Recently, Melissa Allen of Red Dragonfly posted a string of brilliant “afters” inspired by some of the master Bashō’s haiku. As a translator, I know how difficult (impossible?) it is to translate either French or Spanish poetry into English, but Japanese . . . that’s a whole different kettle of, well, frogs. Even so, I (like thousands of other haiku enthusiasts) have given more than a little thought to how I would interpret Bashō’s signature frog haiku. You know the one: The old pond–/a frog jumps in,/sound of water. That translation by Robert Hass is, I think, a pretty good one. But believe me there are many others! (Jump in here to see 30 similar froggy versions.) What I like most about Hass’ interpretation is, ironically, what he left out of his translation: a note explaining the choices he made, including the one for the last phrase (mizu no oto), literally “sound of water,” which other translators have tried to capture variously with plop, splash, glub . . .
I toyed with the idea of leaping into that frog pond of translations myself, but I just couldn’t do it, and, anyway, it’s already pretty crowded. Instead, inspired by haiga artist (and ku-me buddy) Rick Daddario of 19 Planets, I decided to have a little fun with an image my husband captured several years ago when an unexpected visitor came to call.
Forgive me, Bashō-san . . . won’t you?