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Michael R Burch Sep 2020
Haiku Translations of the Oriental Masters

Grasses wilt:
the braking locomotive
grinds to a halt
― Yamaguchi Seishi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, fallen camellias,
if I were you,
I'd leap into the torrent!
― Takaha Shugyo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Come, investigate loneliness!
a solitary leaf
clings to the Kiri tree
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Lightning
shatters the darkness―
the night heron's shriek
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

One apple, alone
in the abandoned orchard
reddens for winter
― Patrick Blanche, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The poem above is by a French poet; it illustrates how the poetry of Oriental masters like Basho has influenced poets around the world.

Graven images of long-departed gods,
dry spiritless leaves:
companions of the temple porch
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

See: whose surviving sons
visit the ancestral graves
white-bearded, with trembling canes?
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I remove my beautiful kimono:
its varied braids
surround and entwine my body
― Hisajo Sugita, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This day of chrysanthemums
I shake and comb my wet hair,
as their petals shed rain
― Hisajo Sugita, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This darkening autumn:
my neighbor,
how does he continue?
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Let us arrange
these lovely flowers in the bowl
since there's no rice
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The butterfly
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Pausing between clouds
the moon rests
in the eyes of its beholders
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The first chill rain:
poor monkey, you too could use
a woven cape of straw
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Like a heavy fragrance
snow-flakes settle:
lilies on the rocks
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The cheerful-chirping cricket
contends gray autumn's gay,
contemptuous of frost
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Whistle on, twilight whippoorwill,
solemn evangelist
of loneliness
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The sea darkening,
the voices of the wild ducks:
my mysterious companions!
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Will we meet again?
Here at your flowering grave:
two white butterflies
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Fever-felled mid-path
my dreams resurrect, to trek
into a hollow land
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Too ill to travel,
now only my autumn dreams
survey these withering fields
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch; this has been called Basho's death poem

These brown summer grasses?
The only remains
of "invincible" warriors...
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

An empty road
lonelier than abandonment:
this autumn evening
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Spring has come:
the nameless hill
lies shrouded in mist
― Matsuo Basho, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The Oldest Haiku

These are my translations of some of the oldest Japanese waka, which evolved into poetic forms such as tanka, renga and haiku over time. My translations are excerpts from the Kojiki (the "Record of Ancient Matters"), a book composed around 711-712 A.D. by the historian and poet Ō no Yasumaro. The Kojiki relates Japan’s mythological beginnings and the history of its imperial line. Like Virgil's Aeneid, the Kojiki seeks to legitimize rulers by recounting their roots. These are lines from one of the oldest Japanese poems, found in the oldest Japanese book:

While you decline to cry,
high on the mountainside
a single stalk of plumegrass wilts.
― Ō no Yasumaro (circa 711), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Here's another excerpt, with a humorous twist, from the Kojiki:

Hush, cawing crows; what rackets you make!
Heaven's indignant messengers,
you remind me of wordsmiths!
― Ō no Yasumaro (circa 711), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Here's another, this one a poem of love and longing:

Onyx, this gem-black night.
Downcast, I await your return
like the rising sun, unrivaled in splendor.
― Ō no Yasumaro (circa 711), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

More Haiku by Various Poets

Right at my feet!
When did you arrive here,
snail?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Our world of dew
is a world of dew indeed;
and yet, and yet...
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, brilliant moon
can it be true that even you
must rush off, like us, tardy?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A kite floats
at the same place in the sky
where yesterday it floated...
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Standing unsteadily,
I am the scarecrow’s
skinny surrogate
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Autumn wind ...
She always wanted to pluck
the reddest roses
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Issa wrote the haiku above after the death of his daughter Sato with the note: “Sato, girl, 35th day, at the grave.”

The childless woman,
how tenderly she caresses
homeless dolls ...
—Hattori Ransetsu, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
umazume no hina kashizuku zo aware naru

Clinging
to the plum tree:
one blossom's worth of warmth
—Hattori Ransetsu, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

One leaf falls, enlightenment!
Another leaf falls,
swept away by the wind ...
—Hattori Ransetsu, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
hitoha chiri totsu hitoha chiru kaze no ue

This has been called Ransetsu’s “death poem.” In The Classic Tradition of Haiku, Faubion Bowers says in a footnote to this haiku: “Just as ‘blossom’, when not modified, means ‘cherry flower’ in haiku, ‘one leaf’ is code for ‘kiri’. Kiri ... is the Pawlonia ... The leaves drop throughout the year. They shrivel, turn yellow, and yield to gravity. Their falling symbolizes loneliness and connotes the past. The large purple flowers ... are deeply associated with haiku because the three prongs hold 5, 7 and 5 buds ... ‘Totsu’ is an exclamation supposedly uttered when a Zen student achieves enlightenment. The sound also imitates the dry crackle the pawlonia leaf makes as it scratches the ground upon falling.”

Disdaining grass,
the firefly nibbles nettles—
this is who I am.
—Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A simple man,
content to breakfast with the morning glories—
this is who I am.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
This is Basho’s response to the Takarai Kikaku haiku above
asagao ni / ware wa meshi kû / otoko kana

The morning glories, alas,
also turned out
not to embrace me
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The morning glories bloom,
mending chinks
in the old fence
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Morning glories,
however poorly painted,
still engage us
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
asagao wa / heta no kaku sae / aware nari

I too
have been accused
of morning glory gazing ...
—original haiku by by Michael R. Burch

Taming the rage
of an unrelenting sun—
autumn breeze.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
aka aka to / hi wa tsurenaku mo / aki no kaze

The sun sets,
relentlessly red,
yet autumn’s in the wind.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
aka aka to / hi wa tsurenaku mo / aki no kaze

As autumn deepens,
a butterfly sips
chrysanthemum dew.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
aki o hete / cho mo nameru ya / kiku no tsuyu

As autumn draws near,
so too our hearts
in this small tea room.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
aki chikaki / kokoro no yoru ya / yo jo han

Nothing happened!
Yesterday simply vanished
like the blowfish soup.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
ara nantomo na ya / kino wa sugite / fukuto-jiru

The surging sea crests around Sado ...
and above her?
An ocean of stars.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
ara umi ya / Sado ni yokotau / Ama-no-gawa

Revered figure!
I bow low
to the rabbit-eared Iris.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Come, butterfly,
it’s late
and we’ve a long way to go!
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Nothing in the cry
of the cicadas
suggests they know they soon must die.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I wish I could wash
this perishing earth
in its shimmering dew.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Spring!
A nameless hill
shrouded in mist.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dabbed with morning dew
and splashed with mud,
the melon looks wonderfully cool.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cold white azalea—
a lone nun
in her thatched straw hut.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Glimpsed on this high mountain trail,
delighting my heart—
wild violets
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The bee emerging
from deep within the peony’s hairy recesses
flies off heavily, sated
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A crow has settled
on a naked branch—
autumn nightfall
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Except for a woodpecker
tapping at a post,
the house is silent.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

That dying cricket,
how he goes on about his life!
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Like a glorious shrine—
on these green, budding leaves,
the sun’s intense radiance.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
ara toto / aoba wakaba no / hi no hikar

A kite floats
at the same place in the sky
where yesterday it floated...
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The pigeon's behavior
is beyond reproach,
but the mountain cuckoo's?
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Plowing,
not a single bird sings
in the mountain's shadow
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The pear tree flowers whitely―
a young woman reads his letter
by moonlight
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

On adjacent branches
the plum tree blossoms bloom
petal by petal―love!
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Picking autumn plums
my wrinkled hands
once again grow fragrant
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Dawn!
The brilliant sun illuminates
sardine heads.
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The abandoned willow
shines
between rains
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

White plum blossoms―
though the hour grows late,
a glimpse of dawn
― Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch; this is believed to be Buson's death poem and he is said to have died before dawn

Don't worry spiders,
I clean house... sparingly.
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Since I'm left here alone,
I'll make friends with the harvest moon.
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Because I'm alone,
I'll make friends with the moon.
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Even lonelier than last year:
this autumn evening.
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My thoughts return to my Mother and Father:
late autumn
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This roaring winter wind:
the cataract grates on its rocks.
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

While snow lingers
in nooks and recesses:
flowers of the plum
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

White blossoms of the pear tree―
a young woman reading a moonlit letter
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The red plum's fallen petals
seem to ignite horse ****.
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Intruder! ―
This white plum tree
was once outside our fence!
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The hood-wearer
in his self-created darkness
fails to see the harvest moon
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Our life here on earth:
to what shall we compare it?
Perhaps to a rowboat
departing at daybreak,
leaving no trace of us in its wake?
—Takaha Shugyo or Yosa Buson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Tender grass
forgetful of its roots
the willow
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: I believe this poem can be taken as commentary on ungrateful children. It reminds me of Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays."―MRB

The dew-damp grass
weeps silently
in the setting sun
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I thought I felt a dewdrop
plop
on me as I lay in bed!
― Masaoka Shiki, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot see the moon
and yet the waves still rise
― Shiki Masaoka, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The first morning of autumn:
the mirror I investigate
reflects my father’s face
― Shiki Masaoka, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven
revealed
― Takaha Shugyo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Silently observing
the bottomless mountain lake:
water lilies
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Cranes
flapping ceaselessly
test the sky's upper limits
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Falling snowflakes'
glitter
tinsels the sea
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Blizzards here on earth,
blizzards of stars
in the sky
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Completely encircled
in emerald:
the glittering swamp!
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The new calendar!:
as if tomorrow
is assured...
― Inahata Teiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?
― Fukuda Chiyo-ni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Because morning glories
hold my well-bucket hostage
I go begging for water
― Fukuda Chiyo-ni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Spring
stirs the clouds
in the sky's teabowl
― Kikusha-ni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Tonight I saw
how the peony crumples
in the fire's embers
― Katoh Shuhson, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It fills me with anger,
this moon; it fills me
and makes me whole
― Takeshita Shizunojo, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

War
stood at the end of the hall
in the long shadows
― Watanabe Hakusen, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Because he is slow to wrath,
I tackle him, then wring his neck
in the long grass
― Shimazu Ryoh, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Pale mountain sky:
cherry petals play
as they tumble earthward
― Kusama Tokihiko, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The frozen moon,
the frozen lake:
two oval mirrors reflecting each other.
― Hashimoto Takako, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The bitter winter wind
ends here
with the frozen sea
― Ikenishi Gonsui, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, bitter winter wind,
why bellow so
when there's no leaves to fell?
― Natsume Sôseki, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Winter waves
roil
their own shadows
― Tominaga Fûsei, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

No sky,
no land:
just snow eternally falling...
― Kajiwara Hashin, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Along with spring leaves
my child's teeth
take root, blossom
― Nakamura Kusatao, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Stillness:
a single chestnut leaf glides
on brilliant water
― Ryuin, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

As thunder recedes
a lone tree stands illuminated in sunlight:
applauded by cicadas
― Masaoka Shiki, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The snake slipped away
but his eyes, having held mine,
still stare in the grass
― Kyoshi Takahama, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Girls gather sprouts of rice:
reflections of the water flicker
on the backs of their hats
― Kyoshi Takahama, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Murmurs follow the hay cart
this blossoming summer day
― Ippekiro Nakatsuka (1887-1946), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The wet nurse
paused to consider a bucket of sea urchins
then walked away
― Ippekiro Nakatsuka (1887-1946), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

May I be with my mother
wearing her summer kimono
by the morning window
― Ippekiro Nakatsuka (1887-1946), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The hands of a woman exist
to remove the insides of the spring cuttlefish
― Sekitei Hara, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The moon
hovering above the snow-capped mountains
rained down hailstones
― Sekitei Hara, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, dreamlike winter butterfly:
a puff of white snow
cresting mountains
― Kakio Tomizawa, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Spring snow
cascades over fences
in white waves
― Suju Takano, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Tanka and Waka translations:

If fields of autumn flowers
can shed their blossoms, shameless,
why can’t I also frolic here —
as fearless, and as blameless?
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Submit to you —
is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Watching wan moonlight
illuminate trees,
my heart also brims,
overflowing with autumn.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it
already blossoming in his heart.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

That which men call "love" —
is it not merely the chain
preventing our escape
from this world of pain?
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Once-colorful flowers faded,
while in my drab cell
life’s impulse also abated
as the long rains fell.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I set off at the shore
of the seaside of Tago,
where I saw the high, illuminated peak
of Fuji―white, aglow―
through flakes of drifting downy snow.
― Akahito Yamabe, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Keywords/Tags: haiku, oriental, masters, translation, Japanese, nature, seasons, Basho, Buson, Issa, waka, tanka, mrbhaiku
Martin Mikelberg Jan 2020
hermit crab
never at home
for long
Isssa- Snail, always at home
III Jul 2018
Like fire
     If the flames
Could burn
     Themselves.
TheRiverStyx Dec 2017
Invincible?
Yes you are.
Consequence is like a dream,
it fades away.

The lessons.
Those are what I teach.

As if I truly look after you.

I am what your friends have warned you about.

I will send you walking on glass with bare feet.
I am the animal in you.

Issa rebellion.
Issa wreck.
Issa waste of life.
One and Only Jan 2015
For you my dearest,
My heart is calling.
For you sweet one,
I mostly am falling.
For you o life's ender,
My eyes search.
For you they look,
In all depths of the earth.
you bought me things,
My soul rejoiced.
My doubts faltered,
I had voiced.
For you my hopeful love,
I can truly see,
The wings of God's angels,
We're meant to be.
This guy really likes me and I think I like him back? But I'm not sure yet. He's really sweet, and I do hope that this is my fairy tale come true. But if not, we live and Learn as time passes...
One and Only Jan 2015
Resistance is futile,
Explanation is good as none.
Emotions are like trash,
Words are simply breezes,
Fuel my heart o temptress Hate!
Make me feel whole once more.
Doubt has never been so arrogant as today,
Martyrdom is what will rise,
Leave me be in my cavern of wonders,
I have never needed doubt in mind, nor martyrdom in heart
Both wound me, both shatter me,
and yet; both create me.
One and Only Jan 2015
My dearest little one, open thy mind
Let it not be tainted with wars and lies.
Learn to look back, leave not your past behind,
The answer lies there beneath hurt and sighs.

Accept what life is to find what is right,
In their minds or yours only you decide.
You can give up or go down with a fight,
In the meeting of fate, you shall preside.

Remember our time, remember it all.
Mistakes and failures, awards and honor,
Protect yourself from temptations call.
In this book of life, you are the author.

So understand and be open minded,
Though be careful, lest you are blind-sided.
This is my own creation of a sonnet, my teacher asked us to create one. Hopefully you enjoyed it and like and share or add it if you want to. :)
One and Only Jan 2015
Chained by truth,
Chained by tears,
Chained by dreams, and
Chained by fears.

Coward to self,
Victor to all,
Fears naught but one:
Which is Death's call.

Annoyance is plenty,
A straight face is kept.
Tears of joy,
Have never been wept.

Bane is joy,
Boon is sorrow.
Was there still hope,
To be a morrow?

Never change,
Never bother.
To show weakness
To another.

— The End —