Sunday, September 25, 2016
Missed cultural signals
well nothing happened
yesterday has passed away
with globefish soup
-- Basho --
from The Complete Haiku
Texts written in a foreign language always present a translation problem for anyone not familiar with the original language. However, another problem is also present--lack of knowledge about the text's culture. I find this a regular obstacle because I frequently read stories and poems in translation. Regardless of my knowledge, limited or otherwise, I was not born in that culture and therefore miss much.
The haiku, brief as it is, presents that problem: many times I have read a haiku, get what it expresses and, yet, feel I'm missing something. What's even more worrisome is that I wonder how many times I never suspected I missed something.
Fortunately, Jane Reichhold, the editor and translator of Basho: The Complete Haiku has provided an appendix which includes notes for every single haiku. You can guess how much this helps.
I read the above haiku and was a bit puzzled for it appeared as though the point was that it's been an empty day, with its high point being a bowl of globefish soup the day before. However, turning to the notes, I find the following:
"1678--spring. The globefish, or puffer fish, is a popular delicacy. If a globefish isn't prepared properly it can be deadly. It remains an expensive dish because chefs have to be specially trained and licensed. The expense and idea of tempting death add to the thrill of eating this food."
Now I understand. This haiku is a sigh of relief.