5 Translations of the Frog Pond Haiku by Matsuo Bashō

Basho’s frog and pond haiku has been translated many times by many authors. Looking through some of these translations, I’ve found the following poems, which I consider my favorites. I did not look at the authors until after reading the poems, and Lo, some of these are my favorite authors too!

The old pond,
A frog jumps in:

Translated by Alan Watts
I like this poem because I thought the word “plop” fully represented the sound of water.
(for more Alan Watts, watch this video on nothingness)

old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

Translated by Jane Reichhold
Reichold does something interesting by having the frog jump into the sound, rather than into the pond. These of course are the same, however, in Reichold’s version the haiku moment is more about the sound than about the frog jumping.
(Jane Reichold’s resources on haiku are some of my favorite on the web, especially her list of kigo.)

The old pond
A frog jumped in,

Translated by Allen Ginsberg
this version is a bit silly, and the first two lines read like a nursery rhyme. The last word is somewhat of a surprise, not that the frog makes the sound, but the sound that it makes. Maybe it splashed onto a lily pond or landed on another frog! What a silly thought, and I think Ginsberg was going it.
(Ginsberg is most famous for his poem “Howl” but I like his singing collaboration with Kerouac and Cassady on “Pull My Daisy“).

Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water —
A deep resonance.

Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa
I like the balance of this haiku. We start with silence and we end with something moving towards silence, the ripples of the splash. For me this is a very visual haiku which brings me to a zen moment of ripples: stillness moving.
(This is the first I’ve heard of this poet, but here is his bio: http://www.haijinx.com/authors/n.yuasa.html)

Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.

Translated by Lafcadio Hearn
This poem seems to want to get it over with. I think it is a simple representation of how quickly the frog jump happens. The poem even reads as I’d expect a frog jump to sound. Quick and passing.
(Here is a link to Hearn’s wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lafcadio_Hearn)

And now, with the help of google translate, previous translations, some assumptions and imagination I will give a few attempts at a translation of this poem. Alan Turing might be rolling in his grave considering that I’m using a computer to assist my translation.

leaps into the river styx

frog leaps into old pond sound

frog leaps old pond plop

crowded pond frog jumps in the sound of water

sage pond
the frog jumps in

frog hops in the pond plop


Do you favor any of these poems? If so/if not and why?


3 thoughts on “5 Translations of the Frog Pond Haiku by Matsuo Bashō

  1. I personally like “Frop”! I don’t think you could possibly understand it, if it weren’t in this context, but here, like this, it is whimsical, achieves the 3 basic parts of the haiku (frog, pond, plop), and it has character.
    Nice job, Richard.

    1. Thank you Billie! I agree that, out of context, it wouldn’t make much sense. Maybe it could work as a haiga, paired with an image

Comments are closed.