Pearls – Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Michael R. Burch  (born February 19, 1958) is an American computer company executive, poet, columnist, essayist and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the originator and editor  of  The HyperTexts a literary website which has been online for two decades and, according to Google Analytics, has received more than eight million page views since 2010. He has also been very active in the poetry movements known as New Formalism and Neo-Romanticism. He is an editor and publisher of Holocaust, Hiroshima, Trail of Tears, Darfur and Nakba poetry. He has translated poetry from Old English and other languages into modern English. Poets he has translated include Basho, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Burns, William Dunbar, Allama Iqbal, Ono no Komachi, Miklos Radnoti, Rainer Maria Rilke, Renee Vivien and Sappho. His work has appeared in such publications as Light Quarterly, The Lyric, The Chariton Review, The Chimaera, Able Muse, Lucid Rhythms, Writer’s Digest—The Year’s Best Writing, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, The Best of the Eclectic Muse and Iambs & Trochees.

Michael Burch is also a peace activist, the author of the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative, a proposal for peace through justice in Israel and Palestine. He was one of the featured speakers at a Freedom Walk for Palestinians held on October 10, 2009 in Nashville.




Pearls are small, hard, durable and, at times, valuable, like the brief poems of Michael R. Burch. His epigrams show a mastery of concision, balance, brevity and wit. He can use rhyme deftly and humorously, even in a title such as “Nun Fun Undone”. Adding rhyme to the haiku form, which he sometimes employs, may antagonise the purists; but it works. He is not afraid of emotional honesty as in the brief poem below for his wife, Beth. In a post on The Hypertexts site  he amusingly recounts how he was banned for life from the Eratosphere site  for such honesty.

He has also translated a wide variety of short poems. While he calls these “loose translations” they do not deviate far from more exact translators. His versions of Sappho, for example, appeal to me more than the, perhaps, more accurate but, also, more austere versions of Anne Carson. As he explains in a note on the Athenian Epitaphs, “These are epitaphs (a form of epigram) translated from inscriptions on ancient Greek tombstones. I use the term ‘after’ in my translations because these are loose translations rather than ultra-literal translations.”  He has translated widely from the Japanese and has introduced me to the ninth century Japanese poetry of  Ono no Komachi who wrote tanka (also known as waka).


Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child

―for the children of Gaza

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.


Piercing the Shell

If we strip away all the accouterments of war,
perhaps we’ll discover what the heart is for.


Autumn Conundrum

It’s not that every leaf must finally fall,
it’s just that we can never catch them all.



Love is either wholly folly,
or fully holy.


If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.


Nun Fun Undone

are not for excesses!


Saving Graces

for the Religious Right

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter …
(wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.)


The Whole of Wit

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.


Love has the value
of gold, if it’s true;
if not, of rue.


A snake in the grass
lies, hissing


Dark-bosomed clouds
pregnant with heavy thunder …
the water breaks


Warming Her Pearls

for Beth

Warming her pearls, her breasts
gleam like constellations.
Her belly is a bit rotund . . .
she might have stepped out of a Rubens.



fragment 11

You ignite and inflame me …
You melt me.


fragment 42

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.


fragment 52

The moon has long since set;
the Pleiades are gone;
now half the night is spent,
yet here I lie—alone.


fragment 58



 fragment 155

A short revealing frock?
It’s just my luck
your lips were made to mock!


More of his translations of Sappho are available on the Sappho page on this briefpoems blog and on the Sappho page of The Hypertexts.



after Plato

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.


after Glaucus

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls in their high, lonely circuits may tell.


after Simonides

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.


after Leonidas of Tarentum

Stranger, flee!
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.


after Diotimus

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she’d confess:
“I am now less than nothingness.”


More of his translations of these ancient Greek epitaphs  are available on the Athenian Epitaphs page of The Hypertexts.



As I slept in isolation
my desired beloved appeared to me;
therefore, dreams have become my reality
and consolation.


Submit to you —
is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?


I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it
already blossoming in his heart.


Though I visit him
continually in my dreams,
the sum of all such ethereal trysts
is still less than one actual, solid glimpse.


the end that awaits me —
to think that before autumn yields
I’ll be a pale mist
shrouding these rice fields.


More of his translations of these tanka are available on the Ono no Komachi page of The Hypertexts.



The butterfly
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid


An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water


The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low


The first chill rain:
poor monkey, you too could use
a woven cape of straw


This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)


The cicada’s cry
contains no hint to foretell
how soon it must die.


High-altitude rose petals
the melody of a waterfall.


More of his translations of Matsuo Basho are available on the Basho page of The Hypertexts.



after  the Japanese of Takaha Shugyo

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven


After the French of Patrick Blanche

One apple, alone
in the abandoned orchard
reddens for winter


After the Japanese of Hisajo Sugita

This day of chrysanthemums
I shake and comb my wet hair,
as their petals shed rain


After the Japanese of Chiyo-ni

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?


After the Japanese of Yosa Buson

White plum blossoms –
though the hour is late,
a glimpse of dawn

(this is believed to be Buson’s death poem; he is said to have died before dawn)


After the Japanese of Kajiwara Hashin

No sky,
no land:
just snow eternally falling …


After the Japanese of Hashimoto Takako

The frozen moon,
the frozen lake:
two oval mirrors reflecting each other.


More of his translations of haiku are available on the Haiku:Best of the Masters page of The Hypertexts.

All poems © Michael R. Burch. Reprinted by permission of the author.



The HyperTexts site curated by Michael R. Burch.

An interview with Judy Jones and selected poems.

A recent (January 2017) interview with Michael R. Burch

An interview on Poet’s Corner.

18 poems by Michael R. Burch on the PoemHunter site.

A larger selection of poems on the Michael R. Burch site.



Frogs – Basho’s Many English Frogs

imageMatsuo Bashō (1644 – 1694), was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan and is still renowned as perhaps Japan’s most popular poet. Today he is recognized as the greatest master of haiku (then called hokku). And his most famous haiku, probably the most famous poem in Japan, is his brief poem about the frog jumping into the water of an old pond. It has the same iconic status in Japanese poetry as William Carlos Williams’ red wheelbarrow has in American poetry, William Wordworth’s daffodils has in English poetry and William Butler Yeats’s Lake Isle of Innisfree has in Irish poetry.

Basho’s frog haiku is almost definitely the most famous haiku ever composed. Here is the poem in the original Japanese:



Furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto

And here is a literal translation:

Fu-ru (old) i-ke (pond) ya, ka-wa-zu (frog) to-bi-ko-mu (jumping into) mi-zu (water) no o-to (sound)

This haiku, by Basho, was said to have occurred when Basho’s Zen master, Boncho, was visiting him. According to legend, the master had asked Basho a koan-like question (meaning a riddle with no answer) and Basho, instead of searching for an answer, replied with “a frog jumps into, the sound of water.” This may be true as Basho was living, at that time, in a cottage-hut his students had built for him on the marshy ground at the edge of what is now Tokyo. So he was living in an area with plenty of frogs.

The first line is a simple setting of the scene -“The old pond.” A frog appears, suggesting twilight. To the Japanese, frogs are pleasant little creatures, full of energy and activity. It jumps in the pond and creates a sound. The word “oto” is onomatopoeic. It is interesting to see various Western attempts to translate this word and sound. There is “splash” (used by six of the translators below: Jozy Big Mountain, Lucien Stryk, Eli Siegel, Peter Beilenson, Dion O’Donnol and Cid Corman); there is “plop” (used by four: Alan Watts, Peter Beilenson, James Kirkup and Harold Stewart); there is “plash” (used by Clare Nikt); there is “plunks” (used by Dick Batten); then there is my favourite, “kerplunk!” (used by Allen Ginsberg).

I tried to translate the poem myself but, knowing no Japanese and not having the brevity associated both with the haiku and with the poems on this post, it morphed into a sonnet.

Basho’s Frog

That day a dark vermillion sky,
like a Turner water-colour, was seen
reflected in an old pond where, nearby,
the poet Basho watched a small, unclean
and speckled frog jump in the evening air
and meet the water with a gentle plop,
an almost soundless splash, a plash near where
the other sounds of twilight seemed to stop
as Basho, without writing, memorised
that gentle movement and, with a sad smile,
acknowledged to himself he had devised
a way to turn a frog into a style.
So: this is my version of Basho’s frog.
Go: post your comments on my briefpoems blog.




Old pond – frogs jumped in – sound of water.

Lafcadio Hearn


The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water.

R. H. Blyth


An old pond —
The sound
Of a diving frog.

Kenneth Rexroth


Pond, there, still and old!
A frog has jumped from the shore.
The splash can be heard.

Eli Siegel


The old pond, yes, and
A frog-jumping-in-the-
Water’s noise!

G. S. Fraser


The old pond, aye! And the sound of a frog leaping into the water.

Basil Hall Chamberlain


An old pond
A frog jumps in —
Sound of water.

Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite


old pond
frog leaping

Cid Corman


The silent old pond
a mirror of ancient calm,
a frog-leaps-in splash.

Dion O’Donnol


The old pond,
A frog jumps in:

Alan Watts


The old pond
A frog jumped in,

Allen Ginsberg


Listen! a frog
Jumping into the stillness
Of an ancient pond!

Dorothy Brittan


Old pond,
Young frog.

Jozy Big Mountain


The old green pond is silent; here the hop
Of a frog plumbs the evening stillness: plop!

Harold Stewart


Old pond
leap — splash
a frog.

Lucien Stryk


The old pond —
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

Robert Hass



Peter Beilenson


dark old pond
a frog plunks in

Dick Batten


Hear the lively song
of the frog in

Clare Nikt



James Kirkup




A Contrarian View of Basho’s Frog

Further translations of the poem (including a Limerick version) available on the Suiseki blog.

Jane Reichhold discusses the poem on her website.

Dan King gives his response to the poem

Chen-ou Liu discusses the poem.

David Landis Barnhill discusses the poem.