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.

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T. Ismail: “Birdsong song-of-the-fish”, Indonesian poet! Haiku like silence and sounds.

Birdsong song-of-the-fish

Marshfrog
a lone voice

.               Pii
.               Wii

Tree beetle
Leaf turns red

Duck splashes about
And calls

.               Pii
.               Wii

Fish in a lake in the distance
A rush of water

Sky solidifies
Crystallized puddles

Bird hides itself
Even forrest is dead
Lost sound

.               Pii
.               Wii

.
.
Uit: Ik wil nog duizend jaar leven. Negen moderne Indonesische dichters. Meulenhoff, Amsterdam,1979. Poetry International Serie. Put together by Harry Aveling.

BUY:
ONE book left in the Netherlands, antique and with nice prints: http://www.bol.com/nl/p/ik-wil-nog-duizend-jaar-leven/1001004005110174/

New Year’s poems. Happy 2015!! 1/3

and to the start of one new year…

Welcoming in plenty
of new year’s rain
Rackety house!

old blue pine
embarking on a new year
how many spring mists?

New Year’s Day–
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average

After this night
a new year dawns
children

Year’s end,
all corners
of this floating world, swept

warmly
I greet the new year
temple verandah

Issa
.

Goodnight to the Season
(Thus runs the world away.—Hamlet) and slightly changed for my own fun.

Goodnight to the Season!—another
Will come, with its trifles and toys,
And hurry away, like its brother,
In sunshine, and scents, and noise.
Will it come with a rose or a briar?
Will it come with a blessing or curse?
Will its jeans be lower or higher?
Will its morals be better or worse?
Will it find me grown thinner or fatter,
Or fonder of wrong or of right,
Or married—or buried?—no matter:
Goodnight to the Season, Goodnight!

By Winthrop Mackworth Praed

Auld Lang Syne
“the song that nobody knows.”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Written down by Robert Burns

Because snow and ice are pretty, cold. Haiku.

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.

Issa

Looking at the clouds
blue in the ice-wind
space flows.

Thomas Grieg

No sky
no earth- even so
snowflakes fall.

Hashin

The international Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers!

REv-Sweat-russian-doll_1150-2

Lovely poetry by or about sex workers! The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is upon us! Yay!

By Su Xiaoxiao: a famous Chinese courtesan and poet, so beautiful poems were written about her for over 1500 years! Courtesans were trained as singers, dancers and poets in China. Haven’t found sex positive poems by english speakers yet.

Song of the Same Heartbeat:

I ride in a decorated carriage,
My darling rides a blue-white horse.
Where should we tie the knot for our heart?
Under the pine and cypress trees of Xiling.
.
By the later courtesan Liu Xiaoqing.
.
The carriage rumbles through the fragrent herbs of Xiling,
A message arrived from the inner quarters, inviting me to an outing.
I shed a cup of wine by myself on Su Xiaoxiao’s tomb,
Do you know that I am the one with the same feelings as you?
.
.
By Basho
.
Under the same roof
play girls were sleeping
bush clover and the moon
.
— His heart is touched by the soft light and the companionship. The Japanese had a number of names for sex workers. In this Haiku both intimacy and distance.
.
.
By Shiki
.
Lighting the lamps,
One shadow is for each
of the dolls
.
— The sex workers have each other, live in a house together and there is someone who cares for them and lights the lamps. One shadow means that they are each a person. He knows them, even if he can only see them when he takes care of them, even if they are too precious and high status for him to personally know.

Dolls had great status and import. Dolls were crafted for “household shrines, for formal gift-giving, or for festival celebrations such as Hinamatsuri, the doll festival.” Pilgrims would buy them as a memory of a temple visit or a journey.

 

Black poet Claude McKay writes about sex workers in Harlem, part of the poem shows McKay’s empathy.
You can read it as a wish to make life safer and better for sex workers doing their work.

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass
In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall
Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass
To bend and barter at desire’s call.
Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet
Go prowling through the night from street to street!

Through the long night until the silver break
Of day the little gray feet know no rest;
Through the lone night until the last snowflake
Has dropped from heaven upon the earth’s white breast,
The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet
Are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.

[…]
Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet
In Harlem wandering from street to street.

More moons haiku. Winter Solstice moon. Spring moon.

I shift my pillow
closer to the
full moon.

Saiba 1858 (Tr. Hoffmann)

Winter seclusion;
listening, that evening,
to rain in the mountains

Moon, plum blossoms,
this, that,
and the day goes.

Issa

Sitting all alone
facing a still white paper:
behind me the moon

An evening guest—
the girl flings open a window
in comes the moon

The clouds hide the moon—
nursing her twins a mother
in the thick darkness.

Vasile Moldovan

Basho, Takako and the moon!

Exciting! Full Beaver moon tonight!! Full. Beaver. Moon.

Beaver and Moon! Moon beaver beaver moon. It sounds good. Here are some haikus. First 5 by Basho -who was gay!

This bright harvest moon  
keeps me walking all night long
around the little pond 

occasional clouds
one gets a rest
from moon-viewing

the setting moon
the thing that remains
four corners of his desk

a peasant’s child
husking rice, pauses
to look at the moon

Autumn full moon,
the tides slosh and foam
coming in

Takako:

the disk moon
the disk frozen lake
reflecting each other

Haikus about quiet.

Standing still at dusk
Listen…In far distances
The song of froglings!

Meaning: Dusk is the period where boundaries disappear, and before the light of the stars emphasizes the darks and the lights. Wandering around at dusk is disappearing yourself into everything around you. You can focus on sound. Sounds from afar seem close by. Songs are carried far. Froglings who feel safe sing to each other and by the grace of dusk you are part of their audience, of other froglings. Dusk calls in the loneliness and the loneliness is eased by the froglings who are far and seem close. Doesn’t really matter that they are far. Dusk is when the flowers open and their scent comes towards us.

 

Buson

If you were silent
Flight of warblers on dark sky
Oh! Autumn snowflakes!

Sokan

Come come! Come out!
On pebble roads worn tires fade-in the dark
And look… the stars

Come come! Come Out!
From bogs old frogs command the dark
and look…the stars”
― Kikaku,