There’s a thing going around on Facebook right now:
“The idea is to flood Facebook with poetry. Someone assigns you a poet, you post a poem written by that poet. If someone likes your post, you assign them a poet.”
My friend posted a “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost. When I “liked” that, she gave me Matsuo Bashō, a Japanese poet from the Edo period, famous for his haiku. Not sure if she remembered that I studied Japanese in college, but this is right up my alley. Here’s what I shared:
Matsuo Bashō: Frog Haiku
furu ike ya
mizu no oto
The old pond:
A frog jumps in,—
The sound of the water.
These 3 all say the same thing…yet they don’t. The first is how the poem would have been written originally: in kanji and hiragana, the main writing systems of Japanese.
The second is a phonetic romanization of the Japanese–very helpful for me, since I know about 10 kanji total. This allows us English speakers to read aloud the Japanese words.
The third is a translation of the poem into English. It is a random translation I found online; I am not good enough to translate Japanese poetry. Notice that the 5-7-5 structure has not been retained. (There are assuredly hundreds of ways that you could translate this poem–here is a whole page cataloging some.)
It is a fairly literal translation. A Facebook friend, who has lived much of her life in Japan, commented that it “makes it sound like a three year old wrote it.” Ha! She is right; there are some things that you just cannot translate. Poetry is very difficult in that regard, because every aspect–tone, shape, sound–has been so carefully constructed in the original. One of the best things about learning another language is being able to appreciate literature in its original form.
My friend also said that this is one of the most famous poems in Japan, so there’s your cultural education for the day. What would you say is the most famous poem in the US? (I asked my husband, and he said Poe’s “The Raven,” which I think is a good answer. Or perhaps something by Robert Frost.)