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Periplum #9

Periplum is a section that is devoted to 20th and 21st century haiku from around the world. Periplum is overseen by David G. Lanoue. For an introduction to this section, see Periplum.

Periplum #9: Chie Aiko

BY David G. Lanoue

Last installment, we considered haiku written by Ami Tanaka, a quietly cerebral and intoxicatingly complex poet from Tokyo. Her work appears in a 2009 anthology of twenty-one young Japanese haijin, each of whom contributed one hundred haiku. Another poet appearing in this important collection is Chie Aiko. Whereas Tanaka is a postmodern puzzle-maker whose obtuse creations require—and reward—a great deal of mental exertion on the part of readers to make connections and draw inferences; Aiko is a more traditional poet of sensation and heart. Viewed together, Tanaka and Aiko illustrate the breathtaking range of contemporary Japanese haiku.

Born in 1976, Chie Aiko grew up in Iida City in Nagano Prefecture: a place known for apple trees and puppet theater located in the same high “snow country” that produced an earlier master of haiku in Japan, Kobayashi Issa. As was the case with Issa, snow and ice inevitably find their way into her poetic vignettes, as in this exuberent haiku written in the period 2006 – 2009.

雪搔の仕上げや軒の氷柱薙ぐ
yukikaki no shi-age ya noki no tsurara nagu

done with snow-shoveling
annihilating icicles
from the eaves

Aiko’s final word in Japanese, the verb nagu, denotes the action of mowing down an enemy. Her hard and tedious work of snow-shoveling finished, the poet attacks the eaves’ icicles in an energetic, sensuous moment of destruction. The reader imagines the crashing and shattering of the ice, as the shovel-wielding samurai-girl hacks joyfully at her dangling “enemies.” The icicles might be thought of as pointed swords getting smashed to pieces or—perhaps an even better imagining—as precious, fragile sculptures glistening in the sunlight, which makes their wanton destruction all the more fun, being an act of pretend vandalism: delightfully naughty. In Freudian terms, Aiko savors a flash of sponteneity in which the id is given free reign. In Japanese culture, where the passion-smothering superego usually rules, this letting-go of control, this giving-in to primal aggresion, is both therapeutic and joyful. The shovel’s victims drop one by one, crashing to the ground, and the reader can imagine (I certainly do!) the poet roaring her war-cry.

In the next haiku, also written in the past few years, Aiko evokes another moment of wildness, this one involving an irresistable gust of wind that precedes a summer storm.

鳥一羽吹き上がりたり日雷
tori ichi wa fuki-agaritari hi kaminari

one bird gets blown
sky-high . . .
thunder while the sun shines

Caught in the strong updraft, the bird soars up and up to a dizzy height—like an unwilling Icarus who, to our minds and perhaps even to the bird’s mind, has soared too high. The poet watches and her heart soars with the bird. Meanwhile, striking a rumbling bass note to underscore and balance the airy lightness of wind and bird, thunder cracks and rolls. The two last words of the haiku in Japanese are represented by the kanji “sun” (hi) and “thunder” (kaminari), a compound that denotes the sound of thunder while the sun is shining. The haiku thus poses a disconcerting alignment of sun and thunder, casting the scene in a weird and magical light. I recall my grandmother’s expression that she always used whenever rain fell while the sun was out: “The devil’s beating his wife.” Rain shouldn’t fall while the sun shines, nor should thunder rumble. And, little birds shouldn’t fly as high as this one is being swept, higher and higher—taking along with it the poet’s heart and ours: a bright, thrilling, unreal moment just before darkness and deluge.

In a third example from her 2006 – 2009 period, Aiko juxtaposes the human world with that of Nature.

茫洋とナイターの灯や港まで
bôyô to naitaa no hi ya minato made

how vast
the night game’s lights . . .
they reach the harbor

On one side, we have the human realm with its night baseball game and blazing artificial lights that flood the heavens. On the other side is the harbor: the gateway to the ocean and primordial Nature, stretching to darkness and infinity. Perhaps the poet is a star-lover griping about the light pollution of cities. She would like to see the stars, but even here, far from the stadium where she stands facing the sea, the lights of the human world and human “progress” extend and obliterate. These manufactured lights are described as bôyô: a compound word consisting of the cognates for “wide” and “ocean”; together they denote something that is vast, without limits, boundless. The poem seems to be an ironic reversal of a famous haiku by Matsuo Bashô, which also was written at the edge of the sea:

荒海や佐渡によこたふ天河
araumi ya sado ni yokotau ama-no-gawa

a rough ocean—
stretching to Sado Island
the Milky Way

In Bashô’s poem, the light of “Heaven’s River,” the Milky Way, overarches and glitters all the way to Sado Island, but in Aiko’s haiku it is the artificial light of a baseball stadium that stretches overhead: human vastness trumps Nature’s vastness, if only for a while; human light takes away the stars. Whereas Bashô experienced the sublime in his seashore moment, Aiko’s opportunity to do the same has been washed out by the faraway light towers. Perhaps these lights are an annoyance to her (and to us) or, just possibly, they shine as a brave testimonial to our human presence on this planet: brief electric candles that announce and celebrate our lives in the dark eternity of the universe, as if to tell anyone who wishes to look, if only for now, only for a while: “We are here, we people of Earth. Play ball!”

Notes & Works Cited

I thank Keiji Minato for looking this over and offering corrections.

Aiko Chie. 相子智恵。Three haiku. English translations by David G. Lanoue. The Japanese originals appear in 『新選21』(Shinsen 21).邑書林, 2009. 163-73.

Matsuo Bashô 松尾芭蕉。”a rough sea . . .”, trans. David G. Lanoue; Japanese text taken from 『松尾芭蕉集』 Matsuo Bashô shû, ed. Imoto Nôichi and Hori Obuo. Tokyo: Shogakukan, 1995;rpt. 2003. Vol. 1, 287.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Periplum #1: Keiji Minato
Periplum #2: Petar Tchouhov
Periplum #3: Masahiro Koike
Periplum #4: Fay Aoyagi
Periplum #5: Jean-Pierre Colleu
Periplum #6: Casimiro de Brito
Periplum #7: Saša Važić
Periplum #8: Ami Tanaka

This Post Has 61 Comments

  1. Peter, of course I agree with you. ‘Open to interpretation’ and ‘it means whatever’ are not the same thing. Ambiguity, in skilled hands, becomes a communicative device but unintended ambiguity usually only misleads the reader.

    the boat and the shore
    conversing all day long in
    terms of water

    Leaving aside questions of whether this is a version which is true to the original (I think it’s been sufficiently demonstrated that it’s not), in my view, the ‘uninitiated’ reader would have no problems with the syntax. There is no ambiguity. However, the ‘initiated’ reader of haiku *might* find unintended ambiguity in Ls 1 & 2 .Though we probably make the correction by L3, there is that stumbling along the way.

    The reason, as we both have touched upon, is that ‘experienced’ or ‘initiated’ readers have grown used to the haiku convention of the implied subject, even in instances where an intended caesura is left unmarked. So when this version of the Shiki haiku is put beside

    done with snow-shoveling
    annihilating icicles
    from the eaves

    or

    back from the war
    the tap he couldn’t fix
    still dripping

    … we wonder whether the convention of ‘implied subject’ (first person in ‘snow-shoveling’, third person in ‘back from the war) might also apply in L2 of Cid Corman’s Shiki version.

    This is normal, good reading, not a mistake (even when we’re mistaken about a particular piece) since reading is a matter of making sense of the written representation of speech and relies on conventions of grammar and syntax (yes, even when these are deliberately distorted , for various reasons, by the writer)

    Whether a reader finds a literal talking boat and shore or finds that a sort of strophe, synecdoche, is operating here will also depend on experience of literary convention and the capacity to infer in reading. Neither reading can be said to be ‘wrong’; one is an ‘innocent’ reading and the other an ‘experienced’ reading.

    well, perhaps dragging Blake in isn’t such a good idea 🙂

  2. Let me be clear: I don’t think any poet, having worked through countless drafts, or having been given a bolt of insight following great labor, observation and stillness, is going to present a poem and say– “it means whatever…” I don’t think a poem means whatever any more than a rhinoceros or a rhododendron means whatever.

    Even if I write something that connects deeply with my own experience, once it is on the page, it’s on its own and readers will do as they wish. But it did not come from whatever.

    I’m sorry if anyone misunderstood me. I thought I was clear; I try to be clear in these posts, but there seems to be something about the electronic media that invites fragmentation and carelessness on the parts of writers as well as readers.

  3. Hi, Peter, “it means whatever you want it to mean”… perhaps I’d phrase that to say something like this: “it has some resonance to some experience I’ve had and brings it to life again.” It seems to me that poetry, in order to go beyond being an intellectual exercise, must relate somehow to the experience of the reader/hearer… I’d love anyone’s thoughts on this…

    Also I’d love to offer my thanks for the viral by Gary Hotham. It’s well worth reading.

  4. 😉

    “. . . I claimed at the start that I would use the term ‘ambiguity’ to mean anything I liked, and repeatedly told the reader that the distinctions between the Seven Types which he was asked to study would not be worth the attention of a profounder thinker. ”

    William Empson, ‘Preface to the Second Edition – Seven Types of Ambiguity’

  5. the boat and the shore
    conversing all day long in
    terms of the water

    This is fascinating. I was under the impression that I was presenting a grammatically unambiguous poem. But I see now that this idea was based on how I have always read the poem: that there are, other than the experiencer (if even that), no people present whatsoever. (And I am going here exclusively on this version).

    I simply see a boat, perhaps a canoe, fastened somehow to the shore, and hear the sound of lapping water against each. I would say that Corman’s insight was that both boat and shore are creations of what could be called watermind– so of course they understand each other and will converse through that medium.

    That aside (or included) it did not occur to me that the line “conversing all day long in” could be read as “we talk all day long…”. It didn’t occur to me because I didn’t believe Corman would do that, but looking at other versions of his, I see I was mistaken.

    So we come back to “annihilating icicles”. Does the grammatical ambiguity in that translation, or in Corman’s version, add to or take away from the poem(s)?

    As a writer, I do not assume that ambiguity necessarily works, or is a good thing. I don’t necessarily intend it. Otherwise I might resort to the young poet’s defense: “Hey, it means whatever you want it to mean”.

    But I’m younger than that now, and I know that language, poetry, may reveal, not *whatever*, but what I didn’t know I knew, what I didn’t know I was saying. Reveal, maybe, what I really needed to discover, and the “reason” I bothered to write in the first place.

    Anything I could say from here will reflect more about me than the poem, but here goes.

  6. Interesting to see the zip form turning up again in your post, Scott. 😉

    “. ..if there are people on both sides (both the boat and the shore), then i think it would be a really boring poem, uninteresting to note, and would be sucked of its poeticality.” -Scott

    It wouldn’t seem boring or uninteresting to me. If there were no people implied, it would seem overly poeticised. What’s nice is that, through the common device of synechoche (or something like it, whatever the Japanese near-equivalent is) the people recede or are not visible, are not fore-fronted. There is boat and shore and there is talking between them. Human voices, yes, but rendered in such a way that they become representative of their ‘shore’ and sea’ status. It may be even (or may not, but I like to imagine it is) in the long dusk of that long day, when it is a pleasure to take a walk along the harbour and watch whatever kind of nautical business is going on. Relaxed exchanges do go on between people on boats and people watching from the shore, back and forth. It doesn’t have to be ‘bustle & busy’ just because people (or their voices) are there. There is something about the long dusk that removes social boundaries, especially by the sea.

    The boat
    And the shore are talking;
    The long day.

    David

    a boat and the shore
    are talking together . . .
    days getting longer

    Gabi

  7. Scott, That’s wonderful. That’s the way I read these haiku. I could never ever hope to get to exactly what a poet meant to say, I can only know what his word mean to me…I felt that the kigo long day also implied time…the length of the day and perhaps even the tiredness after a full day whatever the conversations were about…whether work, play or whatever. The feeling you get when you come back from a day at the beach with your friends even. When I connected boat/shore as one concept, it was to make it an adjective about the talking… as well as to place it. I had no intention of even imagining that I was giving a translation…I merely was reflecting on the way the words echoed in my own mind.
    I enjoyed your thoughts on this a great deal, everyone.

  8. Thanks Merrill, for your try

    “boat/shore talking – the long day”

    The Japanese version is not that minimalistic in lines 1 and 2 … grin, it is the proper 5 7 5.

    But it is a good thing everyone finds his/her own way of rendering this in his/her mind.

    1. while the conversation has gotten rather far away from the work at hand (Chie Aiko), and the reason Shiki’s haiku was brought up in the first place, it’s interesting to see a poem and its english versions like this come to light and the commentaries surrounding it. so, a handful of coins for the bucket. . . .

      i’m simply not feeling such a strong, bustling human element in this haiku by Shiki. not at all. for me, it certainly doesn’t have the loudness and bluntness of family, or husbands and wives. i don’t think that’s the point of the poem, or its focus. or, at least, i hope not. otherwise, if there are people on both sides (both the boat and the shore), then i think it would be a really boring poem, uninteresting to note, and would be sucked of its poeticality. and i don’t think that’s what Shiki was inspired to write about.

      the poem seems far more ambiguous and far more quiet. i feel that this ambiguity, and what is implied, between boat and shore is precisely what makes it poetic and and what gives it its poetic opening (its “ma”) for readers.

      i read this as more of a balance between humans (on the boat) and the shore/line (nature), their aliveness and interaction with one another, and their conversation with each other (not through personification but through their voices, their echoes, their reactions to one another: a conjunction of sound, water, light and air/wind). what those on the boat say is heard softly by the poet (his perception and his own interaction with them) and by the shore, and the reader is left to ponder that interaction, those sounds, that shifting balance.

      and while this could have been a “direct experience” of Shiki’s, it seems that there is still an element of the imagination present and, even more so, a request upon the reader to imagine the interplay of the boat voices with the shore, as if they are conversing with one another. the “I”/poet is there, but in sneaky and, again, ambiguous, way.

      lastly, the last part (long day), its kigo, has ambiguity to it as well. sure, yes, of course it could be taken hyper-literally: when the talking is actually taking place. but it implies and alludes to, or at least *able* to allude to, much more. for me, it says something about the tone of the boat voices and the imagined conversation taking place between them and the shore. it implies sound, and the distances/s it/they travel/s. but it could also apply to a number of other things and, most importantly, to all of them at once (those on the boat, the tide, the sunlight, the poet). here the kigo doesn’t suffocate, or create a sense of hyper-literalism, but instead opens the poem and gives it more dimension, directly by playing with time and consciousness, suffusing the poem with emotion, sunlight and warmth.

      the boat and the shore conversing long day

      the
      boat
      &
      the
      shore
      con
      vers
      ing
      long
      day

      the boat     the shore
      conversing     long day

      the boat &     conversing
      the shore     the long day

  9. Wonderful comments…as I read down this discussion, the haiku in question echoes in my mind as:
    “boat/shore talking – the long day”…I wonder if after reading translations, if uninitiated poets form their own versions of the haiku … I’m grateful for discussions like this to make us question what we are reading. Many thanks.

  10. Thanks David,

    “船と岸と話してゐる日永かな
    fune to kishi to hanashite iru hinaga kana”

    fune to kishi 5
    to hanashite iru 7
    hinaga kana 5

    to hanashi shite iru 8

    That is why I prefere to read it hanashite iru …
    also this would be just a simple verb … they are talking

    But that is indeed a minor point and not relevant for the ELH versions.

    my version for now

    a boat and the shore
    are talking together . . .
    days getting longer

    Gabi

  11. Gabi wrote:

    “船と岸と話してゐる日永かな
    fune to kishi to hanashite iru hinaga kana”

    The difference in transliteration is due to the fact that 話 may be read both as “hanashi” on its own and in combination with して as “hana-shi-te.” But the meaning is virtually the same.

    Incidentally, Gabi gave a very good example of how and why a “boat” may talk with the “shore” in Japanese everyday life. She is also quite correct that in hokku, “the long day” is a season indicator, and is found in one form or another in a great number of verses.

    David

  12. 船と岸と話してゐる日永かな
    fune to kishi to hanashite iru hinaga kana

    the boat and the shore
    are talking all day long
    across the water

    all day long

    . . .

    hinaga is a kigo, referring to spring, when we feel the days getting longer.

    It does not mean “all day long”.

    across the water … is not mentioned in the original Japanese.

    The scene could well be in the evening, when it is still light. Husband on board and the wife on the shore, discussing his homecoming. A lot of fishing is done from a small boat close to the shore to get seewead out of the water, for example, or uni (sea urchin) or abalones. Sometimes the men are out fishing and the whole family is on the shore to process the sea urchins for shipping (they get bad easily) and this is a family scene, talking back and forth, once a year enjoyed by small fishing communities in Japan.

    Gabi

  13. “Unfortunately, many modern “translators” are really just presenting their own “versions” and re-imaginings of old hokku instead of accurate translations. Their publishers are seldom aware of this, and readers are generally equally oblivious that what they are reading is often far more the “translator” than the original writer.

    It is a big mistake to apply Western poetic terms to Japanese verse.”

    A lot happened while it was my night, thanks to all who participated in this, esp. David for his clarifications.

    Just one short remark for the Shiki poem, the romaji seems different to me

    船と岸と話してゐる日永かな
    fune to kishi to hanashite iru hinaga kana

    Basho never wrote like a modern ELH poet, that is for sure. o)

  14. Mark,

    as David has highlighted, the issues you raise in these two comments:

    “…I think I’ll leave off with the idea that the goal of many of these translators is to create Western poetry out of ancient hokku. To that end, applying the “conventional notions and expectations of Western poetry” becomes important.”

    and

    “The larger problem is that people speak of translations as if they were hokku or haiku. I’ve had far too many discussions with poets who cite this Bashô or that Bashô as poetic justification for a verse. There is usually some shock when they are told that Bashô didn’t write that *translation*, it was Henderson or Blyth or Reichhold or whomever.”

    are rich terrain for more discussion.

    I would appreciate hearing from other translators on these issues.

  15. I was negligent in referring to this as a “translation”. Cid Corman called it a “version”. My intention here was not to question the value of this or that translation, or “version”, but to present a poem which illustrates the question of ambiguity and connects to points made earlier. I need to clarify that, and of course anyone is free is to speak to how they feel about “versions”, mistranslations, etc.

    So let me rephrase the last part of that post, but please see the whole thing for better context:

    “Here’s Cid Corman’s version of a familiar Shiki poem:

    the boat and the shore
    conversing all day long in
    terms of the water

    The “uninitiated” reader coming upon this for the first time, and not knowing it is either a translation or a version of a Japanese haiku, might see it simply as a marvelous (or interesting, or negligible) short poem, devoid, at least grammatically, of ambiguity.

    The “initiated”, having learned something about Japanese language structure and how it influences translation and many ELH haiku, might ponder over whether or not there is an implied “I”. Does this ambiguity amplify or drain?

  16. the boat and the shore
    conversing all day long in
    terms of the water

    – Cid Corman, trans.

    ‘The “uninitiated” reader coming upon this for the first time might see it simply as a marvelous short poem.

    The “initiated” might ponder over whether or not there is an implied “I”. Does this amplify or drain?’ – Peter

    The boat
    And the shore are talking;
    The long day.

    David Coomler, trans.

    Thanks Mark and David for clearing up for us the matter of what is actually said in the original and mentioning synecdoche. I think such terms are useful.

    We who do not speak or read Japanese rely on translations, of course. Peter’s point remains, though – an ambiguity might be found in the Cid Corman translation by a reader who’s accepted the ‘haiku-in-English’ convention of the ‘implied I’ or ‘implied subject of a verb’. As he says, this questionable device seems to be based on translations which attempt to render the Japanese ‘implied subject’ in English, often at the expense of syntactical sense. Once such a device has become a convention (as it has), we’re likely to see its possible presence even where there’s no ‘implied subject’ at all in the original, as David’s translation of this haiku shows.

  17. Mark Brooks wrote:

    “…I think I’ll leave off with the idea that the goal of many of these translators is to create Western poetry out of ancient hokku. To that end, applying the “conventional notions and expectations of Western poetry” becomes important.”

    Mark added:

    “The larger problem is that people speak of translations as if they were hokku or haiku. I’ve had far too many discussions with poets who cite this Bashô or that Bashô as poetic justification for a verse. There is usually some shock when they are told that Bashô didn’t write that *translation*, it was Henderson or Blyth or Reichhold or whomever.”

    You raise some very important issues. All too often I see people discussing some aspect of an old hokku without realizing that what they are discussing is either something added by a translator or added by a reader mistakenly applying a Western poetic concept where it does not belong.

    Blyth differs from most other translators in that he had a thorough understanding of the aesthetic basis of the hokku. That is essential to conveying the meaning of hokku in English. Blyth was not always absolutely literal in his translations, but he did generally faithfully convey the overall meaning of a verse.

    Unfortunately, many modern “translators” are really just presenting their own “versions” and re-imaginings of old hokku instead of accurate translations. Their publishers are seldom aware of this, and readers are generally equally oblivious that what they are reading is often far more the “translator” than the original writer.

    If one wants to see an example of this, just read the many glowing online reviews of Reichhold’s renderings of the verses of Bashō — laudatory reviews by people who apparently have not the slightest idea what the originals meant, but nonetheless feel quite competent to remark on the quality of the “translations.”

  18. Dear David,

    I really appreciate your response. Thanks for taking your time, especially as I muddied things but not suggesting the second division as

    fune to kishi to / hanashi shite iru / hinaga kana

    David wrote:

    Conventionally “fune to kishi to” — “boat and shore” — is understood as a syntactical whole and constitutes the first of the three theoretical “parts,” though of course really there is only a shorter part and a longer part:

    fune to kishi to hanashi shite iru (long)
    hinaga kana (short)

    The verse in Japanese would be printed in a single line, so matters of lineation apply for the most part only to English versions.

    Yes, agreed. That’s the reason I used “line” in quotes.

    David added:

    My translation was just intended as an expression of the literal meaning of the Japanese, and does not convey Japanese syntax via lineation.

    Thanks, that’s what I read and wanted to make sure. Thanks to for the deeper explanation of the verse.

    David wrote:

    It is a big mistake to apply Western poetic terms to Japanese verse. I have mentioned elsewhere how disastrously Reichhold misunderstands certain old hokku as metaphorical (not knowing the principle of “reflection” in hokku) and similarly there is no personification (as conventionally understood in the West) in this verse of Shiki.

    Generally agreed. The personification found in translations tend to be artifacts of the translation process; they come from the translator not the poet. By the way, it was the Corman translation that inspired the word “personification.” I agree with you about synecdoche and yours.

    As this has been a good exchange, I think I’ll leave off with the idea that the goal of many of these translators is to create Western poetry out of ancient hokku. To that end, applying the “conventional notions and expectations of Western poetry” becomes important.

    The larger problem is that people speak of translations as if they were hokku or haiku. I’ve had far too many discussions with poets who cite this Bashô or that Bashô as poetic justification for a verse. There is usually some shock when they are told that Bashô didn’t write that *translation*, it was Henderson or Blyth or Reichhold or whomever.

    Thanks again for your reply.

    Best,

    Mark

  19. Mark Brooks wrote:

    “As this haiku appears to be 6-7-5 or 5-8-5, are the ‘line breaks’ here

    fune to kishi / to hanashi shite iru / hinaga kana

    or

    fune to kishi / to hanashi shite iru / hinaga kana?”

    Conventionally “fune to kishi to” — “boat and shore” — is understood as a syntactical whole and constitutes the first of the three theoretical “parts,” though of course really there is only a shorter part and a longer part:

    fune to kishi to hanashi shite iru (long)
    hinaga kana (short)

    The verse in Japanese would be printed in a single line, so matters of lineation apply for the most part only to English versions.

    Mark noted:

    “Also, about the translation you posted, I notice that you moved the shore to L2 though Shiki’s “line” ends after kishi.”

    Actually, as above, the first “part” is “fune to kishi to,” but as already mentioned, lineation applies only to English, given that we tend to write hokku (and the later haiku) in three lines, while in Japanese they are conventionally a single line. My translation was just intended as an expression of the literal meaning of the Japanese, and does not convey Japanese syntax via lineation.

    Mark added:

    “I would offer that ‘fune to kishi’ could be adequately translated as ‘ship to shore’ in English, especially given Shiki’s life story. Perhaps something along the lines of

    ship to shore | communications continue . . . | the long day

    and all that personification falls right away. Probably a good portion of the ‘poetry’ too.”

    “Ship to shore” as conventionally used in English does not convey the meaning of the verse, and adding the word “communication” makes one think of a large ship in radio contact with a shore base.

    Shiki’s verse, however, just refers to a fellow on a (rather small) boat talking audibly with another fellow on the shore or bank. The writer hears the slow back-and-forth conversation, and feels it in harmony with the length of the day. “Fune” in Japanese can mean a large vessel, but one can tell from the context that is not the meaning here.

    It is a big mistake to apply Western poetic terms to Japanese verse. I have mentioned elsewhere how disastrously Reichhold misunderstands certain old hokku as metaphorical (not knowing the principle of “reflection” in hokku) and similarly there is no personification (as conventionally understood in the West) in this verse of Shiki. If one must have a Western approximation, it would be synecdoche, which takes the part for the whole or, as here, the whole for the part. The ship (the man on it) is talking to the (man on the) shore.

    We often find this in some form in old hokku, in which “umbrellas” talk and “staves” pass through fields, which of course just means that a person with an umbrella talks to another person with an umbrella, and travelers with staves pass through fields.

    I cannot emphasize strongly enough how in reading hokku one must abandon the conventional notions and expectations of Western poetry. That is something many in modern haiku (including would-be translators) often fail to do because they have never learned or understood the aesthetics of the hokku, and so the inherent poetry of hokku (and of the earliest haiku, which was generally virtually hokku in all but name and potentiality) is overlooked or overpainted with elaboration when brought into a Western context. The reason for this is that Western ideas of poetry and the poetry of hokku are for the most part two very different things.

    Modern haiku in English is a hybrid form that generally has little or nothing to do with either the hokku or the later conservative haiku of Shiki. Whether one understands that as good or bad or indifferent depends on personal taste.

  20. David,

    Thanks for posting the romaji of the Shiki poem. Gabi is correct that it’s very useful in these discussions. You’re correct that all too often translators are “doing mischief” to haiku so that they fit in with the translator’s predispositions.

    I have a question. As this haiku appears to be 6-7-5 or 5-8-5, are the “line breaks” here

    fune to kishi / to hanashi shite iru / hinaga kana

    or

    fune to kishi / to hanashi shite iru / hinaga kana

    Also, about the translation you posted, I notice that you moved the shore to L2 though Shiki’s “line” ends after kishi:

    I would offer that “fune to kishi” could be adequately translated as “ship to shore” in English, especially given Shiki’s life story. Perhaps something along the lines of

    ship to shore | communications continue . . . | the long day

    and all that personification falls right away. Probably a good portion of the “poetry” too.

    I wonder if there is a translation of this in Burton Watson’s book. I’ll check when I get home.

    Best,

    Mark

  21. RE:

    “Here’s Cid Corman’s translation of a familiar Shiki poem:

    the boat and the shore
    conversing all day long in
    terms of the water”

    Gabi asked:

    “Do you have the Japanese for this one please?

    It is always difficult to “appreciate” a translation without the original.”

    That is perhaps Gabi’s polite way of saying she suspects the “translator” has done the verse a mischief. And she would be right. The original is:

    Fune to kishi to hanashi shite iru hinaga kana

    It means simply:

    The boat
    And the shore are talking;
    The long day.

    The “poetic” addition “In terms of the water” comes entirely from the imagination of the “translator,” not from Shiki. Westerners often have this tendency to embroider extraneous frippery onto what they think is too simple and not sufficiently poetic in Japanese verse.

  22. “Here’s Cid Corman’s translation of a familiar Shiki poem:

    the boat and the shore
    conversing all day long in
    terms of the water”

    Do you have the Japanese for this one please?

    It is always difficult to “appreciate” a translation without the original.

    Gabi

    1. An incidental note: it has always struck me as significant that Corman’s translations are described in the Gnomon Press books as “versions” of the haiku. They seem very much his.

  23. Larry writes: “if a momentary ambiguity in the meaning of “annihilating icicles” adds to your appreciation of the poem, and/or your pleasure in reading it (in translation), then more power to you! Such a momentary ambiguity, in this particular instance, does neither for me. Perhaps there are many different kinds of “poetic minds,” and “poetic” ways of thinking.
    Do you prefer “annihilating icicles” BECAUSE of this momentary ambiguity of meaning, as opposed to something like:
    done with snow-shoveling_striking down icicles_from the eaves”

    The subject of ambiguity seems to be increasingly significant in the ELH and haiku-inspired poetry world, and no doubt it will arrive on these shores with the next Sailing devoted to single-liners (Yes we’ll be taking a cruise on a single-liner) or perhaps a Sailing will be devoted to it at some point.

    In terms of the translation, I don’t like “annihilating icicles” at all. I would go with something like “I annihilate the icicles”. I guess a question that comes up in working with ambiguity is: does it amplify a poem or drain it of energy? With this poem, more to the point, the question is around whether omitting the “I” amplifies or drains. I would say it drains.

    In part because it requires the “initiation” Lorin spoke to. That is to say, it keeps the reader linked to Japanese language construction; it keeps the reader, imo, anchored very close to Japanese waters. A good and necessary place to be for a while, and to come back to, but now I want to sail off a bit.

    Here’s Cid Corman’s translation of a familiar Shiki poem:

    the boat and the shore
    conversing all day long in
    terms of the water

    The “uninitiated” reader coming upon this for the first time might see it simply as a marvelous short poem.

    The “initiated” might ponder over whether or not there is an implied “I”. Does this amplify or drain?

  24. That is good news, Mark !

    Maybe THF could encourage the compilation of an American Saijiki with season words relevant to the various regions and climate zones of North America (and then on to other parts of the world)
    … my old dream …

  25. more from the gendai haiku nyumon
    Gendai Haiku Introduction for beginners
    http://www.gendaihaiku.gr.jp/nyumon/index.cgi

    俳句はわずか十七音節(十七文字)の短い詩です。
    季語や切字がその短い詩を支える大切な役割をはたしています
    Haiku is 5 7 5
    one kigo
    one kireji

    The (Japanese) haiku poet needs a saijiki 歳時記 and a Japanese language dictionary 国語辞典.

    How many ELH poets posess a Saijiki book?
    How many consult a language dictionary on a regular basis ?

    The nyumon introduction goes into details, I stop here.

    Gabi

  26. “Can ‘wakachigaki’ be consdered to be a type of punctuation?
    Larry”

    wakachigaki 分かち書きで
    furu ike ya ..

    古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音

    と分かち書きで表記している例がありますが、これは誤りです。
    俳句は間を空けずに書くのが普通です。
    http://www.gendaihaiku.gr.jp/nyumon/index.cgi

    gendai haiku says NO to this kind of writing in Japanese haiku.

  27. Well, okay, let’s tinker. Snyder brought the natural cadence of northern California into his poems. For example, from Hay for Horses, from my copy of No Nature:

    With winch and ropes and hooks
    We stacked the bales up clean
    To splintery redwood rafters
    High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
    Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
    Itch of haydust in the
    sweaty shirt and shoes.

    (can’t get the format right here)

    Is “After weeks of watching” in Snyder’s speaking voice? I guess it is. If his voice were different, as in your “I”-dropping version of his poem, I guess he would have chosen a different arrangement of words. He might have chosen

    Watched the roof leak weeks
    fixed it tonight
    by moving a single board

    …though I don’t think it works well that way.

  28. Tinker with Gary Snyder? Not me, and I enjoy the pace of his poem, which I read with a slight, conversational lilt after the first two lines, whereas your new version, Larry, I read as having a larger hitch after the first line, with a smaller pause after the second.

    An interesting example, though, and thanks for sharing it. Snyder is a master of meter and melody, imo.

    1. Wanted to point this out sooner, but now that I know about the “reply” feature, I meant to say, “a master of rhythm and melody”

      If Gary Snyder were to comment on this blog…a man can dream…

  29. Referencing the Snyder ‘haiku’ I just posted:

    After weeks of watching the roof leak
    I fixed it tonight
    by moving a single baord

    Would it sound better if it were written:

    After weeks of watcing the roof leak
    fixed it tonight
    by moving a single board

    without the “I?”

    Leaving out the “I” makes me pause longer, in reading/speaking it, between “leak” and “fixed” than I pause between “leak” and “I.”

    Which one is better? Or is it ultimately inconsequential?

  30. I would briefly point out that neither Snyder nor Kerouac shied away from using “I” or “my” in their versions of ELH.

    As an example, here is a Snyder haiku-like poem from The Back Country, “Hitch Haiku” section:

    After weeks of watching the roof leak
    I fixed it tonight
    by moving a single board

  31. Peter: if a momentary ambiguity in the meaning of “annihilating icicles” adds to your appreciation of the poem, and/or your pleasure in reading it (in translation), then more power to you! Such a momentary ambiguity, in this particular instance, does neither for me. Perhaps there are many different kinds of “poetic minds,” and “poetic” ways of thinking.

    Do you prefer “annihilating icicles” BECAUSE of this momentary ambiguity of meaning, as opposed to something like:

    done with snow-shoveling
    striking down icicles
    from the eaves

    Even though there is no explicit mention of an “I” in the Japanese (at least I don’t think there is), there is an implied “I.”

    done with snow-shoveling
    [I] annihilat[e] icicles
    from the eaves

    When there is an implied “I,” there are translators who put the “I” explicitly in the translation (I think I’ve read translators who do that, but maybe I’m mistaken), and there are translators who don’t.

    I think I wandered in here from a link in one of Gabi’s haiku yahoo groups. I hope I’m not being presumptuous by giving my opinions here, such as they are. I’m no translator; I don’t read kanji, and I only muddle my way through romaji with the extensive help of dictionaries, and the help of translators who can read Japanese.

    Lorin: thanks for supplying the word “hyperbole” in regard to these three Chie Aiko haiku. That is the word I was trying to think of and, when I couldn’t, I used “exaggeration.” But “Hyperbole” is the right word. When I tried to think of “hyperbole,” all I kept coming up with was “parabola.” LOL

    I find the implied caesura, or break, in contemporary ELH to be an interesting phenomenon, as part of the general move away from using any punctuation. I msyelf have written punctuationless ELH, but for the most part I use SOME punctuation, for the sake of clarity of meaning, and/or suggesting an emotional state.

    My impression is that the move away from using punctuation in ELH is a weird combination of one element of free-verse aesthetic found in some English-language free-verse, combined with an attempt to make English, when used in ELH, seem more Japanese-like.

    Thinking about this here, I’ve just read a couple of interesting Wikipedia entries about the use of punctuation in the Japanese language.

    I wonder if any contemporary Japanese haijin use punctuation, or does the hokku/haiku tradition in Japan preclude doing that?

    In a handout from Hiroaki Sato for a translating workshop at an HSA Northeast Metro meeting, he mentions that Mitsuhashi Takajo “In the years 1959 and 1960…experimented with ‘wakachigaki’, placing space(s) between words within a line.”

    Can ‘wakachigaki’ be consdered to be a type of punctuation?

    Some of the earlier translators of Japanese haiku into English, such as Blyth, Henderson, and Yasuda, used English-language punctuation to ‘translate’ kireji, or to clarify an English-language version of a Japanese hokku/haiku. Is that wrong? Is it too old-fashioned to suit contemporary taste?

  32. Paul:
    I’m grateful for your response and am pleased to see that the first personal singular exists in the haiku in heron’s nest and frogpond and modern haiku.
    I suppose I’m thinking back to an earlier time, in the late 90s earlier 2000s when such was not the case, at least to my memory.
    Thank you for your graciousness and help.
    Jack

  33. David,

    Thanks again for bringing more translations of contemporary writers to us.

    I just have to say, that I find Ami Tanaka’s poems incredibly
    sense based and visceral, which give me immediate entry into
    her poems, even if, as your wonderful essay points out, the poems are possibly pointing to a whole lot more beyond the first impact of the image, or at other times creating something not quite resolvable with the logical mind.

    Likewise, I find Chie Aiko’s work sometimes tickles my brain as much as my senses as in these two that Fay Aoyagi has translated:

    火星にも水や蚕の糸吐く夜

    kasei nimo mizu ya kaiko no ito haku yo 

    Mars, too, has water—
    a night when silkworms
    spit out strings

    東京といふ語は光る羽蟻の夜

    tôkyô to iu go wa hikaru ha’ari no yo

    the word “Tokyo”
    shines
    a night of winged ants

    相子智恵
    Chie Aiko

    Just makes me want to read more of both of these poets
    and the others in Shinsen 21.

     

  34. Revisiting the “dispute” about punctuation in haiku, I came across an interesting article written by Donna Ferrell called “Punctuation No Punctuation” which is on the internet. If you can’t find it by searching under author or title, you can by doing what I had done: searching Hendersen’s haiku translations.
    As you know, Blyth and Hendersen, both used traditional punctuation in transcribing their translations of haiku and wrote each beginning line with a capital letter. This practice was followed by Pound, Amy Lowell, ee cummings, Richard Wright, even James Hackett, Kerouac, et al.
    It was with the creation of the HSA in the sixties that the tendency to not punctuate was first seen and then followed by faithful practitioners to this practice (and part of the problem arose from the fact that there were no equivalents in English for Japanese kire).
    Whether a moment is better expressed with lower-case as opposed to capitalization remains an unanswered question to me. The idea that things precede and then supercede the present was first mentioned, as a basis for lower case, I believe, by Virginia Brady Young. However, it is not clear that the moment, which in many ways is what haiku poets seek to express, is better manifested in lower case than in capitalization.
    Paul Muldoon has recently taken to the art, as has Billy Collins and both have chosen to honor the estabished tradition of lower-case; however, their language use is, in my opinion, more sophisticated than is usually seen in haiku and it could be argued, as some might, that their use of our poetic heritage is a bejeweled finger (though I am not of that opinion).
    Then we have Etheridge Knight’s haiku that use punctuation,periods at ends of poems, sometimes are in lower-case sometimes all capitalizations of first lines; or Sonia Sanchez, who wrote a book exclusively of haiku, and her haiku are often haiku sequences and do not share our usual ideas about kigo or juxtaposition.
    What are we to do. Should we write essays as to why our knowledge and way of writing haiku is based on a superior understanding of the art, or rather are we to experiment, include, learn from the various ways writers express what they understand as haiku?
    I leave it to you.

  35. Jack, not meant to be disputatious at all… put as without my ego as possible… Times must have changed.

    First person is neither prescribed nor proscribed in ELH. I do not know much of or speak about “gendai” as practiced in Japan. But as a sample of ELH in mainstream journals in English, these recent examples:

    [all available free and on-line]

    Frogpond’s current issue, in the on line excerpt, has about half in first person directly:

    [click on haiku]
    http://www.hsa-haiku.org/frogpond/2010-issue33-1/index.html

    ***

    and 2 of the top 3 haiku chosen by the Editors of The Heron’s Nest plus about half of the first 3 or 4 pages (30 to 40 haiku) use first person explicitly: I me, my, our, etc.

    http://www.theheronsnest.com/haiku/1101t1547/thn_issue.e1.html

    ***

    and a recent issue of Modern Haiku, as excerpted on line, also with about 1/2 explicitly first person:

    http://www.modernhaiku.org/issue40-2/haiku40-2.html

    ***

    None of these three haiku journals have any explicit policy toward first person perspectives, yea or nay.

  36. The tradition of eliminating the “I” from haiku coincided with the idea (fostered by Blyth, a student of D.T. Suzuki) that haiku was an offshoot of Zen Buddhism and that haiku aimed at enlightenment. While it is true that there were haiku written that purposely were meant as such expressions, haiku generally were not viewed as a medium of such expression. Basho was not a Buddhist, had minimal understanding of the religion, and was a poet first and foremost.
    This tradition of relinquishing a sense of “I” carried on into American haiku (perhaps because early proponents, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder, et al, were erstwhile students of Buddhism), and understood it that way as advanced their own interests and their esteem for Blyth/Suzuki.
    I believe their interest and purpose was to find a way of life that advocated peace (amongst other reasons) in a cold war world, in a world dominated by the “millions” manipulated by and coming to resemble the “machinery” of the 20th century.
    Ironically, though, it was just these poets (and there were notable others), that introduced the lyrical and interior “I” back into poetry after the formalism of the preceding period. When we think of the 1950s in poetry, we think of this great energy evoked by the “I,” by its resuscitation from the organizational man of the time. James Hackett, remember, was a Buddhist monk prior to becoming a haiku poet.
    The ideal of no-self of Buddhism also found its way into American haiku as a rule that the form be an enactment of enlightenment: lower-case lines of “objective” things existing without reference to anything other than themselves; a belief that the “I” is an arrogance and corrupter of the pure-field of things-in-themselves, to be presented and cherished by what? (as no-self was writing wasn’t it).
    Of course, in order for something to exist for us, we must make room for it and to do so we must yield our opinions, preferences,etc., otherwise everything is just understood as we understand it. Many good and great poems were made by attempts to yield to the “idea” of things as existing independently; it gave value to the “natural” world, in particular, something our century had not and still does not do.
    However, another, and equally valid way of valuing the world is by examing it, looking at it, and by expressing what it is and does to our internal life (another field that is side-swept and under-priveleged and down-trodden by our production-era ethos).
    That is why in Japan and here in the USA, poets created a form that moved from the “objective” to “subjective” world; why they championed the internal response to the world (not insisting on their ego so much as the inner landscape that the outer landscape evokes for all of us).
    Just think of Ozaki Housai, Fura Maeda, Kyoshi Takahama, Arou Usuda, Fusei Tomiyasu, etc. (For a list see Fay Aoyagi’s translations as noted at the site I mentioned in Periplum 4).
    That things and we are preceded and superceded is true and is a legitimate end to express in haiku. But, that we exist, that the world exists in us and through us, is equally important and an equal end to express by haiku.
    The idea that Buddhism or haiku as an ancillary art require the denial of the small self, feelings, perceptions, cognitions, etc. is simply not true. To think that there is an essential self behind these phenomenon is true.

  37. Though the Car Talk guys stop laughing whenever they see my name on the “recent posts” list, I’ll risk adding a couple of things then I’ll give it over.
    (“Give over!” my Yorkshire grandfather used to say).
    This speaks to some recent comments about “the bejeweled finger”, the haiku poet not pointing to him/herself, etc., and to the recognition for some that this is not the only approach. See Jack Galmitz’s post here: https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/2009/08/26/periplum-4/

    Out of deference for how the Japanese language works, or out of perceptions one may have of that,
    and out of a wish not to intrude, some poets avoid the personal pronoun I, but leave it implied. I’m not sure, sometimes, if the implication is not more intrusive than the absence.

    I guess this way of writing is something the Japanese language allows without the kind of confusion (need to be “initiated”) that we’ve been looking at. So it is a challenge for translators, no doubt, and probably some translations *should* give the feeling of the original, even if that requires some study.

    But it gets carried over into our ELH, where sometimes poems look like translations, or imitations of the Japanese. That’s where the uninitiated may exclaim “write it in English!”.

    To be fair, often enough writing without the personal pronoun works well, and is clear. When this happens, the reader is not required to hack away at the language in order to get a view of what’s being pointed to.

    So it’s a challenge for the writer who wishes, for good reasons, not to intrude in any way, implicitly, or explicitly. A challenge especially when one senses one’s own non-egoic presence in the world. I’ll leave it there for now.

    Here’s the poem by Heather McHugh: (it refers to something some here may be too young to remember: the electric typewriter)–

    Blue Streak

    During the twentieth century chance
    was the form we adored—you had to
    generate it by machine. Kisses came

    in twisted foil, we quickened the clock
    with digitalis, invented the pacemaker
    in case we fell in love. The whiz kids

    were our only ancestors; the buzz saw,
    working west, had left its mark.
    My children, this is history:

    we made it; millions counted;
    one-of-a-kind was a lie; and the poets,
    who should have spoken for us, were busy

    panning landscapes, gunning
    their electrics, going
    I I I I I .

  38. “It could be the high level of the critical discourse…
    intimidating”. Lorin, others here have put it differently, speaking of over-analysis, etc. I periodically, for my own self-interest I suppose, promote this blog, wishing that Fay Aoyagi, or Gary Hotham, or Lee Gurga, or Marlene Mountain or people I’ve never met…would jump in– and I don’t like to think that my contributions lead some in the opposite direction. But I think each of us can find her/his way here. For some it might be, “well that way of looking at things is kind of dull for me, but here’s a poem I really like and let me try to say why; or let me just show it to you”. And of course, in different ways, that’s what some folks do, and its great.

    It seems that a lot of haiku fans enjoy the associations, the memories, the revery and personal connections that a poem provides. I like that too sometimes, but I also find it fun to see what the language is doing. So for me, finding all the little i’s in “annihilating icicles” is just plain enjoyable. Maybe I’ll find a poem by Heather McHugh (my teacher back in the early 80’s)– it’s got a line something like (this is very approximate)– “poets holding down the key and gunning their iiiiiiiiiiiis”

    And Lorin, I think your comments on needing be “initiated” are quite significant. They go back to earlier comments Jack made. I’ll combine what I remember he said with my thought and say the question concerns unconscious habits of language picked up from translators who have tried to give a flavor the Japanese original.

    So here’s a question I have (speaking of intimidation)– is this a problem for some people first coming upon a poem that they may not know how to read? I bet it is. I would think that some uninitiated readers might give up on “done with snow-shoveling/”, and if told that a certain knowledge of how Japanese haiku are constructed would help, might say– “why not just write it in English then?”

    I bet a lot of haiku sent to mainstream mags are rejected for this reason.

    And of course, a lot of haiku *are* written in English.

    I like Gabi’s version– it’s in English and has a lot of energy:

    a final touch after shoveling snow . . .
    I take a whack at the icicles on the eaves

    I would also go with” “I annihilate the icicles”,
    which is nicely icy.

  39. yukikaki no shi-age ya
    noki no tsurara nagu

    a final touch after shoveling snow . . .
    I take a whack at the icicles on the eaves

    That would be my take.

    If you read this as the first English verison, there would be no discussion about the

    “annihilating icicles”

    Gabi

  40. There might be a case here for using a caesura mark (substitute for kireji) in ELH haiku where instances of the special ‘haiku syntax’ might cause difficulties for the uninitiated general reader though, do you think, Gabi?

  41. It could be the high level of the critical discourse here at THF that’s a little intimidating to some of us, Peter?

    But, holding my nose and jumping in anyway: yes, by itself, ‘annihilating icicles’ could just as well mean that these are annihilating icicles as that someone is annihilating them. Never having seen icicles in my life, apart from in films and photos (and in my freezer) I’m pretty sure that a big one could annihilate me if I was standing under it when it fell. They can look threatening! In context, though, here we understand that someone, an unmentioned I, has/is ‘done with snow-shoveling’:

    done with snow-shoveling
    annihilating icicles
    from the eaves

    But though I can say ‘we understand’ these days, it was not always the case that I knew how to read haiku, since some, such as this one in translation, do not follow the norms of English syntax. Here is the haiku that I misread in my not-knowing-how-to-read-haiku days:

    back from the war
    the tap he couldn’t fix
    still dripping

    Carla Sari, 2nd prize, ‘paper wasp’ Jack Stamm Contest, 2003

    What came from my mouth were these words: “But that’s absurd! It sounds as if it were the tap that was back from the war.”

    That’s when I learnt that there was an ‘understanding’ among the initiated that there’s a caesura, whether marked or not, between the first line and the following two lines in many haiku; the seeming subject of the second line is not the subject of the first line…ah! or ‘oh, me & my big mouth’. Having been initiated, I could then appreciate Carla’s haiku ( still one of the very best ‘war’ haiku I’ve come across).

    Chie Aiko’s three haiku here, it seems to me, make good and humorous use of hyperbole: ‘annihilating icicles’, ‘sky-high’, ‘vast night game’s lights’. There is a wit in each of the haiku which I easily warm to.

  42. done with snow-shoveling
    annihilating icicles
    from the eaves

    Larry, I’ll say something just for the fun/hell of it and in appreciation of your contributions here. And don’t take it as a corrective, please, but it occurs to me that the, shall I say “usual” mind will skip over the possibility that “annihilating” could be an adjective here and move, imperceptibly probably, to decide it must be an action, a verb. But the poetic mind will consider it, and go to some interior space where icicles *can* annihilate, maybe not the icicles hanging from an eave, but the icicles hanging from our eyes. From our I’s. (This probably adds nothing to this particular poem, but speaks more to the power of language, perhaps).

    Larry could you say how you have arrived here on this blog? I ask, be clear, not from an official position (I have no official position, only a personal wish that this place flourish and invite)– I think there may be dozens of people reading these posts who have valuable things to contribute, but for whatever reason, do not. It’s encouraging that you have and I hope will continue.

  43. Peter, I was thinking about this, and yes, “annihiliating” could be an adjective, if there was an implied verb in the sentence fragment: “annihiliating icicles / from the eaves,” such as “hanging,” when you would then get: “annhilating icicles / [hanging] from the eaves.” But as you point out, “It becomes immediately clear with the arrival of the third line and will no longer be ambiguous.” So we are in agreement. And even without the arrival of the third line, I don’t think of icicles as having the quality of being “annihilating” even though in falling they can potentially be harmful. Dangerous, yes; annihilating, no.

    I think I understand your point about the night game’s lights. But I wonder if ‘hi’ (light) can be singular as well as plural. If it was singular, meaning the light from the lit-up night game reaches the harbor, the haiku could be written:

    how vast
    the night game’s light:
    (or: the light from the night game:)
    it reaches the harbor

    It’s my impresson that’made’ can also mean “as far as,” so:

    how vast
    the night game’s light:
    as far as the harbor

    The use of a colon in the translation would also be appropriate, I think, in reflecting the inclusion of the ‘kireji’ “ya” in the original (assuming “ya” is a ‘kireji’ in the original).

    Again, I think there is intentional humor here. Whether the light literally reaches the harbor in the sense of being able to cast shadows there, however faintly, or merely can be seen from the harbor, the light certainly isn’t ‘ocean-wide’ vast.

    What does the poet mean by calling the light “vast?” In my opinion, she could be both praising human ingenuity in being able to create such light, and at the same time mocking human ingenuity by pointing out that, for all its accomplishments, it has limits.

    I am left with the impression that however “vast” the night game’s light seems to be; because it only reaches as far as the harbor, it somehow comes up short in relation to genuine vastness.

    Larry

  44. Larry– if I am only presented with “annihilating icicles” I can’t be sure if I am dealing with an adjective or verb.
    It becomes immediately clear with the arrival of the third line and will no longer be ambiguous. The ambiguity, admittedly, is probably only evident under a magnifying glass, but is likely completely absent in the Japanese.

    how vast
    the night game’s lights . . .
    they reach the harbor

    I still hold that “lights” does not quite work. If you step the lines back a little to prose, you might get something like “the lights are vast” which gives a sense that each individual light, or bank of lights, is vast. One gets the idea, of course, but the effect described comes from the accumulated, single light given of by hundreds of powerful bulbs. No?

  45. I would find it helpful if there was a word-for-word translation as well as a poetic translation.

    A comment for Peter: I’m not sure how “annihilating” can be an adjective.

    “Annihiliating” is a great word, very exhilirating. Part of the exhilaraton is in the exaggeration of a word that is usually applied to entire armies, not individual soldiers. Part of the charm of the word is the application of a word indicative of total, complete and utter destruction to something so relatively small and delicate as icicles, although thick, foot-long or longer icicles can be rather formidable, especially when they pointedly fall.

    Gabi, if I were confronted by a plot of grass so overgrown that it couldn’t be mowed, and I had to use a sickle to cut it down, I might imagine I was “annihilating” the grass as I wielded my sickle.

    Loooking up “nagu,” I find various definitions in the Nelson Japanese-English character dictionary, although none of the characters for “nagu” look quite like the characters in Aiko’s haiku, at least to me.

    Some of the definitions: attack, assault, knock down, strike dead.

    Well, what Aiko is literally doing is knocking down the icicles. To emphasize the shovel-as-sword aspect, one might say “striking down icicles / from the eaves.” But I like “annihilating.”

    Regarding the “night game” haiku: is it explicit in the haiku that the night game is taking place in a stadium? Modern stadiums tend to enclose the lights. But when lights were added to an older stadium such as Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs), they towered above the walls, and cast their light into the the surrounding neighborhood. I was also thinking of an “open” playing field, with just bleachers for seating, with maybe just a short fence around the outfield, such as a high school playing field. There would be little to impede the lights from extending their brightness beyond the field. If it were a small harbor town, the field might not be that far from the harbor.

    Anyway, part of the humor in Aiko’s haiku, at least from these examples, seems to be based on exaggeration. Even unobstructed night game lighting wouldn’t really be “vast.” Even the reverse exaggeration of only ONE bird getting blown sky-high, rather than several birds, or a flock of birds.

    Larry

  46. “tsurara nagu – annihilating icicles”

    This is indeed a challenge.

    My English is not good enough here, but in German I would translate it more simple

    Eiszapfen abschlagen

    The yahoo dictionary gives “to mow, cut down”
    a verb used for cutting grass for example, and I guess you would not “annihilate grass”.

    yukikaki no shiage … as a final touch after shoveling snow
    (in these areas, they do yukikaki to get meters of heavy snow from the large roofs to protect them from being crushed under the heavy load).

    Anyway, the daily fight with snow and ice in Northern Japan is very well brought to attention in this haiku !

    Gabi

  47. I agree with you Peter, and thank David for this presentation and translation. It is pleasant to know that actual young poets in Japan today are writing haiku not about “KGB marigolds” and “light-years of perjury.” and other seeming Dadaisms.

    Peter, it is possible that the stadium lights, many banks of them for a night game, can be seen from the harbor, wherever this stadium and city are. Also, think of seeing a city at night as one drives toward it at night. Some US cities such as Las Vegas, Denver, or Dallas can be approached from pretty uninhabited lands. One can see the city when it is actually still over the horizon but its light goes up and reflects downward and outward (particles in the air, depending on weather). Glow. I read this as a paean, a subtle one, against light pollution. I agree that the harbor is also the gateway to the huge stretch of ocean, largely wild — dark. The haiku has a literal base — and some readers/listeners may find the emotion and metaphor beyond.

  48. These are marvelous poems. They both contain and give off a great deal of energy, and light! “one bird gets blown/ sky-high…” is a little Big Bang. Who knew that an explosion could give off not only heat, but Space! I can only go by David’s translation, which has wonderful sounds in it.

    The translator’s challenge comes out for me somewhat in “done with snow shoveling…” especially in the line “annihilating icicles”…. where annihilating acts as either/both verb or/and adjective, an effect I doubt is present in the original, but I could be wrong. One could argue that the ambiguity (cleared up by the third line) is valuable, but it points out that translations are (or can be) poems in their own right, as “versions” of the original which bring out new possibilities. Perhaps David will speak to this. I wonder too, if he considered (and rejected) this version: “I annihilate icicles” which would bring in a dimension, as I see it, also unlikely to be present in the original—the “I” repeated and amplified in all the little “i’s” that follow, as if the icicles lined up were little glittering egos to be gotten done with! It’s fun to play with this way, but this “version” probably carries the original too far from itself.

    The poems make me wish I knew Japanese. The last poem I’ll very respectfully submit, goes off course for me, primarily because I cannot grasp “lights” as vast. I grasp “light” singular as vast– I am left having to translate the translation. David’s providing a sense of the word “bôyô” helps me to get a feeling for the quality/quantity of light given off by a baseball stadium at night, an ocean of light, flooding even the harbor.

    Despite these quibbles, I am, more importantly, grateful to David for his work in bringing these poems to my attention. I hope he will show us more, and in the meantime, two different poems by Chie Aiko, along with examples by other poets collected in Shinsen 21, can be found in the new Roadrunner, here:
    http://www.roadrunnerjournal.net/pages101/shinsen_21_a_sampling_corrections_final.pdf

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