TIPS for Translating

TIPS for Translating Haiku

Learning a language is one thing, but being a (professional) translator is quite something else.
The fact that you speak English, for example, does not make you an English teacher (unless you happened to be in Japan some 20 years ago. (Smile:o))

Everyone can use watercolors and paint a little enchanted something, but to be a proper painter it takes a bit more !

Here I will collect some tips as they come up in this forum:
... Translating Haiku, a Study Group ....

........................................ Some Simple Advise

Translate only into your mother tongue!

Google or consult your dictionary for all the words before attempting a translation.


Using two languages in one haiku:
the BUBUBU exchange

Let me take up as example this one from India

rainy day
the muni in silent dhyaana
completely laved ~

Narayanan Raghunathan

My advise is to insert BUBUBU for any word that is left in your language. This will enable you to understand your translation as anyone else will understand it who is not able to speak your language.

rainy day
the BUBU in silent BUBUBU
completely laved ~

Now you have two options. Maybe more.

Leave your translation as it is and provide footnotes for the BUBUBU words. The more extensive the better.

Look for translations for the BUBUBU words. With the computer age and GOOGLE, it is quite easy to find out if the word is commonly understood in English or not.
LINKs to Online Dictionaries. Add yours.

Since haiku are soooo short, a lengthy translation inlcuding the meaning might spoil all the meter of your poem. If an appropriate short translation is not available, maybe the footnote will be the final solution.

In cross-cultural context such as haiku translations, I guess we will need a lot of footnotes and tools like the KIGO database, to get as close as we can to the real meaning and associations hinted at in the original.

Here are now the footnotes for the above haiku :

muni ~ One who is silent, a sage ~ [ From Mownam ~ Silence]

dhyaana ~ Dhyaana is now an English word which means roughly meditation.



Goals of my translation (in order of importance):
by "chibi" (pen-name for Dennis M. Holmes)

(1) to translate the feeling of the poem

(2) tranform the words from the host language to equivalent words of the Japanese language (transform has in this case a mathematical meaning in that picking the best word/phrase must transform from one culture to another keeping in mind the first goal

(3) construct as closely as possible into the Japanese form for haiku (5-7-5, kigo, and kireji)

Read the full discussion here:


Some remarks by Larry Bole:

I'm not a translator, but I've read about the problems inherent in translating poetry from one language to another.

I think that one quality a good translation has is to sound good in the target language. That's why some very good translations have been made by poets in the target language who have no working knowledge of the source language. Good poets have a tendency to know what sounds good in their language.

I think that in many cases, literalness needs to be sacrificed in favor of giving the 'spirit' or 'intent' of the original. Since cranes walk in a stately, graceful, solemn way, (as has been noted in other languages, ie. Dylan Thomas' "heron-priested shore"), you need to fill-in what a Japanese person would 'expect' (sasuga).

An explanation of the cultural background of a poem should be footnoted more than it frequently is in many translations of poetry in general.

In the old Japanese calendar, New Year's Day and the official first day of spring come at the same time of year, but don't always coincide. Sometimes the official first day of spring came before New Year's Day. I believe Basho and Issa even wrote haiku about this phenomenon.

The New Year is usually treated as a separate haiku topic from spring, so I would be careful about using the New Year and spring interchangeably in translation.

In "The Essential Haiku" by Robert Hass, he includes "A Note on Translation" which is worth reading.

In "Section V" (subsection 9) of Blyth's first volume of "Haiku," he writes about translation.

Although I've only read some online material by Robin Gill, his books on translating haiku come highly recommended.

Quoted from : Translating Haiku Forum

First Spring (hatsu haru) and more kigo of the New Year season.

The Poet Robert Pinksy on translations


My Archives about Haiku Theory


To the Daruma Museum Index

To the Worldkigo Database


anonymous said...

quote by
by David G. Lanoue

Before there could be a question of writing haiku in English, English speakers had to learn how to read it. As translations of Japanese haiku began to appear in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they were often met with consternation if not outright hostility. In 1905, in an article published in the Fortnightly Review, J. C. Balet and L. DeFrance complain that Japanese poetry “lacks fullness” (642). Two years later, in his Letters from the Far East, Captain F. Brinkley complains, “The three-lined poems, or Haikai . . . are not only impressionist, but so elliptical and enigmatical as to be unintelligible to a foreigner . . . It does not . . . appear that any poet of genius, or even of particular talent, has arisen” in Japan (152). Limiting poems to three lines, Captain Brinkley claims, amounted to an “enforced dwarfing of possible Homers” that was “disastrous to the national genius” (151).

more is here

Why Translation Matters said...

Why Translation Matters
by Edith Grossman.