Matsuo Basho: a new hearing

detail from “Frog and Mouse” by Getsuju, ca. 1800, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The temple bell stops—
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.

The contrail dissipates—
but the sound keeps coming
out of the sky.


Such stillness—
The cries of the cicadas
Sink into the rocks.

Such stillness—
the hum of the air conditioner
drowns out the traffic.


The old pond.
A frog jumps in.
The sound of water.

The mitigated wetland.
A frog hops toward it.
The sound of tires.

Translations by Robert Bly (1); Donald Keene (2); damn near everyone (3)

[Poetry Thursday – dead link]

This week’s prompt — project, really — was guerrilla poetry, and while I wasn’t able put the suggestion into effect (yet), I guess bowlderizing some of the greatest works of a justly beloved poet is sort of guerrilla-esque. Links to other Poetry Thursday posts can be found here.

9 Replies to “Matsuo Basho: a new hearing”

  1. Dave….very cool translation! Western poetry often has some romantic notions about the difference between the natural world and the manmade. I like the easy flow of your words and your world. The guerrilla poetry idea is tremenous. On my way to lunch at the chili dog place I will put up a poem somewhere.

  2. I read the first and thought, Oh! I love this and then I read the second and on down to the last and then I loved them all.

  3. Out at the clubs in the city, the sound you often hear is of the crowd crying “remix.” It’s a magic word now, which means something specific, but also functions as a spur to a good time. So, artists release original recordings prefaced with shouts of “remix! remix!”

    It reminds me of street vendors (of CDs, DVDs) in Lagos who ask if you want the “original original” or the “fake original.”

    I love remixes in general. And I like what you’ve done here, especially with (1) which reads like an original original.

  4. amazing stanzas…I adore them all. And of course, the greatest compliment is that they make me want to go be in that green humidity and just listen. wonderful…

  5. Thanks for the kind words, y’all, and a warm welcome to those of you who are visiting for the first time! I know my first “remix” is the most successful as a free-standing poem, but if I’d put it last, you’d still be chuckling about the poor frog and it would ruin the effect. (In Pennsylvania, we tend to put mitigated, artificial wetlands right next to highways, thus negating most of their wildlife benefit. They probably do that elsewhere too, I don’t know.)

    For what it’s worth, Basho’s frog hokku has probably been translated more times than the Bible. Here are thirty different English versions.

    I just found a nifty public-domain illustration to add to the post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.