Transliterated, it reads:
furu ike ya
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:
frog jumps in
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:
- 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?).
- "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.