Blue Aerogrammes – Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Cid (Sidney) Corman (1924 – 2004) was an American poet, translator and editor, most notably of the magazine Origin. He was a seminal figure in the history of American poetry in the second half of the 20th century. Cid Corman was born to Ukrainian parents in Boston where he grew up and was educated. From an early age he was an avid reader and showed an aptitude for drawing and calligraphy. He was excused from service in World War II for medical reasons and graduated from university in Boston in 1945. He studied for his Master’s degree at the University of Michigan, where he won the Hopwood poetry award.  After a brief stint at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he spent some time travelling around the United States, returning to Boston in 1948.

Cid Corman ran poetry events in public libraries and started the country’s first poetry radio program. In 1952, he wrote: “I initiated my weekly broadcasts, known as This Is Poetry, from WMEX in Boston. The program has been usually a fifteen-minute reading of modern verse on Saturday evenings at seven thirty; however, I have taken some liberties and have read from Moby Dick and from stories by Dylan Thomas, Robert Creeley, and Joyce.” This program featured readings by Robert Creeley, Stephen Spender, Theodore Roethke and many other Boston-based and visiting poets. He also spent some time at the Yaddo artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs. It was about this time that Corman changed his name from Sydney Corman to the simpler “Cid.”

In 1951, Corman began Origin in response to the failure of a magazine that Robert Creeley had planned. The magazine typically featured one writer per issue and ran, with breaks, until the mid-1980s. The magazine also led to the establishment of Origin Press, which published books by a wide range of poets as well as by Corman himself and which remains currently active. In 1954, Corman won a Fulbright Fellowship grant and moved to France, where he studied for a time at the Sorbonne. He then moved to Italy to teach English in a small town called Matera. By this time, he had published a number of small books, but his Italian experiences were to provide the materials for his first major work, Sun Rock Man (1962). At this time he produced the first English translations of Paul Celan, even though he didn’t have the poet’s approval.

In 1958, Corman got a teaching job in Kyoto in Japan where he continued to write and to run Origin magazine. There he married Konishi Shizumi, a Japanese TV news editor and began to translate Japanese poetry, particularly work by Bashō and Kusano Shimpei. In Kyoto they established CC’s Coffee Shop, “offering poetry and western-style patisserie.” He was a prolific poet until his final illness, publishing more than 100 books and pamphlets. In 1990, he published the first two volumes of his selected poems, OF, running to some 1500 poems. Volume 3, with a further 750 poems appeared in 1998 and further volumes are planned. Several collections of wide-ranging essays have been published. His translations (or co-translations) include Bashō’s Back Roads to Far TownsThings by Francis Ponge, poems by Paul Celan and collections of haiku.

Cid Corman did not speak, read or write Japanese, even though his co-translation with Susumu Kamaike of Bashō’s Oku No Hosomichi is considered to be one of the most accurate in tone in the English language.

He died in KyotoJapan on March 12, 2004 after being hospitalized for a cardiac condition since January 2004.




I am old enough to remember aerogrammes, those thin sheets of  blue paper which, when folded neatly, could be used to send fairly lengthy letters to international destinations. They preceded the rise of the internet and the development of email. Cid Corman used them regularly and with great ingenuity. Billy Mills, in an article in the Guardian, describes  “the role Cid played as the hub of a global virtual community of writers and artists, one that far pre-dated the advent of the internet and email. He orchestrated this community through the good old postal system by following a very simple rule he set for himself: every letter he received was either answered within 24 hours of arrival or not at all. He typed his answers on blue Japanese aerogrammes and every square inch of space was used, down to the poems specially written for the occasion and placed on the front of the envelope, next to your name and address.” Bob Arnold has selected  and edited some of these poems and printed them, with an introduction, in  The Famous Blue Aerogrammes. Longhouse, 2004. Some are reprinted below.

Cid Corman described his own poems as direct. In conversation with Philip Rowland he had this to say,  I write what I call direct poetry: if you have to ask somebody to explain the poem then I’ve failed. As mentioned above, he was very prolific. His literary executor, Bob Arnold, (whose own poetry features in  Fortune Cookies – Brief Poems by Bob Arnold) has done much to keep his reputation alive. Not only has he published The Famous Blue Aerogrammes (Longhouse 2016) but he has also published  a selection of poems and translation in The Next One Thousand Years (Longhouse, 2008). He is due to publish the final volumes of OF (Longhouse) containing 1,500 poems over 850 pages.


Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Some Haiku

If these words
dont remember you—
forget them.


The leaf at last gets
the drift of wind and so
settles for the ground.


Azaleas gone and
hydrangea trying to make
a show of it yet.


How do you do? How
do you? How-do-you-do-you?
You’re asking too much.


I wear the mask of
myself and very nearly
get away with it.


In the shadow of
the mountain the shadow of
any bird is lost.


There is no end and
never was a beginning – so
here we are – amidst.


Your shadow
on the page
the poem.


Rain-drops. Each
makes a point
of silence.


Some Poems

Poetry becomes
that conversation we could
not otherwise have.



As long as you are here –
Would you turn the page?


The Call

Life is poetry
and poetry is life — O
awaken — people!


There’s only
one poem:
this is it.


What were you

What more is
there than this?


We are all
part of what’s

going on
to have gone.



Live with the living
Die with the dying
And there you are: here.


What have I
to do with

you beyond
being with?



She keeps coming home
to me – of all things – and I
remain home for her.


It isnt for want
of something to say—
something to tell you—

something you should know—
but to detain you–
keep you from going—

feeling myself here
as long as you are—
as long as you are.



from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes

Has it ever
occurred to you
you’re what is oc-
curring to you?


You are here – just as
I had imagined –
imagining me.


Nothing ends with you —
every leaf on the ground
remembers the root.


We wear out
but the sky

looks as new
as ever


Everything is
coming to a head — meaning
blossoms yet to fall.



She waters
the plants downstairs
from upstairs —
so does the rain.


The cry
of all cry –


So that




will be



I wonder. Is it
mere curiosity or
just a quiet glow?


The sun is
my shadow

I shall not
want — it

leadeth me



The weight of

a falling

leaf upon

your shoulder.


So many black flies
getting into the house and
making us killers,


When am I going
to lose my leaves and find I
am the poetry?


Translations from Sappho

You make me think
of a sweet
girl seen once
picking flowers


Spring dusk

Full moon
Girls seem

to be


a shrine


Come and I’ll
have fresh pillows
for your rest

yes, praying
for such a
night again


Am I to
remind you,

that complaint
aint right where



Further translations of Sappho by Cid Corman, together with the original Greek, are available on the Sappho (fragments) page.


Translations from the Japanese of Sengai (1750-1837)

Crown or grid iron —
there’s nothing to think about —
only all to use.


Over Everest
the same old moon shares its light
as clear as ever
but only for eyes ready
to see the darkness clearer.


Moon empty
sky shine
water deepened


Yes or no —
good or bad —
you have come

to this house.
Here is your
tear — your cake.


Translations from the French of Philippe Denis

I was present this morning when a
blossoming tree sweetly escaped.

For what refusal or acquiescence
was the head of the tree nodding
over my page?


The word snow used wildly.
I feel the difficulty of it.

Those mornings when we toss about
on one wing!


To be enchantingly alone. But does
that make any sense?

What we are, we are, most of the time,
thanks to what hasnt completely occurred.



The Poetry Foundation page on Cid Corman with an extensive bibliography.

The Wikipedia page on Cid Corman.

Some haiku by Cid Corman on the TAO site.

A selection from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes.

Original Cid, an article in the Guardian by Billy Mills.

An obituary by Michael Carlson in the Guardian.

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part One

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part Two

Gregory Dunne on Cid Corman and translation.

A selection of Cid Corman books from the Longhouse Press.


The Taste of Rain – American Haiku by Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac,  born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac, (1922 –1969) was an American novelist and poet. Born March 12, 1922, in Lowell, Massachusetts, he was the son of Leo Kerouac, a printer, and Gabrielle Levesque, a factory worker. He did not speak English until he was five years old, using instead a combination of French and English used by the many French-Canadians who settled in New England.  At the age of eleven he began writing novels and made-up accounts of horse races, football games, and baseball games. He received a football scholarship to Columbia University in New York City and arrived there in 1940 where he began to pursue an interest in literature and studied, in particular,  the style of writer Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938). In 1941 Kerouac had an argument with Columbia’s football coach and left school.

Kerouac worked briefly at a gas station and as a sports reporter for a newspaper in Lowell. In 1943 he joined the Navy, but he was honorably discharged after six months. He spent the war years working as a merchant seaman and hanging around Columbia with such writers as  William Burroughs (1914–1997) and Allen Ginsburg (1926–1997). He wrote two novels during this time, The Sea Is My Brother and And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, with Burroughs.

In 1947 Neal Cassady visited New York and asked Kerouac to give him writing lessons. When Cassady returned to Denver, Colorado, Kerouac followed. After a brief time in Denver, Kerouac wandered into California, beginning a four-year period of travel throughout the West. When not on the road, he was in New York working on his novel The Town and The City, (1950).  Kerouac then began to experiment with a more natural writing style. In April, 1951, Kerouac threaded a huge roll of paper into his typewriter and wrote the single 175,000-word paragraph that became On The Road. The more than 100-foot scroll was written in three weeks but was not published for seven years. Sal and Neal, the main characters, scoff at established values and live by a romantic code born out off the West. They are described as “performing our one noble function of the time, move.” In between writing On The Road and its publication, Kerouac took many road trips, became depressed and addicted to drugs and alcohol, and did his most ambitious writing.  When On The Road was published in 1957, Kerouac became instantly famous, a spokesman for the “Beat Generation”, young people in the 1950s and 1960s who scorned middle-class values. His classic book became the bible of the countercultural generation.  Thematically, his work covers topics such as Catholic spirituality, promiscuity, Buddhism, drugs, poverty, and travel. He became an underground celebrity and, with other beats, a progenitor of the hippie movement, although he remained antagonistic toward some of its politically radical elements.

He frequently appeared drunk, and interviews with him usually turned into arguments. In 1958 he wrote The Dharma Bums, a follow-up to On The Road. He then stopped writing for four years. By 1960 he was an alcoholic and had suffered a nervous breakdown. On October 21st, 1969, at the age of 47, while watching the Galloping Gourmet on television, with a pad in his lap and pen in his hand, Jack Kerouac began to hemorrhage and died hours later, a classic alcoholic’s death. He became a mythic figure, his writings directly influencing artists such as the Doors, Lenny Bruce and Bob Dylan.  Since his death, his literary reputation has grown, and several previously unseen works have been published. All of his books are in print today, including his poetry.
He is buried with the rest of his family near Lowell. His grave has been a site of pilgrimage for decades. Mourners leave cigarettes and joints, as well as dollar shots with a sip inside, should he wake up thirsty. Poets impale poems on the pens that wrote them, which are planted in the dirt like a stockade fence to protect the flat, original plaque. The grave received a new headstone in 2014, a waist-high granite slab inscribed with his signature, and his line, “The Road is Life”. The original flat headstone (see image above) remains just in front of the new one, six stones up and three stones deep.




The so-called “Beat Poets” were attracted to Oriental modes of perception and of poetry. The one poet I find most interesting in this group is Gary Snyder, but he was not attached to the haiku form. Allen Ginsberg created many haiku, most of them risible. He did manage to create his own American version of the haiku – a monostich form he called American Sentences. If haiku involved seventeen syllables down the page, he reasoned, American Sentences would be seventeen syllables across the page. It was his attempt, successful at times, to “Americanize” a Japanese form. Like (rough) English approximations of the haiku, American Sentences work closely with concision of line and sharpness of detail.  Unlike its literary predecessor, however, it is compressed into a single line of poetry and often included a reference to a month and year (or alternatively, a location) rather than a season. Some of his more interesting examples are posted on the monostich page of this blog.

Jack Kerouac also attempted to “Americanise” the haiku form. He became acquainted with Gary Snyder in California, and discussed Buddhism and poetry with him. He was interested in Buddhism, and experimented with haiku which he called ‘pops,‘ a genre he defined as ‘‘short 3-line pomes.”  His haiku remain fundamentally American –

The windmills
of Oklahoma look
in every direction.

He offered his own definition of the American Haiku: The American Haiku is not exactly the Japanese Haiku. The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don’t think American Haikus (short three-line poems intended to be completely packed with Void of Whole) should worry about syllables because American speech is something again…bursting to pop…. I propose that the ‘Western Haiku’ simply say a lot in three short lines in any Western language. Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella.  A large selection of his haiku is available on the Terebess Asia Online site. Cor van den Heuval, editor of The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English has said of Kerouac and the haiku that he probably came closer than any of the Beat poets to its essence. But it remained a footnote to his work. I tend to agree. I have included a baker’s dozen of these brief poems of which more than half are concerned with rain, hence the title of this post.


American Haiku by Jack Kerouac

The taste
of rain
– Why kneel?


The bottom of my shoes
are clean
from walking in the rain.


Snap your finger
stop the world –
rain falls harder.


After the shower
among the drenched roses
the bird thrashing in the bath.


Early morning gentle rain,
two big bumblebees
Humming at their work


Birds singing
in the dark
—Rainy dawn.


The rain has filled
the birdbath
Again, almost


Useless, useless,
the heavy rain
Driving into the sea.


The little worm
lowers itself from the roof
By a self shat thread


boy smashing dandelions
with a stick.


in the birdbath
A leaf


In my medicine cabinet
the winter fly
has died of old age


Missing a kick
at the icebox door
It closed anyway.



A large selection of Kerouac haiku.

The Terebess Asia Online (TAO) page on the haiku of Jack Kerouac.

Review of Book of Haiku by Jack Kerouac

New York Times appreciation of Jack Kerouac’s haiku.

27 poems by Jack Kerouac.

More poems on the All Poetry site.

A Jack Kerouac website.

Paris Review interview – with Ted Berrigan & others, June 1967.


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, Takaha Shugyo, 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 accoutrements 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.


Sex Hex

Love’s full of cute paradoxes
(and highly acute poxes).


If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.


Nun Fun Undone

are not for excesses!


don’t forget …

don’t forget to remember
that Space is curved
(like your Heart)
and that even Light is bent
by your Gravity.


Saving Graces

for the Religious Right

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


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


Late autumn; now all
the golden leaves turn black underfoot:


blesses my knuckle
with affectionate dew


Dry leaf flung awry:
bright butterfly,



& disarming,
but mostly alarming
since all my resolve


Duet, Minor Key

Without the drama of cymbals
or the fanfare and snares of drums,
I present my case
stripped of its fine veneer:
behold, thy instrument.

Play, for the night is long.


Midnight Stairclimber

is at first great sweaty recreation,
then—long, long after the sex dies—
the source of endless exercise.


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.


Feathered Fiends

Conformists of a feather
flock together.

(Winner of the National Poetry Month Couplet Competition)


The Poem of Poems

This is my Poem of Poems, for you.
Every word ineluctably true:
I love you.



Brief Fling I

means cram,
then scram!


Brief Fling II

To write an epigram, cram.
If you lack wit, scram!


Brief Fling III

No one gives a damn about my epigram?
And yet they’ll spend billions on Boy George and Wham!
Do they have any idea just how hard I cram?


Nod to the Master

If every witty thing that’s said were true,
Oscar Wilde, the world would worship You!


The Whole of Wit

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


Fleet Tweet I: Apologies to Shakespeare

A tweet
by any other name
would be as fleet.


Fleet Tweet II: Further Apologies to Shakespeare

Remember, doggonit,
heroic verse crowns the Shakespearean sonnet!
So if you intend to write a couplet,
please do it on the doublet!


Ars Brevis, Proofreading Longa

Poets may labor from sun to sun,
but their editor’s work is never done.




fragment 11

You ignite and inflame me …
You melt me.


fragment 22

That enticing girl’s clinging dresses
leave me trembling, overcome by happiness,
as once, when I saw the Goddess in my prayers
eclipsing Cyprus.


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.



You can crop all the flowers but you cannot detain spring.


While nothing can save us from death,
still love can redeem each breath.


As if you were on fire from within,
the moon whitens your skin.


Please understand that when I wake up weeping
it’s because I dreamed I was a lost child again,
searching leave-heaps for your hands in the darkness.


I am no longer in love with her, that’s certain,
but perhaps I love her still.
Love is so short, forgetting so long!


More of his translations of Pablo Neruda are available on the Pablo Neruda page on this briefpoems blog and on the Pablo Neruda 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 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 Issa

Petals I amass
with such tenderness
prick me to the quick.


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.


after  the Japanese of Takaha Shugyo

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven


Our life here on earth:
to what shall we compare it?
It is not like a rowboat
departing at daybreak,
leaving no trace of us in its wake?

More of his translations of Takaha Shugyo are available on the Takaha Shugyo page on this briefpoems blog.


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, winter 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 wry 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


old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water

Jane Reichhold


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


ancient is the pond —
suddenly a frog leaps — now!
the water echoes

Tim Chilcott


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


At the ancient pond
a frog plunges into
the sound of water

Sam Hamill


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.

Thirty-two translations and one commentary.

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.