Tag Archives: english

Basho – the Scent of the Plum

blossoms-2

The scent of the plum

The scent of the plum (ume)
Chased again and again
By winter’s wind

Japanese

梅が香に 追いもどさるる 寒さかな

Ume ga ka ni/ Oimo dosa ruru/ Samusa kana

Meaning of Basho’s Scent of Plum Blossoms

Who does not recall an early spring, the scent of the plum blossom, chased away by the cold, again and again?

Until spring is here to stay.

Line one, 梅, ume, the Japanese plum tree symbolizes spring’s start, because its early blossoms flower in February and March.

Line two, 追いもどさ is a bit of a struggle for me. Chased, pursued, run after, driven away are all candidates as the action verb. るる may be translated as continuously, but I have chose “again and again”. Line three 寒 is “cold”, but I used winter’s wind to keep Basho’s 4-7-4 pattern.

This simple haiku’s beauty lies in the ending rhyme of the three lines:

kani – ruru – kana

Land of Oz

Wonder of wonders, I came across a small grove of “ume” trees blossoming and bearing fruit in the sandy soil of a pond created out of an old sand pit. The tree is more akin to an apricot and the fruit is tart and sweet. The birds and the local animals enjoy the fruit, but I get my share.

blossom-bird

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frog in water

The sound of water

The Sound of Water, in English

An old pond and

A frog leaps in,

Sound of water!

frog in water

Basho’s poem

A well known poem by Matsuo Basho (松尾 芭蕉, 1644–1694) describing the sound of water. Even this simple haiku can have multiple translations. Sometimes the last line,  水の音, Mizu no oto, is simplified to “splash”. If one tries to be literal, then the line goes 水, mizu, water and の音, no oto, of sound. This works out to be “water’s sound” or the “sound of water”. Gramatically this is reverse of the French construction, “Le bruit de l’eau!”

We all interpret poems differently. My take is that Basho is laughing at the idea of water speaking when a frog jumps in.

Late in life, overcome with the loss of his mother and life in general, Bashō left Edo (Tokyo) and took to traveling alone on the Edo Five Routes. In 17th century Japan, these higways were thought to be full of thieves and bandits and considered dangerous. At first Bashō expected, if not hoped, to die in some forgotten spot. However, as his journey progressed, his mood improved, and Bashō met friends and grew to enjoy the scenery along the route.

Eventually, Basho returned to Edo where in 1686, he wrote this poem.

 

Japanese

古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音

Furuike ya/ Kawazu tobikomu/ Mizu no oto

French

Un âgé étang et
Une grenouille bonde,
Le bruit de l’eau!

Demain dès l’aube, Victor Hugo

moonlight

Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) recalls a visit to his daughter Léopoldine Hugo’s grave.

Demain dès l’aube

English translation

Tomorrow, at dawn, at the moment when the land is light,
I will leave. You see, I know that you wait for me.
I will go by the forest, I will go by the mountain.
I cannot stay any longer, far away from you.

I will walk eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Seeing nothing outside, not hearing a noise,
Alone, unknown, back hunched, hands crossed,
Sad, for the day for me will be like night.

I will not look for the golden evening that falls,
Nor the faraway sails descending upon Harfleur.
And when I arrive, I will put on your tomb
A bouquet of green holly and heather in bloom.

Original French

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.
beach_sit

To be or not the bee

To be or not the bee

bee

Let it be Rosemarie

Don’t read this, it’s meant
Just for me and not for you
Who stumbled on this poem
Just by accident.

Like Rosemarie
Who smelled a pretty red, red rose
Dreaming of her handsome sweet, sweet love
And so, was stung by a bee

Was it on her lip or on her nose?
I’ll let you guess
What became
Of Rosemarie, her love and the bee

Comme ce soit c’est fois

Ne lisez pas cela
C’est seul pour moi
Pas pour toi
Qui a arrive a ce poème
Juste par accidentellement
Comme Rosemarie
Qui sentait une rose rouge rouge
Rêver de son amour doux doux
Et a été piqué par une abeille
Était-ce sur sa lèvre ou nez?
Je vous laisse deviner

bee-in-the-approach

Facing Snow

Du Fu’s poem Facing Snow was written in the winter of 755 after the rebel capture of Chang’an, eastern capital of the Tang Dynasty. Du Fu took his family to safety and then was captured by the rebels and taken to Chang’an. He witnessed first-hand the horror of the An Lushan Rebellion before escaping south the following summer.

clouds-mountain-dark-vibr

Original Chinese

 对雪

战哭多新鬼
愁吟独老翁
乱云低薄暮
急雪舞回风
瓢弃尊无绿
炉存火似红
数州消息断
愁坐正书空

English Translation

Facing Snow

War cries and legions of ghosts.
An old man fretfully chants
A misty chaos and half twilight
Snow dances in a swirling wind
A languishing ladle with no wine or green tea
A cold furnace, once fiery red
Men whisper, what news.
While I brood on my empty book

French Translation

Face à la neige

Cris de guerre et plus fantômes.
Un vieillard chante avec inquiétude
Dans le chaos de la brume et le demi-crépuscule
Danse de neige dans le vent tourbillonnant
Une louche négligé sans vin ni thé
Un four vide, pas rouge vif
Les hommes chuchotent, quelles nouvelles.
Alors que je rêve sur mon livre vide

German Translation

Blick auf den Wind
Krieg schreit und Legionen von Geistern.
Ein alter Mann fragt sich gern
Ein Demi-Chaos und Halbdämmerung
Schnee tanzt in wirbelnden Wind
Eine unsichtbare Pfanne ohne Wein oder grüner Tee
Ein leerer Ofen, nicht feurigrot
Männer flüstern, was Neues
Während auf meinem leeren Buch ich starre und brühe

Notes on the Translations

Language is nuanced by time and culture. Its meaning subtle and mysterious. Thus translating can be a winding path through a dark forest. Even the title of Du Fu’s poem, Facing the Wind gives me pause. Why not a the stronger image of Facing the Snow?

Wind is the better choice. Du Fu conveys his thoughts on two levels. One is visual imagery, the other is metaphor. Captured by the enemy and held in Chang’an, Du Fu must answer for his actions once he escapes. While snow symbolizes the hardships of the winter, wind becomes a metaphor for the swirling accusations that inevitably would be made at court once Du Fu arrived to make his report.

Du Fu was forgiven for his temporary sojourn with the enemy. Others, like his friend Li Bai were not so fortunate.

Four and twenty blackbirds

Chante une chanson de six sous,
Une poche pleine de seigle.
Quatre et vingt merles,
Cuit dans une tarte.

Quand la tarte a été ouverte,
Les oiseaux se commencé à chanter;
Était-ce pas un plat savoureux,
Pour régler devant le roi?

Le roi était dans sa maison comptage,
Compter son argent;
La reine était dans le salon,
En mangeant du pain et de miel.

La femme de chambre était dans le jardin,
Raccrocher les vêtements,
Quand le bas est venu un merle
Et picoté hors de son nez.

Blackbirds are a common in Europe and America and considered a nuisance when they gather in flocks. We go to great trouble to get rid of them. But some good must come of them.

I speak of the common blackbird, although there are certainly others such as the red-wing, grackle, raven, rook, or jackdaw. Yes, I speak of the blackbird that in autumn and winter gathers in flocks by the thousands and makes a mess of cars, tables, and porches. In the country they can be seen in the cut fields gathering what remains of the  wheat and corn; in the city they perch on telephone wires and buildings, watching, it seems, as if to descend and strike back at us for cutting down their habitat.

Who doesn’t recall Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds? If we let the mind wander and soar, then I prefer Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire.

damme-blackbirds
Four blackbirds

Wander I must.

Here I am in Belgium, outside Brugge, walking along the canal on the way to Damme. It is early September, a little early for the blackbirds to gather together in flocks, but someone has to put out the word.

“Four and twenty blackbirds…” goes the rhyme, first appearing in print in 1744 in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Songbook.

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.

Ouch!

In the Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder had ma improvise when pa shot the blackbirds that ate the crops. There is no great loss without some small gain.

Ma made a pie.

damme-blackbirds-2

Potsu potsu

old-house
old farm house, Franklin County, Kansas

 

On Facebook, I came across this saying from a Japanese friend, “…potsu potsu.” It was her sad remark accompanying the departure of her child to another city, another place far far away. I too felt this emotion this last week with my daughter’s departure to Dallas. Though it is only five hours away, it is still another place, far away from home.

The phrase may have other contexts, Dictionary of Iconic Japanese Expressions, but for me it is:

 

 

And “bit by bit” the world changes until it is unrecognizable.

 

Peut-être, les Français dirait, petit à petit,do you agree? Pardonnez-moi pendant que je regrette ma perte, sa prise.

old-house-pink
petit a petit

 

 

“Qui vivra verra”

“Qui vivra verra,” he who lives will see. Sounds Latin, but it is not.

 

leDome
Le Dome, 108 Boulevard du Montparnasse.

Le Dome, 108 Boulevard du Montparnasse.

One could also say, “On verra bien qui vivra.”
The opposite of, “Nul ne verra, nul ne saura.”

Le Dome once hosted luminaries such as: Man Ray, Henry Miller, Khalil Gibran, Picasso, and of course Ernest Hemingway, and his entourage.

 

I can not leave Paris without saying, “La vie c’est douce, la vie c’est cher.”