Skip to main content

haiku commentary - Kaneko Tohta

猪がきて空気を食べる春の峠

     a wild boar
     comes and eats air
     spring mountain path

          — Kaneko Tohta, Selected Haiku With Notes and Commentary Part 2:1961-2012, translated by the Kon Nichi Translation Group (Red Moon Press, 2012)

The translation of poetry has to be one of the most challenging arts. How can someone translate words, syntax, sound, rhythm and connotation from one language to another and be sure of achieving something comparable to the original author’s intention? How does the translator balance commitment to the original text with the necessity of creating poetic effect in the translated one?

I am not a translator. And while my reasonable grasp of French and Spanish might help me produce a passable English translation of a short poem in either of those languages, all other languages are beyond my reach. So it’s the translation of Kaneko Tohta’s haiku that I must respond to.


I appreciate the overall scene the haiku conjures but I’m less satisfied with a close reading: the word choice and syntax.

The second line is staccato: it lacks the more natural rhythm of, say, ‘comes and eats the air’. Although ‘comes and eats’ feels rather prosaic too: is the addition of ‘comes’ adding anything? Would a different verb more effectively communicate the writer’s intention?

And ‘spring mountain path’ feels overly compressed. I appreciate that haiku is a poetry of distillation but, for me, the last line attempts to pack in too much of a seasonal punch and I find myself struggling to ‘imagine’ that mountain path in spring. What’s the weather like? What plants might be there? Is it warm/chilly?

So please forgive me for what I’m about to do, Kaneto Tohta and the Kon Nichi Translation Group.

mountain path
a wild boar eats
the spring air



But now I can taste the air with the wild boar on the side of that mountain. And isn’t that what we all want to do? Enter a poem and be a part of it? 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Consolidation & Simplification

Since January 2020 all my work - haiku writing, poetry, prose, imaginative and non-fiction writing - has been posted on my website   Lynne Rees .  Please feel free to share anything from this archive, or my main site, but I'd be grateful if you could credit me as the writer and link back to the source.  Thank you 🙏 Lynne 

haibun ~ Playing Lego Minecraft with Morgan

There’s only a portal of black obsidian between the zombies and lava in The Dimension of The Nether and The Overworld where Steve is standing and I am counting his sheep, cows and pigs. But we really shouldn’t be hanging around when night is about to fall and mob attacks are imminent: Blazes and Creepers, Spiders from The Cave, all ready to descend on The Farm.  autism spectrum my nephew names all the monsters It’s time to lock up the animals, he says, time to close doors and windows, so I turn Steve around and notice he’s clutching a tiny baguette, something that fills me with unaccountable joy: that in this world of sharp edges and danger a boy has placed Bread in a man’s hands and they are carrying it home.  Presence 63,  March 2019

haiku: a poetry of absence or an absence of poetry?

The following paper was presented at the PALA (Poetics and Linguistics Association) 2015 Conference at Canterbury University, Kent, UK on 16th July 2015.  Abstract: HAIKU: A POETRY OF ABSENCE OR AN ABSENCE OF POETRY? Minimalism in Contemporary English Language Haiku The popular perception of haiku as three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables persists in the mainstream poetry world and beyond as if nothing has changed since the first Western translators counted the onji, or sounds, in traditional Japanese haiku and created that misconstrued but enduring template fleshy enough to support a traditional English syntax. And while putting flesh on bones might be a useful metaphor for the construction of formal and free verse, contemporary English language haiku practice is often more akin to the trimming and polishing of bones to create a form where point of view, adjectives and even verbs may be dispensed with entirely.  This 30 minute presentation will analyse examples of min