Tag Archives: French

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.



古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音

Furuike ya/ Kawazu tobikomu/ Mizu no oto


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


Demain dès l’aube, Victor Hugo


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.

What’s a Grecian urn?

It is an old joke told in Vaudeville days:

What’s a Grecian urn?
25 bucks a day unless he owns the restaurant.*


“La beauté est la vérité, beauté vérité, c’est tout
Vous savez sur cette terre, et seul ce que vous devez savoir.

The low-brow joke is made the funnier by its understood reference to John Keats’ poem Ode on a Grecian Urn whose last two lines are often quoted for the purpose of enjoying the mysteries of life without understanding them.

Ode sur une Urne Grecque

Ô toi! encore mariée vierge de la calme,
Ô toi! enfant recueillie du silence et du temps lent,
Sylvestre historien, qui peut ainsi exprimer
Un récit fleuri plus doucement que notre rime:
Quelle légende frangée de feuilles hante ta forme
Des divinités ou des mortels, ou des deux,
Dans les Temples ou les vallons d’Arcady?
Quels sont les hommes ou les dieux?
Quelles vierges résistent?
Quelle poursuite folle? Quelle lutte pour échapper?
Quelles pipes et timbrels? Quelle extase sauvage?

Les mélodies entendues sont douces,
mais celles qui ne sont pas entendues
Sont plus doux; par conséquent,
vous, les tuyaux mous, jouer sur;
Pas à l’oreille sensuelle, mais, plus proche,
Pipe à l’esprit des dieux d’aucun ton:
Juste la jeunesse, sous les bois, tu ne peux pas partir
Ton chant, jamais ces bois ne peuvent être nus;
Amant audacieux,
jamais, tu ne peux jamais embrasser,
Bien que gagnant près du but, ne vous affligez pas;
Elle ne peut pas disparaître,
bien que tu n’as pas ta béatitude,
A jamais tu aimeras et elle sera belle!

…à qui tu dis,
“La beauté est la vérité, beauté vérité, c’est tout
Vous savez sur cette terre, et seul ce qui vous devez savoir.

*Greeks immigration to New York City was the result of a general Turkish genocide of of the Christian Ottoman Greek population (and Armenians) during World War I and the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922. The Greek Turkish conflict has been a long one. In 1824, fellow poet Lord George Gordon Byron died at the young age of 36 in what is now Greece, where he had gone in support of the Greek struggle for independence from Ottoman Turkey. Predeceasing him in death was Keats, who died of tuberculosis on 23 February 1821 in Rome. He was twenty-five years old.

To be or not the bee

To be or not the 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


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.


Original Chinese



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.

Country Roads

Routes de campagne amène-moi chez-moi

Forgive me for a momentary diversion along a country road to a place I long to be.

Thinking about the good times, thinking about spring. And I am sorry things ain’t what they used to be. Now, close your eyes. Hey, it is good to be back home again.

Thanks to John Denver for all the great thoughts. Do you know how much we miss you?

Presque paradise, Virginie d’ouest

Bleu Crête de montagne

Rivière Shenandoah,

La vie y est vieux

Plus ancienne que les arbres

Plus jeune que les montagnes

Souffler dans la brise

Routes de campagne amène-moi chez-moi

Lieu j’ai envie d’être



Alors pourquoi les Français aiment-ils à dire, “On ne change pas”?


“Le monde déteste le changement, mais c’est la seule chose qui a apporté des progrès.”Charles Kettering.

“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that [brings] progress.” Moreover, the only thing we can’t change is change itself, for it is inevitable in the progress of life. And what is this thing we call change? It is not something we can touch, though it can be felt. It can not be seen with the naked eye, but must be sensed. Change is the process of moving from moment to moment and then measuring the difference.

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.

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.


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.


Potsu potsu

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.

petit a petit



ce qu’est l’art?

Êtes-vous d’accord? Ce qu’est l’art? … Pour les mots font souvent défaut.


L’art traditionnel exprime ce que l’œil voit.


L’art traditionnel exprime ce que l’œil voit, l’aime de coeur.

art moderne

L’art moderne ce que l’âme se sent.


This question was inspired by Pascal Quignard’s Tous les matins du monde. I am not sure that there is an answer to what art is, for art is our last refuge when words fail us.

Consider Quignard’s famous line, “Tous les matins du monde sont sans retour.” Not an easy line to translate into English. Literally, all the mornings of the world will never return. Not quite the emotion Qugnard strives to achieve, so he does so through the music of de Sainte Colombe.

Incidentally, the book and the movie use artist Lubin Baugin as a device to confuse the reader/viewer in picturing art and reality. A nice trick.