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Translating Basho : matsutake pine mushrooms

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Larry Bole:
Sorry to be joining this discussion so late, but I find it very interesting.

Here is David Barnhill's translation:

it's become so ragged
it looks like a pine

and I found Oseko's translation online at, of all places, a Japanese confectionary site(!):

A matsutake mushroom!
With its skin scarred, it looks like
A real pine tree!

Regarding hodo: in my Random House Japanese-English dictionary, meaning #3 is given as "to (" And the online EUDict says it means "degree, extent, bounds, limit."

In fact, Barnhill uses the word "extent" in his literal translation:

mushroom! / worn extent as-for / pine's appearance

Here is Reichhold's literal translation:

pine mushroom <> / scratched surface (state of being) / pine tree's shape

I was thinking of a pine tree looking like a tall triangle, narrowing to a point at the top. So I liked up "red pine" on Wikipedia. There are pictures of several varieties at the Wikipedia entry. None look like my image of a pine. I then looked up 'matsudake'. The picture of a red pine at the Wikipedia entry that most looks like the mushroom to me is the middle picture in the top row under "References", the one that is described as "Planted in a Japanese Garden."

As far as I can tell, only three translators who have published translations (outside of scholarly journals) have bothered to translate this haiku into English: Oseko, Barnhill, and Reichhold. And I can understand why--it seems a little artificial to me, although one could see in it a pointing out of an underlying unity of things, of correspondence between things. Of course, if kabureta (kabureru?) means "influenced by," or "reacting to," then I can see that. I must be missing something regarding how kabureta gets translated as "ragged" or "scarred."

Although both Barnhill and Reichhold list the haiku's date in their notes to the haiku as being in a period from 1684 to 1694, Reichhold puts it in her years 1692-94  section of translations, which would put it in Basho's 'karumi' style period. Basho started out writing often very clever, Danrin-style haiku, and I don't think a tendency to indulge in cleverness ever wholly left him, even in his 'karumi'-style period. This haiku seems to me to have a touch of that cleverness about it. Too much cleverness in poetry is not to my taste, although it is a prevalent style in contemporarly mainstream English-language poetry.


Gabi Greve:
Hi Larrry,

yabureta, ragged ... have a look at the bark of the akamatsu, which is the part of the tree Basho is comparing his mushroom to.

Matsutake - The name comes from the area where the mushroom grows, in a pine grove of Japanese red pines (akamatsu).
The broken parts of the hat look like the broken bark of akamatsu.
anyway, to translate matsutake simply as "mushroom" does not help the understanding.

Don Baird:

it looks more like a red pine
with its ragged top

I think this would infer that the more ragged the top, the more it looks like a pine.  jmho


Gabi Greve:
it looks more like a red pine
with its ragged top


This would imply, more than any other mushroom, if my German is not too much interfering.

Yours is a nice version, but the nihongo is a bit different in nuance.

Also, I wonder if the name "Matsutake" is well enough known outside of Japan to be used as a word in this poem?

matsutake ya kabureta hodo wa matsu no nari

Basho could put a lot of information in these three sections:

The name of the mushroom comes from the area where the mushroom grows, in a pine grove of Japanese red pines (akamatsu).
But as Basho takes a closer look, he finds that the form of the mushroom itself resembles the tree.
The broken, tattered (yabureta) parts of the hat look like the broken bark of akamatsu.
The haiku contains the kireji (cutting word YA) at the end of line 1
It also contains the word HODO ... the more of this ... the more of that

So here is my paraverse, containing all the information in the haiku by Basho

pine mushrooms -
the more ragged their tops
the more they  look like red pine
AAAAA, Don san,  have you ever tasted dobin mushi ?


Don Baird:
Yes ... hodo, in the end, is extremely important here.  I wasn't able to make that evident enough in the version I posted.  Quite the puzzle - Japanese to English.  It's just as hard however, English to Japanese!



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