Heeding Haiku With Chèvrefeuille October 14th 2015

Old Pond (1) by Basho

Dear friends of MLMM,

First I have to apologize for being this late with posting a new episode of Heeding Haiku. I had a very busy week and had lack of time, but I hope you all will forgive me for being this late.

Here is our new episode of Heeding Haiku With … I love to challenge you this week with a, maybe very strange, task. As you maybe know haiku is the impression of a moment as short as the sound of a pebble thrown in water. So before composing a haiku you had an experience which caught your attention and gave you the opportunity to write a haiku about. I love to challenge you this week by asking you to “re-write” a haiku by one of the classic haiku masters.
I will give you the haiku and the story which stood at the birth of the haiku.

For this challenge I have chosen a haiku, you all certainly know, written by Basho (1644-1694).

furu ike ya / kawazu tobi komu / mizu no oto

old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

This verse, now so famous, was first published in a selection of haiku ‘Haru no Hi’ (Spring Day). What, at first made his haiku interesting was the fact that in poetry up until this time, frogs were mentioned for their croaking but never for their leaping. However, with the passage of time, countless translations and copies, this haiku has only grown more special.

The background of this haiku is not so well known, so let me tell you something about that …

Basho was living in a hermitage in Edo (nowadays Tokyo) where there was a pond. There were some Japanese yellow roses (yamabuki) growing around it. On one quiet early spring day, around the end of March, Basho was with Kikaku and heard a frog jump into the pond. It was a moment when he understood the idea of tranquility. One of Badho’s disciples, Shiko wrote about the process in his haiku essay, “Kuzu no Matsubara” published in 1692.

[…] First Basho thought of the 7-5 sound units, “kawazu tobi komu mizu no oto”, conveying the idea that “a frog jumped in with the sound of water”. Then he tried to think of a good 5 units for the first line. Kikaku proposed ‘yamabuki ya’ (Japanese yellow rose). Basho said that yamabuki would be elegant, but to showy. He said ‘furu ike ya’ should be used because it is simple and truthful’ […]

Kikaku’s idea was easily understood and the combination of a frog and yamabuki was common at that time, but Basho’s was a novel idea. The word ”old pond” was from traditional Chinese literature and was associated with the hermit life. Many haiku poets were so impressed with this modest simplicity that several stories related to Zen Buddhism were fabricated about the haiku.

Isn’t it a wonderful story? It’s a joy to read how even Basho sometimes had trouble with the composing of his haiku. Haiku is a way of collaborating poetry as we have seen above.

Yamabuki (Yellow Roses, Kerria Japonica)
Yamabuki (Yellow Roses, Kerria Japonica)

Now … up to our challenge to revise this haiku by Basho. It will not be easy but … well worth the try. By the way: maybe it feels like desecration to revise this famous haiku by Basho, but I think that it can help us to learn from the master himself. How to write a good, well balanced and beautiful haiku. So let us go for it and try to revise this famous haiku.

yellow roses
surrounding an old pond
a frog jumps in

Or maybe ….

the sound of water –
yellow roses in the rain
the silence deepens

Or … what do you think of this revised version:

deep silence
broken by the sound of water –
a frog jumps in

And what to think of this one:

an old pond –
the silence deepens
as frogs start croaking

I was on a roll with this revising so here I have two others to think about:

rippling water
as frogs jump into –
yellow roses bloom

the old pond
surrounded with yellow roses –
rippling water

To conclude this episode of “Heeding Haiku With …”. R.H.Blyth describes in his Haiku Vol.2 this famous haiku as follows:

[…] ”The pond is old, in an old garden. The trees are ages old, the trunks green with moss that covers the stones. The very silence itself goes back beyond men and their noises. A frog jumps in. The whole garden, the whole universe contained in one single plop!-sound that is beyond sound and silence, and yet is the sound of the water of the old pond”. […]

Well … a lot to read and to empathize with … become part of the scene. You’re in contact with Basho … try to re-live the scenery and maybe … you can come up with a revised version of this world famous haiku by the master himself.

I hope I have inspired you with this episode of Heeding Haiku With …

When you have written your poem(s), please TAG Heeding Haiku with Chèvrefeuille and Mindovemisery’s Menagerie. Then add your link to the Mister Linky widget below


  1. […] mindlovemisery Heeding Haiku With Chèvrefeuille prompt by Chèvrefeuille “For this challenge I have chosen a haiku, you all certainly know, written by Basho (1644-1694).” furu ike ya / kawazu tobi komu / mizu no oto […]


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