As I have said before, only a fraction of the hokku of Bashō are worthwhile, roughly about a fifth of them or less.  This verse is not one of his best:

Ro no koe nami o utte   harawata koru   yo ya   namida
oar ‘s voice waves 0 strike bowels freeze night ya tears

First of all, the verse is awkwardly long in Japanese and even worse in English.  Second, it sounds too literary, as though Bashō had been reading old Chinese verses (which of course were part of his literary background).  Third, it is a bit too dramatic for hokku, which again relates to its literary appearance.

Putting it into English is a bit awkward because of its length, and one has to move elements about, but what it means is essentially

A sound-of-oars-striking-waves-freezing-bowels night; tears.

We could attempt to put it into more normal English as perhaps

A night of  the sound of oars striking waves,
And of freezing bowels;

Visually it is really unbalanced and no matter how one translates it, it is still unsatisfactory as a hokku.  We could try to improve it, but inevitably the addition of “tears” would spoil it by making it too emotional for good hokku.  Hokku are not and should not be about emotions; they are about sensory experience.  Perhaps that sensory experience might bring tears, but to say so goes too far, and takes us back into the realm of Chinese lyric poetry — a kind of devolution of hokku — in spite of the fact that Bashō, as in this verse, sometimes attempted it.  So Bashō here says too much both by using too many words and by adding emotional excess.

It should be a lesson to us neither to make hokku awkwardly long nor too obviously emotional.


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