THE POETIC FROG.

Matt of No-sword has a typically informative post about two words for ‘frog’ in Japanese, kaeru and kawazu; he says “The common answer is that kawazu is the ‘old word’ that got replaced by the ‘new word’ kaeru, but this is a misconception. It’s really just another case of semantic overlap combined with poetic versus everyday register,” and proceeds to give a detailed and convincing explanation which you should read if you have any interest in the subject. But I came here to tell you about it because of the kicker:

Kawazu would probably have been forgotten by all but the specialists by now (much like tazu) if it weren’t for one thing: the Dark Side of the Moon of traditional Japanese poetry, that one haikai by Bashō that everyone knows…
古池や かはづ飛び込む 水の音
Furuike ya/ Kawazu tobikomu/ mizu no oto
Old pond/ Frog jumps in/ Sound of water

Bonus fact: Bashō was actually consciously playing with the kawazu tradition here by attributing the sound to the water rather than the frog. The frog’s implied silence, after centuries of naku kawazu, is a crucial part of the stillness that allows the sound of water to make its impact.

Isn’t that interesting? I’ve read that poem umpteen times without having the slightest inkling of this basic information!

Comments

  1. Hey, Hat, you have a rogue < in front of the first “kawazu” in the quote in the first paragraph, causing the word to disappear & in some browsers putting the rest of the page in italics (even this text box).

  2. Some wacky faves:
    pond
      frog
        plop!
             –James Kirkup
    swamp
      tadpole
        plunk
             –Douglas Hofstadter (count the letters)
    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. Mar
    A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps…
       Apart, unstilled by sound or motion…till
    Suddenly into it a little frog leaps.
             –Curtis Hidden Page (after Dante)
    O 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
    Silent old pool
      Frog jumps
        Kdang!
             –Edward Bond (?)

  3. Tim May: Good catch, thanks! I fixed it.
    John Cowan: Good quotes, thanks! I lol’d.
    Huh, this is interesting (from Wikipedia): “Apparently this poem became instantly famous: by April the poets of Edo gathered at the Bashō Hut for a haikai no renga contest on the subject of frogs that seems to have been a tribute to Bashō’s hokku, which was placed at the top of the compilation.”
    *mightily resists temptation to make fast-food joke*
    And here are a bunch of Russian translations:
    О, дремотный пруд,
    прыгают лягушки вглубь,
    слышен всплеск воды.
        Перевод Валерия Брюсова
    Старый пруд!
    Прыгнула лягушка.
    Всплеск воды.
        Перевод Татьяны Петровны Григорьевой (? — см. комментарий)
    Старый пруд,
    прыгнула в воду лягушка
    всплеск в тишине.
        Перевод Веры Марковой
    Старый пруд.
    Лягушка прыгнула в воду.
    Всплеск в тишине.
        Вариант перевода Алексея Андреева
    Этот старый пруд!
    Ныряет в воду лягушка –
    негромкий всплеск.
        Перевод Александра Долина
    Старый-старый пруд;
    прыгнула лягушка вглубь —
    одинокий всплеск.
        Перевод Дмитрия Смирнова
    Древний пруд. О!
    Лягушка прыгнула.
    Всплеск воды.
        Перевод Александра Ситницкого
    Всплеск старой воды —
    тишь нарушена прýда,
    квакшей нырнувшей.
        Перевод: Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff
    The first is by Bryusov, which is cool. Or as the russkis say, круто.

  4. Ha, I like LWH’s.
    I found a page with the results of the Basho-led frog contest here: http://www.kaeruclub.jp/report/huruike/huruike2.html. No English translation, but the table format (showing left vs right on the same row) and the [sketchy] modern Japanese translation of the commentary are nice.

  5. “tell you about it because of the kicker,” eh? I’ve always been amused that the Dutch word for “frog” is “kikker.” Can someone supply a Dutch translation of the Basho, please?

  6. For those like myself who didn’t know what “naku kawazu” meant. Here is a page that defines it. It also references Matt’s post that lead to the post quoted above. How’s that for coming full circle.
    http://faroutliers.wordpress.com/2007/10/06/wordcatcher-tales-katatsumuri-otamajakushi/
    naku kawazu ‘croaking frog’

  7. Can someone supply a Dutch translation of the Basho, please?
    I smugly went to the Dutch Wikipedia page for Basho, sure that they’d prominently feature his most famous poem, but no, they were too cool for that, they had three other haiku. I thought nasty thoughts. But then I went to the page for haiku, and voilà (or however you say voilà in Dutch):
    Ach oude vijver
    een kikker springt er in;
    geluid van water.

  8. Hiroaki Sato’s One Hundred Frogs actually has more than a hundred translations, including famous one’s like Allen Ginsberg’s (also on this page) and a number of wacky ones.
    Of those, my own favorite is probably William Matheson’s in the style of (it seems to me) Henry James. It goes on for a page and half, of which this is representative.

    “that’s a relatively simple matter: it jumped, or leapt, or threw itself, or was propelled — le choix est à vous — into it, and consequently, as such is often the case, it made a noise.”

    It’s listed as number X from “Ten Variations on Bashō’s ‘Pond and Frog’ Haiku”, but that isn’t listed in the bibliography, so I don’t know anything more, and so wonder about the seven of the ten that aren’t included.
    keigu at paraverse.org is coming out with another book of translations soon, which I understand will include a chapter provocatively subtitled, “why the most translated poem of all cannot be.”

  9. Wow, I never thought I’d see LH write ‘lol’d’.

  10. Ach oude vijver… The Ach suggests something like Dear Old Pond. Is that in keeping with the original?

  11. Ponds, and the frog I sing, who, forc’d to fame
    By poet Basho’s celebrated name,
    Was since evoked a myriad times or more –
    Ever silent, never left on shore,
    By poetasters made to take the plunge,
    To bear without a croak the noisome scunge
    And strangely noisy swill of stagnant pools
    (All for delight of Buddhist-Baptist fools
    Who misconstrue the figure and the ground).
    Ah, made to hear that zen-like water’s sound!
    What would the frog say, though, if given choice?
    Amphibious apophthegms? No, just voice
    Its tranquil transcendental unconcern:
    “It could be worse – could be a Greasy Urn.”

  12. Um… that was the noetic frog, of course.

  13. Sara, the “Ach” probably corresponds to the “ya”, which is difficult to translate in isolation but communicates that the pond is particularly moving or noteworthy in some way. (It also helps round out the line to five syllables.)

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