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The torment (of) Furuike Ya! Haiga/Haibun

Started by Asa-gao, August 06, 2011, 05:05:23 PM

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Don Baird

Hey Chibi,

Shirane has produced a fabulous book in Traces of Dreams.  It's a must have in my opinion.  It is very clear that Buson accepted Bashou's kawazu as indeed a frog(s).  I imagine if Bashou is reincarnated this exchange between them will continue!  I can only imagine the third poem (by Bashou) and what it would be.  I think Bashou needs to hurry back if he's going to.  Yet, if he returns as a frog, how will his poem proceed then?

and, for fun:

do you wash your hands
of this dilema?  (don)


best to ya,

I write haiku because they're there to be written ...

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter

Scott Metz

Kaneko Tohta has some interesting things to say about the poem:

"Of the three poems mentioned above, I would like to speak a little about the one by Basho. When he wrote "the sound of water," Basho did something new. Until then, Japanese poets had only written about the croaking of frogs. Basho's use of the sound made when the frog entered the water was revolutionary. Indeed, we can call it a present to the world of haiku. In this haiku, the pond - "the old pond" - occupies the most important part. How prosaic it would have been if he had written "the old swamp." And I don't know if anything like "the old sea" exists. Therefore, "the old pond" is a very fitting expression.

By the way, foreigners usually look at the old pond in the poem very philosophically. I don't agree. The old pond is muddy, filled with algae, the water in it hardly ever moving. Not clear, it reflects the sunshine, and there are bugs jumping in it. That is what the "old pond" is like. I insist that with such an old pond, I can hear the splash of a frog. It jumped in somewhere. When I hear this sound, I imagine the old pond. The combination of these two - the old pond and the sound made by the splash - forms the world of the haiku. After this, each reader receives his own image.

The reason this haiku interests me so much is because I perceive animism here. "Animism" is a dangerous expression, but I have followed the dictionary's meaning. I think that Basho feels that each living thing is important and that it possesses a soul. Indeed, Basho's animism appears in "the old pond." Frankly, I want to emphasize his sensitivity toward living creatures."


What strikes me as important from what Tohta mentions is that Bashō did something new, something fresh, something radical/revolutionary, something non-traditional, something unforseen with this poem. Perhaps some at the time asked the question: Why is this hokku? It breaks the rules.

It also seems important to note that this poem is not based on direct experience but a combination of experience and imagination, composition, editing, fusion. From page 140 of Makoto Ueda's Bashō and His Interpreters, it is noted that it was not a pond but a river Bashō heard the sound. The first line/part was not written. "the mountain roses" was suggested by a student. But he chose "the old pond" for its simplicity and substance. And for the reasons above: for its newness and its resistance to tradition, in order to expand that tradition.

Also, Ogiwara Seisensui, in writing about his concepts of free verse haiku in the early 20th c. writes extensively about this poem. He felt the first line was "superfluous" and "proposed changing the poem to:

a frog leaps in—
the water's sound

Here is his explanation:

What motivated Bashō to write this haiku was the sound of a frog jumping in, nothing more." He felt the poem in just a "two line" form expresses the poet's feeling better. "Seisensui peculated that even a master poet like Bashō fell victim to his own conventional idea of form and conceived a weak first line when he wrote the frog haiku. In Seisensui's view, the poem shows the need for breaking down the 5-7-5 pattern" (Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Poetry, Makoto Ueda, chapter seven).

Gabi mentioned Hasegawa Kai's discussion of this ku. Kai mentions how this ku "offers us several relevant contemporary topics". His ideas are exciting i think. One: that this ku is a combination of elements, a combination of realities: one of the imagination. The frog/s was/were not seen but heard. The old pond was not there but imagined: "the vision of the old pond arose in his mind". Also: "it juxtaposes two different material dimensions": the objective and the imaginative. "Read in this way, this haiku is not a scene composed of the viewing an object, but rather of listening to sounds, and furthermore, Bashō composed this ku via active imagination (the haiku is not shasei, an objective sketch) . . . This haiku was written 300 years ago and it has been misunderstood for 300 years" (Poems of Consciousness, Richard Gilbert, pp 71-75).

On another note, Kai utilizes this ku when talking about kire (cutting) and how it has three cuts, not just one:

/ old pond / frog(s) jump-in sound of water /

at the beginning and the end. The cuts before and after the ku indicating how it has been "cut from ths reality within which we live—form the literal place/environment/atmosphere ("ba") of literal existence" (77).      

Don Baird

re: Scott's comment (of which I completely agree) -

How often have we critiqued someone's poem for being redundant?  How many times have poets changed a word here or there to rid the poem of unnecessary words, thematic conflicts and redundancy?

/ old pond / frog(s) jump-in sound of water /

As it so happens, Basho included both water and pond; and, they appear redundant to one another - especially considering they are referencing the same body of water. The thought that line one (as it has been handed down over generations) was thrown in for need to conform (even Basho might have felt that pressure from time to time) makes complete sense, however. There seems to be historicity to support the notion.

And, when pondering:

a frog leaps in –
the water's sound

... what else needed to be said?  But wait; the word "old" ... it modifies both water(s) ... in a way. Therefore, it also modifies the sound of the water. Or, does old water and new water sound the same when hit by a frog?  Can one be that attuned to know the difference?  Was Basho?  Rewind ... did he "throw in a line" to conform??  It appears so; and, if so, it worked ... the poem is one of the most famous of all history.  Figure that ...

These are a few of the questions; not, whether or not there was a frog.  That's a given at this point.

Just rambling ... and pondering ... to no end, I suppose ... other than it's entirely fascinating.

I write haiku because they're there to be written ...

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter

Paul Miller

I have always felt that "old pond" also applied to the poetic community of the time, with its over-reliance on accepted norms, tradition, and dogma. An idea which fits nicely with Basho's shift away from said tradition in his new use of frog, and works well with the stagnation that Scott sees. So in that case, I think the first line is needed.


Don Baird

I agree Paul ... and, that's an interesting take that should not be overlooked.

I write haiku because they're there to be written ...

storm drain
the vertical axis
of winter

Larry Bole

For what it's worth, I found something about the meaning of 'kawazu' online on a blog called "No-sword", posted by Matt Treyvaud  (

Types of frogs
Responding to my Monday post about tadpoles and snails, Thomas asks: "So what's the difference between the two words for frog: kaeru and kawazu?" The common answer is that kawazu is the "old word" that got replaced by the "new word" kaeru, but this is a misconception. It's really just another case of semantic overlap combined with poetic versus everyday register.

It's true that there are no kaeru as such in the Manyōshū -- all the frogs that appear as frogs are kawazu (/kahadu/, at the time). But this is not because the word kaeru had yet to be invented. How do we know this? Because it appears inside other words -- specifically, kaerude (literally "frog hand"), which became the modern word kaerude, maple. Check out this poem by Lady TAMURA (田村大嬢) to her younger sister:

wa ga yado ni/ momitu kaherude/ miru goto ni/ imo wo kaketutu/ kohinu hi ha nasi

吾屋戸尓/ 黄變蝦手/ 毎見/ 妹乎懸管/ 不戀日者無

Every time I see the maple leaves turn in my garden, that day does not exist, O sister, which does not find me longing for your company
Some versions have momituru kahede or some minor variation, but the use of the kanji 蝦, which means "toad" or "big frog", to get the kae(ru) sound is constant. So, the word was there. Why didn't they use it?

One reason was that kaeru was a general word, while the original meaning of kawazu seems to have specifically been "kajika frog". The kajika frog is so called because it lives in rivers (ka(wa)) and has a haunting call like a deer (shika), making it ideal for use in poetry. Virtually all of the Manyōshū poems that include a kawazu specifically refer to its call.

Maybe for this reason, kawazu also seems to have been the preferred word in poetry for frogs in general. There is a word for this in Japanese aesthetics: kago (歌語, "poetry word"). Another good example is references to cranes: the word tsuru is plenty old (some say it came over direct from the continent), but most early poems used the word tazu (たづ) instead. That was the kago.

So maybe kawazu originally meant "kajika frog" in particular, but it didn't take long before it just meant "frog [+poetic]" in general. Meanwhile, kaeru was a perfectly healthy synonym meaning "frog [-poetic]".

Eventually, poetry would be modernized in such a way that people felt quite comfortable using the word kaeru, which left kawazu stranded, gradually shifting towards meaning simply "frog [+archaic]". Kaeru, on the other hand, became simply "frog" (unmarked).

Kawazu would probably have been forgotten by all but the specialists by now (much like tazu) if it weren't for one thing: the Dark Side of the Moon of traditional Japanese poetry, that one haikai by Bashō that everyone knows...

古池や かはづ飛び込む 水の音

Furuike ya/ Kawazu tobikomu/ mizu no oto

Old pond/ Frog jumps in/ Sound of water
Bonus fact: Bashō was actually consciously playing with the kawazu tradition here by attributing the sound to the water rather than the frog. The frog's implied silence, after centuries of naku kawazu, is a crucial part of the stillness that allows the sound of water to make its impact.

Larry Bole

P.S. I disagree with Seisensui about the first line of furuike ya being superfluous. Seisensui is being iconoclastic, just as Shiki is in his essay about Furu-ike ya that Blyth translates as Chapter XXVI in A History of Haiku, Vol. Two.

One example of this is Seisensui not applying the same criticism to one of his own 'haiku' that Ueda gives in the same essay mentioned by someone already about Seisensui in chapter 7 of Modern Japanese Poets.

Tanpopo tanpopo sunahama ni haru ga me o hiraku

on the sandy beach
opens its eyes

--Seisensui, trans. Ueda

(in Modern Japanese Haiku: An Anthology, Ueda gives the third line as: "on the sandy shore---")

Applying Seisensui's critique of furuike ya to his own poem, one could say that the scene-setting phrase "on the sandy beach/shore" (sunahama ni) is equally superfluous. I, on the other hand, have nothing against scene-setting, unless it is totally gratuitous. And I think furuike ya functions as much more than mere scene-setting, although it serves that purpose as well.


A very interesting discussion. I was inspired to add this to my daily haiku chain.

discussions on Basho
all these frogs
one still pond

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