A READER QUESTION: KINDLY SETTLE AN ISSUE

This morning I received a message from a reader asking why Jane Reichhold’s book Bashō: the Complete Haiku did not seem to have a verse attributed to Bashō found in the old Peter Pauper Press series book The Four Seasons: Japanese Haiku Second Series (1958), apparently translated by Peter Beilinson.  I thought perhaps my answer might be of interest to other readers of this site as well, so here it is in slightly modified form:

 
First, I would not recommend Reichhold’s book, because in my view the “translations” are often misleading at best, and more Reichhold than Bashō.  I read it once from the library when it came out, and did not think it worth adding to my own library.
 
However:
 
The version you gave from the Peter Pauper Press is:
 
Under my tree-roof
Slanting lines of April rain
Separate to drops.
 
I have modified the format.  Actually, the book gives it in four all-capitalized lines with no punctuation.
 
That appears to be a very loose and free interpretation of this not-so-good hokku by Bashō:
 
春雨の木下につたふ清水哉
 
Harusame no koshita ni tsutau shimizu kana
 
Spring-rain ’s tree-down at running clear water kana
 
In normal English:
 
Spring rain
Running down the tree —
Clear water.
 
The meaning is essentially this:
 
Spring rain;
It runs down the tree
As clear water.
 
I did find Reichhold’s version online, given as:
 
spring rain / trickling down a tree / clear water spring
 
I don’t know what page it is on in her book, because as I said, I never bought her book; just read through a copy from the library when it came out.
 
Now oddly enough, the Peter Pauper series’  loose interpretation of the verse — if slightly modified — actually makes a rather good hokku if we remove the words “my” and “roof”:
 
Under the tree,
Slanting lines of spring rain
Separate to drops.
 
It is a far cry from Bashō’s original hokku and has quite a different meaning, but in my opinion it is actually much better. 
 
David

 

One thought on “A READER QUESTION: KINDLY SETTLE AN ISSUE

  1. Can you explain why you consider Basho’s hokku to be “not so good?” I think it would be helpful for the new students of hokku to understand your reasoning. Thanks, David.

    REPLY:

    It is a matter of perception. Remember that good hokku show us something from a new perspective:
    First, the meaning of Bashō’s verse:

    Spring rain;
    It runs down the tree
    As clear water.

    It is the truth, but we did not really expect it to be other than clear water. That’s what rainwater is. If we remember R. H. Blyth’s description of hokku as telling us something we knew, but did not realize we knew until we read the verse, then compare that of Bashō with the revised version of the Beilinson rendering:

    Under the tree,
    Slanting lines of spring rain
    Separate to drops.

    That is a different perspective. We experience the transformation of the rain from slanting lines falling from the sky to drops falling from the leaves of the tree. If we think about it, it is something we knew, but did not know we knew until we experienced it in the verse — exactly what Blyth was talking about. It gives us that “Oh!” sensation that is missing in the first example.

    David

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