It’s amazing what you learn from children’s TV shows sometimes, especially in a foreign language. Recently, while watching TV with my little one, we watched one of her favorite shows, nihongo de asobo, which has a brief skit periodically that covers a famous haiku by Basho. I’ve heard the haiku before:
The old pond-
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.
Or some variation of the translation. The skit mentioned above (which I couldn’t find a Youtube clip for), teaches the haiku in Japanese:
For all you Japanese language nerds out there, this is a nice opportunity to learn a great haiku (I do enjoy this one a lot), but also try to figure out what he was saying by understanding the native Japanese.
The first line is straightforward enough except for the や at the end. This is a frequent technique used in haiku to indicate a pause or end of sentence.
The first word of the second line, 蛙, reads as かわず not the standard word かえる. This seems to be an alternate reading or possibly archaic. Not sure about this one.
The third line seems to have the most variation among translations. It literally means “the sound of water”. So, some translators try to fill in a word like “splash” or “plop”. For my part, I think a more literal translation is more appropriate so the reader can use their imagination.
As to the meaning of the poem, I think it speaks to the pricelessness of each moment, not to be repeated. To add a more Buddhist spin, I think it also is good to reflect on the sheer culmination of causes and conditions that lead to something like this, however brief.
Namo Kanzeon Bosatsu