Friday, September 20, 2013

Cool Announcement: Robert Hass on Haiku and Czeslaw Milosz

My Dear Fellow Poets/Readers:

In this Literature &Lunch event held by The Center for the Art of Translation,  HEAR Pulitzer Prize-winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass discuss his translations of Japanese haiku and Czeslaw Milosz. From Basho to Buson, Hass has created fresh, new translations of some of the most celebrated verses from Japan's centuries-old haiku tradition. Here he discusses his difficulties with learning Japanese, as well as the stories behind some of Japan's most intriguing poems. -- excerpted from The Center for the Art of Translation.

Hass recites and comments on the following haiku:

This road --
no one goes down it,
autumn evening.

Harvest moon --
walking around the pond
all night long.

Fleas, lice,
a horse peeing
near my pillow.


Coolness --
the sound of the bell
as it leaves the bell.

That snail --
one long horn, one short,
what's on his mind?


The man pulling radishes
pointed my way
with a radish.

A bath when you're born,
a bath when you die,
how stupid.


Hass also discusses and reads from his translations of his close personal friend, the Nobel-winning poet Czeslaw Milosz.  See The Age of Czeslaw Milosz (well-made and informative trailer).


Note:  Czeslaw Milosz once made a poetic commentary on Issa's haiku; it was written in the form of a free verse, titled "Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762–1826)."  This poem is the last one in The Separate Notebooks, and it contains within it three haiku by Issa. For more information, see Poetic Musings: Czesław Miłosz's Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762–1826)

Updated, September 21

Excerpted from Sounding Lines:The Art of Translating Poetry by Seamus Heaney and Robert Hass

Audience Comment: Are you saying “don’t Lowellize”? Is that what you’re saying?

In the versions of haiku that I did—another language that I don’t know— I made a point of making sure that I understood the word-for-word meaning of each poem I was dealing with and I made some choices to play loosely with things because I was raiding. I didn’t publish them for years, and when I did I called them versions of Basho, Buson and Issa.—though I tried to read as much scholarship as I could and in some cases be as literal as I could. But sometimes it wasn’t what I wanted, what I saw and was trying to bring over. I wasn’t trying to do scholarly translations.

Robert Lowell published this book called Imitations in which he would basically start with a well-known European poem and kind of take off on it. Stay in it, wander away from it, come back, as Ben Johnson did. Nabokov was outraged with one of Lowell’s translations and said, “How would you feel if someone took your phrase ‘leathery love’ and translated it into Russian as ‘the great football of passion’?” [laughter] ...


Robert Hass: I was working on a little haiku by Basho that occurs in one of his travel journals, and, in the translations I had seen, I had not been particularly attracted to the poem. It went something like “Ah the Rose of Sharon at the road’s edge eaten by horse.” And I thought, “Oh this is one of those the-crude-horse-eats-the-beautiful-Rose-of-Sharon, woe for the passing of things” poems. I looked at the word-for-word translation of the Japanese and it was very swift and there was something there. He’s not a moralizing poet. One day I decided to go over to the botanical library and look up Rose of Sharon. And it turned out it was a wild hibiscus. And then I went out of the Japanese section into the California section to see if there were any wild hibiscus in California, and there is one, and its early folk name was “flower-of-an-hour,” because it blooms very briefly and closes as soon as it is not in sunlight. So I came back, went to sleep, woke up and looked again and did a completely literal translation adding one word that wasn’t there: “As for the hibiscus by the roadside my horse ate it.” I saw what the poem was about. The “my horse” was possible because it was in a travel journal—you know he is on horseback. He doesn’t say it in the poem. But sometimes, just for what you want, for what I want—which is “am I getting closer to Basho’s mind, is this a fantasy that I am?”—you take chances. There is a famous story about Ezra Pound’s Cathay and this poem “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter.” He got a gloss on it from an American in Japan named Ernest Fenollosa, who got it from a Japanese scholar who had translated the original poem by Li Po into Japanese. Fenollosa then translated his Japanese into English for Pound. And Pound made “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter.” And when Pound was writing that poem, he intuitively, changing the poem to get it right for himself as a poem, corrected several mistakes made by the guy translating it from Chinese into Japanese. It gives youdangerous faith in intuition, that the poem will somehow tell you what it’s about.

Seamus Heaney: That’s terrific. Say the one, my favorite, the one about the farmer with the radishes.

Robert Hass: Oh yes. Sometimes you think “oh I get this because...” This poem I thought I got because it is like something out of Dickens. It’s by Issa and it goes: “The man pulling radishes pointed my way with a radish.” Those long skinny daikon radishes. But it is about someone mulling over, a walker mulling over an experience afterwards. That is really the center of the poem, past tense. It’s about how everything is subsumed to its element. “The man pulling radishes pointed my way with a radish.”

1 comment:

  1. In a forthcoming 'To the Lighthouse' post, I will further discuss some important issues raised in Sounding Lines: The Art of Translating Poetry by Seamus Heaney and Robert Hass.