Thursday, November 7, 2013

Carpe Diem's Revise that haiku #2, Basho's famous 'old pond'

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

As we all know ... a haiku is the reproduction of a moment as short as the sound of a pebble thrown into water, but this haiku by Basho wasn't the reproduction of a moment. He wrote it at home, without the reality of the scene which he describes in his famous 'old pond' haiku.
That's, by the way, what the most modern Haijin do I think. As I look at myself, there are haiku which I wrote behind my desk.

For example:

a lonely flower
my companion
for one night

It was the first haiku which I wrote in English and it was my International breakthrougj. So in a way ... similar with Basho's famous 'old pond'-haiku. (Hm ... an immodest thought for a haiku poet).
As I look back at our first episode of 'revise that haiku', I see (and read) that you all appreciate this new feature. It's a joy and a challenge to revise haiku.
Revising is very much in the tradition of the classical haiku poets such as Basho and Shiki. Basho once said: " Every haiku needs revision by saying it (aloud) one thousand times". It's not that you've to say it thousand times for real, but Basho says 'your haiku has to grow, has to bloom from it's bud'. A first haiku must be re-written and re-written again.

''Old Pond'' by Basho - a haiga in his own handwriting

In this episode of 'revise that haiku' I love to challenge you to revise Basho's famous 'old pond' haiku.

furu ike ya / kawazu tobi komu / mizu no oto

old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

This verse, now so famous, was first published in a selection of haiku 'Haru no Hi' (Spring Day). What, at first made his haiku interesting was the fact that in poetry up until this time, frogs were mentioned for their croaking but never for their leaping. However, with the passage of time, countless translations and copies, this haiku has only grown more special.

The background of this haiku is not so well known, so let me tell you something about that ...
Basho was living in a hermitage in Edo (nowadays Tokyo) where there was a pond. There were some Japanese yellow roses (yamabuki) growing around it. On one quiet early spring day, around the end of March, Basho was with Kikaku and heard a frog jump into the pond. It was a moment when he understood the idea of tranquility. One of Badho's disciples, Shiko wrote about the process in his haiku essay, "Kuzu no Matsubara" published in 1692.
[...] First Baso thought of the 7-5 sound units, "kawazu tobi komu mizu no oto", conveying the idea that "a frog jumped in with the sound of water". Then he tried to think of a good 5 units for the first line. Kikaku proposed 'yamabuki ya' (Japanese yellow rose). Basho said that yamabuki would be elegant, but to showy. He said 'furu ike ya' should be used because it is simple and truthful' [...]

Kikaku''s idea was easly understood and the combination of a frog and yamabuki was common at that time, but Basho''s was a novel idea. The word ''old pond'' was from traditional Chinese literature and was associated with the hermit life. Many haiku poets were so impressed with this modest simplicity that several stories related to Zen Buddhism were fabricated about the haiku.
Isn''t it a wonderful story? It''s a joy to read how even Basho sometimes had trouble with the composing of his haiku. Haiku is a way of collaborating poetry as we have seen above.

Now ... up to our challenge to revise this haiku by Basho. It will not be easy but ... well worth the try. By the way: maybe it feels like descration to revise this famous haiku by Basho, but I think that it can help us to learn from the master himself. How to write a good, well balanced and beautiful haiku. So let us go for it and try to revise this famous haiku.

yellow roses
surrounding an old pond
a frog jumps in

Or maybe ....

the sound of water -
yellow roses in the rain
the silence deepens

Or ... what do you think of this revised version:

deep silence
broken by the sound of water -
a frog jumps in

And what to think of this one:

an old pond -
the silence deepens
as frogs start croaking

I was on a roll with this revising so here I have two others to think about:

rippling water
as frogs jump into -
yellow roses bloom

the old pond
surrounded with yellow roses -
rippling water

To conclude this episode of ''Revise that haiku''. R.H.Blyth describes in his Haiku Vol.2 this famous haiku as follows:

[...] ''The pond is old, in an old garden. The trees are ages old, the trunks green with moss that covers the stones. The very silence itself goes back beyond men and their noises. A frog jumps in. The whole garden, the whole universe contained in one single plop!-sound that is beyond sound and silence, and yet is the sound of the water of the old pond''. [...]

Yamabuki (Yellow Roses, Kerria Japonica)

Well ... a lot to read and to emphatize with ... become part of the scene. You''re in contact with Basho ... try to re-live the scenery and maybe ... you can come up with a revised version of this world famous haiku by the master himself.

Have fun, be inspired and share your revised haiku-moment with us all here at our Haiku Kai. This episode of ''Revise that Haiku'' will stay on ''til November 28th 11.59 AM (CET). !! This episode of ''Revise that haiku'' is now open for your submissions !!


  1. I dared to do one... a great challenge..

  2. Superb page, so interesting, but a double challenge,first Basho's haiku then your roll!

  3. This is really a tough but interesting challenge:-)Beautiful revision by you Kristjaan-all the Haikus are great but my favourites were the 1st,3rd & 5th:-)

  4. This is a tough challenge yet an interesting one:-)Loved your revision Kristjaan-all the Haikus are excellent but my personal favourites are 1st,3rd & the 5th:-)