(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Old Pond” is possibly the best-known haiku in English translation. Written sometime between 1686 and 1691, it is a product of the poet’s peak period. During this time, a number of the poems focused on the manifestation of sabi, that objective, nonemotional loneliness so difficult to define clearly in English, or in Japanese, for that matter.

This haiku follows the classical pattern of a 5-7-5 arrangement of the seventeen syllables in three lines:

5Furuike ya Old pond:7Kawazu tobikomu frog jumps in5Mizu no oto water-sound.

A number of translations have been made of this famous haiku. W. G. Aston’s rendition is perhaps among those closest to the actual Japanese wording, and it exemplifies the notion of juxtaposing images without using connecting words.

The colon at the end of the first line denotes the ya, or the “cutting word” that separates the subject from the rest of the poem, leaving the reader to make an appropriate association between the elements. The first image here is an ancient, ageless, primeval natural phenomenon, the pond. Possibly for centuries it has existed in stillness—infinite, timeless. In an instant, that quiet is broken by the intrusion of the splash of a small, living (and hence recent, immediate) object. This contrast elicits the accepting, perhaps welcomed, feeling of loneliness as the two elements make contact. Harold G. Henderson provides a Zen interpretation by attributing symbolism to the frog’s leap: The jump into the pond symbolizes a sudden leap to satori, or spiritual enlightenment.

Old Pond Bibliography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aitken, Robert. A Zen Wave: Bash’s Haiku and Zen. New York: Weatherhill, 1979.

Campbell, Liberty. To a Far Province with Bash. Pittsburgh, Pa.: J. Pohl Associates, 1983.

Crowley, Cheryl A. Hakai Poet Yosa Buson and the Bash Revival. Boston: Brill, 2007.

Henderson, Harold G. An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Bash to Shiki. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958.

Kerkham, Eleanor, ed. Matsuo Bash’s Poetic Spaces: Exploring Haikai Intersections. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Miner, Earl. Japanese Linked Poetry: An Account with Translations of Renga and Haikai Sequences. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Qiu, Peipei. Bash and the Dao: The Zhuangzi and the Transformation of Haikai. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

Sato, Hiroaki. One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku to English. New York: Weatherhill, 1983.

Ueda, Makoto. Matsuo Bash. New York: Twayne, 1970.

Ueda, Makoto. Matsuo Bash. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1983.

Ueda, Makoto. Zeami, Bash, Yeats, Pound: A Study in Japanese and English Poetics. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1965.