Basho’s frog

In A Zen Wave, Robert Aitken calls it “probably the most famous poem in Japan.”

The old pond;
a frog jumps in —
the sound of the water.

It must surely be the most-translated of Basho’s haiku, or anyone else’s for that matter. In addition to Aitken’s rendering (above), there are another 30 translations available on this eclectic Website, plus Aitken’s commentary. And, for those with an insatiable thirst to drink from the pond, here is a sampling from my favorites:

  • Hiroaki Sato’s compilation of (more than) 100 Frogs;
  • Haiku Chronicles’ podcast on the history and impact of the poem;
  • GeoPedia’s entry on its historical and literary background; and
  • two 21st-century poems with the same title as this post, one from the poetry magazine Rattle and the other from the iron mountain poets blog. As you will see, both are curiously and coincidentally “stellar” (pun intended, of course).

    Ad Blankestijn, a Dutch expat living in Japan for several decades and blogging at Japan Navigator, has considered whether there is an identifiable location for the famous pond. He formerly offered a direct but speculative, discussion in ‘The Frog in the Pond’; and now is content with a more circumspect view in ‘Basho’s haiku along the Sumida River’.

    Take your pick among the traditional or scholarly understandings of the literality or symbolism of the haiku itself. Donna Beaver and Alan Pizzarelli, starting at about 02:45 in the Haiku Chronicles podcast linked above, discuss the poem as “a direct observation of a moment in nature,” what Basho himself apparently intended to be “without ideas.” Or you may prefer Robert Aitken’s symbolic view — the pond as a “serene and potent” mind, waiting in zazen for the aural stimulus of the frog’s “plop” to trigger awakening.

    I gravitate to the former perspective, often expressed as “just as it is” (from the Japanese sono-mama), or simply, “just so,” based on the discussion by James H. Austin in his monumental Zen and the Brain (Ch. 132). But put all that aside. Honestly, in this post I was just looking for an excuse to get this wonderful animated GIF back into circulation after its original host site got terminal link rot. And an excuse to use the title as a pun on “Joshu’s dog,” a famous koan (see third bullet on About).

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