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

haiku commentary

deeper shadows where the walls meet... autumn rain – Mark E. Brager, The Heron's Nest, Volume XXI, Number 3 (2019) I imagine a corner, two walls meeting at right angles. I can see the depth of shadow there. If I reach out, I am sure the surface – rough brick or smooth masonry – will be cooler; perhaps because the autumn rain I now notice has started to fall. The places where people meet are more emotionally complex, stepping, as we may have to, from the comfort of the familiar to the challenge of the unfamiliar. Those “deeper shadows” may be rich with empathy and gratitude. Eshadows in corners Photograph by Steven Castledinequally, they may be fraught with conflict and umbrage. Brager’s haiku shifts me from inanimate objects to human experience. I sense loss through the image of “autumn rain,” or at least an understanding, or acceptance, of inevitable change that results in something being left behind. Perhaps change, even for the better, always leaves a

haibun ~ I am running through the wondrous silence of history ...

... past standing stones, invisible tombs, the path Chaucer's pilgrims took across the North Downs, the stone cold dead in churchyards, listening to the sound my feet make on lanes, on mud and stone, sharing my breath, the thump of my heartbeats, with sheep, the sky, fields. Sometimes I wonder how I got here, what propelled me forward to this moment when the snags of fleece along a wire fence shine with glory, when another rise in the track ahead is an inspiration not a defeat.  And I think of the words, 'yes', and, 'you can', and the centuries of people before me who said them out loud, or quietly to themselves, believing that something could change. And here I am changing almost nothing in the world and still feeling better for it. trail run seeing the wood  and the trees Blithe Spirit 29.1 - 2019

photo haiku

even amongst all this grey light