Matsuo Bashô: Frog Haiku #FridayFeeling #poem

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

Old pond — frog jumped in — sound of water.

The quiet we wait for at the end of today. Where a packed lunch and a bottle of tea makes a prairie… Where can we find quiet, serenity, frogs when you live in the city? What does this poem do for city dwellers? Has it become only a dream, a vision of a trip to other countries? How many of us have seen frogs, walked around ponds?

Public gardens, inside conservatories, walking through a ravine, Saturday and Sunday early morning, inside near empty shuls, churches, mosques. Maybe in coffee shops before the neighbourhood wakes up, libraries in the study sections where tiny birds wait under the table or on top of stacks, near the water… But the fear of quiet and of boredom and of having nothing else to do…almost stops us from wanting to be where a frog jumps into an old pond. A lot of us have stopped doing nothing or have stopped hiking, gardening, walking to places.

It must have meant something different for Basho. A large part of his day must have been silent, quiet, long. Frogs are cute little animals for him… what would be bring out similar feelings in us, when everything is fast, loud, devoid of animals except on videos we share?

Matsuo Bashô: Frog Haiku

The original Japanese:

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

Old pond — frog jumped in — sound of water.

Translated by Lafcadio Hearn

A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps . . .
Apart, unstirred by sound or motion . . . till
Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps.

Translated by Curtis Hidden Page

The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water.

Translated by R.H. Blyth

old pond
frog leaping
splash

Translated by Cid Corman

Old dark sleepy pool
quick unexpected frog
goes plop! Watersplash.

Translated by Peter Beilenson

Listen! a frog
Jumping into the stillness
Of an ancient pond!

Translated by Dorothy Britton

At the ancient pond
a frog plunges into
the sound of water

Translated by Sam Hamill

dark old pond
:
a frog plunks in

Translated by Dick Bakken

pond
frog
plop!

Translated by James Kirkup

Commentary by Robert Aitken

The old pond;
a frog jumps in —
the sound of the water.

Furu ike ya Old pond!
kawazu tobikomu frog jumps in
mizu no oto water’s sound

The commentary is from Robert Aitken’s A Zen Wave: Bashô’s Haiku and Zen (revised ed., Shoemaker & Hoard, 2003). The book includes essays on 26 of Bashô’s haikus, of which this is the first.

THE FORM

Ya is a cutting word that separates and yet joins the expressions before and after. It is punctuation that marks a transition — a particle of anticipation.

Though there is a pause in meaning at the end of the first segment, the next two segments have no pause between them. In the original, the words of the second and third parts build steadily to the final word oto. This has penetrating impact — “the frog jumps in water’s sound.” Haiku poets commonly play with their base of three parts, running the meaning past the end of one segment into the next, playing with their form, as all artists do variations on the form they are working with. Actually, the name “haiku” means “play verse.”

COMMENT

This is probably the most famous poem in Japan, and after three hundred and more years of repetition, it has, understandably, become a little stale for Japanese people. Thus as English readers, we have something of an edge in any effort to see it freshly. The first line is simply “The old pond.” This sets the scene — a large, perhaps overgrown lily pond in a public garden somewhere. We may imagine that the edges are mossy, and probably a little broken down. With the frog as our clue, we guess that it is twilight in late spring.

This setting of time and place needs to be established, but there is more. “Old” is a cue word of another sort. For a poet such as Bashô, an evening beside a mossy pond evoked the ancient. Bashô presents his own mind as this timeless, endless pond, serene and potent — a condition familiar to mature Zen students.

In one of his first talks in Hawai’i, Yamada Kôun Rôshi said: “When your consciousness has become ripe in true zazen — pure like clear water, like a serene mountain lake, not moved by any wind — then anything may serve as a medium for realization.”

D.T. Suzuki used to say that the condition of the Buddha’s mind while he was sitting under the Bodhi tree was that of sagara mudra samadhi (ocean-seal absorption). In this instance, mudra is translated as “seal” as in “notary seal.” We seal our zazen with our zazen mudra, left hand over the right, thumbs touching. Our minds are sealed with the serenity and depth of the great ocean in true zazen.

There is more, I think. Persistent inquiry casts that profound serenity. Tradition tells us that the Buddha was preoccupied with questions about suffering. The story of Zen is the story of men and women who were open to agonizing doubts about ultimate purpose and meaning. The entire teaching of Zen is framed by questions.

Profound inquiry placed the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, and his exacting focus brought him to the serene inner setting where the simple incident of noticing the morning star could suddenly disclose the ultimate Way. As Yamada Rôshi has said, any stimulus would do — a sudden breeze with the dawn, the first twittering of birds, the appearance of the sun itself. It just happened to be a star in the Buddha’s case.

In Bashô’s haiku, a frog appears. To Japanese of sensitivity, frogs are dear little creatures, and Westerners may at least appreciate this animal’s energy and immediacy. Plop!

“Plop” is onomatopoeic, as is oto in this instance. Onomatopoeia is the presentation of an action by its sound, or at least that is its definition in literary criticism. The poet may prefer to say that he became intimate with that sound. Thus the parody by Gibon Sengai is very instructive:

The old pond!
Bashô jumps in,
The sound of the water!

Hsiang-yen Chih-hsien became profoundly attuned to a sound while cleaning the grave of the Imperial Tutor, Nan-yang Hui-chung. His broom caught a little stone that sailed through the air and hit a stalk of bamboo. Tock! He had been working on the kôan “My original face before my parents were born,” and with that sound his body and mind fell away completely. There was only that tock. Of course, Hsiang-yen was ready for this experience. He was deep in the samadhi of sweeping leaves and twigs from the grave of an old master, just as Bashô is lost in the samadhi of an old pond, and just as the Buddha was deep in the samadhi of the great ocean.

Samadhi means “absorption,” but fundamentally it is unity with the whole universe. When you devote yourself to what you are doing, moment by moment — to your kôan when on your cushion in zazen, to your work, study, conversation, or whatever in daily life — that is samadhi. Do not suppose that samadhi is exclusively Zen Buddhist. Everything and everybody are in samadhi, even bugs, even people in mental hospitals.

Absorption is not the final step in the way of the Buddha. Hsiang-yen changed with that tock. When he heard that tiny sound, he began a new life. He found himself at last, and could then greet his master confidently and lay a career of teaching whose effect is still felt today. After this experience, he wrote:

One stroke has made me forget all my previous knowledge.
No artificial discipline is at all needed;
In every movement I uphold the ancient way
And never fall into the rut of mere quietism;
Wherever I walk no traces are left,
And my senses are not fettered by rules of conduct;
Everywhere those who have attained to the truth
All declare this to be of highest order.

The Buddha changed with noticing the morning star — “Now when I view all beings everywhere,” he said, “I see that each of them possesses the wisdom and virtue of the Buddha . . .” — and after a week or so he rose from beneath the tree and began his lifetime of pilgrimage and teaching. Similarly, Bashô changed with that plop. The some 650 haiku that he wrote during his remaining eight years point precisely within his narrow medium to metaphors of nature and culture as personal experience. A before-and-after comparison may be illustrative of this change. For example, let us examine his much-admired “Crow on a Withered Branch.”

On a withered branch
a crow is perched:
an autumn evening.

Kare eda ni Withered branch on
karasu no tomari keri crow’s perched
aki no kure autumn’s evening

The Japanese language uses postpositions rather than prepositions, so phrases like the first segment of this haiku read literally “Withered branch on” and become “On [a] withered branch.” Unlike English, Japanese allows use of the past participle (or its equivalent) as a kind of noun, so in this haiku we have the “perchedness” of the crow, an effect that is emphasized by the postposition keri, which implies completion.

Bashô wrote this haiku six years before he composed “The Old Pond,” and some scholars assign to it the milestone position that is more commonly given the later poem. I think, however, that on looking into the heart of “Crow on a Withered Branch” we can see a certain immaturity. For one thing, the message that the crow on a withered branch evokes an autumn evening is spelled out discursively, a contrived kind of device that I don’t find in Bashô’s later verse. There is no turn of experience, and the metaphor is flat and uninteresting. More fundamentally, this haiku is a presentation of quietism, the trap Hsiang-yen and all other great teachers of Zen warn us to avoid. Sagara mudra samadhi is not adequate; remaining indefinitely under the Bodhi tree will not do; to muse without emerging is to be unfulfilled.

Ch’ang-sha Ching-ts’en made reference to this incompleteness in his criticism of a brother monk who was lost in a quiet, silent place:

You who sit on the top of a hundred-foot pole,
Although you have entered the Way, it is not yet genuine.
Take a step from the top of the pole
And worlds of the ten directions will be your entire body.
The student of Zen who is stuck in the vast, serene condition of
nondiscrimination must take another step to become mature.

Bashô’s haiku about the crow would be an expression of the “first principle,” emptiness all by itself — separated from the world of sights and sounds, coming and going. This is the ageless pond without the frog. It was another six years before Bashô took that one step from the top of the pole into the dynamic world of reality, where frogs play freely in the pond and thoughts play freely in the mind.

The old pond has no walls;
a frog just jumps in;
do you say there is an echo?

Thirty translations of a haiku by Matsuo Bashô (1686). Many more versions can be found in Hiroaki Sato’s One Hundred Frogs (Weatherhill, 1995), which includes over 100 translations plus a number of adaptations and parodies.

The commentary is from Robert Aitken’s A Zen Wave: Bashô’s Haiku and Zen (revised ed., Shoemaker & Hoard, 2003). The book includes essays on 26 of Bashô’s haikus, of which this is the first.

Little Man, Komunyakaa #poem #child #BlackLivesMatter

Family. Community. I like this poem because they are all together and it looks like they are often together. The great-great grandmother loves the child so much, her physical hurts go unnoticed for awhile. He distracts her so much that the pain of loss, the faces of those she lost are not taking over her whole sky.

Coffee is sharp. And milk has a lot of sugar in it. It takes the edge off of coffee like sugar cubes do. You can’t forget the pain if it runs deep, but distraction is a healthy way of forgetting it for a while.

The child is enchanting all the women. And I guess the father would like to do the same. His way may have been the trumpet. Does he not play trumpet any more? He would feel that he could not hold the women’s attention if that was all he had. If his grandmother wakes up every night, he might be the one sent out to look for the burglar. Maybe he is tired and he wishes he could be the distraction for her, take her attention and his wife’s attention. I guess some fathers are jealous of their children. Or maybe he is just tired and his trumpet is on his lap.

LITTLE MAN AROUND THE HOUSE
Yusef Komunyakaa

Mama Elsie’s ninety now.
She calls you whippersnapper.
When you two laugh, her rheumatism
Slips out the window like the burglar
She hears nightly. Three husbands
& an only son dead, she says
I’ll always be a daddy’s girl.
Sometimes I can’t get Papa’s face
Outta my head. But this boy, my great-
Great-grandson, he’s sugar in my coffee. 

You look up from your toy
Telescope, with Satchmo’s eyes,
As if I’d put a horn to your lips.
You love maps of buried treasure,
Praying Mantis, & Public Enemy…
Blessed. For a moment I am jealous.
You sit like the king of trumpet
Between my grandmama & wife,
Youngblood, a Cheshire cat
Hoodooing two birds at once.

A Beautiful Town by Haya Pomrenze #poem #Jewish #death #mourning

A Beautiful Town by Haya Pomrenze

When my father died I was twelve hundred miles away
because a giggly-bosomed hospice nurse
in loud pink scrubs chirped
that it could be weeks, even a month.
That evening he had mushroom barley soup
then gave each child an I love you.
Over the phone it sounded like a regular I love you
not a final phrase, which is why
you have to see people when they speak to you.
I wish I could say that looking back
I heard my father’s wet cough, his rattled breath
a long pause, which forced me to board a plane.
Instead that night my father went to the bathroom
with his walker and his Jamaican aide he loved like a daughter,
which makes me feel happy and sad. His kidneys shut down
the way his face did when he was hurt or angry.
Back in the railed hospital bed he counted down in real time
the same way he did when we were late for carpool or synagogue.
Five minutes, four minutes, faltered at three.
He made it to one minute, eyes at half-mast.
It’s a beautiful town, he said.

—from Rattle #45, Fall 2014
Tribute to Poets of Faith

__________

Haya Pomrenze: “With the exception of eating rice pudding and chocolate babka, writing poetry is the closest I’ve come to a true spiritual experience. I’m a believer in God on my own terms. I write poems in synagogue, on carpool line, while having sex, working with my psych patients. I have absolute faith in a higher power when I write. There’s a bit of the divine in my mortal words.”

Sunday Afternoon, Denise Levertov #poem #girls #church #wild

One of these poems that are so lovely your heart aches and you want to spend the rest of the day finding every single poem this poet wrote. A sort of poetry feeding frenzy.

Levertov, Denise Levertov: “[I knew] before I was ten that I was an artist-person and I had a destiny.”

I started reading about her life and I have to close the window, because I must read property law first. Who are the Black Mountain Poets?!

Oh! Look at this title: “The Life Around Us: Selected Poems on Nature (1997)” And “White Owl and Blue Mouse.”

I wonder if the afternoon sun lay red on the white dresses or if they actually changed clothes. Maybe it is a Catholic thing.

Sunday Afternoon

After the First Communion
and the banquet of mangoes and
bridal cake, the young daughters
of the coffee merchant lay down
for 1 long siesta, and their white dresses
lay beside them in quietness
and the white veils floated
in their dreams as the flies buzzed.

But as the afternoon
burned to a close they rose
and ran about the neighborhood
among the halfbuilt villas
alive, alive, kicking a basketball, wearing
other new’ dresses, of bloodred velvet.

If you are forever watching dogs or just your own dog, this rhythm in the next poem feels so very familiar… Except in spring when a dog needs to sniff every scent in 30 minutes of pausing for half a block. And except in Winter when it is too cold on the bottom of the paws and the only scents are the neighbours dogs’ yellow snow.

Overland to the Islands

Let’s go—much as that dog goes,
intently haphazard. The
Mexican light on a day that
‘smells like autumn in Connecticut’
makes iris ripples on his
black gleaming fur—and that too
is as one would desire—a radiance
consorting with the dance.
.                                                    Under his feet
rocks and mud, his imagination, sniffing,
engaged in its perceptions—dancing
edgeways, there’s nothing
the dog disdains on his way,
nevertheless he
keeps moving, changing
pace and approach but
not direction—’every step an arrival.’

Denise Levertov (b. 1923)

Intercity by Margarida Vale de Gato #sex #poem #love

Intercity

we ride down the backs of hills inside
the earth eating eucalyptus eating haystacks
spitting out the wind spitting out time spitting out
time
time the trains gulp the opposite way going
the opposite way stealing our time my love

I need you who are flying
to me
but you fly unfurling sails over the sea
you have wing-space you hover you drift while I
keep crawling towards you along the rails
with occasional sparks I write to you my love
cheating your absence the claustrophobia of the mustard
coloured curtains you walk on water and now
I know
words are less worthy than boats

I need you my love in this loneliness this forsakenness
of thick curtains preventing the sun preventing my
flight and nevertheless on the opposite side
the sky boasts little lamb clouds hopping
hopping on oats and wheat fields there are none here
we eat eucalyptus eucalyptus and whitewashed churches
leaning over level-crossing whitewashed churches
my love
I smoke a cigarette in between two stops I read
Lobo Antunes I think people are sad people
are so sad people are pathetic my
love just as well you hide me from the world you hide
me from the world’s patronising smiles the world’s
self-righteous consent
by night on your loins my love I
am also a boat sitting on top of your body
I am a mast

I need you my love I am tired I ache
close to where my eyes are set I feel like crying still I
desire you but before before you touch me before you say
I want you my love you shall let me sleep a hundred years
a hundred years from today we’ll be boats again
I am lonely
Portugal is everlasting we eat eucalyptus
everlasting eucalyptus lean and green
we eat eucalyptus interspersed with shrubs
we eat eucalyptus the ache of your absence my love
we eat this heat and the railtracks and anguish
set ablaze inside Lobo Antunes’ novel
we eat eucalyptus and Portugal is everlasting Portugal
is huge and I need you and in the opposite way they are stealing
time it’s our time they are stealing my love it’s time
time for us to be boats and sail through walls inside rooms
my love to be boats at night
at night to blow oh sweetly blow into full sail

boats.

 

Intercidades

galopamos pelas costas dos montes no interior
da terra a comer eucaliptos a comer os entulhos de feno
a cuspir o vento a cuspir o tempo a cuspir
o tempo
o tempo que os comboios do sentido contrário engolem
do sentido contrário roubam-nos o tempo meu amor

preciso de ti que vens voando
até mim
mas voas à vela sobre o mar
e tens espaço asas por isso vogas à deriva enquanto eu
vou rastejando ao teu encontro sobre os carris faiscando
ocasionalmente e escrevo para ti meu amor
a enganar a tua ausência a claustrofobia de cortinas
cor de mostarda tu caminhas sobre a água e agora
eu sei
as palavras valem menos do que os barcos

preciso de ti meu amor nesta solidão neste desamparo
de cortinas espessas que impedem o sol que me impedem
de voar e ainda assim do outro lado
o céu exibe nuvens pequeninas carneirinhos a trotar
a trotar sobre searas de aveia e trigais aqui não há
comemos eucaliptos eucaliptos e igrejas caiadas
debruçadas sobre os apeadeiros igrejas caiadas
meu amor
eu fumo um cigarro entre duas paragens leio
o Lobo Antunes e penso as pessoas são tristes as
as pessoas são tão tristes as pessoas são patéticas meu
amor ainda bem que tu me escondes do mundo me escondes
dos sorrisos condescendentes do mundo da comiseração
do mundo
à noite no teu corpo meu amor eu
também sou um barco sentada sobre o teu ventre
sou um mastro

preciso de ti meu amor estou cansada dói-me
em volta dos olhos tenho vontade de chorar mesmo assim
desejo-te mas antes antes de me tocares de dizeres quero-te
meu amor hás-de deixar-me dormir cem anos
depois de cem anos voltaremos a ser barcos
eu estou só
Portugal nunca mais acaba comemos eucaliptos
eucaliptos intermináveis longos e verdes
comemos eucaliptos entremeados de arbustos
comemos eucaliptos a dor da tua ausência meu amor
comemos este calor e os caminhos de ferro e a angústia
a deflagrar combustão no livro do Lobo Antunes
comemos eucaliptos e Portugal nunca mais acaba Portugal
é enorme eu preciso de ti e em sentido contrário roubam-nos
o tempo roubam-nos o tempo meu amor tempo
o tempo para sermos barcos e atravessar paredes dentro dos quartos
meu amor para sermos barcos à noite
à noite a soprar docemente sobre as velas acesas

barcos.

© Translation by Margarida Vale de Gato and Ana Hudson, 2010

in Mulher ao Mar, 2010http://www.poemsfromtheportuguese.org/Margarida__Vale_de_Gato

The Bagel & Rescue The Dead, Ignatow #poem

The Bagel

I stopped to pick up the bagel
rolling away in the wind,
annoyed with myself
for having dropped it
as if it were a portent.
Faster and faster it rolled,
with me running after it
bent low, gritting my teeth,
and I found myself doubled over
and rolling down the street
head over heels, one complete somersault
after another like a bagel
and strangely happy with myself.

 

And this weird, ridiculous, desperate and lovely poem…He sounds so depressed. Obviously  everything that he describes as not being love, can be love. Love of the small things in your day. A commitment not to draw attention to drama- which is fine, if you work through the drama at some point. Anyway. It is interesting to see his muted style.

Rescue the Dead

Finally, to forgo love is to kiss a leaf,
is to let rain fall nakedly upon your head,
is to respect fire,
is to study man’s eyes and his gestures
as he talks,
is to set bread upon the table
and a knife discreetly by,
is to pass through crowds
like a crowd of oneself.
Not to love is to live.

To love is to be led away
into a forest where the secret grave
is dug, singing, praising darkness
under the trees.

To live is to sign your name,
is to ignore the dead,
is to carry a wallet
and shake hands.

To love is to be a fish.
My boat wallows in the sea.
You who are free,
rescue the dead.

—David Ignatow

From: Contemporary American Poetry edited by Donald Hall

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We will be a space where everyone feels welcome, sexy and celebrated.

We will be a queer-owned, indie place on Church Street. We will amplify the love, creativity, sexuality, diversity & liberation that Glad Day Bookshop is known for.”

Black Poet, White Critic #BlackLivesMatter #poem Dudley Randall

Black Poet, White Critic

A critic advises
not to write on controversial subjects
like freedom or murder,
but to treat universal themes
and timeless symbols
like the white unicorn.

A white unicorn?

.

Dudley Randall

George

When I was a child desiring the title of grown-up
And toiling to earn it
In the inferno of the foundry knockout
I watched and admired you working by my side’
As, goggled, with mask on your mouth and shoulders bright
. with sweat,
You mastered the monstrous, lumpish cylinder blocks,
And when they clotted the line and plunged to the floor
With force enough to tear your foot in two,
You calmly stepped aside.

One day when the line broke down and the blocks clogged up
Groaning, grinding, and mounted like an ocean wave
And then rushed thundering down like an avalanche,
And we frantically dodged, then placed our heads together
To form an arch to lift and stack them,
You gave me your highest accolade:
You said, ‘You’re not afraid of sweat. You’re strong as a mule.’

Now, here, in the hospital,
In a ward where old men wait to die,
You sit, and watch time go by.
You cannot read the books I bring, not even
Those that are only picture books,
As you sit among the senile wrecks,
The psychopaths, the incontinent.

One day when you fell from your chair and stared at the air
With the look of fright which sight of death inspires,
I lifted you like a cylinder block, and said,
‘Don’t be afraid
Of a little fall, for you’ll be here
A long time yet, because you’re strong as a mule.’

From: Contemporary American Poetry edited by Donald Hall

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