Translations of Japanese waka, tanka, renga and haiku

Translations of Japanese waka, tanka, renga and haiku

A Poem by Michael R. Burch

These are my loose translations/interpretations of some of the oldest Japanese waka, which evolved into poetic forms such as tanka, renga and haiku. 

While you decline to cry,
high on the mountainside
a single stalk of plumegrass wilts.
O no Yasumaro (circa 711), translation by Michael R. Burch

Hush, cawing crows; what rackets you make!
Heaven's indignant messengers,
you remind me of wordsmiths!
O no Yasumaro, translation by Michael R. Burch

Onyx, this gem-black night.
Downcast, I await your return
like the rising sun, unrivaled in splendor.
O no Yasumaro, translation by Michael R. Burch

Watching wan moonlight
illuminate bare tree limbs,
my heart also brims,
overflowing with autumn.
Ono no Komachi (c. 825-900), translation by Michael R. Burch

As I slept in isolation
my desired beloved appeared to me;
therefore, dreams have become my reality
and consolation.
Ono no Komachi, translation by Michael R. Burch

Submit to you 
is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?
Ono no Komachi, translation by Michael R. Burch

I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it 
already blossoming in his heart.
Ono no Komachi, translation by Michael R. Burch

Sad, the end that awaits me 
to think that before autumn yields
I'll be a pale mist
shrouding these rice fields.
Ono no Komachi, translation by Michael R. Burch

If fields of autumn flowers
can shed their blossoms, shameless, 
why can't I also frolic here 
as fearless and as blameless?
Ono no Komachi, translation by Michael R. Burch

This world?
Moonlit dew
flicked from a crane’s bill
Eihei Dogen Kigen (1200-1253), translation by Michael R. Burch

I entered the world empty-handed
and leave it barefoot.
My coming and going?
Two uncomplicated events
that became entangled.
Kozan Ichikyo (1283-1360), translation by Michael R. Burch

Snow-obscured heights,
mist-shrouded slopes:
this spring evening
Ilio Sogi (1421-1502), translation by Michael R. Burch

Soundlessly they go,
the herons passing by:
arrows of snow
filling the sky
Yamazaki Sokan (1464-1552), translation by Michael R. Burch

O, fluttering moon, if only we
could hang a handle on you,
what a fan you would be!
Yamazaki Sokan, translation by Michael R. Burch

Has an orphaned blossom
somehow returned to its bough?
No, a solitary butterfly!
Arakida Moritake (1472-1549), translation by Michael R. Burch

Life: a solitary butterfly
swaying unsteadily on a slender grass-stalk,
nothing more. But ah! so exquisite!
Nishiyama Soin (1605-1682), translation by Michael R. Burch

The hushed sound
of the scarecrow falling
gently to the ground!
Nozawa Boncho (1640-1714), translation by Michael R. Burch

When no wind at all
ruffles the Kiri tree
leaves fall of their own will
Nozawa Boncho, translation by Michael R. Burch

The butterfly 
perfuming its wings 
fans the orchid
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), translation by Michael R. Burch

Winter in the air:
my neighbor,
how does he fare?
Matsuo Basho, translation by Michael R. Burch

The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low
Matsuo Basho, translation by Michael R. Burch

Lightning
shatters the darkness―
the night heron's shriek
Matsuo Basho, translation by Michael R. Burch

This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)
Matsuo Basho, translation by Michael R. Burch

The cheerful-chirping cricket
contends gray autumn's gay,
contemptuous of frost
Matsuo Basho, translation by Michael R. Burch

An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water
Matsuo Basho, translation by Michael R. Burch

Come, investigate loneliness!
a solitary leaf
clings to the Kiri tree
Matsuo Basho, translation by Michael R. Burch

Motionless spring mist:
mid-afternoon lethargy
Kyorai Mukai (1651-1704), translation by Michael R. Burch

My eyes,
having observed all sums,
returned to the white chrysanthemums
Kosugi Issho (1652-1688), translation by Michael R. Burch

The childless woman,
how tenderly she caresses
homeless dolls...
Hattori Ransetsu (1654-1707), translation by Michael R. Burch

“Isn’t it time,”
the young bride asks,
“to light the lantern?”
Ochi Etsujin (1656-1739), translation by Michael R. Burch

Disdaining grass,
the firefly nibbles nettles
this is who I am.
Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707), translation by Michael R. Burch

These useless dreams, alas!
Over fields of wilted grass
winds whisper as they pass.
―Uejima Onitsura (1661-1738), translation by Michael R. Burch

Observe:
see how the wild violets bloom
within the forbidden fences!
―Shida Yaba (1663-1740), translation by Michael R. Burch

A white swan
parts the cherry-petalled pond
with her motionless breast
Roka (1671-1703), translation by Michael R. Burch

Brittle cicada shell,
little did I know
you were my life!
Shuho (?-1767), translation by Michael R. Burch

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?
Fukuda Chiyo-ni (1703-1775), translation by Michael R. Burch

Because morning glories
hold my well-bucket hostage
I go begging for water
Fukuda Chiyo-ni, translation by Michael R. Burch

Our life here on earth:
shall we compare it
to a rowboat departing at daybreak,
leaving no trace of us in its wake?
Yosa Buson (1716-1784), translation by Michael R. Burch

A kite floats
at the same place in the sky
where yesterday it floated...
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), translation by Michael R. Burch

Picking autumn plums
my wrinkled hands
once again grow fragrant
―Yosa Buson, translation by Michael R. Burch

All evening the softest sound―
the cadence of the white camellia petals
falling
―Ranko Takakuwa (1726-1798), translation by Michael R. Burch

Stillness:
the sound of petals
drifting down softly together...
―Miura Chora (1729-1780) translation by Michael R. Burch

Standing unsteadily,
I am the scarecrow’s
skinny surrogate
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), translation by Michael R. Burch

Petals I amass
with such tenderness
prick me to the quick
―Kobayashi Issa, translation by Michael R. Burch

This world of dew
is a world of dew indeed;
and yet...
―Kobayashi Issa, translation by Michael R. Burch

Bury me beneath a wine barrel
in a bibber’s cellar:
with a little luck the keg will leak.
Moriya Senan (?-1838), translation by Michael R. Burch

Learn to accept the inevitable:
the fall willow
knows when to abandon its leaves.
Tanehiko (1782-1842), translation by Michael R. Burch

Darkness speaks
a bat in flight
flits through a thicket.
Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I’m tired,
so please be so kind as to swat the flies
softly.
Masaoka Shiki, loose translation by Michael R. Burch


I'm trying to sleep!
Please swat the flies
lightly
―Masaoka Shiki, translation by Michael R. Burch

Grasses wilt:
the braking locomotive
grinds to a halt.
―Yamaguchi Seishi (1874-1959), translation by Michael R. Burch

Keywords/Tags: Japanese, translations, haiku, waka, tanka, renga, nature, seasons

© 2020 Michael R. Burch


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Added on September 22, 2020
Last Updated on September 22, 2020
Tags: Japanese, translations, haiku, waka, tanka, renga, nature, seasons