I am privileged to be on a list of email recipents of the thoughts, poems, and translations of Scott Watson. Back in Lilliput issues numbering in the 120's and 130's, I published a number of Scott's renderings of haiku masters Taneda Santoka and Basho. In a recent mailing, Scott shared his thoughts on the art of translation. I was struck by them and thought you might be, too, so I requested permission to post his musings here. He graciously acceded to my request and, in addition, has allowed me to reprint the 5 translations of Santoka that were published in Lillie. I hope you enjoy this and the translations; I'm happy to say that I will be publishing two more Santoka renderings by Scott in a future issue.
Ten years ago I wrote: “There is neither rhyme nor
reason to my method here. Just that each poem I take
--from wherever I take it--one at a time and follow
wherever it takes me, and if feels like it is two lines I
put it in two lines; if it feels like two words, two words
are what it is. Some go to four lines, some three. It
depends on how I sense each poem with, as, and in my
life-and-death, my breath, words.”
Ten years later all that can be added is that continuing
along with Santoka the poems his poems start in me at
times feel as if there is a trickling as with the flow of a
brook only downward. A small and gentle waterfall.
Others seem to call for a single ink brush stroke across
the page. These are the ones with what I call the Zen
grammar, which is a label I use for lack of a better one
to describe his poems that use a possessive to modify
a possessive to modify a possessive and how such a
poem retraces itself to a beginningless beginning.
Some choose to call this simple ungrammaticality that
may be a result of Santoka being a lubricated with drink
when composingor editing his work, but I think not.
Drunk or sober, the challenge is to respond to those
poems as my own wordlife. That requires letting go of
whatever protocol or accepted language behavior one
may have picked up over the years at home or at schools.
One must be uninhibited. One has to go with the flow.
Back in the USA sisters Clara Wright and Marsha Benson
at elementary school class parties used to complain that
white boys can’t dance. But they’d dance with me. It’s not
just a matter of knowing the right steps. The words
eventually appear and feel to me as if they are the ones
needed, the words that seem to best respond as Santoka’s
poem lives through me. Dance to the music beyond
Much is intuition. A sense of things that comes out of the
blue. Though I can live, sense things, through the Japanese
language I can’t say that I’m an official expert. No
certificates adorn my walls. At times I need a dictionary
and at times, with Santoka, even a dictionary does not help.
I ask Morie. Sometimes she can help, other times she can't.
I’m not out to make versions that are grammatically or
technically correct. If Santoka’s original has a present
progressive verb form it doesn’t mean my version will.
Anyway no linguist to my knowledge has ever proved that
a progressive verb in Japanese is exactly the same as a
progressive verb in English. They’re just labels anyway.
English is not Japanese, Japanese is not English. I am not
Santoka, Santoka is not me. I don’t accept translation in
the sense that this is equivalent to that. I do what I can.
June 3, 2010
5 poems by Taneda Santoka as rendered by Scott Watson
deep deep seeing
air raid sirens
one after another
persimmons are red
with the crowd around
a dead body
a sky without clouds
no matter news is
good or bad
For some further thoughts on Santoka, check out my review Mountain Tasting here. And now, one from a third master, Issa:
dying to the beat
of the prayer to Buddha...
one leaf fallsIssa
translated by David G. Lanoue