42. "A frog jumps into a pond" five different ways
An adventure in translation – what is lost and what is gained?
This post is another experiment in presenting art back to back, without the interpretation section. I’m featuring a piece from my college readings, unique in that there are several translations of the same haiku.
(Side note: the preview image is “Frog under a Willow Tree” by Kubota Shunman, but I’m not including that in the post because I want the poems to be the main focus!)
suggested reading method
To best savour this artwork, please take a moment to eliminate distractions. Consider minimizing all other windows on your computer; putting other devices (phone, tv etc) aside; taking a deep breath, to the full extent of your lung capacity; and focusing solely on the “artwork” and “five translations” sections.
Once you’ve processed those to your satisfaction, the rest of the post is optional reading, provided only for context about the artists.
古池や [furu ike ya]
蛙飛び込む [kawazu tobikomu]
水の音 [mizu no oto]
by Matsuo Basho, first published in 1686
Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.
Translated by Lafcadio Hearn
The old pond is still
a frog leaps right into it
splashing the water
Translated by Earl Miner & Hiroko Odagiri
Within aging pond
frogs jumping vibrate the calm
Translated by Sarah Isbell
There once was a curious frog
Who sat by a pond on a log
And, to see what resulted,
In the pond catapulted
With a water-noise heard round the bog.
Translated by Alfred H. Marks
Translated by James Kirkup
🐸 Which translation is your favourite, and why? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!
Rachel - this was fun to read :)
I like both the first (Hearn) and last (Kirkup) ones - love the simplicity, and for me, it allows space for my imagination to experience the action and of the frog and reaction of the water.
Fun and interesting post!
Thanks for yet another thought-provoking post! FWIW, I prefer the Hearn translation because it reflects the cadence, brevity, and spirit of the haiku poetic style. As Duke Ellington once remarked, “It’s not the notes that count—it’s the spaces between them”, and I believe the magic of haiku lies in the syllabic limitations of the form. Would-be poets are forced to choose the perfect words with which to convey their message, and place them judiciously within a minimalist structure. That distillation of thought has an inherent purity, and the “spaces” between and around the words allow the reader’s imagination to engage with the text, fill in the conceptual gaps, and take partial ownership of the subject matter and message by filtering it through their own visual and emotional framework.
All poems allow that transcendant flight of fancy, however haiku is unique in the way it boils the literary process down to a fine essence.
Less is more! :-)
Thanks again for sharing your considered thoughts and perspective!