Friday, March 17, 2017

Basho's frog

This is probably one of Basho's most famous haiku.   I have a book titled Basho's One Hundred Frogs,  a collection of 100 different translations of this one haiku.  Surely, that must be a record of some sort.

Old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water.

This is my favorite translation.  I can picture myself sitting near a pond or river, with a frog nearby.  I can't see the water directly below the frog because of the bank.  The frog jumps and disappears in the sound of water.  I never do see the frog enter the water; he just jumps into the sound.  Oh, I know very well what happened, or think I do anyway.  However, maybe that frog really did jump into the sound of water. Just why this grabs me, I have no idea.  Perhaps you may have some suggestions. 

Basho: The Complete Haiku
Jane Reichhold, ed. and trans.

Following is a much more mundane (to me anyway) translation:

The quiet pond
  A frog jumps in,
    The sound of the water.

The comma provides a pause between the frog jumping in (and not "into")  and the resulting sound of water.
 tran.  Edward G. Seidensticker
from  One Hundred Frogs.
ed.  Hiroaki Sato


  1. The syntax leads to ambiguity, doesn't it? Perhaps there are irreconcilable differences between Japanese syntax and English syntax. In any case, I am reminded of Emily Dickinson and her ambiguities because of syntax. And, of course, the only verb is "jumps." However, more verbs and nouns are implied. That must signify something.

    1. Tim,

      A common problem with translations. But,in this case, I for some reason prefer the more "unrealistic" flavor, the thought of the frog jumping into the "sound of water" and not the more reasonable jumping into the water.

  2. i have this book, also... but i do prefer the version you cite above, mainly because it emphasizes the plasticity of time... the jump, the splash, the hearing, all occur in one realization, that epitomizes the nature of the universe...

    another, similar example: a monk was cutting firewood; while carrying a load back to the kitchen, he dropped a piece on the tile floor... at the sound, clunk, he was totally enlightened...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      It reminds me of something I read. Unfortunately I no longer remember anything but the comment that one should always be" surprised by the universe," or something like that.

    2. c.s. lewis: "surprised by joy"
      joyce cary: "herself surprised"

      i'm sure there's more but that's all yo tengo right now...

    3. Mudpuddle,

      I think a regular surprise is necessary for one's mental health.

    4. haha... tunes up the old cardiac system as well, i bet...

    5. Mudpuddle,

      Definitely gets the juices flowing.