Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
and with an introduction by David Landis Barnhill
Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho, translated
and with an in-troduction by David Landis Barnhill
(Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press,
2004). 331 pages; 5.5½ x 8.75½. ISBN 0-791461-65-3
$71.50 (hardcover); 0-791461-66-1 $23.95 (paper).
Available from booksellers.
to the back cover of this new translation of the
poetry of Matsuo Bashô, this is the most comprehensive
translation yet of Bashôs haiku. The
book contains translations of 724 poems. By contrast
Makoto Uedas Bashô and His Interpreters
has a little over 250 poems. Lucien Stryks
On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho has about
the same number of poems as Ueda, as does Sam Hamills
The Essential Bashô, reviewed in the
winter-spring 2000 issue of Modern Haiku.
There is also a two-volume translation titled Bashôs
Haiku by Toshiharu Oseko, distributed by Maruzen.
I have not seen a copy, but it is my understanding
that it claims to cover all of Bashôs
known haiku. Unfortunately, these volumes are not
readily available in the United States.
preface of Barnhills book mentions a companion
volume to be called: Bashôs Journey:
The Literary Prose of Matsuo Bashô. The
next volume is due out in April of 2005 according
to the publishers web site. If this second
volume is as substantial as the first, it will mean
that a significant portion of Bashôs
poetry and prose will be available in an easily
available and affordable two-volume set.
book begins with a brief chronology of Bashôs
life and a short introduction. The poems are arranged
chronologically with the romanized text and a translation
of the headnotes accompanying each poem. The notes
section at the end of the book takes up approximately
as much space as the translations. Because it follows
the translation section, the reader must constantly
flip back and forth to read any commentary. I imagine
most readers would rather have the notes with the
poems, but I also realize this sort of thing is
often an editorial decision. It is, after all, only
a minor inconvenience. Following the notes there
are a number of indexes and a short glossary of
haiku terminology. There is one index for the translations,
a second index for the romanized poems, and a third
for names (mostly other poets). There is also a
list of some of the major images. Clearly this book
goes far beyond the minimalist approach to transla-tion
of both Stryk and Hamill.
the introduction, Barnhill mentions some of the
problems involved in translating haiku. Two obvious
problems that have beset many translations are the
insertion of unnecessary English adjectives into
the poetry and revers-ing the order of the imagery.
In general Barnhill does not introduce himself too
much into the translation nor do the interpretations
stray far from what the average reader might expect.
Here is an example of one of Bashôs
frozen on horseback,
use this poem to compare translation is somewhat
problematical because, as Barnhill points out in
his notes, there are several versions. Since many
trans-lations do not include the Japanese text it
can be hard to tell which version they are translating.
Hamill translated a slightly different version of
the haiku that appears in The Knapsack Notebook
(Oi no kobumi). Ueda in Bashô and His Interpreters
gives a scholarly translation of fuyu no hi ya bajô
ni koru kage-bôshi, the same version as Barnhills:
on the horses back
my frozen shadow
version by Cid Corman is a good example of translation
that strays significantly from the normal interpretation:
is winters day
upon a horse frozen stiff
a monkish shadow.
in his notes mentions that the first line can mean
either sun or day. The usual interpretation of sun
comes from the shadow in the last line. Cor-mans
insertion of monkish comes from taking
the literal meaning of the Chinese characters used
to write the Japanese word for a persons shadow.
some poems it is virtually impossible to do a line-by-line
translation into English because of the differences
between Japanese and English syntax. A good example
is the famous poem about Bashôs horse
eating a flower that grows along the side the road.
Barnhill provides a line-by-line and word-by-word
literal rendering of each poem in the notes section.
For this poem he has roadsides / rose
of sharon as-for horse by / eaten (175). It
would be extremely diffcult to preserve the original
order of horse and eaten
in the last two lines. Barnhill in his translation,
however, keeps the basic order of the original haiku:
by my horse
translation is very close:
a rose mallow ... it has been
eaten by my horse!
drifts significantly from the order of imagery in
for the hibiscus
on the roadside
my horse ate it.
would agree with Barnhill about the English translation
of mukuge as rose of Sharon but it does look somewhat
strange not to capitalize the proper name Sharon.
The book has some annoying typographical er-rors.
In the first poem quoted above the romanization
for on horseback should be bajô.
Instead it is rendered bashô (63). This seems
excusable since it is romanized Japanese; however,
the English word morning glory, rendered
as monrning glory (176) should have
been caught by a spell-checker.
general these seem to be very competent translations
by someone who is, according to the short blurb
on the back cover, a professor of English and director
of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin
at Oshkosh. His previous efforts have been editing
and contributing to several anthologies of writings
on the environment. If the second volume of Bashôs
prose works fulfills the promise of this volume,
the two together will give us an excellent source
for a significant portion of Bashôs
works in English.
The Essential Bashô. Translated by
Sam Hamill. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1999.
Cid. One Mans Moon: 50 Haiku by Bashô,
Buson, Issa, Hakuin, Shiki, Santôka.
Versions by Cid Corman. Frankfort, Ky.: Gnomon
Robert, editor. The Essential Haiku: Versions
of Bashô, Buson, and Issa. Hopewell,
N.J.: Ecco Press, 1994.
Toshiharu. Bashos Haiku: Literal Translations
for Those Who Wish To Read the Origi-nal Japanese
Text, with Grammatical Analysis and Explanatory
Notes. 2 vols. Tokyo: Maruzen, 1990, 1996.
Makoto, compiler and translator. Bashô
and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary.
Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992.
Modern Haiku PO Box 68 Lincoln, IL 62656