Jonathan Mayhew at Bemsha Swing presents fourteen ways of looking at a Basho haiku and concludes that “the best version is probably the sum total or average of all these”; Mark Liberman at Language Log adds Bill Poser’s analysis of the original Japanese; Hugh Bygott at moments… discusses the syntax of the poem (is it a PAN string?) and suggests that it works as a continuation of a Tu Fu poem; Paul MacNeil mentions the historical context. If you prefer German versions, there are seven of them here. Much ado about seventeen syllables, and a lot of fun!


  1. There’s a discrepancy (“ga”/”no”) which Language Log explains; apparently Mayhew’s version was in modernized Japanese, accidentally or deliberately.
    “No” is the only remnant of my Japanese-script vocabulary, which was never large.
    I agree with Language Log that this kind of interlingual presentation is valuable.
    I also believe that if you don’t know a language well, you’re better off ploughing through a few poems than trying to read a stupid newspaper. I once spent two hours reading a Chinese news story that turned out to be a translation from AP. Something like “Assistant Secretary Pierre Michel of the Belgian Department of Transportation” would take several minutes.

  2. Since my Japanese is weak, I took the romaji from another source which didn’t turn out to be very reliable.

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