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Mahmoud Darwish: English Translations

Mahmoud Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging ... his is an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered.―Naomi Shihab Nye



Palestine
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
April's blushing advances,
the aroma of bread warming at dawn,
a woman haranguing men,
the poetry of Aeschylus,
love's trembling beginnings,
a boulder covered with moss,
mothers who dance to the flute's sighs,
and the invaders' fear of memories.

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
September's rustling end,
a woman leaving forty behind, still full of grace, still blossoming,
an hour of sunlight in prison,
clouds taking the shapes of unusual creatures,
the people's applause for those who mock their assassins,
and the tyrant's fear of songs.

This land gives us
all that makes life worthwhile:
Lady Earth, mother of all beginnings and endings!
In the past she was called Palestine
and tomorrow she will still be called Palestine.
My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life!



Identity Card
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Record!
I am an Arab!
And my identity card is number fifty thousand.
I have eight children;
the ninth arrives this autumn.
Will you be furious?

Record!
I am an Arab!
Employed at the quarry,
I have eight children.
I provide them with bread,
clothes and books
from the bare rocks.
I do not supplicate charity at your gates,
nor do I demean myself at your chambers' doors.
Will you be furious?

Record!
I am an Arab!
I have a name without a title.
I am patient in a country
where people are easily enraged.
My roots
were established long before the onset of time,
before the unfolding of the flora and fauna,
before the pines and the olive trees,
before the first grass grew.
My father descended from plowmen,
not from the privileged classes.
My grandfather was a lowly farmer
neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Still, they taught me the pride of the sun
before teaching me how to read;
now my house is a watchman's hut
made of branches and cane.
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name, but no title!

Record!
I am an Arab!
You have stolen my ancestors' orchards
and the land I cultivated
along with my children.
You left us nothing
but these bare rocks.
Now will the State claim them
as it has been declared?

Therefore!
Record on the first page:
I do not hate people
nor do I encroach,
but if I become hungry
I will feast on the usurper's flesh!
Beware!
Beware my hunger
and my anger!

NOTE: Darwish was married twice, but had no children. In the poem above, he is apparently speaking for his people, not for himself personally.



Excerpt from “Speech of the Red Indian”
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Let's give the earth sufficient time to recite
the whole truth ...
The whole truth about us.
The whole truth about you.

In tombs you build
the dead lie sleeping.
Over bridges you *****
file the newly slain.

There are spirits who light up the night like fireflies.
There are spirits who come at dawn to sip tea with you,
as peaceful as the day your guns mowed them down.

O, you who are guests in our land,
please leave a few chairs empty
for your hosts to sit and ponder
the conditions for peace
in your treaty with the dead.



Passport
by Mahmoud Darwish
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

They left me unrecognizable in the shadows
that bled all colors from this passport.
To them, my wounds were novelties―
curious photos for tourists to collect.
They failed to recognize me. No, don't leave
the palm of my hand bereft of sun
when all the trees recognize me
and every song of the rain honors me.
Don't set a wan moon over me!

All the birds that flocked to my welcoming wave
as far as the distant airport gates,
all the wheatfields,
all the prisons,
all the albescent tombstones,
all the barbwired boundaries,
all the fluttering handkerchiefs,
all the eyes―
they all accompanied me.
But they were stricken from my passport
shredding my identity!

How was I stripped of my name and identity
on soil I tended with my own hands?
Today, Job's lamentations
re-filled the heavens:
Don't make an example of me, not again!
Prophets! Gentlemen!―
Don't require the trees to name themselves!
Don't ask the valleys who mothered them!
My forehead glistens with lancing light.
From my hand the riverwater springs.
My identity can be found in my people's hearts,
so invalidate this passport!

Keywords/Tags: Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine, Palestinian, Arab, Arabic, translation, Gaza, Israel, children, mothers, injustice, violence, war, race, racism, intolerance, ethnic cleansing, genocide
W. S. Rendra translations

Willibrordus Surendra Broto Rendra (1935-2009), better known as W. S. Rendra or simply Rendra, was an Indonesian dramatist and poet. He said, “I learned meditation and the disciplines of the traditional Javanese poet from my mother, who was a palace dancer. The idea of the Javanese poet is to be a guardian of the spirit of the nation.” The press gave him the nickname Burung Merak (“The Peacock”) for his flamboyant poetry readings and stage performances.



SONNET
by W. S. Rendra
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Best wishes for an impending deflowering.

Yes, I understand: you will never be mine.
I am resigned to my undeserved fate.
I contemplate
irrational numbers―complex & undefined.

And yet I wish love might ... ameliorate ...
such negative numbers, dark and unsigned.
But at least I can’t be held responsible
for disappointing you. No cause to elate.
Still, I am resigned to my undeserved fate.
The gods have spoken. I can relate.

How can this be, when all it makes no sense?
I was born too soon―such was my fate.
You must choose another, not half of who I AM.
Be happy with him when you consummate.



THE WORLD'S FIRST FACE
by W. S. Rendra
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Illuminated by the pale moonlight
the groom carries his bride
up the hill―
both of them naked,
both consisting of nothing but themselves.

As in all beginnings
the world is naked,
empty, free of deception,
dark with unspoken explanations―
a silence that extends
to the limits of time.

Then comes light,
life, the animals and man.

As in all beginnings
everything is naked,
empty, open.

They're both young,
yet both have already come a long way,
passing through the illusions of brilliant dawns,
of skies illuminated by hope,
of rivers intimating contentment.

They have experienced the sun's warmth,
drenched in each other's sweat.

Here, standing by barren reefs,
they watch evening fall
bringing strange dreams
to a bed arrayed with resplendent coral necklaces.

They lift their heads to view
trillions of stars arrayed in the sky.
The universe is their inheritance:
stars upon stars upon stars,
more than could ever be extinguished.

Illuminated by the pale moonlight
the groom carries his bride
up the hill―
both of them naked,
to recreate the world's first face.

Keywords/Tags: Rendra, Indonesian, Javanese, translation, love, fate, god, gods, goddess, groom, bride, world, time, life, sun, hill, hills, moon, moonlight, stars, life, animals?, international, travel, voyage, wedding, relationship, mrbtran
Uyghur Poetry Translations

With my translations I am trying to build awareness of the plight of Uyghur poets and their people, who are being sent in large numbers to Chinese "reeducation" concentration camps which have been praised by Trump as "exactly" what is "needed."

Perhat Tursun (1969-????) is one of the foremost living Uyghur language poets, if he is still alive. Unfortunately, Tursun was "disappeared" into a Chinese "reeducation" concentration camp where extreme psychological torture is the norm. Apparently no one knows his present whereabouts or condition.

Elegy
by Perhat Tursun
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

"Your soul is the entire world."
―Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Asylum seekers, will you recognize me among the mountain passes' frozen corpses?
Can you identify me here among our Exodus's exiled brothers?
We begged for shelter but they lashed us bare; consider our naked corpses.
When they compel us to accept their massacres, do you know that I am with you?

Three centuries later they resurrect, not recognizing each other,
Their former greatness forgotten.
I happily ingested poison, like a fine wine.
When they search the streets and cannot locate our corpses, do you know that I am with you?

In that tower constructed of skulls you will find my dome as well:
They removed my head to more accurately test their swords' temper.
When before their swords our relationship flees like a flighty lover,
Do you know that I am with you?

When men in fur hats are used for target practice in the marketplace
Where a dying man's face expresses his agony as a bullet cleaves his brain
While the executioner's eyes fail to comprehend why his victim vanishes,...
Seeing my form reflected in that bullet-pierced brain's erratic thoughts,
Do you know that I am with you?

In those days when drinking wine was considered worse than drinking blood,
did you taste the flour ground out in that blood-turned churning mill?
Now, when you sip the wine Ali-Shir Nava'i imagined to be my blood
In that mystical tavern's dark abyssal chambers,
Do you know that I am with you?

TRANSLATOR NOTES: This is my interpretation (not necessarily correct) of the poem's frozen corpses left 300 years in the past. For the Uyghur people the Mongol period ended around 1760 when the Qing dynasty invaded their homeland, then called Dzungaria. Around a million people were slaughtered during the Qing takeover, and the Dzungaria territory was renamed Xinjiang. I imagine many Uyghurs fleeing the slaughters would have attempted to navigate treacherous mountain passes. Many of them may have died from starvation and/or exposure, while others may have been caught and murdered by their pursuers.



The Fog and the Shadows
adapted from a novel by Perhat Tursun
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

“I began to realize the fog was similar to the shadows.”

I began to realize that, just as the exact shape of darkness is a shadow,
even so the exact shape of fog is disappearance
and the exact shape of a human being is also disappearance.
At this moment it seemed my body was vanishing into the human form’s final state.

After I arrived here,
it was as if the danger of getting lost
and the desire to lose myself
were merging strangely inside me.

While everything in that distant, gargantuan city where I spent my five college years felt strange to me; and even though the skyscrapers, highways, ditches and canals were built according to a single standard and shape, so that it wasn’t easy to differentiate them, still I never had the feeling of being lost. Everyone there felt like one person and they were all folded into each other. It was as if their faces, voices and figures had been gathered together like a shaman’s jumbled-up hair.

Even the men and women seemed identical.
You could only tell them apart by stripping off their clothes and examining them.
The men’s faces were beardless like women’s and their skin was very delicate and unadorned.
I was always surprised that they could tell each other apart.
Later I realized it wasn’t just me: many others were also confused.

For instance, when we went to watch the campus’s only TV in a corridor of a building where the seniors stayed when they came to improve their knowledge. Those elderly Uyghurs always argued about whether someone who had done something unusual in an earlier episode was the same person they were seeing now. They would argue from the beginning of the show to the end. Other people, who couldn’t stand such endless nonsense, would leave the TV to us and stalk off.

Then, when the classes began, we couldn’t tell the teachers apart.
Gradually we became able to tell the men from the women
and eventually we able to recognize individuals.
But other people remained identical for us.

The most surprising thing for me was that the natives couldn’t differentiate us either.
For instance, two police came looking for someone who had broken windows during a fight at a restaurant and had then run away.
They ordered us line up, then asked the restaurant owner to identify the culprit.
He couldn’t tell us apart even though he inspected us very carefully.
He said we all looked so much alike that it was impossible to tell us apart.
Sighing heavily, he left.



The Encounter
by Abdurehim Otkur
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I asked her, why aren’t you afraid? She said her God.
I asked her, anything else? She said her People.
I asked her, anything more? She said her Soul.
I asked her if she was content? She said, I am Not.



The Distance
by Tahir Hamut
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We can’t exclude the cicadas’ serenades.
Behind the convex glass of the distant hospital building
the nurses watch our outlandish party
with their absurdly distorted faces.

Drinking watered-down liquor,
half-****, descanting through the open window,
we speak sneeringly of life, love, girls.
The cicadas’ serenades keep breaking in,
wrecking critical parts of our dissertations.

The others dream up excuses to ditch me
and I’m left here alone.

The cosmopolitan pyramid
of drained bottles
makes me feel
like I’m in a Turkish bath.

I lock the door:
Time to get back to work!

I feel like doing cartwheels.
I feel like self-annihilation.



Refuge of a Refugee
by Ablet Abdurishit Berqi aka Tarim
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I lack a passport,
so I can’t leave legally.
All that’s left is for me to smuggle myself to safety,
but I’m afraid I’ll be beaten black and blue at the border
and I can’t afford the trafficker.

I’m a smuggler of love,
though love has no national identity.
Poetry is my refuge,
where a refugee is most free.

The following excerpts, translated by Anne Henochowicz, come from an essay written by Tang Danhong about her final meeting with Dr. Ablet Abdurishit Berqi, aka Tarim. Tarim is a reference to the Tarim Basin and its Uyghur inhabitants...

I’m convinced that the poet Tarim Ablet Berqi the associate professor at the Xinjiang Education Institute, has been sent to a “concentration camp for educational transformation.” This scholar of Uyghur literature who conducted postdoctoral research at Israel’s top university, what kind of “educational transformation” is he being put through?

Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang, has said it’s “like the instruction at school, the order of the military, and the security of prison. We have to break their blood relations, their networks, and their roots.”

On a scorching summer day, Tarim came to Tel Aviv from Haifa. In a few days he would go back to Urumqi. I invited him to come say goodbye and once again prepared Sichuan cold noodles for him. He had already unfriended me on Facebook. He said he couldn’t eat, he was busy, and had to hurry back to Haifa. He didn’t even stay for twenty minutes. I can’t even remember, did he sit down? Did he have a glass of water? Yet this farewell shook me to my bones.

He said, “Maybe when I get off the plane, before I enter the airport, they’ll take me to a separate room and beat me up, and I’ll disappear.”

Looking at my shocked face, he then said, “And maybe nothing will happen …”

His expression was sincere. To be honest, the Tarim I saw rarely smiled. Still, layer upon layer blocked my powers of comprehension: he’s a poet, a writer, and a scholar. He’s an associate professor at the Xinjiang Education Institute. He can get a passport and come to Israel for advanced studies. When he goes back he’ll have an offer from Sichuan University to be a professor of literature … I asked, “Beat you up at the airport? Disappear? On what grounds?”

“That’s how Xinjiang is,” he said without any surprise in his voice. “When a Uyghur comes back from being abroad, that can happen.”…



This poem helps us understand the nomadic lifestyle of many Uyghurs, the hardships they endure, and the character it builds...

Iz (“Traces”)
by Abdurehim Otkur
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We were children when we set out on this journey;
Now our grandchildren ride horses.

We were just a few when we set out on this arduous journey;
Now we're a large caravan leaving traces in the desert.

We leave our traces scattered in desert dunes' valleys
Where many of our heroes lie buried in sandy graves.

But don't say they were abandoned: amid the cedars
their resting places are decorated by springtime flowers!

We left the tracks, the station... the crowds recede in the distance;
The wind blows, the sand swirls, but here our indelible trace remains.

The caravan continues, we and our horses become thin,
But our great-grand-children will one day rediscover those traces.

The original Uyghur poem:

Yax iduq muxkul seperge atlinip mangghanda biz,
Emdi atqa mingidek bolup qaldi ene nevrimiz.
Az iduq muxkul seperge atlinip chiqanda biz,
Emdi chong karvan atalduq, qaldurup chollerde iz.
Qaldi iz choller ara, gayi davanlarda yene,
Qaldi ni-ni arslanlar dexit cholde qevrisiz.
Qevrisiz qaldi dimeng yulghun qizarghan dalida,
Gul-chichekke pukinur tangna baharda qevrimiz.
Qaldi iz, qaldi menzil, qaldi yiraqta hemmisi,
Chiqsa boran, kochse qumlar, hem komulmes izimiz.
Tohtimas karvan yolida gerche atlar bek oruq,
Tapqus hichbolmisa, bu izni bizning nevrimiz, ya chevrimiz.

Other poems of note by Abdurehim Otkur include "I Call Forth Spring" and "Waste, You Traitors, Waste!"



My Feelings
by Dolqun Yasin
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The light sinking through the ice and snow,
The hollyhock blossoms reddening the hills like blood,
The proud peaks revealing their ******* to the stars,
The morning-glories embroidering the earth’s greenery,
Are not light,
Not hollyhocks,
Not peaks,
Not morning-glories;
They are my feelings.

The tears washing the mothers’ wizened faces,
The flower-like smiles suddenly brightening the girls’ visages,
The hair turning white before age thirty,
The night which longs for light despite the sun’s laughter,
Are not tears,
Not smiles,
Not hair,
Not night;
They are my nomadic feelings.

Now turning all my sorrow to passion,
Bequeathing to my people all my griefs and joys,
Scattering my excitement like flowers festooning fields,
I harvest all these, then tenderly glean my poem.

Therefore the world is this poem of mine,
And my poem is the world itself.



To My Brother the Warrior
by Téyipjan Éliyow
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When I accompanied you,
the commissioners called me a child.
If only I had been a bit taller
I might have proved myself in battle!

The commission could not have known
my commitment, despite my youth.
If only they had overlooked my age and enlisted me,
I'd have given that enemy rabble hell!

Now, brother, I’m an adult.
Doubtless, I’ll join the service soon.
Soon enough, I’ll be by your side,
battling the enemy: I’ll never surrender!

Another poem of note by Téyipjan Éliyow is "Neverending Song."

Keywords/Tags: Uyghur, translation, Uighur, Xinjiang, elegy, Kafka, China, Chinese, reeducation, prison, concentration camp, desert, nomad, nomadic, race, racism, discrimination, Islam, Islamic, Muslim, mrbuyghur
Matsuo Basho Translations



My Personal Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish I could wash
this perishing earth
in its shimmering dew
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

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



Basho's Butterflies

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

Will we remain parted forever?
Here at your grave:
two flowerlike butterflies!
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Air ballet:
twin butterflies, twice white,
meet, match & mate.
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Ballet in the air! ―
two butterflies, twice white,
meet, mate, unite.
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

A spring wind
stirs willow leaves
as a butterfly hovers unsteadily.
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

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

Come, butterfly,
it's late
and we've a long way to go!
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Dusk-gliding swallow,
please spare my small friends
flitting among the flowers!
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch



Basho's Famous Frog Poem

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

An ancient pond sleeps...
untroubled by sound or movement...until...
suddenly a frog leaps!
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Explosion!
The frog returns
to its lily pad.
—Michael R. Burch original haiku



Basho's Heron

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

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

A flash of lightning―
the night heron's shriek
splits the void
― Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch



Basho's Flowers

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

Like a heavy fragrance
snowflakes settle:
lilies on rocks
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

High-altitude rose petals
falling
falling
falling:
the melody of a waterfall.
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Revered figure!
I bow low
to the rabbit-eared Iris.
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Cold white azalea—
a lone nun
in her thatched straw hut.
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

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

Disdaining grass,
the firefly nibbles nettles—
this is who I am.
—Takarai Kikaku translation by Michael R. Burch

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

Ah me,
I waste my meager breakfast
morning glory gazing!
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Morning glories blossom,
reinforcing the old fence gate.
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

The morning glories, alas,
also turned out
not to embrace me
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Morning glories bloom,
mending chinks
in the old fence
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Morning glories,
however poorly painted,
still engage us
—Matsuo Basho translation 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

Curious flower,
watching us approach:
meet Death, our famished donkey.
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch



Basho's Poems about Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter

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

Spring!
A nameless hill
stands shrouded in mist.
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

The legs of the cranes
have been shortened
by the summer rains.
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

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

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

Autumn darkness
descends
on this road I travel alone
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

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

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

Late autumn:
my neighbor,
how does he continue?
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Winter in the air:
my neighbor,
how does he fare?
― Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Winter solitude:
a world awash in white,
the sound of the wind
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

The year's first day...
thoughts come, and with them, loneliness;
dusk approaches.
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch



Basho's Temple Poems

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

The temple bells grow silent
but the blossoms provide their incense―
A perfect evening!
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

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

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



Basho's Birds

A raven settles
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightfall
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

A crow has settled
on a naked branch—
autumn nightfall
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

A solitary crow
clings to a leafless branch:
autumn twilight
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

A solitary crow
clings to a leafless branch:
phantom autumn
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

A crow roosts
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightmare
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: There has been a debate about the meaning of aki-no kure, which may mean one of the following: autumn evening, autumn dusk, the end of autumn. Or it seems possible that Basho may have intentionally invoked the ideas of both the end of an autumn day and the end of the season as well. In my translations I have tried to create an image of solitary crow clinging to a branch that seems like a harbinger of approaching winter and death. In the first translation I went with the least light possible: autumn twilight. In the second translation, I attempted something more ghostly. Phrases I considered include: spectral autumn, skeletal autumn, autumnal skeleton, phantom autumn, autumn nocturne, autumn nightfall, autumn nightmare, dismal autumn. In the third and fourth translations I focused on the color of the bird and its resemblance to night falling. While literalists will no doubt object, my goal is to create an image and a feeling that convey in English what I take Basho to have been trying to convey in Japanese. Readers will have to decide whether they prefer my translations to the many others that exist, but mine are trying to convey the eeriness of the scene in English.

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

Swallow flitting in the dusk,
please spare my small friends
buzzing among the flowers!
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch




Basho's Insects

A bee emerging
from deep within the peony's hairy recesses
flies off heavily, sated
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

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

The cicada's cry
contains no hint
of how soon it must die.
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Nothing in the cicada's cry
hints that it knows
how soon it must die.
—Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

The cicada's cry
contains no hint
of how soon it must die.
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch




Basho's Moon and Stars

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

The moon: glorious its illumination!
Therefore, we give thanks.
Dark clouds cast their shadows on our necks.
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

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



Basho's Companions

Fire levitating ashes:
my companion's shadow
animates the wall...
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Among the graffiti
one illuminated name:
Yours.
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Scrawny tomcat!
Are you starving for fish and mice
or pining away for love?
—Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch



Basho's End of Life and Death Poems

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

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

Sick of its autumn migration
my spirit drifts
over wilted fields...
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

Sick of this autumn migration
in dreams I drift
over flowerless fields...
―Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: While literalists will no doubt object to "flowerless" in the translation above ― along with other word choices in my other translations ― this is my preferred version. I think Basho's meaning still comes through. But "wilted" is probably closer to what he meant. If only we could consult him, to ask whether he preferred strictly literal prose translations of his poems, or more poetic interpretations! My guess is that most poets would prefer for their poems to remain poetry in the second language. In my opinion the differences are minor and astute readers will grok both Basho's meaning and his emotion.

Too ill to travel,
now only my autumn dreams
survey these withering fields
― Matsuo Basho translation by Michael R. Burch



New Haiku Translations, Added 10/6/2020

Air ballet:
twin butterflies, twice white,
meet, match & mate
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Denied transformation
into a butterfly,
autumn worsens for the worm
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dusk-gliding swallow,
please spare my small friends
flitting among the flowers!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Up and at ’em! The sky goes bright!
Let’***** the road again,
Companion Butterfly!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Higher than a skylark,
resting on the breast of heaven:
mountain pass.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Farewell,
my cloud-parting friend!
Wild goose migrating.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

A crow settles
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightfall.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

An exciting struggle
with such a sad ending:
cormorant fishing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Secretly,
by the light of the moon,
a worm bores into a chestnut.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

This strange flower
investigated by butterflies and birds:
the autumn sky
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Where’s the moon tonight?
Like the temple bell:
lost at sea.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Spring departs;
birds wail;
the pale eyes of fish moisten.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon still appears,
though far from home:
summer vagrant.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Cooling the pitiless sun’s
bright red flames:
autumn wind.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Saying farewell to others
while being told farewell:
departing autumn.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  
Traveling this road alone:
autumn evening.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Thin from its journey
and not yet recovered:
late harvest moon.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Occasional clouds
bless tired eyes with rest
from moon-viewing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The farmboy
rests from husking rice
to reach for the moon.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon aside,
no one here
has such a lovely face.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon having set,
all that remains
are the four corners of his desk.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon so bright
a wandering monk carries it
lightly on his shoulder.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The Festival of Souls
is obscured
by smoke from the crematory.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The Festival of Souls!
Smoke from the crematory?
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Family reunion:
those with white hair and canes
visiting graves.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

One who is no more
left embroidered clothes
for a summer airing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

What am I doing,
writing haiku on the threshold of death?
Hush, a bird’s song!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Fallen ill on a final tour,
in dreams I go roving
earth’s flowerless moor.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Striken ill on a senseless tour,
still in dreams I go roving
earth’s withered moor.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Stricken ill on a journey,
in dreams I go wandering
withered moors.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch


New Haiku Translations, Added 10/6/2020

Air ballet:
twin butterflies, twice white,
meet, match & mate
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Denied transformation
into a butterfly,
autumn worsens for the worm
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dusk-gliding swallow,
please spare my small friends
flitting among the flowers!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Up and at ’em! The sky goes bright!
Let’***** the road again,
Companion Butterfly!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Higher than a skylark,
resting on the breast of heaven:
mountain pass.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Farewell,
my cloud-parting friend!
Wild goose migrating.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

A crow settles
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightfall.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

An exciting struggle
with such a sad ending:
cormorant fishing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Secretly,
by the light of the moon,
a worm bores into a chestnut.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

This strange flower
investigated by butterflies and birds:
the autumn sky
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Where’s the moon tonight?
Like the temple bell:
lost at sea.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Spring departs;
birds wail;
the pale eyes of fish moisten.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon still appears,
though far from home:
summer vagrant.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Cooling the pitiless sun’s
bright red flames:
autumn wind.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Saying farewell to others
while being told farewell:
departing autumn.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  
Traveling this road alone:
autumn evening.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Thin from its journey
and not yet recovered:
late harvest moon.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Occasional clouds
bless tired eyes with rest
from moon-viewing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The farmboy
rests from husking rice
to reach for the moon.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon aside,
no one here
has such a lovely face.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon having set,
all that remains
are the four corners of his desk.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon so bright
a wandering monk carries it
lightly on his shoulder.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The Festival of Souls
is obscured
by smoke from the crematory.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The Festival of Souls!
Smoke from the crematory?
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Family reunion:
those with white hair and canes
visiting graves.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

One who is no more
left embroidered clothes
for a summer airing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

What am I doing,
writing haiku on the threshold of death?
Hush, a bird’s song!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Fallen ill on a final tour,
in dreams I go roving
earth’s flowerless moor.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Striken ill on a senseless tour,
still in dreams I go roving
earth’s withered moor.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Stricken ill on a journey,
in dreams I go wandering
withered moors.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch



Keywords/Tags: Basho, haiku, translation, Japan, Japanese, Oriental, Orient Occident, nature, season, seasons, waka, tanka, life and death, compassion, empathy, mrbhaiku, mrbbasho
Zen Death Haiku & Related Translations of Oriental Poems

Brittle cicada shell,
little did I know
that you were my life!
—Shuho (?-1767), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Like dew glistening
on a lotus leaf,
so too I soon must vanish.
—Shinsui (1720-1769), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Having been summoned,
I say farewell
to my house beneath the moon.
—Takuchi (1767-1846), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Let this body
be dew
in a field of wildflowers.
—Tembo (1740-1823), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Bury me beneath a wine barrel
in a bibber’s cellar:
with a little luck the keg will leak.
—Moriya Senan (?-1838), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Learn to accept the inevitable:
the fall willow
knows when to abandon its leaves.
—Tanehiko (1782-1842), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I wish only to die
swiftly, with my eyes
fixed on Mount Fuji.
—Rangai (1770-1845), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A strident cricket
accompanies me
through autumn mountains.
—Shiko (1788-1845), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The cherry orchard’s owner
becomes compost
for his trees.
—Utsu (1813-1863), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Autumn ends,
the frogs find their place
in the earth.
—Shogetsu (1829-1899), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Since time dawned
only the dead have experienced peace;
life is snow burning in the sun.
—Nandai (1786-1817), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Returning
as it came,
this naked worm.
—Shidoken (?-1765), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The night is clear;
the moon shines quietly;
the wind strums the trees like lyres...
but when I’m gone, who the hell will hear?
Farewell!
—Higan Choro aka Zoso Royo (1194-1277), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I entered the world empty-handed
and now leave it barefoot.
My coming & going?
Two uncomplicated events
that became entangled.
—Kozan Ichikyo (1283-1360), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Brittle autumn leaves
crumble to dust
in the freezing wind.
—Takao (?-1660), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This frigid season
nothing but the shadow
of my corpse survives.
—Tadatomo (1624-1676), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My life was mere lunacy
until
the moon shone tonight.
Tokugen (1558-1647), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

“Isn’t it time,”
the young bride asks,
“to light the lantern?”
Ochi Etsujin (1656-1739), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

With the departing year
I have hidden my graying hair
from my parents.
Ochi Etsujin (1656-1739), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I wish to die
under the spring cherry blossoms
and April’s full moon.
Ochi Etsujin (1656-1739), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Like blocks in the icehouse,
unlikely to last
the year out...
—Sentoku (1661-1726), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Once again
the melon-cool moon
rises above the rice fields.
—Tanko (1665-1735), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

At long last I depart:
above me are rainless skies and a pristine moon
as pure as my heart.
—Senseki (1712-1742), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Cuckoo, lift
me up
to where clouds drift...
Uko (1686-1743), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sixty-six,
setting sail through tranquil waters,
a breeze-blown lotus.
Usei (1698-1764), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Is it me the raven screeches for
from the spirit world
this frigid morning?
—Shukabo (1717-1775), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

To prepare for my voyage beyond,
let me don
a gown of flowers.
—Setsudo (1715-1776), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

From depths
unfathomably cold:
the oceans roar!
—Kasenjo (d. 1776), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Today Mount Hiei’s sky
with a quick change of clouds
also removes its robes.
Shogo (1731-1798), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I cup curious ears
among the hydrangeas
hoping to hear the spring cuckoo.
—Senchojo (?-1802), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Life,
is it like
a charcoal sketch, an obscure shadow?
—Toyokuni (?-1825), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Bitter winter winds...
but later, river willow,
remember to open your buds!
—Senryu (1717-1790), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A fall willow tree:
unlikely to be missed
as much as the cherry blossoms.
—Senryu II (?-1818), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My path
to Paradise
is bright with flowers.
—Sokin (?-1818), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

A willow branch
unable to reach the water
at the bottom of the vase.
—Shigenobu (?-1832), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

All evening the softest sound―
the cadence of the white camellia petals
falling
―Ranko Takakuwa (1726-1798), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Stillness:
the sound of petals
drifting down softly together ...
―Miura Chora (1729-1780), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A night storm sighs:
"The fate of the flower is to fall" ...
rebuking all who hesitate
―Yukio Mishima, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch; this is said to have been his death poem before committing ritual suicide.

But one poet, at least, cast doubt on the death poem enterprise:

Death poems?
****** delusions―
Death is death!
―Toko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Other haiku translations …



Masaoka Shiki

The night flies!
My life,
how much more of it remains?
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The autumn wind eludes me;
for me there are no gods,
no Buddhas
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

After killing a spider,
how lonely I felt
in the frigid night.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Such a small child
banished to become a priest:
frigid Siberia!
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I'm trying to sleep!
Please swat the flies
lightly
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A summer river:
disdaining the bridge,
my horse gallops through water.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

After the fireworks,
the spectators departed:
how vast and dark the sky!
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I got drunk
then wept in my sleep
dreaming of wild cherry blossoms.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot see the moon
and yet the waves still rise
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The first morning of autumn:
the mirror I investigate
reflects my father’s face
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), 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/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

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



Yosa Buson

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

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

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

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

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

On adjacent branches
the plum tree blossoms bloom
petal by petal―love!
― 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 pear tree flowers whitely―
a young woman reads his letter
by moonlight
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

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

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

Dawn!
The brilliant sun illuminates
sardine heads.
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation 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

Since I'm left here alone,
I'll make friends with the harvest moon.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Because I'm alone,
I'll make friends with the moon.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), 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

Even lonelier than last year:
this autumn evening.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My thoughts return to my Mother and Father:
late autumn
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Late autumn:
my thoughts return to my Mother and Father
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The roaring winter wind:
the cataract grates on its rocks.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), 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




Matsuo Basho

The legs of the cranes
have been shortened
by the summer rains.
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A 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

A solitary crow
clings to a leafless branch:
autumn twilight
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A solitary crow
clings to a leafless branch:
phantom autumn
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A raven settles
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightfall
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A crow roosts
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightmare
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: There has been a debate about the meaning of aki-no kure, which may mean one of the following: autumn evening, autumn dusk, the end of autumn. Or it seems possible that Basho may have intentionally invoked the ideas of both the end of an autumn day and the end of the season as well. In my translations I have tried to create an image of solitary crow clinging to a branch that seems like a harbinger of approaching winter and death. In the first translation I went with the least light possible: autumn twilight. In the second translation, I attempted something more ghostly. Phrases I considered include: spectral autumn, skeletal autumn, autumnal skeleton, phantom autumn, autumn nocturne, autumn nightfall, autumn nightmare, dismal autumn. In the third and fourth translations I focused on the color of the bird and its resemblance to night falling. While literalists will no doubt object, my goal is to create an image and a feeling that convey in English what I take Basho to have been trying to convey in Japanese. Readers will have to decide whether they prefer my translations to the many others that exist, but mine are trying to convey the eeriness of the scene in English.

Winter solitude:
a world awash in white,
the sound of the wind
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sick of its autumn migration
my spirit drifts
over wilted fields ...
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), said to be his death poem, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sick of this autumn migration
in dreams I drift
over flowerless fields ...
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), said to be his death poem, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: While literalists will no doubt object to "flowerless" in the translation above ― along with other word choices in my other translations ― this is my preferred version. I think Basho's meaning still comes through. But "wilted" is probably closer to what he meant. If only we could consult him, to ask whether he preferred strictly literal prose translations of his poems, or more poetic interpretations! My guess is that most poets would prefer for their poems to remain poetry in the second language. In my opinion the differences are minor and astute readers will grok both Basho's meaning and his emotion.

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



Kobayashi Issa


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

I toss in my sleep,
so watch out,
cricket!
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In a better world
I'd leave you my rice bowl,
little fly!
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

All's well with the world:
another fly's sharing our rice!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cries of the wild geese―
spreading rumors about me?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Wake up, old tomcat,
then with elaborate yawns and stretchings
prepare to pursue love
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

An enormous frog!
We stare at each other,
both petrified.
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Skinny frog,
hang on ...
Issa to the rescue!
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

While a cicada
sings softly
a single leaf falls ...
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The cry of a pheasant,
as if it just noticed
the mountain.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

As I stumble home at dusk,
heavy with her eggs
a spider blocks me.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

All the while I'm praying to Buddha
I'm continually killing mosquitoes.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This windy nest?
Open your hungry mouth in vain,
Issa, orphaned sparrow!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The ghostly cow comes
mooing mooing mooing
out of the morning mist
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

If anyone comes, child,
don't open the gate
or the melons will flee!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It's not at all anxious to bloom,
the plum tree at my gate.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

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

Full moon―
my ramshackle hut
is an open book.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, brilliant moon
can it be true
that even you
must rush off, late
for some date?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

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

The snow melts
and the village is flooded with children!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Don't weep, we are all insects!
Lovers, even the stars themselves,
must eventually part.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In our world
we walk suspended over hell
admiring flowers.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Standing beneath cherry blossoms
who can be strangers?
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Petals I amass
with such tenderness
***** me to the quick.
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation 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.”



Other Poets

A pity to pluck,
A pity to pass ...
Ah, violet!
―Naojo, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch


Silence:
a single chestnut leaf
sinks through clear water ...
―Shohaku, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

New Haiku Translations, Added 10/6/2020

Air ballet:
twin butterflies, twice white,
meet, match & mate
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Denied transformation
into a butterfly,
autumn worsens for the worm
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dusk-gliding swallow,
please spare my small friends
flitting among the flowers!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Up and at ’em! The sky goes bright!
Let’***** the road again,
Companion Butterfly!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Higher than a skylark,
resting on the breast of heaven:
mountain pass.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Farewell,
my cloud-parting friend!
Wild goose migrating.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

A crow settles
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightfall.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

An exciting struggle
with such a sad ending:
cormorant fishing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Secretly,
by the light of the moon,
a worm bores into a chestnut.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

This strange flower
investigated by butterflies and birds:
the autumn sky
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Where’s the moon tonight?
Like the temple bell:
lost at sea.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Spring departs;
birds wail;
the pale eyes of fish moisten.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon still appears,
though far from home:
summer vagrant.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Cooling the pitiless sun’s
bright red flames:
autumn wind.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Saying farewell to others
while being told farewell:
departing autumn.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  
Traveling this road alone:
autumn evening.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Thin from its journey
and not yet recovered:
late harvest moon.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Occasional clouds
bless tired eyes with rest
from moon-viewing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The farmboy
rests from husking rice
to reach for the moon.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon aside,
no one here
has such a lovely face.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon having set,
all that remains
are the four corners of his desk.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The moon so bright
a wandering monk carries it
lightly on his shoulder.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The Festival of Souls
is obscured
by smoke from the crematory.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

The Festival of Souls!
Smoke from the crematory?
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Family reunion:
those with white hair and canes
visiting graves.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

One who is no more
left embroidered clothes
for a summer airing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

What am I doing,
writing haiku on the threshold of death?
Hush, a bird’s song!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch  

Fallen ill on a final tour,
in dreams I go roving
earth’s flowerless moor.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Striken ill on a senseless tour,
still in dreams I go roving
earth’s withered moor.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Stricken ill on a journey,
in dreams I go wandering
withered moors.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch




Today, catching sight of the mallards
crying over Lake Iware:
Must I too vanish into the clouds?
—Prince Otsu (663-686), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch  

This world—
to what may we compare it?
To autumn fields
lying darkening at dusk
illuminated by lightning flashes.
—Minamoto no Shitago (911-983), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

This world—to what may we liken it?
To autumn fields lit dimly at dusk,
illuminated by lightning flashes.
—Minamoto no Shitago (911-983), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Like a half-exposed rotten log
my life, which never flowered,
ends barren.
—Minamoto Yorimasa (1104-1180), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Overtaken by darkness,
I will lodge under a tree’s branches;
cherry blossoms will cushion me tonight.
—Taira no Tadanori (1144–1184), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Overtaken by darkness,
I will lodge under a cherry tree’s branches;
flowers alone will bower me tonight.
—Taira no Tadanori (1144–1184), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Let me die in spring
beneath the cherry blossoms
while the moon is full.
—Saigyo (1118-1190), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

There is no death, as there is no life.
Are not the skies cloudless
And the rivers clear?
—Taiheiki Toshimoto (-1332), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

All five aspects of my fleeting human form
And the four elements of existence add up to nothing:
I bare my neck to the unsheathed sword
And its blow is but a breath of wind ...
—Suketomo (1290-1332), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Had I not known
I was already dead
I might have mourned
my own passing.
—Ota Dokan (1432-1486), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Both victor and vanquished
are but dewdrops,
but lightning bolts
illuminate the world.
—Ôuchi Yoshitaka (1507-1551), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Even a life of long prosperity is like a single cup of sake;
my life of forty-nine years flashed by like a dream.
Nor do I know what life is, nor death.
All the years combined were but a fleeting dream.
Now I step beyond both Heaven and Hell
To stand alone in the moonlit dawn,
Free from the mists of attachment.
—Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

My life appeared like dew
and disappears like dew.
All Naniwa was a series of dreams.
—Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Felt deeply in my heart:
How beautiful the snow,
Clouds gathering in the west.
—Issho (-1668), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Brittle cicada shell,
little did I know
that you were my life!
—Shoshun (-1672), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch  
Inhale, exhale.
Forward, reverse.
Live, die.
Let arrows fly, meet midway and sever the void in aimless flight:
Thus I return to the Source.
—Gesshu Soko (-1696), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem)by Michael R. Burch

My body?
Pointless
as the tree’s last persimmon.
—Seisa (-1722), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Farewell! I pass
away as all things do:
dew drying on grass.
—Banzan (-1730), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Seventy-one?
How long
can a dewdrop last?
—Kigen (-1736), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

A tempestuous sea ...
Flung from the deck —
this block of ice.
—Choha (-1740), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Empty cicada shell:
we return as we came,
naked.
—Fukaku (-1753), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Since I was born,
I must die,
and so …
—Kisei (1688-1764), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Let us arise and go,
following the path of the clear dew.
—Fojo (-1764), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Depths of the cold,
unfathomable ocean’s roar.
—Kasenjo (-1776), loose translation/interpretation of her jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch  
Things never stand still,
not even for a second:
consider the trees’ colors.
—Seiju (-1776), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Lately the nights
dawn
plum-blossom white.
—Yosa Buson (-1783), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Bitter winter winds!
But later, river willow,
reopen your buds ...
—Senryu (-1790), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Who cares
where aimless clouds are drifting?
—Bufu (-1792), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch  
What does it matter how long I live,
when a tortoise lives many times as long?
—Issa (-1827), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Like a lotus leaf’s evaporating dew,
I vanish.
—Senryu (-1827), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Man’s end:
this mound of albescent bones,
this brief flowering sure to fade ...
—Hamei (-1837), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
When I kick the bucket,
bury me beneath a tavern’s cellar wine barrel;
with a little luck the cask will leak.
—Moriya Sen’an (-1838), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch  

Frost on a balmy day:
all I leave is the water
that washed my brush.
—Tanaka Shutei (1810-1858, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Though moss may overgrow
my useless corpse,
the seeds of patriotism shall never decay.
—Nomura Boto (1806-1867), loose translation/interpretation of her jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

My aging body:
a drop of dew
bulging at the leaf-cliff.
—Kiba (-1868), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Forbearing the night
with its growing brilliance:
the summer moon.
—Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Blow if you must,
autumn wind,
but the flowers have already faded.
—Gansan (-1895), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Time to go ...
They say this journey is a long trek:
this final change of robes.
—Roshu (-1899), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
The moon departs;
frost paralyzes the morning glories.
— Kato (-1908), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
  
Stumble,
tumble,
fall,
slide down the slippery snow *****.
— Getsurei (-1919), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch  



Original Haiku

Celebrate the New Year?
The cat is not impressed,
the dogs shiver.
―Michael R. Burch


Keywords/Tags: Haiku, Zen, death, Japan, Japanese, translation, life, aging, time, pain, sorrow, lament, mrbhaiku
Mehmet Akif Ersoy: Modern English Translations of Turkish Poems

Mehmet Âkif Ersoy (1873-1936) was a Turkish poet, author, writer, academic, member of parliament, and the composer of the Turkish National Anthem.

Snapshot
by Mehmet Akif Ersoy
loose English translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Earth’s least trace of life cannot be erased;
even when you lie underground, it encompasses you.
So, those of you who anticipate the shadows,
how long will the darkness remember you?



Zulmü Alkislayamam
"I Can’t Applaud Tyranny"
by Mehmet Akif Ersoy
loose English translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I can't condone cruelty; I will never applaud the oppressor;
Yet I can't renounce the past for the sake of deluded newcomers.
When someone curses my ancestors, I want to strangle them,
Even if you don’t.
But while I harbor my elders,
I refuse to praise their injustices.
Above all, I will never glorify evil, by calling injustice “justice.”
From the day of my birth, I've loved freedom;
The golden tulip never deceived me.
If I am nonviolent, does that make me a docile sheep?
The blade may slice, but my neck resists!
When I see someone else's wound, I suffer a great hardship;
To end it, I'll be whipped, I'll be beaten.
I can't say, “Never mind, just forget it!” I'll mind,
I'll crush, I'll be crushed, I'll uphold justice.
I'm the foe of the oppressor, the friend of the oppressed.
What the hell do you mean, with your backwardness?



Çanakkale Sehitlerine
"For the Çanakkale Martyrs"
by Mehmet Akif Ersoy
loose English translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Was there ever anything like the Bosphorus war?―
The earth’s mightiest armies pressing Marmara,
Forcing entry between her mountain passes
To a triangle of land besieged by countless vessels.
Oh, what dishonorable assemblages!
Who are these Europeans, come as rapists?
Who, these braying hyenas, released from their reeking cages?
Why do the Old World, the New World, and all the nations of men
now storm her beaches? Is it Armageddon? Truly, the whole world rages!
Seven nations marching in unison!
Australia goose-stepping with Canada!
Different faces, languages, skin tones!
Everything so different, but the mindless bludgeons!
Some warriors Hindu, some African, some nameless, unknown!
This disgraceful invasion, baser than the Black Death!
Ah, the 20th century, so noble in its own estimation,
But all its favored ones nothing but a parade of worthless wretches!
For months now Turkish soldiers have been vomited up
Like stomachs’ retched contents regarded with shame.
If the masks had not been torn away, the faces would still be admired,
But the ***** called civilization is far from blameless.
Now the ****** demand the destruction of the doomed
And thus bring destruction down on their own heads.
Lightning severs horizons!
Earthquakes regurgitate the bodies of the dead!
Bombs’ thunderbolts explode brains,
rupture the ******* of brave soldiers.
Underground tunnels writhe like hell
Full of the bodies of burn victims.
The sky rains down death, the earth swallows the living.
A terrible blizzard heaves men violently into the air.
Heads, eyes, torsos, legs, arms, chins, fingers, hands, feet...
Body parts rain down everywhere.
Coward hands encased in armor callously scatter
Floods of thunderbolts, torrents of fire.
Men’s chests gape open,
Beneath the high, circling vulture-like packs of the air.
Cannonballs fly as frequently as bullets
Yet the heroic army laughs at the hail.
Who needs steel fortresses? Who fears the enemy?
How can the shield of faith not prevail?
What power can make religious men bow down to their oppressors
When their stronghold is established by God?
The mountains and the rocks are the bodies of martyrs!...
For the sake of a crescent, oh God, many suns set, undone!
Dear soldier, who fell for the sake of this land,
How great you are, your blood saves the Muslims!
Only the lions of Bedr rival your glory!
Who then can dig the grave wide enough to hold you. and your story?
If we try to consign you to history, you will not fit!
No book can contain the eras you shook!
Only eternities can encompass you!...
Oh martyr, son of the martyr, do not ask me about the grave:
The prophet awaits you now, his arms flung wide open, to save!

Keywords/Tags: Ersoy, Turk, Turkish, translation, earth, world, life, death, grave, underground, shadows, darkness, remember, remembrance, memory, tyranny, cruelty, oppressor, oppressed, ancestors, elders, injustice, injustices, evil, justice, martyrs, mrbtran
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
Nida Fazli translations



Apni Marzi se
by Nida Fazli Shayari
translated by Mandakini Bhattacherya and Michael R. Burch

This journey was not of my making;
As the winds blow, I’m blown along ...
Time and dust are my ancient companions;
Who knows where I’m bound or belong?

Original Poem:

Apni Marzi se kahan apne safar ke hum hain,
Rukh hawaaon ka jidhar ka hai udhar ke hum hain.
Waqt ke saath mitti ka safar sadiyon se,
Kisko maaloom kahan ke hain kidhar ke hum hain.



Failures
by Nida Fazli
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I was unable to relate
the state
of my heart to her,
while she failed to infer
the nuances
of my silences.



Every Day and in Every Direction
by Nida Fazli
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Everywhere and in every direction we see innumerable people:
each man a victim of his own loneliness, reticence and silences.
From dawn to dusk men carry enormous burdens:
all preparing graves for their soon-to-be corpses.
Each day a man lives, the same day he dies.
Each new day requires the same old patience.
In every direction there are roads for him to roam,
but in every direction, men victimize men.
Every day a man dies many deaths only to resurrect from his ashes.
Each new day presents new challenges.
Life's destiny is not fixed, but a series of journeys:
thus, till his last breath, a man remains restless.



Couplets
by Nida Fazli
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It was my fate to entangle and sink myself
because I am a boat and my ocean lies within.
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You were impossible to forget once you were gone:
hell, I remembered you most when I tried to forget you!
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Don't squander these pearls:
such baubles may ornament sleepless nights!
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The world is like a deck of cards on a gambling table:
some of us are bound to loose while others cash in.
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

There is a proper protocol for everything in this world:
when visiting gardens never force butterflies to vacate their flowers!
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Since I lack the courage to commit suicide,
I have elected to bother people with my life a bit longer.
―Nida Fazli, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Keywords/Tags: Urdu, translation, translations, love, heart, state, life, death, destiny, fate, breath, mrburdu
Miraji: Urdu Epigram translations

I'm obsessed with this thought:
does God possess mercy?
―Miraji, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Come, see this dance, the immaculate dance of the devadasi!
―Miraji, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Echoes of an ancient prophecy:
when my life has come and gone,
when I am dead and done,
perhaps someone
                            hearing again in a distant spring
will echo my songs
the world over.
―Miraji, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

If I understand things correctly, Miraji wrote the lines above after translating a verse by Sappho in which she said that her poems would be remembered in the future. I suspect both poets and both prophecies were correct! Keywords/Tags: Urdu, translation, translations, God, mercy, dance, prophecy, song, songs, world, mrburdu
O God!
by Qateel Shifai
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Torture my heart, O God!
If you so desire, leave me a madman, O God!

Have I asked for the moon and stars?
Enlighten my heart and give my eyes sight, O God!

We have all seen this disk called the sun,
Now give us a real dawn, O God!

Either relieve our pains here on this earth
Or make my heart granite, O God!



Hereafter
by Qateel Shifai
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Since we met and parted, how can we sleep hereafter?
Lost in each others' remembrance, must we not weep hereafter?

Deluges of our tears will keep us awake all night:
Our eyelashes strung with strands of pearls, hereafter!

Thoughts of our separation will sear our grieving hearts
Unless we immerse them in the cooling moonlight, hereafter!

If the storm also deceives us, crying Qateel!,
We will scuttle our boats near forsaken shores, hereafter.



Keywords/Tags: Urdu, translation, translations, God, heart, eyes, sight, madman, moon, stars, tears, pearls, mrburdu
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