of my mind!

A four-and-a-half-mat room

 

We see Aitken took kokoro to be singular: “my mind,” although in reality Basho was together with three other poet-friends. Also, his translation suggests that the four-and-a-half-mat room is the “inclination of my mind.” Tea-room represents Tea Ceremony which represents the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. So the monolog of Aitken’s translation means that with autumn near, I am drawn to a profound consciousness of Zen.


The Japanese have an altogether different way of seeing this haiku. Basho wrote it to express his togetherness with Bokusetsu, Shiko, and Izen; the point of the verse is the group consciousness Japan seek in their society. So “our hearts draw close” to each other on the four and a half mats. I translate:

 

Nearly autumn,
our hearts draw close
four-and-a-half mats

 

The Western interpretation focuses on individual consciousness and Zen philosophy; The Japanese interpretation reflects the actual situation and focuses on group consciousness. The singular interpretation allows us to say Basho is austere and aloof from people, and leads into Zen. The plural interpretation affirms his warmth and affection for humanity; instead of Zen philosophy, he offers a philosophy of friendship: rather than self-absorption, absorption in a group of friends.

 

     Realization of Ordinary Words

 

Background: I am one who reveres William J. Strunk’s classic guide to writing, The Elements of Style, and especially appreciate the section titled “Use definite, specific, concrete language.”  Strunk says


“The surest way to arouse and hold the reader’s attention is by being 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 gives it vigor and life.

Strunk 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.

 

Almost every word is a vigorous one-syllable Old English word which calls up pictures,

Three hundred years before Strunk, Basho foretold the Elements of Style in these words spoken to his follower Doho:

 

Poetry benefits from the realization of ordinary words

 

俳諧の益は俗語を正す也。
Haikai no eki wa zokugo o tadasu nari

 

In his 1681 letter to his follower Biji, Basho elaborates:

 

…if the verse resonates, it is okay – however if even one sound
stagnates in your mouth, scrutinize the expression.

 

句のひびき能候えばよろしく、
一字にても口にたまり候ヲ御吟味可有事
Ku no hibiki yoku souroueba yoroshiku,
Ichiji nite mo kuchi ni tamari sourou o go-ginmi arubeki koto

 

Basho advises us 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 (hibiki) naturally in the minds of readers, to “call up pictures.” He tells us to “scrutinize” (ginmi) the expression, searching for ways to make the words “resonate.”

 

Difficulty; to make the translation as vigorous as is the original

Solution: Use ordinary words and scrutinize them by speaking them out loud to insure that they are natural spoken English.


Here is a Basho haiku, written in 1688, which illustrates his mastery of the use of ordinary words:

 

Many, many
things come to mind
cherry blossoms

 

さまざまの /事思い出す /桜かな
Sama zama no / koto omoi-dasu / sakura kana

 

The words are completely, utterly simple. No complications: seven ordinary words with the most basic grammar possible in Japanese and likewise in English. Basho’s verse says absolutely nothing new about cherry blossoms or memories – instead he ‘sums up and conceals’ a thousand years of poetic expression on these blossoms and the memories that pass from one cherry blossom season to the next. The words so plain and ordinary are “realized” through the thousand years of associations of Japanese life with cherry blossoms.

In all the years I have known this blossom-viewing haiku, the phrase “things come to mind” has always satisfied me – but a while ago, I decided to try an alternative: “things brought to mind.” -- however when I spoke the phrase out loud, I realized that it “stagnates” in my mouth because thus simply is not natural. “Things come to mind” is natural and easy to say, so it “resonates.”

 

    Lively, Active Verbs

In my countless hours of observing how Basho uses words in Japanese, I have discovered one vital point:

his exceptional use of lively active verbs.  Consider the phrase “when Elizabeth was queen: the inactive verb “was” has no power to give the phrase, so it falls flat. Change to “when Elizabeth reigned” and feel the glory and dignity coming from the active verb “reigns.” Enjoy the parade of lively active verbs in Basho’s description of the islands in Matsushima Bay:

 

Islands beyond count,
towering like fingers to heaven
or lying flat on their bellies across the waves;
some pile up in double layers or fold in triple,
branching right or stretching left
while some carry behind, some hug in front,
beloved children or grandchildren.


島々の数を尽して、           Shima-jima o tsukushite,
欹たすものは                    sobatatsu mono no wa
天を指さし、                    ten o yubisashi,
ふすものは波に腹這う。     fusu mono wa nami ni harabau.
あるハ二重にかさなり、     Aru mono wa futae ni kasanari,
三重に畳みて、                 mie ni tatamite,
左にわかれ、                    hidari ni wakare,
右につらなる。                 migi ni tsuranaru.
負えるあり、抱ける、        Oeru ari, idakeru ari,
児孫愛すがごとし、           jison-ai su ga gotoshi.

 

Difficulty: To capture the vigor of Basho’s verbs in English

Solution: Use active verbs in the order Basho used them

 

五月雨を /  あつめて早し / 最上川
Samidare o  atsumete hayashi mogami-gawa 

 

The rain that fell high in the mountains is now flowing in the river. The upper segment is a commonly used seasonal reference, and lower segment simply the name of this river. So the art of Basho is entirely in the middle segment. Here he uses the –te form of atsumaru, allowing him to combine this verb with another action word, in a single powerful phrase: gathering, rushing. These two dynamic words pile up, “pressing forward” with the intensity of a raging mountain river swollen by day after days of heavy rain. I believe it a mistake to separate the two action words as most translators do:

 

Gathering seawards

The summer rains, how swift it is

Mogami River

                                                               Donald Keene (1996)

Gathering all

the summer rains, swift

Mogami River

                                                              David Barnhill (2005)

 

Instead keep the activity and power together in the middle segment.

 

Summer rains
gathering, rushing
Mogami river

 

Here is a renku stanza-pair in which the verbs in both the first stanza and Basho’s stanza are particularly lively:

 

Glaring about,
she orders the children
to “behave!”

While she puffs the ash
from broiled miso

 

行儀能 /せよと子供を/ぬめ廻し
やき味噌の灰 / 吹きはらいつつ

 

Gyougi you /se yo to kodomo o /nume-mawashi
Yaki miso no hai / fuki-harai-tsutsu

 

The children are scattered about the room, so mother has to “glare about” (nume-mawashi) – stare fiercely in one direction then another – to address them all -- not that they listen. The stanza abounds with human activity in its three lively verbs: “glaring about” and “ordering” and her spoken command “behave!” In addition to all the activity of the mother, we see the activity of the children: arguing, fighting, climbing, breaking or swallowing things, crawling or running about, this winter day in 17th century Japan.

The Japanese suffix –tsutsu, indicating that “puffs the ash” is occurring along with all that mother and child action, so is like the English “while. I had to ask my former research assistant Shoko -- a native Japanese woman with two young daughters, as well as a certified instructor in Japanese language --. to gain an understanding of what is going on here. Shoko helped me understand that the verb here is “broil” rather than “fry” or “bake.” Shoko has lots of experience in cooking for a family, and lots of experience with miso and the many ways it is eaten in Japan, – so she was able to identify the specific action here: broiling balls of soybean paste on wooden skewers to make a side dish. A bit of ash from the fire has gotten on the sticky miso. In the same time when she orders her kids to behave, we see her lift her arm to and hand to bring the skewer close to her mouth and purse her lips and exhale an short burst of air at the ash to propel it off the sticky miso.


The astonishing delicacy of this action even the fingers of elves could not perform is the polar opposite of her glaring and shouting at her kids. Both ordering and puffing are her breath, her life force. According to Yoga, prana – the life force or cosmic energy – enters the body through inhalation and returns to the universe through exhalation; as Mother gave birth to these children, now she gives breath to the food that will nourish them.  Basho’s speck of ash on miso resembles the Shinto metaphor of sins as being dust on a mirror. To restore the original purity, we simply wipe off the dust. Likewise the mother’s anger is not inherent; she can restore her inner peace by puffing away the ash from her spirit. Because the words are so ordinary and natural, the verbs so lively and active, her situation with her kids so common in our own world, we feel her reality. We connect with this mother, and as we breathe, we transcend space and time to be with her, to share prana with her, to remove anger and restore harmony within.

 

                     Opposition and Coherence

 

Opposition is a powerful tool in Basho’s repertoire: placing two opposing images one after the other, so the difference between them reveals the nature of each image. Here is the nature of family life, of mothering and childhood, and also the nature of cooking with miso over an open fire. Yet along with opposition, there is also harmony between the two stanzas. Basho – who was a teacher of linked verse -- told his followers about composing renku

 

See from practice that your following stanza suits the previous one,
as an expression of the same heart

 

ある付句に前句を添えて、
同じ付心が表現できるような修練などをしてみるのもよい。

Aru tsukeku ni maeku o soete, oniji tsuke kokoro ga hyougen
dekiru you ni shuuren nado o shite miru no mo yoi.

 

 

Basho is speaking about what I will call “coherency”; the second stanza must “suit” (soeru) the first stanza and express the “same heart’s connection.” Basho advises us to “see from practice” how to write coherent stanza-pairs.

 

Difficulty: To translate the coherency in Basho’s vision into English:

Solution: Research Basho’s words, and check with other sources, for a slight mistranslation can send you off into a completely unwarranted direction.

 

Hata tatamu                         機たたむ
tsumado ni hana no             妻戸に花の
ko o yakite                            香を焼きて

 

I did not have to look up hata in the dictionary; I already knew it means “loom.” Tatamu is “to fold,” but looms did not fold up – so how can the upper segment make any sense? Without really reading the commentary in the Complete Basho Renku Anthhology, I decided that weaving -- passing the longitudinal yearn over and under the crosswise yarn could be described as “folding.” So I translated:

 

Weaving on loom,

at back door she burns

flower incense

 

I accepted “weaving on loom” for two years, but never felt it quite right. I felt something wrong because this translation it suggests that the weaving occurs in the same time as the burning of incense. There should be some closure to the weaving -- so she can move onto the incense. Also I felt “burns” was wrong because this word suggests a ongoing action of burning, as if she stayed there for the entire burning, where in reality she momentarily sets the incense on fire then moves on to other work. The translation with “weaving on loom” and “burns” serves as a model of how a translation can be “okay” without being fully and completely coherent.


One day I typed out the commentary in the Complete Basho Renku Anthology: and in that action realized that my mind had done it again, misdirecting me into a false assumption: The commentary says:

織上げて布をたたんでや休めば
Ori-agete nuno o tatande yasumeba

She folds up the cloth she has finished weaving with no mention of the loom.

So I looked in a large Japanese-English dictionary, and discovered that hata can also be the fabric woven on the loom. Once I changed from “weaving on loom” to “weaving folded,” I decided it was time to change “burns” to the word for setting something on fire: “to light”

 

Here is my current translation of Basho’s stanza along with the one that preceded it:

 

Sister from the Capital
here to have her baby

Weaving folded
at back door she lights
flower incense

 

都の妹が /子をうみに来る
機たたむ /妻戸に花の /香を焼きて
Miyako no imo ga /ko o umi ni kuru
Hata tatamu /tsumado ni hana no / ko o yakite

 

A young woman goes to the Big City to live, work, and marry. Pregnant, she returns to her natal home where her mother can care for her before and during birth, then help out with the newborn. Basho fulfills the theme of pregnancy with the specific actions of this woman. Every item of clothing the family wears must be made from plant fibers, first spinning into thread, next weaving thread into fabric on a loom, then cutting and sewing the fabric. The kitchen in a wooden and wood-burning farmhouse produces and contains many odors. Without chemicals or plastics – so no air fresheners --, without electric appliances, a woman does what she can to keep the place from smelling. Weaving fabric for baby clothes, spreading sweet aroma throughout the kitchen, she generates positive energy for the new life: the ordinary but eternal work of women to keep children warm and house fragrant. How Basho must have watched his mother and four sisters to absorb their consciousness.

 

Between the action of her hands folding the fabric neatly to set aside, so later she can sew it, and the action of her bringing a bit of flame from the hearth fire to the cone of incense, what coherency can we discover? Both stanzas are certainly life-giving. The first stanza is about a woman “here to have her baby.” Pregnancy is when the cells of the embryo are woven together to form tissues, then the fetus folds into a head-on-knees position, so later the child can be born and sewn together into the world and family. “Burning incense” would be coherent with a funeral, but “lighting the incense” suggests a beginning -- the bringing of consciousness from the continuum to the individual, the “lighting” of synaptic activity in the fetal and infant brain to produce consciousness which is like the fragrance of incense.


Whether or not Basho saw this particular link between the two stanzas, we can. No one can tell us we cannot interpret the link this way because scholars in the past did not see it that way. So long as we follow the original words accurately, we are free to receive the ball and run with it in an entirely different direction than they imagined.

    Words, Syllables, and Beats

Background: 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 Japanese word ramen which is two syllables (ra-men) with four sounds: ra-a me-n. The Japanese sound unit would better be called a “half-syllable.” In the 20th century it was widely assumed that a haiku translation should have 17 syllables because the Japanese has 17 sound-units. 21st century translators have realized that 17 syllables are longer in sound duration than 17 sound-units, so abandoned the 5-7-5 syllable pattern, but also abandoned all fixed form, so every line of every translation can have whatever syllable count is convenient. I say let go of the 5 – 7 - 5 pattern, but maintain a fixed form.

 

My dictionary defines “verse” as “a sequence of words arranged metrically, in accordance with some rule or design” Through the years I have found that if I reproduce Basho’s Japanese directly into English, using the same nouns and verbs and adjectives he uses, adding nothing and removing nothing, however smoothing out the grammar, the segments of five Japanese sounds usually come out easily and naturally to three syllables in English, while the Japanese sevens become four or five English syllables. Most of my translations have a syllable pattern of 3 – 5 – 3 with a few more or less unaccented syllables. While the syllable count varies slightly, what remains consistent throughout my translations is the rhythm of beats.   Basho poems are musical compositions with measures alternating between three-beats-and-a-pause and four beats.

 

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.”

 

かう云ふ荘重の「調べ」を捉へ得たものは茫々たる 三百年間にたつた芭蕉一人である。
Kou iu souchou no「shirabe」o torae eta mono no wa
bouboutaru sanbyakunen ni tatta Bashou hitori de aru.

 

(荘重 = souchou = solemnity, gravity, impressiveness)

体格はまづ優美にして、一曲あるは上品なり

 

Basho himself said:

 

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

 

Taikaku wa mazu yuubi ni shite, ikkyoku wa jouhin nari

 

To be graceful, there must be a consistant rhythm, and fourbeats to a measure is most graceful. .  

 

Basho also used musical terminology in this bit of spoken word

 

“Make renku ride the energy.

If you chime in incorrectly , you ruin the rhythm.”

 

   俳諧は気にのせてすべし。 相槌あしく拍子をそこなう。

Haikai wa ki ni nosete subeshi. Aizuchi ashiku hyoushi o sokonau. 

 

 

To see and hear how syllables expand or contract to form a consistent four beat rhythm, how pauses regulate the rhythm, how the lyrics ride the energy of music,  and how they chime in correctly, consider   the iconic chorus of We are the World.


( ) (We) (are) (the)

(wor)(ld) (     )

( ) (We) (are) (the)

(chil) (dr) (re) (en)

 

According to the score, the first measure begins with a pause then three words each taking a beat, then the “world” and a two-beat pause fills the second measure. “Children” takes a full four beats, yet the “dren” part is three times longer than the “chil.” If you listen to the original, notice how Bruce Springsteen clearly draws out the “dren” to three beats.


( ) (We) (are) (the)

(ones) (who) (make) (a brighter)

(day) (so) (let’s) (start)

(giv) (ing) (       )

 

The six syllables of “ones who make a brighter” compress to four beats, then “giv-ing” stretches out to two beats plus a long pause. “Day so let’s start” is clearly four beats. Notice the three words that take a full measure: “world” “children” and “giving” – the focal points in the song.


Searching to understand the “solemn verbal music of Basho’s Japanese, I asked my research assistant Shoko, who played piano for many years, how haiku are scored by Japanese musicians:

 

Sami-dare o ( )/  atsu-mete haya-shi /   mo-gami-gawa ( )

 

The haiku has three measures. Two sound-units pair off to form one beat, the odd sound stretches out to a beat, and there are silent pauses in the upper and lower measures.

 

Summer rains ( ) /gathering, rushing / Mogami-river ( )

 

The duration and rhythm is exactly the same.  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. 調子を整える

3 – 4 – 3 in spoken beats; 4 – 4 – 4 with spoken and silent beats. This is the “rule or design” which makes the words poetry. 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.


To illustrate the points I have made in this lecture, here is a tanka by the 10th century poet Ki no Tsurayuki in his 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: Although this tanka is not by Basho, it could well be, for Tsurayuki uses ordinary words, simple concrete verbs, to express profound feelings.

 

生まれしも/ 帰らぬものを/ 我がやどに
小松のあるを/見るがかなしき
Umareshi mo /kaeranu mono o /waga yado ni
Komatsu no aru o/miru ga kanashiki

 

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 lost the simple unadorned beauty of the original. Her refusal to use pronouns (because the Japanese has no pronouns) and her requirement for five and seven syllables, 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.


The form of the first two lines in Japanese highlight the opposition of two verbs: she “was born” in our home but shall “not return” to our home – and my translation reproduces that opposition; whereas McCullough relegates “born” to the final word in her translation, and does not use “return” at all. My translation has exactly the same ordinary words as the original, in essentially the same order; both have “sadness” (kanashimi) as the final word. All I have added are the personal pronouns which allow the English to flow smoothly and the future tense “shall.” The pauses which occur naturally after “born” and “home” are crucial; here is where the feeling emerges and resonates. The words and pauses naturally take on a 4 – 4 – 4 – 4 – 4 pattern of beats, as does the original. They ride the energy.

 

                        basho4humanity@gmail.com





<< Syllables, Words, and Beats (D-17) (D-19) (Mis)translating Basho’s Humanity >>


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