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« The Many Faces of "Oy!" [by Mitch Sisskind] | Main | Poetic License [by Jim Cummins] »

February 15, 2021


This might be a bit more Japanese:


By the way, the order in the previous note is not original with me. The brevity is yours, the the order of items is Kenneth Rexroth's sequence in his translation, which I believe is inferior to your striking parataxis!

Thank you, Mark. I see what you mean. And I appreciate the compliment!

Thanks,David. The reason I worried this small point is that the second half of the haiku is very ambiguous in Japanese. The first item in the sequence referring to the "old pond" is followed by the "cutting phrase" "ya," which separates it as an object from the remainder of the haiku. The second half is meant to be read as one flowing unit -- frog jumping and water sounding. Basho chose to express this grammatically in a way so that the leaping frog modifies the water sound. So, it is literally something like "frog-leaping water sound." So, in English word order this would conventionally lead to putting the frog last in the sequence, such as "the sound of water made by a frog leaping into it" But this is pedestrian, awkward and not mysterious in any way. The manner in which Basho did this, however,creates a "which came first, chicken or egg?" feeling, fusing
the splash and the leaping frog into a single phenomenon. This is reinforced because Basho places no cutting phrase "ya" between the mention of the leaping frog and the water sound. Thus, he enacts what haiku is made for: like a koan, a bit of cognitive confusion provoking thoughts about the true nature of perception. Seems to me the sequence I suggested -- Pond,Splash, Frog-- best recreates this authorial intention in English.

Best, Mark

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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