Sunday, August 7, 2016

The crane screeches, the cicada's cry: Deep Mystery in the Haiku of Bashō

Photo by Castlelass

In loving memory of the Jane Reichhold, who, among her many accomplishments, is her English language translation of 


     The crane screeches:
At its voice
     The bashō will surely tear

                         Translated by R. H. Blyth

In my morning reading (Haiku, v. 4, R. H. Blyth), I ran across the above Bashō poem which I didn't remember but which struck me immediately. It put me in mind of the more famous Bashō poem:

Sinking into the rocks,
A cicada's cry

        Translated by Makota Ueda

Some translations go so far as to say piercing the rock(s), which heightens the mystery inherent in the poem. What struck me here is the relationship between these two pieces, the first a touch more literal, the second, more famous poem, perhaps closer to the mystery.

And what of the mystery? The less said, the more realized? Perhaps the poems are each transcendent moments or, in this case, two moments sharing a certain otherness?

Thinking on these things, I took a break for breakfast, and began reading a review of a book on, believe or not, camping. In the book, as noted by the reviewer, the author made a rather a limp joke referencing one of Leonard Cohen's most famous verses:

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 

Bad joke or not, as so often happens in my morning reading, the bell rang ... again and again and again.

Leonard Cohen's "Anthem."

my cracked teacup
like Buddha on display...
plum blossoms

             trans. by David G. Lanoue


PS Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku. Here you will find Jane Reichhold's contribution.


old pajamas said...

Is it true, no comments. I've read through the years some things that Jane had written, and I expect that I have been in some ways influenced by her and a few other modern writers...old pajamas

ayaz daryl nielsen said...

heavens, such a tribute - will miss Jane
ayaz daryl nielsen

Lyle Daggett said...

Interesting about the second Basho poem here--that some translations say "piercing," more active and emphatic than "sinking." I don't know the original Japanese, and either translation seems intelligent.

The first translation of this poem that I encountered, several decades ago, was by Robert Bly, in his anthology of tiny poems The Sea and the Honeycomb. Bly's version reads:

The temple bell stops--
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.

So Bly has the sound moving in the opposite direction from the either of the translations you talk about here. I don't know the original Japanese, and I'm guessing that Bly's version is adapted from one or more previously existing English versions (rather than translated directly from Japanese).

Not to wander too far from your post about Jane Reichold--but now your post has got me going. I'll need to see if I can find one or two other versions of the Basho poem here, and see what they do with it.

As I type this, the news on public radio reports that Mother Teresa is now officially a saint. Frankly, I'd like to see Basho or Issa made a saint. I've seen at least a few poems by each of them over the years that seems to me to qualify as miracles.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks so much for your thoughts, Lyle. I really love Bly's rendering, I used it in a haiku workshop I did a number of years back that featured a number of translations. Those of us who don't know Japanese are left with the translations to ferret through. I have felt that the more translations/renderings I have, the closer I get to the poet (poem). Probably fooling myself, but with the ambiguity of Japanese grammar - plurals, verb tense, and lack of gender designation - there is much room for interpretative rendering.

Ironically, all these weeks later and as I type this, Leonard Cohen is on the stereo.