by David Lehman
This is really a translation, not a poem about haiku, but still of interest. From Poems in the Manner Of . . . (New York: Scribner Poetry, 2017), page 18. This version of Bashō’s famous poem has, of course, been done before, by James Kirkup, with all lowercase letters, albeit with “plop!” as the last line, in a parody variation by Douglas Hofstadter, in 5-7-5 letters, with “swamp / tadpole / plunk,” and perhaps by others. On the same page as his offering, Lehman writes, “A proper haiku has seventeen syllables stretched across three lines in a pattern of five-seven-five. On a visit to Japan in 1990 I translated Bashō’s famous haiku as many as two dozen times. The most successful of my efforts does away entirely with the rules and consists of merely three syllables.” Despite this claim, it is misinformed to believe that a “proper” haiku should be seventeen syllables in a 5-7-5 pattern, or to believe that this is a “rule” for English, when English syllables do not equate to the sounds (not syllables) counted in Japanese. That belief may be the popular understanding, but it is misinformed.