雨雲にはらのふくるる蛙かな rain clouds inflating its belly the frog — Fukuda Chiyo-ni (1703-1775) (Translation by D. Blackwell)
Danny Blackwell gets lost in translation:
I can’t resist the temptation to abuse my editorial power and offer some words about my translation, which received some interesting criticism from Clayton (click this link for the full entry). And while I am partly motivated by poetic ego, I also feel that, at the very least, I need to offer the readers of re:Virals a romanization of the poem, to help them decipher Clayton’s comments, as he has recourse to use them in his dissection:
amegumo ni hara no fukururu kawazu kana.
First off, for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the frog is singular and the clouds are plural although that may not be the case, as the Japanese language often does not specify. With that caveat in place, I’d like to explain that there two things I wanted specifically to do in my translation. The first was to capture a common feature of the Japanese language, and therefore also to haiku, that of ending an oration with a noun and having all the preceding material functioning as if it was a type of adjectifying of that final noun (in this case of the noun “frog”.)
A literal rendering of the Japanese would therefore be something like this:
rain cloud belly-inflated frogThe English language would naturally reverse the order, of course, resulting in something like this:
the frog that inflates its belly in front of rain cloudsIt is this feature of the Japanese language which explains why many haiku in translation change the order of the elements, and commonly result in the final line of a Japanese haiku becoming the opening line in the English versions—something that I was trying, precisely, to avoid.
Obviously, most would find the above poems, in which the poem is simply the word “frog” stacked under a series of qualifiers, to be pretty indigestible as poetry—bearing in mind the long tradition of haiku in translation and our acquired reading habits. In translation one has to strike a balance between the options of giving an air of exoticism that reflects the different language of the original, and trying to make it sound as natural in the target language as it would do to a speaker of the original language.
The second thing I wanted to do with my translation was allow the poem to maintain the possibility of a double reading. Clayton reads an implied kire after the first line, and while I intentionally allowed for that option, it is not the only option I am allowing the reader, and if one doesn’t impose that cut, one can read the poem as:
rain clouds inflating its belly:
That is to say, it is the rain clouds themselves that inflate the frog’s belly. This sense of the interpenetration between things is key to haiku juxtaposition, and I feel is particularly acute in this poem by Chiyo-ni.
The Japanese particle “ni” can be used purely to situate the existence of something in a geographical or temporal place, allowing the literal reading that Clayton references, in which the frog is actually seen in the clouds themselves. Regarding particles, one thing that surprised me when I lived in Japan is that while English speakers will naturally stress the words in a sentence that carry meaning and pretty much orally gloss over prepositions and so on, the Japanese do the opposite. When speaking the Japanese tend to place emphasis on particles, that is to say, the punctuative elements of a sentence. In haiku the marker “ya” (used after the words “old pond. . .” in Bashō’s frogpond haiku for example) is much easier to identify and translate, but I find that “ni” is also frequently used in haiku and does indeed cut the sentence, whether one interprets it as a kireji or not. I also feel that here “ni” is allowing us to imagine that the frog’s belly (or pouch) billows due to the rain clouds. This could be viewed as juxtapositional whimsy, or it could be, as another commentator this week mentions, a reference to a very natural phenomenon in which frogs react to approaching rain.
I intentionally avoided punctuation in my translation to allow this middle-line hinge possibility, but one can also read the poem, more conventionally perhaps, as:
inflating its belly: the frog
Here I use the semi-colon, which I find particularly good for translating a cut between juxtaposing elements. (Whatever one thinks of Blyth, I think he is one of the best translators of punctuation in haiku and adapts his ideas for each particular poem with a great deal of nuance, and one would do well to study his work in this regard.)
Admittedly, my translation last week may seem like syntactical absurdity (to paraphrase Clayton) but I opted for “inflating its belly/the frog” as opposed to “the frog inflates its belly” because I wanted the word frog to be the last word, for the reasons stated above.
Setting aside his patriarchal preference in his translation of the Spanish translation, I would also question Clayton’s interpretation of the end marker “kana.” Modern Japanese speakers often end sentences with the sounds “ka” and “na,” and sometimes with the two of them together. They are, respectively, an oral question mark (ka) and a question tag (na). They are more or less equivalent to saying “isn’t it,” or “I wonder,” at the end of a sentence. However, having discussed this with Japanese colleagues, it is my (possibly mistaken) understanding that the archaic literary “kana” (哉) of haiku is not equivalent to the modern day “kana” (かな) of everyday speech, which is much closer to the “kana” that Clayton seems to have offered in his translations. I would also question having “I wonder?” as a whole line in the English version, when it is only a line-end kire. That said, I welcome Clayton’s comments, which are always illuminating, and his criticism may well be justified—I’m afraid I’m not in a position to be wholly objective about my own translations. One thing I did find particularly worthy was Clayton’s suggestion that the word kana could be treated as a kind of trailing off, represented in one of his translations as an uncompleted ellipses:
inflates his pouch
toward the rain clouds. . .
I should also mention that it is common, and perhaps at times justifiable, to translate “kana” as an exclamation mark, and it has been common throughout the history of English-language haiku translations to do so. This discussion is, without doubt, a long and complex one that is muddied by a long tradition in both languages.
Reading Clayton’s comments and alternative translations, I do admittedly find myself questioning my inclusion of the word “belly.” In using “pouch” Clayton is possibly more precise, as it is the vocal sac—and not the belly—of the frog that we are accustomed to seeing inflate (although the frog would first inflate its lungs in order to do so, and in the original Japanese they use the word for belly/stomach). Interestingly, a Colombian friend of mind objected to Spanish translator Vicente Haya’s use of the word “buche,” which she considered a rather ugly word.
As a final note, readers should be aware that haiku poems such as this one, and the ubiquitous “old pond” poem of Bashō, use an archaic pronunciation for the kanji for frog, which is read here as “kawazu” instead of the modern day “kaeru.”
Hopefully the re:Virals readers will comment further and help us to up our game, so to speak. Translation is always, to a degree, a form of deception—no matter how didactic its intentions.