Friday, December 28, 2012

I too am a Wanderer, a Plodder

I'm a wanderer
So now call me by that name;
First winter shower

(My translation and rewriting of Basho:

Tabibito to / waga na yobare n / hatsu shigure

(# 327 JR)

Also accessible in Japanese and Romanized forms from Wikisource)

Written in 1687 at the start of one of his walking tours (poetic pilgrimages, really) this poem opens his travel journal,  "Knapsack Journey".

Obviously the season is winter, the "hatsu shigure" being a standard winter seasonal reference. But in the context, the shower of rain might be seen,  by a Western reader anyway,  to almost represent baptism - the traditional ceremony for bestowing a name on a child. For Basho it seems he senses a new and different life about to commence and so calls for himself a new name.

This therefore seems to be a particularly appropriate poem to begin my training journey with: my name too is wanderer! (Actually, it is Strider).

Translation of poetry is notoriously difficult. Translating a haiku from Japanese to English is an even more difficult task (some commentators say impossible). The structure of Japanese is totally unlike English, and even in everyday speaking much is left to context and the interpretation of the listener. So translating a poetic form which is even more deliberately  abbreviated and suggestive than normal language is obviously going to be a very personal matter. But having a variety of translations can be very instructive to the haiku apprentice, since they highlight some of the subtle variations in tone and meaning which a master haiku poet can capture. I suggest haiku apprentices obtain,  or at least try and access,  several  versions of English translations of the Japanese masters, and even a Japanese dictionary to see the different possible translations of the words chosen by the master poets. There are books in English which give both the Japanese script and its romanization which are invaluable to the serious apprentice. There are also free online sites.

Returning to our poem, in the translation by Lucien Stryk,  for "tabibito to" he chooses instead of "wandering" or "travelling" the phrase "I plod on", which is a delightful choice of words with another fresh and suggestive set of connotations that speaks particularly to me at this time. For quite apart from the coincidental near echo of "plod" and "blog", my keeping a blog might seem to be a rather plodding approach to learning haiku. Wonderful! In fact, that seems how we best learn anything worthwhile and valuable in life - "the way of the child": taking the hand of a parent and plodding was how I learned to walk, after all.

In fact plodding was also literally Basho's way to learn what he valued most: Haiku, Zen, and indeed Living. Rambling through the world. He is renowned for his travels, and in his own day his travel journals were popular sensations among Japanese readers - mixing the erudite and suggestive prose "Haiban" description of his journeying, with Haiku called up from the situations or settings. For Basho, his destination was secondary; his primary goal was the journey. His travelling was learning - learning how life is. Life is not truly known from comfortable armchairs and warm fireplaces (or from Google Earth, as some might explore the world today), but from actual physical engagement - like feeling the cold rain of early winter on your face, soaking through your clothes, into your boots.

If I am not yet at the winter of my own life, I am certainly in late summer or the early autumn. The coldness stings, and reminds this traveller to check his priorities. I am inspired by this poem and by my own memories to make this poetic response:

The child lifts his hands
and squeals with joy as he flies
over the puddles

Copyright © 2013 The Haiku Apprentice

1 comment:

  1. An autumn stormburst
    Reveals the road - my feet tread
    Rain soaked silver streets


Thank you for your interest in my blog. You are clearly a thoughtful and poetic soul!

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Remember, patience is a poetic virtue!