I am not a poetry person. I don’t read poetry [mostly], and I certainly don’t write it, but ever since my university days, I’ve loved the sound of haiku… in Japanese.
In particular, I love the Bashō haiku about the Old Pond:
Furu ike ya
Mizu no oto
There are countless translations of this haiku, but the one I like the best is the one that sticks the most closely to the actual Japanese words:
Frog jumps in
Sound of water
Water can have all sorts of sounds, so the onomatopoeic word ‘plop’ used in some translations kind of makes sense, but while that idea is obviously understood by Japanese readers, the actual words are so much more…subtle?
Mizu means water.
Oto means sound.
No is a possessive.
Thus ‘mizu no oto’ literally means ‘water’s sound’. It is left to our imaginations to decide which one of the many mizu no oto is made by a frog when it jumps into a pond.
It’s been fifty years since I last tried to mangle the Japanese language, so I went looking for a proper native speaker to recite this haiku. What I found was a video that gave the best explanation of haiku I’ve ever heard. Syllables vs mora vs on. Content words vs rhythm. And a whole lot more.
I promise. The video below is well worth the listen:
Oh, and you’ll find the recitation I was talking about at 2:37. You’re welcome. 😀