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Volume 34.1
Spring 2003

book review

edited by David Cobb


reviewed by Charles Trumbull

Haiku, edited and with an introduction and biographical notes by David Cobb (London: British Museum Press, 2002). With 38 full-color illustrations of Japanese art work from the British Museum. 90 pages, 6" x 7.5 ", hardbound, with four-color dust jacket. ISBN 0-7-141240-1-x. Cover price £9.99; available in American bookstores and on-line booksellers at discounts.

Suddenly the haiku community—yea, the public in general—is enjoying a veritable flood of beautiful haiku gift books from our friends in Great Britain. In MH 33.3 we briefly reviewed the two recent releases from MQ Press in London, Zen Poems, edited by Manu Bazzano, and Haiku: Poetry Ancient & Modern, edited by Jackie Hardy. Now comes David Cobb’s selection, even more beautifully produced and titled Haiku. This volume is not to be confused with the collection of Cobb’s own work, Haiku: The Poetry of Nature, another British Museum publication scheduled to be released at the end of 2002.

This book is a celebration of Japanese haiku and painting and modern book design, with the English text beautifully set in Centaur, calligraphic renderings of the Japanese text, and glorious reproductions of Japanese woodblock prints, scroll and screen paintings, and graphics in other media. Cobb’s selection encompasses haiku of pre-Bashô poets through works of the modern masters—names such as Kaneko Tôta, Arima Akito, and Suzuki Masajo—arranged by season. The editor’s sensible introductory notes and biographical sketches are a bonus.

The English versions of the haiku are mostly based upon those of earlier translators, principally R.H. Blyth, sometimes with the assistance of Sakaguchi Akiko to check the validity of existing translations and updated by Cobb, and sometimes new translations by Cobb himself. We are hardly expert in this area, but a few of Cobb’s translations seem strained. For example, in haiku mizutori seems always to be translated “waterbird” or “waterfowl,” and it is difficult to see what Cobb gains by using “the bird by the water” in this translation (page 71) of Buson’s kaze ichijin mizutori shiroku miyuru kana as

a sudden squall
and the bird by the water
is turning white

The book, however, is a delight from start to finish. Here are two favorites, the first by Teishitsu, one of the earliest poets represented, the second by Ogino Yôko, the youngest.

‘Ah!’ I said,
it was all that I could say—
the cherry flowers of Mt Yoshino!

‘Ah!’ hot bath water
cold on the breastless side
spring thunder




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