This little volume, translated with an introduction by Sam Hamill as part of Shambhala's Centaur Editions, focuses on 3 of the four major haiku poets (Bashō, Buson, and Issa), along with a handful of poems by other poets. This post takes a look at his renderings of the haiku of Bashō
With just over 70 haiku by Bashō, this is a highly selective take on the master poet. Many of the poems are familiar; all have a slight difference from other translations I've reviewed. The most obvious difference is that the poems are slightly longer than most contemporary versions which, though running counter to the contemporary trend towards brevity, isn't necessarily a bad thing. The first is briefer than most of its companions, is very unfamiliar in its presentation, and is quite good, indeed:
How very noble!
One who finds no satori
in the lightning flash
This poem is at once humorous, satirical (read biting), and serious. The poet seems to be saying no to both obvious metaphor or easy enlightenment - notice, in English, the linguistic relationship between lightning and enlightenment. Somehow, this seems very proscriptive, rather than descriptive, for a haiku poet.
But that's probably another reason they called him master.
This first fallen snow
is barely enough to bend
the jonquil leaves
This poem is familiar and captures a perfect moment. The jonquil leaves are new to me, but the poem still carries its weight, literally and otherwise, very nicely.
Exhausted I sought
a country inn, but found
wisteria in bloom
Again, a familiar Bashō poem, but in this version I get a sense that the traveler is lost and, in his confusion, has stumbled on a happy accident in this cluster wisteria. Certainly, the lack of a roof is lamentable, but the view's not bad! Philosophically, the contrast between lost and found, highlights what is fine in life, if you wish to embrace it.
Among moon gazers
at the ancient temple grounds
not one beautiful face
I've always liked this poem though it seems to run counter with Buddhist sentiment from one point of view. Honesty here is the thing and the question arises: if a face is not beautiful, is it ugly?
Come out to view
the truth of flowers blooming
This certainly is something of a radical rendering of the original which, as such, I don't remember at all. Talk about direct pointing! The poet tells us, here it is, the truth for you to see, despite of or because of the contrasting poverty. This feels like a lesson of a Buddhist priest.
Kannon's tiled temple
roof floats far away in clouds
of cherry blossoms
The unstated, pervasive presence here seems to be a blustery spring breeze, causing the viewer to see the temple's roof floating amongst the swaying branches, an image worthy of Buson in its painterly quality. Hamill adds an editorial note that Kannon is a Bodhisattva of compassion.
Overall, the collection of Bashō's haiku in The Sound of Water are honestly not my favorite renderings; there are enjambed lines, unnecessary uses of the verb to be, and lines sometimes just too long, though the ones I've cited here I do like very much, in one aspect or another. There were a number of other fine translations here also, most so close to others I've noted recently that it seemed it would be repetitive to discuss. The translations were fine; I just could bring nothing new to them.
Fall is upon us in a big way, suddenly full fall, not the usual easing in, the customary days of deep, beautiful, almost viscous light. There is hope for a return of some milder days before heading to the big freeze. This week's feature poem from Lilliput Review #129, March 2003 (which was the 1st issue highlighted when this blog began nearly 4 years ago), has in mind the deeper meaning of things our minds turn to in autumn.
when the geese fly away
it is always the stragglers who call to me
year after year
through the half-empty branches
I am in love
with the struggling ones
watching them pump and move
crying how little time we have left
a new face
in the flock...
rice field geese
translated by David G. Lanoue
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