After Bashō

by Ronald Wallace



after Bashō


There are over 100 translations of Bashō’s frog. The

literal version, phonetically, reads thus: Fu-ru (old)

i-ke (pond) ya ka-wa-zu (frog)—or, old pond

frog—to-bi-ko-mu (jumping into) mi-zu (water)—or, a

jumping into water—no o-to (sound). The frog

doesn’t care if he’s lost in translation. He jumps

anyway, and his meaning jumps with him. In

English, that frog water sound might be kerplunk!

I have my own small pond in the country. Now

and then, as I walk around it, a frog jumps in. The

sound it now makes, after Bashō, is always the sound

of Bashō’s frog. The sound of the water is the sound of

his famous haiku, or “play verse,” to translate the

term literally. An old pond. Bashō jumps into the water.



From For Dear Life, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015, page 52. Note that the last words of each line of the poem, read vertically from top to bottom, form a haiku by Bashō. This form is known as a “golden shovel.” See also “And Yet,” “Bellwether,” and “Song of Myself.”        +