Moon Woke Me Up Nine Times: Selected Haiku of Basho
, by Bashō Matsuo, translated by David Young: A delightful collection. David Young's introduction is informative and easy to read, which is a rarity in poetry collections and must be praised, though you won't learn a thing about Bashō from it. Young says you can get that everywhere else; instead, the introduction addresses Young's approach to translating these poems, and I was quite surprised at the amount of latitude Young gave himself. Due to the differences between the number of syllables in English and Japanese, he disregards the West's belief that haiku must conform to a 5-7-5 arrangement, which is fine by me, but he also elides cultural references he thought would be lost on English-speaking audiences, reorders the lines themselves, and even removes the occasional question mark, and I don't know how I feel about that. The result is lovely, but is it an honest reflection of Bashō's words?
In Young's hands, Bashō's poetry is clear and simple, each haiku a meditation on life and nature. They are, by turns, longing, playful, soothing, and contemplative, and it's remarkable how many sensory details they include. So much is packed into these little sentences, giving you brief glimpses of another life, transporting you to where Bashō was three hundred years ago, listening to the rain, gardening, or:
Big white leeks
washing them off
feeling how cold
The poetry is transcendent, in that it moved me to a different place. Once I came back, though, I wondered a lot about the choices Young made. I really would have liked some translator's notes (outside of those in the introduction), but instead I'll have to content myself with reading Jane Reichhold's Basho: The Complete Haiku
and go over her notes to see how their translations differ. This is actually Young's idea, and he helpfully includes an appendix that correlates his page numbers with Reichhold's numbering system for easy comparison.
Really accessible, and highly recommended.