I have great affection for the various lyric renderings by Scott Watson of classic haiku masters such as Bashō and Taneda Santoka; in fact, I've published a few of his translations, as well as Scott's own wonderful poems, in both Lilliput Review and on Issa's Untidy Hut. Let it, therefore, be duly noted that there may be some bias here.
It gave me great pleasure awhile back to receive a copy of Walking by My Self Again, versions of Santoka, by Scott Watson, from Japan's Bookgirl Press, and now being distributed in the US by Ce Rosenow's Mountains and Rivers Press.
The abstract of this review is as follows: this is a book that belongs on the shelf of any Eastern poetry aficionado, a book that in its straightforward power and simplicity can turn the head of anyone who appreciates the essence, the core, of what drives a poet to scratch or tap or sing a few words into life.
Scott's renderings bring an astute sensibility to a poetic task: translating a master poet. I have read enough Santoka translations to know that these are very different indeed, and, I am happy to report, different in a very good way.
Here are 5 one-lines renditions from early in the book
left as they fall tea flowers falling is all
whatever it all is it all is blossoming
in rain camellia flowers not yet falling
all day too noone came fireflies
able to meet again camellia in bloom
If I might be so bold as to call these perfect - these are perfect. Perhaps, they are not perfect translations - I can't argue that, I don't know the language. D. T. Suzuki might disqualify me from even reading the poem, so there is that.
So, you probably shouldn't be paying any attention to me.
However, these poems, as a meeting of the minds and hearts of Santoka and Watson, a dovetailing of the English and Japanese languages, these poems are as near perfect as someone who has no qualifications to say so can ascertain.
The first three are precise poems of the moment, a moment perfectly captured. Poem four isolates an all too pervasive feeling. Poem five is a fine blend of the human and the natural, each aspect, in its essence, experiencing the exact same is-ness so well delineated in the first four.
Another beautiful poem of the moment, as imagistic in its own way as the fine work of Buson is:
nor not waiting
I love the double negative of the 2nd hinge line, reminding me somehow of a Dutch door swinging both ways. The Way that is not the way is the way. Which way? This Way:
pine boughs all drooping hail Buddha
One does not often hear of the compassion of Santoka, certainly not as often as one hears of Issa's. Yet next is a poem full, over-full, with compassion for a fellow spirit:
it's that always-tied-nothing-but-barking-to-do dog
Oh, I remember what it's like to be tied up in the backyard like that, all day, everyday. You, too? To forget that is to forget our humanity, to forget everything, really. This is about your soul.
I believe I'll leave it there; to end on a note of compassion is, truly, not to end at all. The way that is The Way.
This week's poem comes from Lilliput Review, #171, from December 2009. Enjoy.
lines of ants
in & out
the grounded hull
of a cicadaDavid Gross
into the ants' hell
it has fallen
translated by David G. Lanoue
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