Author Topic: First person pronouns  (Read 5540 times)

Laura Sherman

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First person pronouns
« on: December 17, 2010, 11:18:08 PM »
Do you think it is OK to slip in a "me" or "my" into a haiku now and again?  Or does that take something away from the reader's experience?

I'm interested in your viewpoint!

Thanks!

Laura

cat

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2010, 11:51:45 PM »
Hello, Laura,

I see nothing wrong with it.

Although it's always risky to cite something in translation because there's no way of knowing if the translation is spot on or far afield, your question reminded me of this lovely haiku by Chiyo-ni:

grazing
my fishing line --
the summer moon

I'm going to suggest that even though "the" is a definite article, "grazing/the fishing line" is a whole lot weaker and distances the reader.

Let's see what the experts say.

cat
"Nature inspires me. I am only a messenger."  ~Kitaro

Don Baird

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2010, 05:02:09 AM »
Hello,

In my opinion, it's a perfectly acceptable thing to do.  A great example is from the book Masaoka Shiki translated by Burton Watson, a top expert in the field.

from the firefly
in my hands,
cold light

(of course, it won't translate into S/L/S in English etc. )

A recent one of mine:

my cat
curled up at my feet
curled up more

We are part of the nature as much as any other being could be.  There's no way that the masters nor us could continuously leave ourselves out of the picture of our experiences.  I support the inclusion very strongly.  Yet, it's always good to vary our writing a bit so we don't beat it to death, too.  In this case it is my cat and I wanted that relationship (truth) to be an aspect of the haiku.  It was truth.

Another from Shiki:

under my sandal souls
the sweet smell
of meadow grasses

translated by Watson.

When it is right in your mind... it's that perfect time to use it, do it!  That's what the haiku is calling for and needs to fulfill its truth.  I truly believe we must first and foremost write the truth and do so as though everything is part of that truth.  From the truth of what we witness and seeing the clarity in it, we discover our haiku.  When we deny the intrinsic truth, we end up manufacturing the haiku.  That becomes the stumbling block to writing fine haiku that are objective but truthful in the sense of higher truth and clarity as a result.  We don't answer to editors primarily.  We answer to ourselves for not pursing truth and we're included in it completely.  

However, again, it isn't something to be used cheaply nor easily.  Nothing is really.  Each word is so important:  each one must be weighed perfectly.  And, then craft the haiku the way it needs to be.  After that, move on and write more.  Some will be celebrated while others may ignored.  It doesn't matter either way.  Write them anyway the way they really need to be written.

Just me thinking out loud.  I apologize for getting too into it.  But this stuff reveals my passion for fine haiku writing and its truth.

many blessings

Don


« Last Edit: December 18, 2010, 12:41:58 PM by Don Baird »
I write haiku because they're there ...

through
the hole of a cheerio,
spring!

Bea

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #3 on: December 18, 2010, 06:59:04 AM »
Don, I really appreciate your thoughts on truth in haiku. It gives me new insight.

Thanks!
Bea

Laura Sherman

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #4 on: December 18, 2010, 09:00:43 AM »
Cat, I love this haiku. Thank you for the excellent illustration!  That's the thing with using "my." It is so personal.  For me it allows me to enter the scene far more easily than "the" in this case.

Don, Wow!  I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject. I applaud your passion and pursuit of truth. I love both haiku that you present here. Your cat one is brilliant and so intimate. It is beautiful and one that I will read many times for its beauty.

Through my exploration of haiku I run into many viewpoints. I enjoy hearing all sides so that I can learn.

Mark Harris

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #5 on: December 18, 2010, 10:37:20 AM »
spring sunshine
my dead wife’s handprints
on the windowpane

            David Cobb
                                
                                 this haiku won the Ashiya Intl. Takahama Kyoshi Award
« Last Edit: December 18, 2010, 12:21:44 PM by Mark Harris »

chibi575

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2010, 02:41:57 PM »
$.02

Japanese uses the implied pronoun in their writing of poetry and in general because of the structure of their language.  Well, when translators are pressed to transfer that to English they will use with some justification pronouns.  Many translations therefore show the pronouns that in the original are not there.  Sometimes this works, and, sometimes this is forced.  Most Japanese poems, such as haiku, restricted to the 5-7-5 rule do not use an implied pronoun simply because a more formal language representation of the poem may not fit.  This has been my observation on re-translating Japanese (although I have translated from and translated to tens of times, not hundreds of times, so I consider my personal observation limited, but, I believe is a verifiable pattern).

The pronoun in English may not be the best used in short poetry because using pronouns tend to close the poetry and are auhor centric... my, I, we, our, etc.,.  I generally have found a trap in using pronouns for short poetry for this reason if you are trying to write nature centric poetry.  This is also up to a particular author's style.  One of the techniques I found freeing in poetry is to remove the author centric style and focus more on the nature centric style.

Let me sight Shiki's example (translated) used previously (thanks, Don):

under my sandal souls
the sweet smell
of meadow grasses

I would like to see the original Japanese to see if "my" was actually used as well as "souls" (but this may be a typo).

Let's assume "my" was used, then, I might question was Shiki's intent his particular sandal or did he mean someone's sandal?  Let me also say, translator's have to compromise constantly and decide not only whether this understandable in the translation and will be forced to take readability over accuracy at times (because author intent and meaning in poetry is especially difficult).

Now, let me take another sited example (again translated) (thank you, cat):

grazing
my fishing line --
the summer moon

Again I question the "my" and I would like to see the original Japanese it could have read:

grazing
fishing line --
summer moon!

The adding of the "the" is definitely a translation choice as well as punctuation.  We English readers are more comfortable with pronouns and articles, and so translators are too, but, they usually are comfort food added to the original Japanese.


知美

Don Baird

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2010, 03:27:24 PM »
Burton Watson is one of the world's foremost translators of Chinese and Japanese.  His translations can be found at Columbia University Press for such things as The Lotus Sutra. The Vimalakirti Sutra, Rvokan: Zen Monk Poet of Japan, Masaoka Shiki (selected poems) and so forth.

The following:
*************
Burton Watson (born 1925) is an accomplished translator[1] of Chinese and Japanese literature and poetry. He has received awards including the Gold Medal Award of the Translation Center at Columbia University in 1979, the PEN Translation Prize in 1981[2] for his translation with Hiroaki Sato of From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry, and again in 1995 for Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o.

Watson was born in New Rochelle, New York. He dropped out of high school at age 17 to join the Navy in 1943 and was stationed on repair vessels in the South Pacific. His first experiences in Japan came of weekly shore leaves when he was stationed on a ship at Yokosuka Harbor in 1945. Subsequently, he majored in Chinese and Japanese studies at Columbia University. In 1951[3] he returned to Kyoto, this time as a Ford Foundation Overseas Fellow[2]. In 1956 he completed a dissertation on Sima Qian, earning a Ph.D. from Columbia University.[1] He worked as an English teacher at Doshisha University in Kyoto, as a research assistant to Yoshikawa Kōjirō, who was Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Kyoto University[4], and as a member of Ruth Fuller Sasaki's team translating Buddhist texts into English[1]. He has also taught at Stanford and Columbia as a professor of Chinese. He moved to Japan in 1973, where he remains to this day, and has devoted much of his time to translation.

His experience is an entire life time.  Not just in the tens but in the thousands of translations he has rendered with incredible sincerity and reputation.
************
Therefore, I trust this gentleman's credibility.  I'm sure he has looked his work over extremely carefully and has come to the conclusion that the use of "my" was absolutely necessary in order to maintain the intent of the haiku in English.  For more info on him folks can start here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burton_Watson   It's a quick beginning.  There's more if you research, by far.

all the best,

Don

I write haiku because they're there ...

through
the hole of a cheerio,
spring!

chibi575

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2010, 03:58:40 PM »
Tsurizao no ito ni sawaru ya natsu no tsuki

釣竿の糸に触るや夏の月

a fishing pole's
line touches --
summer's moon

(of course this is the almost straight translation from Japanese to English)

As I feel, it is the translator's style to give comfort to the reader.  Chiyo-ni was taught by diciples of Bashou and adapted Bashou's recommendation of "to write of pine be the pine" (paraphrased from my mixed memory).  Her poem is beautifully simple and straight forward.  She was often critizied for this style because of its "lack of depth and sophistication" by her peers!!

When first I read then re-translated this poem, I believe it was from "Chiyo-ni, Woman Haiku Master" I realized that this a poem that spoke to me on several levels (in my opinion leaving out fishing pole was unfortunate because of my childhood memories of fishing with a cane pole rigged by myself).  I envisioned the moon a bobber and the fishing pole line transfering a fishes nibble.  The original Japanese brings so much more to the scene in my opinion.

My point is that there is no possive personal pronoun in the Japanese and this allows anyone into the scene directly.  You are not Chiyo-ni but instead participate in the moment as yourself.  Is this not brilliant? 

Oops... make that $.04.
知美

cat

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #9 on: December 18, 2010, 06:13:18 PM »
Hello again,

The finer points of translation aside (even translating my own poem into French for the Haiku Canada members' anthology was a stretch for me), I wonder if some of this pronoun conundrum relates to how we read.

I have heard people say that when they encounter the first-person pronoun (singular or plural), they feel that the poem is "closed" to them.  For me it is just the opposite.  When I read that translation of Chiyo-Ni's poem (the one I referred to), I was immediately transported.  I was by a quiet pond on a summer evening, a bamboo pole in my hands, and there was that moon, just touching my line.  I was there.  I felt it.  That is the effect that "my" had on me.  The rest of the versions seem more distant to me, because I am not in there experiencing the scene from the inside.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that for most of my life, I wrote fiction, and thus internalized viewpoint because I dealt with it every day.  I don't know.

It's the same with "you".  I've heard people say they don't like that, either.  When I read a "you" haiku, I become the "you" -- I feel the poet is speaking directly to me.  I don't wonder who the poet's "you" is -- I don't care, because there's no way I'll ever know.

I dunno.  Just some random thoughts.

cat

P.S., chibi, thank you for the exact translation.  I hope you understand that it's nothing against you that I stubbornly still like the other one for its tranquil beauty.
"Nature inspires me. I am only a messenger."  ~Kitaro

chibi575

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Re: First person pronouns
« Reply #10 on: December 18, 2010, 06:29:09 PM »
Cat...  ;D

I see your point of view and I feel the opposite on personal pronouns, but, you know that's really OK.  I had not considered the view you presented as a writer of fiction.  I can now identify with that view although I see why I feel the opposite but with a broader understanding now.

Because I am doing more and more translations from Japanese the pronoun issues become more and more remote.  But, if you were an editor I was sending work to, I might ask you to add pronouns in light of your feelings and the customers for your publishing product... well maybe I would  ;)

Sincerely

ciao
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