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Envoy 1 (part 3)

Envoys is a section that is devoted to looking at individual, non-English haiku from the 20th and 21st centuries. For an introduction to this section, see Envoys.


This is the final part of Envoy 1.
Thanks again to everyone who participated for sharing their time and thoughts.
Additional translations, comments and interpretations are always welcome.

Envoy 1 (part 3)


ginkōin-ra asa yori keikō su ika no-gotoku

Kaneko Tōta 金子兜太


                                                                           morning again       
                                                                           bankers take their places
                                                                           beneath firefly squid

From what I know about bankers and office spaces in Japan, the squid became, in my mind’s eye, the fluorescent lights. It seems to me there is a good deal of space in this for interpretation of meaning into English, based on the Japanese (mainly the last 2 lines). I’m not sure I would be inclined along the lines of ‘fluorescing like . . .’ as I think the subject — bankers — didn’t strike me as something that would need that kind of description.

-James Henry

                                                                 bankers’ faces        
                                                                 in early morning light —
                                                                 blue glow of squids

Even in Japanese, this haiku is wordy. Since the word “fluorescence” is a “big” word for an English-language haiku, I used “early morning light” and “blue glow” to recreate the juxtaposition in a light manner. My son, living in Japan, notes that it may be a blue light because of the blue light of squids in Toyama Prefecture.

-Carmen Sterba


bank workers from early morning shed fluorescence like squid

Like Hiroaki Sato I do prefer the one line haiku translations. I think it helps create the sense of movement and ambiguity that is often in the originals. I’m not too concerned about syllable count as long as it is not over 17-ish syllables. The argument about the amount of information carried by an English syllable and a Japanese one does not seem convincing to me. You can pack a great deal information into each Japanese syllable if you choose to do so.

I chose ‘squid’ over cuttlefish, because the topic is ‘bank workers’ and ‘squid’ has ‘quid’ hidden in it.

I chose the word ‘shed’ because it can also mean deflect and the bank workers passively deflect the fluorescent light in their work places.

I chose to stress the ‘early’ morning as I think the intention of poem is to stress the length of time the bank workers work, beginning as they do just after dawn. This puts them in an oppositional relationship to fireflies (蛍) which come out at twilight. (There are two magical, glowing creatures hidden in this haiku – both creatures of the dark, making their own glamorous light.)

Bank workers might be said to live in the ‘darkness’ of the money economy, which prevents them from getting out into the normal pleasures of the weather etc. There in the bank from morning to night, they handle money and make more money: Money, which in its weird and slightly sinister way, lights up our lives and our eyes. Money which, due to its association with gold, glows in yet another way in the ‘darker’ recesses of our minds. A great haiku for the financial crisis!

-Sue Stanford

like squids bank clerks fluoresce in the morning

-translated by Jim Kacian


The clerks in the bank
fluorescent from the early morning
like so many squid

On second thought, I wonder if this might be better:

The clerks in the bank
fluoresce from early morning
like so many squid

-David Burleigh

                                                                           From early morning
                                                                           These bankers have been working
                                                                           Like the shining squids.

My reading: The haiku depicts the bankers working under the florescent lights like the squids swimming in the deep water.

-Yoshinobu Hakutani

ginkōin-ra asa yori keikō su ika no-gotoku
Kaneko Tōta 金子兜太


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Thank you so much Susan stanford, it is so valuable to connect with different translators.

    I live in Melbourne, where since 2005 I have been working to promote poetry in translation. I believe that it would be very enriching for all interested parties that live in Victoria Australia, if from time to time we came together to workshop works in a laboratory sense.

    I wish Susan & all poets / translators an abundance of creative moments.
    Lella Cariddi

  2. Scott,

    It’s really an honor to be a part of this pooling of creativity.
    Though we do the translations individually, the results looks
    collaborative. What a wonderful way to expose authentic modern
    Japanese haiku poets to the western poets. In a complex haiku
    like this, one translation never seems enough and that is how
    it should be.

    I hope that this can eventually done the other way around with
    outstanding haiku written in English and other languages being
    translated into Japanese by several bi-lingual, bi-cultural poets.

    Did Kaneko Tohta get a copy of this?

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