Day 39

an old pond
swallows the green frog
sound of blue water

h/t the game... (damnit)


Day 38

Old pond--

frog into it

sounds water.

Space of the page, and all...

Day 37

Pondside thick with mold,
a frog flops itself into
its watery sound.


Day 36

A pond's age
lets the frog in
its watery sound.

Oooh. That's horrible. But I'm tired.


Day 35

Sound of water
leaping frog
in the pond, now.

Having spent about six weeks on this already (I swear Imma fix the days), I find the reversal rather refreshing. The insistence of the "now" is also somewhat exciting. 


Day 34

This old pond--
frog leaps in,
builds water's sound.

h/t Bob Villa.


Day 33

Old pond, full of mold
through which a frog slips away
into water's sound.

Meh. 5-7-5 again. Must be the formal poetry packet I just handed out to my students that's keeping me so rigid these days. 

No, dirty mind, not that packet!


Day 32

Pond at dusk--
a frog's leap in
sounds water.

Dusk is old-ish, yes?


Day 31

The old pond a space
for a frog to leap into,
for water to sound.

A bit more of the traditional kindy-garteny 5-7-5 style. This one perhaps more successful than the previous...


Day 30

Pond yawns,
frog leaps in
water sounding out.

Taking a note from yesterday's funning around. 

Also realized that I've blown the numbering of all the days, and will have to remedy that at some point in the future.

But then, aren't we always fucking up the numbering of all our days?


Day 29

Off-the-wall pompilid--
Friulian jubilates except
Watcheye's soul brother.

Played the Oulippian n+7 game this afternoon...  Except I also adj+7'd, prep.+7'd and v+7'd. 

Seriously, you expected maybe 365 translations that I can't have any fun with?

Day 28

Fur ice yaw
karamu tobikomu
Maze no too

Here's what spellcheck thinks of Basho. I do like the "yaw"


Day 27

An old pondside;
frog jumps in
sounding the shallows.

Day 26

pond, old--
a frog jumping into it
splashes water


Day 26

old pond
in the frog jumps
water sounds



Day 25

pond settled
frog jumps in
water's sound


Day 24

the old pond--
frog sprung into
water's sound

In "yesterday's" post, I caught onto the idea of "springing," which may or may not be available in the Japanese, but the way the spring and old meet up against each other creates an enjoyable premonition and admission of the surprise in the last line. I have to admit, though, my personal imagination of the pond is a humid, midsummery one...

Day 23

old pond--
spring frog
water sound

My first fully missed day, and the first day of spring, to boot. Anyhow, in honor of the equinox...


Day 22

An old pond--
this frog's small leap
sounds water.

Tired, tipsy, thusly.


Day 21

Here by the old pond
a frog suddenly leaps in--
to water sounding.

5-7-5: see? Overdone. But that's the business of this blog, no?


Day 20

Old pond-- 
green frog leaps in
water's sound.

Good old Matty O'Basho.


Day 19

The old pond's
frog leaps in
water's sound.

Why not two possessives? Can't the pond, as central fact of the poem's occasion, be the source and the generation of the water's sound as well as of the frog? The environment--i.e., the larger locus of the poem's activity-- may very well be the source of this poem's meaningfulness, so I thought I might give the sound it's generative location in the pond itself. I do dig the enjambments quite a bit, whatever the case may end up to be.


Day 18

Full, rude, ick, yet--
call what zooms toy boat coming
amazing;--no, all told...

Listening to Raoul Hausmann while cleaning up after Peter's 11th bday party, while doing laundry, while doing dishes and sweeping/mopping, which spurred me to a homophonic translation tonight. I was intending to head this way one of these days (though, at the tender young age of Day 18, it impresses upon me the breadth of this project--where the fuck else do I go from here?!?!). 

I do like--quite a bit--the "Full," the "zooms" and the "no." The fullness of the pond seems to be a given in the original, but the insistence gives the poem new possible directions. "Zooms" is particularly fun--the idea of the frog's speed involves itself in there. The "no" is a bit more problematic, yet still fascinating. The idea that the frog has nothing to do with the sound is given a certain English-y force by fact of the "no"--which suggests that we (The Readers) are wrong in our assumptions of the splash being the product of frog against water--the sound is instead (and correctly, I believe) the water's.

More homophonic shit at later date(s), I'm sure.


Day 17

small grove's
a frog's leap then
water's sound

Embellishment, yes. Yet this is my imagination of the pond, and why not allow it in?

Day 16

quiet pond--
a frog slips in
the sound of water


Old pond here
a small frog leaps into it.
Water sounds.

What can I say? It's late and at least the second line has seven syllables, if anyone's counting.



Dialing this mo' fo' in.  It'll happen again, don't you worry...


This old pond--
a small frog leaps in
water sounds.


Day 14

An old pond in which
a small frog leaps--
water sounds.

h/t to my first commenter, who pointed me to a discussion of kaeru/kawazu. Kawazu may mean the itty-bitty Kajika frog (so cute!). Thus, "little" may make a necessary entry into the poem. 

I have to admit, though, I'm not so into the indefinite articles--they're too amorphous, which distracts from the directness of the original, of its tender force.


Day 13

Small old lake
in which
a frog jumps
stirring water.

Dear, dear Oppen and his tremendous "this in which". It's the small nouns, crying faith, always, but there is the need for the adjectives from time to time as well.  Here I'm aiming for Oppen's precise distractedness, his sense of p.o.v. as a perpetual variance, as multi-faced and -faceted.

I also like the isolation of that prep. phrase on one line, which makes use of the English force of the preposition (placed before its modify-ee) as a substitute for the cutting ya of the original.

The "stirring water" was unpremeditated, since I came upstairs from doing laundry and realized I had an entry to enter. It spilled out as I was typing it and I like it. 

"In which" or "into which"? The "in which" suggests the pond as a presence, as a mode of current with-ness--the frog in this construction is a force co-terminal with the water, with its habitation. "Into which" places the pond in a relation of progressive change, highlighting the frog's amphi-beingness, and brings about an awareness in the reader as well--we're living (and leaping) continually in (and into) various circumstances. Is there a word that might suggest both? See--this is exactly why I wanted to take on this project--to consider the intensity of language in its smallest particulars. I'm digging this shit.

And why is "which" such a strange looking word?  

Also, I've been thinking about why kawazu rather than kaeru--I thought that kawazu might just be a sort of archaic form of "frog," but it turns out that they're both in my Sanseido dictionary, and, what's more surprising, they share the same kanji. ???

Oh yeah, and the "small old lake" bit--there's no flippin' way I'm going to use the word "pond" 365 times in a row.


Day 12

old pond
jump frog
water splash

Okay, so yesterday's was pretty shitty, but it did get me thinking about the rhythmic structure a bit more, particularly the roll of the original into that final mizu no oto. The verb/noun symmetry from yesterday's disaster allows a see-sawing aural motion, one that I trust puts the balances of Basho's pond into view. The (unindicated) viewer and the viewed and the delicate balance between the two of them in a silent grotto are troubled into language by the quiet breakage of silence as the frog slips into mizu no oto. Maybe this attempt gets somewhere near that taut wire of attention, where the odd imperative (or what might also be simply the juxtaposition of activity and object) "jump frog" strikes the wire and "water splash" sends the ripples of sound (and awareness of sound) out toward the reader/viewer.


Day 11

age pond
jump frog
splash water

See Pond age. 

Age, Pond, age!

Man. This one really sucks.

Day 10

The age of this pond--
frog leap
into water.

Hum. "Arachne... go spin on that tent rope." 


Day 9

The old pond--
a frog's leap
sounding water.

Still luxuriating in the mizu no oto of the original. Here I'm trying to capture the sudden simplicity of the last line, wondering if the variousness of "sounding" might approach such an opening of awareness.  


Day 8

an old pond
a frog-leap

Some days are like that, no?


Day 7

mold pond--
frog hops through
water's sound

h/t to my son Pete, who overheard Ann and I last night talking about the first line, and he pipes up "mold pond?" Which was fortuitously misheard, really, since I'd been trying to figure out how, exactly, I might communicate the imagination I had of Basho's pond. It's a quiet space (quiet enough, naturally, for the quiet sound of water to make itself heard), shaded with filtered sunlight at certain slants, humid and cool, mossy and moldy, etc., etc. It's important to allow the reader access to that space, I think, since Basho's circumstance would have been very local and very particular, and, too, would have relied upon his audience's knowledge of that locality and that particularity. Translation is, as Bottom the Weaver lets us know, a transportation, and I'm curious and zealous enough to transport myself to Basho's pond, to that Japanese coolness and humidity, that sanctified habitat of Basho's eye and ear. There needs be indication of that foreign locale, both the linguistic (mizu no oto) and the specific (the moss, the bamboo, the surround of environment). "Mold" might not be a perfect vehicle, but I'm damn glad to have a son around to eavesdrop--it's gotten me thinking in new lines.

Also! The troubling western connotations of "leap" (i.e., Kierkegaard; i.e., faith and all) tend to leach into the Japanese tobikomu (which, I'm discovering, has its own strange etymology [?? does one call the combinations of kanji "etymology"? See--told you I'm no Japanese scholar...]). Hmm. Maybe I'll have to chat with someone who knows what it is I want to talk about... Still, I've got issues with "leap" anymore, but don't like "hop" or "jump" much better. 



Day 6

an old pond
frog hops in--

Well, Mr. Patton, I've gone and done it: "plop" it is. And at first I thought it might be worse than yesterday's Latinate edition, but now I'm not so sure. All them o's in there are sort of nice. And you know me--I'm all good with the onomatopoeic. Cf. Keroac's translation of the Pacific at Big Sur: "Ker plotsch-- / Shore--shoe-- / god--brash--". Perhaps I'll have to borrow that Kerouacky "Ker plotsch," which, as Ann notes, is sort of the sound of a plunger leaving a toilet, or, maybe, the sound of water being quickly and variously displaced (by frog, ocean, plunger, etc.).

I think the "hops" is what works for me here--there's another translation that has "plop" in it somewhere, but I forget whose.... The "hops" give the whole poem a complete sonic direction towards that final occasion of the frog slipping under the surface. 

Ooh, also nice is the sole non-o in the poem, the i of in, which provides a sort of aural compliment to the ya of the original. 

Okay, I'm kinda cool with this one now.


Day 5

antiquated pond
amphibian leaping in
aquatic sounding

And that's even worse... Basho done by the SAT. The sounds are lovely (the repetition of the t sounds, the a's, the p's in "pond" and "leap" rhyming with the b in "amphibian"), but those words don't sound right to the English ear, unless you're a pretentious shit. Plus, they're just not accurate--"antiquated" meaning something like "obsolete" (and I can't imagine Basho understanding a pond in the way we understand computers), and amphibian referring to much more than the species kawazu

I was contemplating trying to translate the poem into Latin. Since our latinate English words seem most closely to approximate the syllable length of the Japanese, I figured they'd sound more natural and less hoity-toidy in Latin. Then I thought it would be even more hoity-toidy to translate it into Latin.


Day 4

At the old pond's side
a frog slips away into
the sound of water.

See? 5-7-5 is just too much room for our Angl0-Saxon words to wiggle around in. The prepositions are unnecessary and overdone--they focus us too much on the moment, a HUD of poetic attention. And that "away"--ick, so much metaphysic in that word. Again, as well, the trouble with the articles--should any of these activities and objects be definite? Or indefinite? Or is the indeterminacy the key of the original (this frog here, and also all frogs at all times everywhere)? 

And finally, ugh, the syntax ("the arrangement of the army") puts us into a lockstep lemming-like march to that final period, where we all plop in with the frog, only we can't breathe underwater...


Day 3

old pond--
here the frog leaps in
water's sound

The form of haiku in Japanese is, as we all learn in kindy-garten, 5 syllables first line, seven syllables second line, five syllables last line. I've read somewhere that English ought to put it into 3-5-3, which I've done here. 

My personal experience with this rhythmic translation was in Japan: a friend suggested I write a haiku for the emperor's annual competition, which I did, packing as much nature imagery as I could into a 5-7-5 haiku in English. It was full to the brim with asyntactically allied cranes, bike rides and roadsides, and when I brought it to my friend to have her help me translate it, she read it and laughed at me--she said there was no way to translate all of that into the Japanese form. (crane=tsuru=2; bike=jitensha=3; ride=noru=2; roadside=robou no=4; total=14 syllables already...). 

The 3-5-3 form seems to work fairly well with the old pond poem, compacting experience and occasion into a linguistic glimpse of that moment. I think I like the here of the above translation, as it locates us and provides the intensification/focus of the ya, the "cutting word" in the original. It reminds me of the "AND!" in Hopkins' line "AND! the fire that breaks from thee then," which provides an ecstatic resituation of the reader, of the poet, of the attention. I think the "here" gets us close to that idea of satori, the hope that the poem will provide a sudden ah ha! moment in us. 


So, three days in, and I'm already realizing that, as much as I love this little poem, I don't know that I want to carry it around with me for a whole year (especially when there are so many other poems whose company I would miss). I originally intended to "come up with" a new translation every day, with or without commentary--I think I'm going to carry a little notebook and just let inspiration strike when and where it may. Also, there are supposed to be 365 unique translations, and some days I just want to say "old pond / frog jumps in / splash," and a notebook full of reimaginings might mitigate against too many of those...


Day 2

an old pond
a frog leaps in--
water's sound

There's something that is both specific and universal in the original, and I'm not sure that the indefinite article does that ambiguity justice. Natch, I'll have to try it out with the definite article one of these days (though I'm not so sure I'll like it). 

What I do like is that last line--"water's sound" is, to me, the closest English cousin to "mizu no oto". I've always loved the Japanese no--the possessive article--because it replaces "of" in the position of the possessive "apostrophe-s". In Basho's poem, the assonance of the "o" sounds in the last two words is particularly lovely and particularly indicative of the sound of a frog slipping into the surface of a pond. The long "i" and "u" in mizu supplies the surprise of the movement. Granted, it's still a quiet surprise, and that's why I find the short "a" and schwa of "er," the elided esses and the rounded end of "sound" to be a happy relative to Basho. The vowels are all quiet, but they all vary. They are the quiet surprise in a newly troubled lake. 

More another day about the ya...


Here's the most famous haiku of all time (so says I): 

Transliterated, it reads: 

furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

It's been translated into English probably hundreds of times, to greater or lesser effect. See, e.g., here. Personally, I dig Suzuki's, Rexroth's, Corman's and Watts', and probably Hass' is my favorite, with Reichhold's as a close second. Then there's Marks' lame attempt at translating form from haiku to limerick, and then the additional translations here which range from silly to shitty by Bryan, Behn, Einbond, and Young. 

Literally translated into English, it reads:

old pond--ah!
frog jumps in
water's sound

And, okay, we're already lost in translation (tee hee!). There's that odd word ya that serves as a "cutting word"--a "word" that some say serves as an exclamation mark, others say serves as a sort of apostrophe (and which I translate here as em-dash/"ah"/excamation mark). 

I don't know what to do with that clitic, frankly. I'm not a scholar of nihon-go. (In fact, one of my greatest regrets in life is that I didn't spend every moment of my non-working time in Japan in language study.) But it's a word that seems crucial in a poem that seems crucial to any number of English-speaking poets, and it was that word that I latched onto last night at 4 a.m., trying to distract myself from a migraine. 

See, I woke up at 2:30 with a headache, took my Imitrex and then got the jitters. I went downstairs so as not to disturb Ann and tried to distract myself into sleeping. One distraction I tried on was Basho's poem, and I thought that I must've been remembering it wrong--that the ya must've been wa (the subject marker in Japanese). I started trying on different translations of the poem as different distractions, and thought to myself that it might be fun to try on a different translation every day for a year. Thus, I foray into bloggishness. 

So, if you come tobikomu-ishly to this page, what you can expect is a more-or-less daily attempt at a new translation of Basho's most famous poem. I certainly hope that I repeat some of the successes of the old, and hope just as much that I might stumble upon a relatively decent and original success of my own. Granted, it's a poem that has seventeen syllables in the original, which comprise a grand total of eight (or seven, or six, or five) words, but Imma try my damnedest to get 365 poems out of old Basho.

A few salient details about what I'm setting out to do:

My audience: 
  • poets who like this poem; 
  • poets who like translation; 
  • poets who know Japanese and can help me out with etymology; 
  • poets who hate the poem; 
  • people who might know me; 
  • people who are curious about people who embark on stupid projects; 
  • employers who think this project is not stupid; 
  • people who can tell me how the fuck to work blogger/layout and all that shit (Adobe insights?--i.e., what flipping program do I use?).

My plan: 
  • "Clean" translation (see: my literal translation above, which is already the frontrunner for the best translation of the 365); 
  • "false" translation (see: Zukofsky's Catullus; see "And then went down to the ships"; see "O     /     tree     /    into the World," etc.); 
  • combinations of the two; 
  • commentary on the activity of translation; 
  • random acts of curiosity about the Japanese language (see: entry for "kyrie eleison" in the Sanseido Romaji English-Japanese Japanese-English Dictionary, the definition of which is "rentou," which is not "take the pitcher's mound in two successive games," but, since I don't have my copy of P. G. O'Neill's Kanji dictionary, I don't know what the "tou" is, so I'm gonna just blabber like, "huh, weird that 'O Lord have mercy' means the same thing as 'Daisuke! Get your ass out there again!'"); 
  • random details about my personal life that you may or may not find interesting (see: "I had a heady-weadache this morning" above). 

Thus, I complete my first post.

P.S. I fucking hate bananas.