instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - Old Haiku Still Rings True!


Greetings! I hope you felt some extra love on Valentine’s Day. My hubby and I were on the same wavelength – we each got each other 1.) a card 2.) a chocolate bar [his vegan, of course] and 3.) a book of haiku! I bought him a collection pertaining to a particular interest of his (another story for another day) and he found me a delightful old book at our wonderful new bookstore featuring old stock, Nevermore Books.

This slim volume is called simply, Japanese Haiku, ©1955, 1956 by The Peter Pauper Press. and compiled by Peter Beilenson (1905–1962). It has a lovely paper cover and simple block print illustrations beside each poem. I cannot speak to the accuracy of these translations, especially compared to others who were publishing anthologies and such mid-century, but I did enjoy the brief introduction. Here’s a liberal sampling:

It is usually impossible to translate a haiku literally and have it remain a poem, or remain in the proper seventeen-syllable form. There are several reasons for this: Haiku are full of quotations and allusions which are recognized by literate Japanese and not by us. They are full of interior double-meanings almost like James Joyce. And the language is used without connecting-words or tenses or pronouns or indications of singular or plural – almost a telegraphic form. Obviously a translation cannot at once be so terse and so allusive.

In the texture of the poems there is a further difficulty: Japanese is highly polysullabic. The only way to reproduce such a texture in English is to use Latinized words – normally less sympathetic than the Anglo-Saxon. For all these reasons, the following versions make no pretense to be literal or complete, and some variations in the five-seventeen-five syllable have been allowed.

... One final word: the haiku is not expected to be always a complete or even a clear statement. The reader is supposed to add to the words his own associations and imagery, and thus to become a co-creator of his own pleasure in the poem. The publishers hope their readers may here co-create such pleasure for themselves!


I recognized names of the “masters” throughout, but there are some names I didn't know that I need to explore. Here are a few of the poems from the pages pictured above (click the photo to see all), from three of the major four names associated with the development of early haiku. [I didn’t include any from Issa, as there weren’t any on this spread and I usually turn to David G. Lanoue’s translations for those!] The 17 syllables make some poems in this volume sound forced, but these I particularly enjoyed:



SILENT THE OLD TOWN . . .
THE SCENT OF FLOWERS FLOATING . . .
AND EVENING BELL

Basho



DEEP IN DARK FOREST
A WOODCUTTER’S DULL AXE TALKING . . .
AND A WOODCUTTER

Buson



VENDOR OF BRIGHT FANS
CARRYING HIS PACK OF BREEZE . . .
OH! WHAT AWFUL HEAT!

Shiki



VOICES OF TWO BELLS
THAT SPEAK FROM TWILIGHT TEMPLES . . .
AH! COOL DIALOGUE

Buson



Okay, this last one I’m sharing (by the Venerable ‘Anonymous’) cracks me up this week, because I live in South Carolina, and you can imagine all the political ads running rampant here lately, and the politicians, too! ;0)


FRIEND, THAT OPEN MOUTH
REVEALS YOUR INTERIOR . . .
SILLY HOLLOW FROG!

Anon.



I do hope you “co-created pleasure” reading those! I’m exploring haiku and other types of poetry today with third and fourth graders at Morgan’s school in Greenville, SC. (Got snowed in on our earlier attempt last month, but sunny skies prevail right now.)

We'll round out February here next week with some lovely, love-themed haiku from another of Tom Painting’s fellow teachers at The Paideia School in Atlanta. Be sure to circle back! (I’ll be on the road AGAIN that day – continuing a poetry-writing project with Morgan’s class and attending a wedding shower for her. Poetry and love all month long….)

Thanks for coming by, and please visit the wonderful Donna at Mainely Write for more poetry-love in this week’s Round Up. Also, remember to check out Laura Shovan's lively "found object" poetry project this month - lots of great poems!

22 Comments
Post a comment