The ever-changing and the poems

Nothing this week


I bought Keene’s translation of the book, and in the preface he gave several examples of the difficulty of translating haiku written in Japanese into English because of the simplicity and the reliance of Japanese language on suggestion. (Keene 11) But as we discussed, it is also the beauty and uniqueness of Japanese poems. (Lecture 2/28) As Keene mentioned, one of the chief reasons that Japanese had for travel was to see places that are mentioned in poetry, and Basho’s travelling journal illustrated this point well. There are several places that Basho visited along the journey because he had read poems portraying the scene or object written by others before. For example, when he finally saw the famous pine tree of Takekuma, he felt great joy because “the twin trunks shaped exactly as described by the ancient poets”(Basho111) It seems interesting to me that walking into the nature plays such an important role in writing poems. I think the tradition is related to the animistic understanding of nature and the idea of “butsu ga ichinyo”, the unity of thing and self (Inouye 77), which we discussed in class. I see poems as some kind of personal experience, so the action of visiting places mentioned in poems seems to be a sincere attempt to understand the poem by physically experiencing the scene that has been described. The nature is the most direct, visual interpretation of evanescence. In Basho’s term, evanescence and form are “the unchanging and the ever-changing”(Inouye 74.) When we travel, the seasons and landscapes are constantly changing, and so do people we interact with on the way. But the sincerity is eternal foundation of poems that remains the same. Among all the poems, my favorite ones are those in which the landscape is perfectly infused with the feelings of the person seeing it. I think the fact that after hundreds of years we can still feel the joy, loneliness, or whatever emotions from Basho’s poems demonstrates this timeless quality of poems. Also, other than the ones that we talked about in class, one of my favorite poems is the one he wrote back to Sora when his companion was leaving, which I found really touching. “From this day forth, alas/The dew-drops shall wash away/The letters on my hat/ Saying ‘a party of two’. (Basho 136)”


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One Response to The ever-changing and the poems

  1. Avatar of Michael  Chu Michael Chu says:

    I am also amazed by how timeless the haikus Basho composed. Too bad the translation to English sometimes gets into the way of truly experiencing the moment Basho had. I agree with you that sincerity of the heart is indeed necessary to make a good poem, but if the poet excessively infuse his/her personal feelings to the poem, then I think the poem becomes rather limited. This is evident in the translated poems we were given when the translator imposed too much personal interpretation upon the poem.

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