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Do All Roads Lead to Basho?

A look at interpretations of Matsuo Basho and his work, through the lens of translation and Stanley Fish's idea of "Interpretive Communities."

Stewart Baker

on 21 September 2013

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Transcript of Do All Roads Lead to Basho?

Do All Roads Lead to Basho? Interpretations of the Master in English.
The perils of translation...
kare eda ni karasu no tomari keri aki no kure
furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto
kare[ru] - to wither (of a plant); to be blasted; to die;
eda - branch; bow; bough; twig; limb;
ni - from / on / to
karasu - crow; raven
no - belonging to / of
toma[ru] - (1) to stop (moving); to come to a stop; (3) to alight; to perch on;
keri (a kireji) - "exclamatory verbal suffix, past perfect" (Source: The Haiku Handbook, Kodansha International, 1985)
aki - autumn; fall
kure - (1) sunset; sundown; nightfall; dusk; (2) end; close;
(word for word translations from WWWJDIC unless otherwise noted)
furu[i] - old (not person); aged; ancient; antiquated; stale; threadbare; outmoded; obsolete article;
ike - pond
ya (a kireji) - emphasises the preceding word or words. (source: The Haiku Handbook)
kawazu - frog
tobikomu - to jump in; to leap in; to plunge into; to dive;
mizu - (1) water
oto - (1) sound; noise; report; (2) note (music);
kare eda ni...
A crow is perched on a bare branch;
It is an autumn eve
(Asataro Miyamori)
furu ike ya...
Translation /
Literary Criticism

Stanley Fish's "Interpreting the Variorum"
The perils of interpretation
Going further in...
Hate Mail?

Nature Appreciation / eco-criticism
Religious Studies / Zen Buddhism
History /
Literary History
Japanese Culture Fans (Japanese or otherwise)
(All translations from Vladimir Devidé's 1995 article "Comparing Translations of Basho's Haiku kare eda ni.")
The end of autumn, and some rooks
Are perched upon a withered branch.
(Basil Hall Chamberlain)
The autumn glooming deepens into night;
Black 'gainst the slowly-fading orange light,
On withered bough a lonely crow is sitting.
(Clara A Walsch)
Autumn evening: on a withered bough,
A solitary crow is sitting now.
(Harold Stewart)
A black crow
Has settled himself
On a leafless tree,
Fall of an autumn day.
(Nobuyuki Yuasa)
A crow clings silent
To a bare bough,
Watching the sunset.
(P. Belison and H. Behn)
Autumn evening now:
A crow alone is perching
On the leafless bough.
(Kenneth Yasuda)
On a withered bough
A crow alone is perching
Autumn evening now.
(Kenneth Yasuda)
On a leafless bough
In the gathering autumn dusk:
A solitary crow.
(Dorothy Britton)
On a withered branch
A crow is sitting
This autumn eve.
(W.G. Aston)
On a withered branch
a crow has settled—
autumn nightfall.
(Harold H Henderson)
On a bare branch
A crow is perched—
Autumn evening.
(Makoto Ueda)
On the withered branch
A crow has alighted—
Nightfall in autumn.
(Donald Keene)
On a withered branch
A crow is perched,
This autumn evening.
(R.H. Blyth)
On a bare branch
A rook roosts:
Autumn dusk
(G. Bownas and A. Thwaite)
On a withered branch
A crow is perched
An autumn evening
(Robert Aitken)
On a leafless bough
A crow is perched—
The autumn dusk.
(Joan Giroux)
A branch shorn of leaves,
A crow perching on it—
This autumnal evening
(D.T. Suzuki)
On a branch of a withered tree
A raven is perched—
This autumn eve.
(Toshihiko Izutsu)
On a dead branch
a crow is perched.
Autumn nightfall.
(Vladimir Devidé)
(All translations from Hiroaki Sato's 1995 book One Hundred Frogs.)
Old pond— frogs jumped in— sound of water
(Lafcadio Hearn)
A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps...
Apart, unstirred by sound or motion... till
Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps.
(Curtis Hidden Page)
Into the ancient pond
A frog jumps
Water's sound!
(D.T. Suzuki)
Oh thou unrippled pool of quietness
Upon whose shimmering surface, like the tears
Of olden days, a small batrachian leaps,
The while aquatic sounds assail our ears. (Lindley Williams Hubbell)
Pond, there, still and old!
A frog has jumped from the shore.
The splash can be heard.
(Eli Siegel)
Old pond
and a frog-jump-in
(Harold H Henderson)
The old pond, yes, and
A frog-jumping-in-the-
Water's noise!
(G.S. Fraser)
The ancient pond
A frog leaps in
The sound of the water.
(Donald Keene)
old pond
frog leaping
(Cid Corman)
The old pond,
A frog jumps in:
(Alan Watts)
Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water—
A deep resonance.
(Nobuyuki Yuasa)
The quiet pond
A frog leaps in,
The sound of the water.
(Edward Seidensticker)
The old pond—
A frog leaps in,
And a splash.
(Makoto Ueda)
The old pond
A frog jumped in,
(Allen Ginsberg)
The old pond is still
a frog leaps right into it
splashing the water
(Earl Miner & Hiroko Odagiri)
old pond...
a frog leaps in
water's sound
(William J Higginson)
Old dark sleepy pool
quick unexpected frog
goes plop! Watersplash.
(Peter Beilenson)
Old pond
leap — splash
a frog.
(Lucien Stryk)
The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water.
(Robert Aitken)
The old pond —
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.
(Robert Hass)
dark old pond
a frog plunks in
(Dick Bakken)
ancient is the pond —
suddenly a frog leaps — now!
the water echoes
(Tim Chilcott)
There once was a curious frog
Who sat by a pond on a log
And, to see what resulted,
In the pond catapulted
With a water-noise heard round the bog.
(Alfred H Marks)
"Evidence brought to bear in the course of formalist analyses ... will always point in as many direction as there are interpreters; ... not only will it prove something, it will prove anything."
"The reader's activities ...... include the making and revising of assumptions, the rendering and regretting of judgments, the coming to and abandoning of conclusions... In a word, these activities are interpretive."
"Interpretive communities are made up of those who share interpretive strategies not for reading (in the conventional sense) but for writing texts, for constituting their properties and assigning their intentions."
"The assumption in each community will be that the other is not correctly perceiving the 'true text,' but the truth will be that each perceives the text (or texts) its interpretive strategies demand and call into being."
"Meanings are not extracted but made ... by interpretive strategies."
on/at a withered/dead/bare branch/bough/limb, (a) crow(s)/raven(s)/rook(s) has/have landed/stopped/alighted autumn/fall sunset/sundown/nightall/dusk/end.
[old pond] is perhaps the haiku known best to Western readers, as well. Yet I dare say few anywhere see into its significance. It was the true turning point for the poet...... In a setting of a mossy pond with edges broken down, he encapsulated the timelessly ancient with the immediate sound of a frog hitting the water, to bring exquisite unity to his presentation. (Robert Aitken)
"This most celebrated of Basho's poems was actually meant to violate a firmly established waka pattern dating back to the Kokinshu. The preface to this first imperial collection describes "listening to ... the song of the frog dwelling in the water." Instead of treating the "song of the frogs," however, Basho focuses on the sound of the water made by a jumping frog. In so doing, his haiku patently disregards the traditional treatment. (Koji Kawamoto)
Where is this "Oku," anyway?
Narrow Road to the Deep North (David Barnhill and others)

Narrow Road to the Interior (Sam Hamill and others)

Narrow Road to Oku (Donald Keene)

The Narrow Way Within (Robert Aitken)
To Boldly Go...
"Basho's main purpose [in his travels] seems to have been to renew his art by direct contact with places that had inspired the poets of the past." (Donald Keene, "Basho's Diaries")
True Lies
under the same roof
prostitutes too were sleeping—
clover and the moon
"Neither in Sora's own diary of the journey nor in any other document is there mention of such an occurence, and this has given rise to the suspicion that the story of the prostitutes is fictitious ... possibly [included] under the influence of the rules of renga composition concerning the importance of a verse on "love."
"Basho's inventions and departures from the literal truth enhance the lasting truth of The Narrow Road [travel diary]."
Aitken, in contrast, assumes that Basho's reasons for traveling were mostly religious and creative.
"One purpose of Basho's journeys was to spread the word of his style and literary philosophy and gain new disciples." (David Barnhill, Basho's Journey)
"If you interpret, "A frog jumped into (an old pond and a water-splashing sound occured," the haiku becomes overt, simplistic ...... in fact, it was first written just as ... frog(s)-jumping-in sound of water. Moreover, sometime after, the phrase, furuike ya, was 'capped' to completed the composition ...... This ku is not consecutive, and on the contrary has a break within it. ...... Thus, "old pond" (furuike) exists in the world of mind." (Hasegawa Kai)
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