“Traditionally the Japanese print haiku in magazines and books in one vertical column of writing…This equates to one horizontal line of type in Western languages…”
—William Higginson in The Haiku Handbook
“Before we knew its name the indigo bunting”
–Peggy Willis Lyles
So if traditionally Japanese haiku equates to one horizontal line of type, as Higginson says, Basho’s classic would look like this:
old pond…a frog leaps in water’s sound
–Basho as translated by William Higginson
Penny Harter, who co-authored The Haiku Handbook with her husband William Higginson, said her husband spent eight years working on that translation of “old pond.”
Earlier this year Penny sent me a note fleshing out the thoughts behind that translation highlighting some of the differences that need to be considered when it comes to the cross cultural art of haiku. She also shared some of the conclusions her husband reached.
“…In the following pages of the section, “The Written Haiku—Visual Aspects” (128) in which Bill talks about the “one vertical column of writing”, he goes on to show quite a few variations in visual format, even by poets such as Issa, and Bill was certainly not wedded to the one-line form for haiku in English.
In The Haiku Handbook on page 105 from the section titled “A ‘Traditional Form’ for Haiku in English”, Bill suggests such a form:
While Japanese are used to reading traditional texts in which rhythms are not visually identified, the Western notion of a printed poem-text incorporates the idea of a line of type equalling a rhythmical unit, or verse-line. Therefore a three-line structure of two, three, and two accented syllables, respectively, would establish rhythmical proportions similar to those of traditional Japanese haiku.”
This follows some observations…which suggest, with respect to the rhythm for those three lines, ” . . . an overall form consisting of seven accented syllables, plus unaccented syllables up to a total of about twelve, would yield a rhythmical structure native to English and at the same time approximate the duration of traditional Japanese haiku.”
Thank you to Penny Harter, co-author of The Haiku Handbook