Customer Reviews: 1020 Haiku in Translation: The Heart of Basho, Buson and Issa
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on December 8, 2006
Poetry, it is said, is what disappears in translation. This may often be true, for patterns of rhythm and sound in a poem can seldom be carried over into another language, even if the translator be a poet.

Happily, this is not a problem in _1020 Haiku in Translation: the Heart of Basho, Buson and Issa_, 2006. Translated by Takafumi Saito and William R. Nelson. Artwork by Munetaka Sakaguchi. The simple patterns of everyday speech, and the utterances of things and places and feelings are brief, yet in their simple imagery and emphasis, the poems offer us at least sparks of awareness of the here-now presence in life, and at best grant us a revelation, a brief kind of surprise, an overwhelming openness.

The poesy of Japanese haiku is preserved, not in the 5-7-5 pattern, but through strong-weak stress patterns. The Japanese count of seventeen syllables in three lines (5-7-5) is naturally rendered in English differently, but still true to the original. Basho's famous frog haiku becomes: "An old pond - / A frog dives in / Water sound." Because of such apparent simplicity, schoolchildren around the world have been impelled, one believes, rather than driven, to learn and appreciate haiku - and to write them!

For children see, too, the variety of content in haiku. The poet Issa writes, "Don't swat it! / The fly is rubbing / Its hands and legs." This haiku is found in the book, _1020 Haiku in Translation: the Heart of Basho, Buson and Issa_. This anthology does not only include well more than others of the three masters' poems but also devotes many pages to helpful supplementary information not readily found in other collections.

Non-Japanese readers who possess books with some of these poems may wish to compare the English translations in them with those in this new and generous volume for their sometimes interesting differences.

In the Biographical Notes we are told of the many personal tragedies in Issa's life, thus making his grief and longing more poignant for us.

Unique with this anthology, I believe, is the use of grouping; in Contents and throughout the book, the haiku are organized not only under the customary Seasons for each poet, but also under themes, such as Children, Flowers, Feelings, People at Work, and many others. This makes it easy for the reader to quickly find poems of special interest.

Also convenient for readers who may have only a first-word-or-two recall of a haiku that is slipping away is the One-Line Index where each poem in Romaji is listed alphabetically by the first word.

Traveling through paths of pages in 1020 Haiku . . . one pauses often by the radiant black-on-white words of the poets and the translators, and not less by the delicate and strong illustrations of the artist.

In their Preface the authors speak of how a harmony of "things, events, feelings," in a haiku, "if internalized by the world's people, could dramatically bolster world peace. People living side by side, without argument, without force." So grand and noble a vision for the humble haiku? To come only through its soft voice of one or two breaths and heartbeats two or three? One would not dream it possible, were it not for voices of gentle natures like those of the old masters and those who care to follow after, to see and to show. Thus Issa:

The heart of the Goddess of Mercy

In the sway

Of willows.
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on August 3, 2007
This is what it advertises-- 1020 Haiku from the three great haiku masters-- Basho, Buson, and Issa. The beauty of this book is that there is romanized/phonetic translation of the Japanese... so you can read the English translation, then sound out the Japanese syllables to hear the sound of the haiku (at least an approximation) in the original Japanese. Finally, the hirigana/katakana/kanji are supplied for each haiku, as well, so if you read Japanese, you can read the original.

Misters Nelson and Saito explain that they chose to translate into an English version that they thought best captured the original Japanese intention. They elected not to retain a 5-7-5 or approximate format, although they did keep predominately three lines for each haiku. That being said, I have seen more artistic translations of the common haiku I have read elsewhere in other books-- all in all, I wasn't that happy with the translations... the percentage of haiku that really grabbed me was not as high as other books I've read. But that may just be me, or the fact that out of 1020 haiku, I've seen the best ones already in other books with less.

The book itself is trade paperback in style... about 8x6 inches, 1.5 inches thick. The paper is that thick, grainy, acid-free-looking stuff... it has nice texture that should last. The book is sparsely and tastefully illustrated with Japanese brushstroke paintings and calligraphy throughout. About a dozen or so of the more famous haiku are repeated in the calligraphy independently on full pages as stand-alone decoration.

As tradition, the haiku are divided into seasons. Each haiku poet gets a section in each season. Each section is further sub-divided into areas such as "Flowers", "Eating and Food", "Insects", "People Working" and things like that. The headings are organized alphabetically, but somewhat arbitrarily chosen. The footnotes on selected haiku preodminately elaboarate on Japanese traditions, historical events, and geography that may not be commonly known-- there is no real artistic critique or elaboration. There is an index in the back which organizes the haiku alphabetically by the first Japanese syllable/word.

The preface itself does little in the way of explaining the why of the book and how they chose to translate the original Japanese. There is not a lot, if anything, on philosophy or history, or insight into this type of poetry.
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on March 28, 2007
It has been many years since I have felt such joy at the physical beauty of a book: the intelligence and elegance of the design, the parallel texts, the foreword, the beauty of the poetry, the architecture of the sequence, the generous size of the print, the integration of the art work and written characters in the page layouts--all of these things and more. What a lovely gift to the world. Don't miss this.
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on July 28, 2009
1020 Haiku in Translation: The Heart of Basho, Buson, and Issa, Translated by Takafumi Saito and William R. Nelson illustrates the art of translation and of haiku. This is a must read book for anyone who loves poetry. The book is appropriately organized by seasons. The beauty of the haiku are matched by the exquisite artwork by Munetaka Sakaguchi. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a writer or a reader who has an interest in haiku, this book belongs on your shelf. Translation is an art and Saito and Nelson have demonstrated their talent and artistic ability in rendering these beautiful poems into English. (Reviewed by Professor Horne, Chair of English, University of Northern British Columbia)
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on September 11, 2012
As the title suggests, the authors of this book chose 1,020 haiku written by the Japanese masters Basho, Buson and Issa and translated them accurately so as to give the reader the poets' words exactly how they wrote them. Most translations of haiku use approximate words in order to preserve the syllable count. So the translations in this book give us a better feel for what the Japanese call mono no aware - literally, the pathos of the thing.

This book does not place the three poets into a literary context with any detail, but that was probably not its intention; there are many other fine books that focus on this aspect. Rather, the focus of this book is to correct the inaccuracies caused by previous interpretive translations and thus give us the true form and flow of the haiku as written by Basho, Buson and Issa. Also, the translators have included notes that focus on, for example, implied meanings, the location of places, cultural background and the explanation of situations that might not be so readily understood.

What I especially liked about this book, as a student of the Japanese language and culture, is that the original poem is included as written in Japanese (kanji and hiragana). Then it is rendered phonetically so that we can hear what it might sound like in the original. In an appendix the authors provide a tutorial on the pronunciation of Japanese sounds.

Adding to the quality of this book is the inclusion of beautiful artwork and calligraphy.
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on July 12, 2009
This book is a great introduction to Haiku poetry. The author discusses the types of Haiku topics and the approach to each. I was suprised at the imagry I was able to congure up reading the poems and I learned to appreciate this literary style.

The author explains how Haiku has been translated and that due to the limited wording and the anchient language, scholars have debated some of the subtle neuances of the poem. Hoowever, the poems are beautiful.

I highly recommend this book.
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on February 11, 2010
This is the best volume of translated haiku I have ever seen. I join in singing the praises of this book along with the other reviewers.

There is a rich amount of Buson haiku in this collection. To date, to my continued amazement, there is only ONE volume solely devoted to Buson in English, that of Edith Shiffert. So this volume helps correct that egregious oversight.

I also like the strong typeface for the English translations. Some might quibble with the capitablized first word of each line, and some might quibble with the stop at the end of the translation. I don't mind these at all. I am used to this in RH Blyth's translations, and these are better than Blyth's in my opinion. Also I think modern haiku poet Alexis Rotella prefers final period punctuation in her own haiku.

Some like Lucien Stryk seem to prefer a minimalist approach to translating haiku. The present translators have struck the right balance between too many and too few words.

And most of all, the translations are themselves good poetry - lyrical, words well chosen, the ordering of the words very artistic but not too much as to become "poetry" in the western sense. The Japanese quality has been preserved very well.

All in all a tremendous contribution to translated haiku by the three great masters, Basho, Buson, and Issa. Three cheers!!
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on December 31, 2015
Giving it two stars simply by virtue of the fact that it's the only book that offers a nice collection of haiku from the three major poets.

The problem is with the translations. They're generally very poor: being wordy, ignoring the ordering of the originals, and awkward. For example:

In the darkness go the calls
Of night herons.

Compared with Barnhill's translation:

into the darkness
a night heron's cry

As in the original, Barnhill retains the order of imagery. He saves the "voice/cry" for the final word, which best reproduces the effect of the original haiku. It's the 'cry' that is the point or contrast of the haiku, not the "night herons". Why Saito and Nelson opt to often ignore the ordering of imagery in haiku leads me to think that neither (despite their reputations) really grasp what makes haiku *poetry*. To be fair, a translator like Barnhill will sometimes also ignore the ordering of the original, but only to avoid awkward syntactical formulations:

Orchid frangrance---
The wings of a butterfly

- Saito, Nelson

an orchid's scent---
its incense perfuming
a butterfly's wings

- Barnhill

Curiously, the word "incense" also has the meaning "To inflame with anger; to enrage; to endkindle; to fire; to incite; to provoke; to heat; to madden." So, Saito and Nelson's translation invites the pun that the orchid's fragrance is enraging and maddening the butterfly's wings. It's just awkward and unsupported by the original.

The other problem I have with their translations is their bizarre inversion of English grammar. For example:

Napping on a horse
Unfinished are my dreams---
Distant moon; the smoke from making tea.

Why the second line's inversion? The effect is to make many of the haiku sound like "Yoda-ku", or pigeon English. There's simply no reason for it. Is it an affectation? Again, for comparison:

dozing on my horse
with dream lingering and moon distant:
smoke from a tea fire

"Smoke from making tea" is awkward and wordy. The fact that tea is being "made" is implied by Barnhill's far more skillful "tea fire".

My impression, in general, is of translators who can translate the content, but not the poetry.
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on November 26, 2014
This book had been recommended, but I was very much disappointed with the translations it offers.

The use of kireji (cut marker) is arbitrary and the renditions of the verses are very choppy, making it hard if not impossible to tell what the authors actually intended. Many verses even appear to give three separate thoughts where two are intended to be in contrast to each other. The added English-style punctuation is also misleading, often ending with a period (as if the verse were intended to be a sentence).

The one good thing I can say for this book is that the Romaji is provided with the verses, which allows the reader to locate other translations for comparison.
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