A Note: I began this post, thinking I would cover all I needed to and be done, but as I progressed it just got longer and longer. As a result, I thought to spare you all the simultaneous misery and irony of a lengthy piece on such a brief book, so I've decided to split it in (at least) two. Part II will, hopefully, be next week and if it goes on much longer, scream mercy and click away.
Some time back, in the comments section to a post, we got to discussing the translator Peter Beilenson and the fine work he did for a number of publishers, in particular the Peter Pauper Press, which was almost singlehandedly responsible for introducing, at very modest prices, an entire generation of the uninitiated to haiku. During that discussion, I promised I would take a look at the volume A Little Treasury of Haiku, and so that time has arrived.
Since it was a volume I didn't have and I'd seen in at the library and was impressed, I purchased a very nicely rebound, if somewhat foxed at the edges, used copy for a reasonable price and dug in. My first pass through I marked, as is my custom, poems for a 2nd and 3rd review, in this case 75 of the over 440 translated. The volume consists of a generous selection of poems by the four cornerstones of classic haiku, Issa, Bashō, Shiki, and Buson, as well as a nice cross-section of haiku by other classic haiku poets.
One fallen flower
Returning to the branch? . . . oh, no!
A white butterfly
I can never resist Moritake's little haiku, no matter who is the translator. This is a fine version of a wonderful little ku.
Hi! My little hut
Is newly thatched I see . . .
I like the colloquial flavor of this rendition, capturing the playful poet's voice as I've often imagined it. He thrusts us right in the moment with his exclamatory "Hi!," the reader experiencing the surprise along with the speaker at the same time. Of course, I had to include it since this is where the blog gets its name - a nice coincidence certainly that the poem is very good.
Twilight whippoorwill . . .
Whistle on, sweet deepener
of dark loneliness
The drawback of reading haiku in translation is obvious; we've often been told by classical scholars that we can never truly understand Japanese haiku. We are too removed from the culture, from the subtly, from the language, to even come close to understanding.
However, the upside, it seems to me, is also obvious; if a great poet like Bashō wrote 2,000 some poems (and Issa wrote over 20,000) and 5 decent translators have renditions readily obtainable in English, there are 10,000 Bashō poems to read. I'll often lay a number of different versions side by side and, as the blind man and the elephant, try to get a picture as I move round and round, catching an angle here and a glimpse there.
As long as I avoid provocation and those big feet, I start to get a bit of an idea, sight or no.
Which is my characteristically long way round saying I feel I've never read this whippoorwill poem before though I know I must have, at least 3 or 4 times, and I am extremely moved by it. At this very moment (are you with me) it is my favorite Bashō poem. It is totally immersed in the moment and ennui (or wabi sabi or whatever) and beauty and sadness, and did I say beauty, and it urges that heartbreaking whippoorwill sound on so as to continue its significant emotional impact, feeling lingering in the pure essence of its music.
Phah! Words can't describe it - at least not mine. But Mr. Beilenson has got it and Suzuki and the rest can, well, pound salt.
Whistle on, sweet deepener of dark loneliness!
My good father raged
When I snapped the peony . . .
How even the memory of rage may be precious once a loved one is gone, especially when that loved one was right.
Dewdrop, let me cleanse
In your brief sweet waters . . .
These dark hands of life
Another Bashō poem I don't remember. This rendition must delve in from a direction I can't recall - the word "dark" reappears here, as in the previous Bashō poem, and this poem, too, turns on that ominous word. Of course, the darkness is also the dirt which the speaker seeks to remove with the fleeting dew, but the dual meaning is undeniable.
Quite a hundred gourds
Sprouting from the fertile soil . . .
Of a single vine
The essential oneness of all things is expertly captured by one of the finest woman haikuists of all-time. The reader wonders: is this not the single vine that the world itself sprung from?
Starting to call you
Come watch these butterflies . . .
Oh! I'm all alone
Whether a lonely widow or widower, or an ex-lover, or a military wife, or someone thinking of a friend far away, we have all come to experience this type of expansive loneliness. What is captured here is the speaker's emotional state of mind, of which s/he was totally unaware until this very captured moment.
For the emperor
Himself he will not lift his hat . . .
A stiff-backed scarecrow
The humor here is to the point: we are all equal in the "eyes" of an inanimate object. Classicists may not like the poet's approach (or the translation) in this ku, but us peasants are all waving our own hats in the breeze.
Live in simple faith
Just as this trusting cherry
Flowers, fades, and falls
I'm not very sure of the use of trusting here, but this is one of my favorite Issa poems and it speaks to the big picture of life - not just death, but all of it, in a simple 3 line piece.
And, so, this seems as lovely a place to pause until next week as is likely to come down the pike anytime soon. Till next week and part II for Mr. Beilenson.
Just a quick note: Melissa Allen, over at the always excellent "Across the Haikuverse," features a couple of poems from the current Lillie issues, as well as giving a nice plug to the new "Wednesday Haiku" feature here at the Hut.
This week's featured poem comes from Lilliput Review, #134 by British poet David Lindley. Enjoy.
At long last, love see
the sun go down, so sure we
so unsure, watching.
the setting sun...
Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature. Here's how.