LISTENING TO THE WIND

As I often say, some old Japanese hokku were needlessly vague — something we want to avoid when writing new hokku.  There is, for example, this verse by Sora:

yomosugara akikaze kiku ya ura no yama
よ も すがら 秋  風    聞くや  裏    の    山
All night autumn wind hear ya behind ‘s mountain

As it is written in Japanese, one would read it as:

All night long
Listening to the wind;
The mountain behind.

That, however, fails in English to adequately make the link between the wind and the mountain/mountains (remember that in Japanese there is no written plural)

I would prefer this understanding, in daoku form:

All night long,
Listening to the wind
On the mountains behind.

That way we we know that the writer is listening all the night to the wind blowing through the trees on the mountains behind where he is lodging.

Historically, Sora was apparently kept awake by an illness when he wrote this, but a hokku should not be linked firmly to its original circumstances if it is to become our experience as well — as a hokku should.  There are many reasons for being awake all the night, with only the sound of the wind on the hills.

David

 

CHORA’S CLOUDS

Here is a hokku by Chora that requires a rather interpretive translation to make sense in English.

Autumn begins;
In the flowing clouds
The wind is seen.

The flow of clouds in the sky reveals the wind — the first sign of the wind of autumn that will become more and more obvious as the season progresses.  It is the wind that carries the clouds across the sky.

In the Japanese original, it is like this:

Autumn begins;
Clouds flowing —
The wind is seen.

If one reads that before the interpretive translation however, English speakers are likely to fail to see the connection between the clouds and the wind, which is why an interpretive translation makes the relationship clear — and thus is better.

Aki tatsu ya kumo wa nagarete kaze miyuru
秋   たつ や    雲     は  ながれて   風   見 ゆる
Autumn begins ya cloud wa flow wind is-seen

Remember that a hokku should be simple and clear; one should not have to puzzle it out.  Its effect on the reader should be immediate.  Vagueness was sometimes found in old Japanese hokku, but it was a flaw rather than a virtue, and should not be emulated when composing in English.

 

David