The HyperTexts

Haiku: the Best of the Masters (Translations and Original Contemporary Poems)

Who were the best writers of haiku, the acknowledged masters of the form? This page contains modern English translations of poems by the Oriental masters of haiku (also called hokku) and waka/tanka. Included are the haunting death poems of Basho and Buson. I have also included translations of haiku-like epigrams written by Sappho and other masters of ancient Greek poetry. Masters of the haiku, tanka/waka, epigram and similar forms represented here include Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, Fukuda Chiyo-ni, Glaucus, Hafiz, Sekitei Hara, Kobayashi Issa, Ono no Komachi, Sappho of Lesbos, Ippekiro Nakatsuka, Plato, Hattori Ransetsu, Rumi, Ryokan, Yamaguchi Seishi, Masaoka Shiki, Takaha Shugyo, Hisajo Sugita, Kyoshi Takahama, Inahata Teiko and Ō no Yasumaro.

For explanations of how he translates and why he calls his results "loose translations" and "interpretations" please click here: Michael R. Burch Translation Methods and Credits to Other Translators

I will begin with my translations of some of my favorite haiku by the masters Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki:

The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Come, investigate loneliness!
a solitary leaf
clings to the Kiri tree
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The cheerful-chirping cricket
contends gray autumn's gay,
contemptuous of frost
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Whistle on, twilight whippoorwill,
solemn evangelist
of loneliness
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Picking autumn plums
my wrinkled hands
once again grow fragrant
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch


This world of dew
is a dewdrop world indeed;
and yet, and yet ...
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I'm trying to sleep!
Please swat the flies
lightly
― Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

If you like the haiku above, I believe you will find this page worth further exploration and investigation ...

Sing, my sacred tortoiseshell lyre;
come, let my words
accompany your voice
Sappho of Lesbos

As I worked on our journal's pages about the best poems of all time, the haiku below appeared to me from out of the blue, and without any forethought on my part. As a result, I ended up not only creating this page, but also translating a number of haiku in the process. Did some ancient master provide the gift below as a way of encouraging me to pay oriental poetry its proper due? In any case, here's "my" poem:

Dark-bosomed clouds
pregnant with heavy thunder ...
the water breaks
Michael R. Burch

Here's my translation of one of my favorite haiku, by the Japanese master Matsuo Basho (1644-1694):

The butterfly
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It's interesting, I believe, to note the similarities between three very different poems by three very different poets. Sappho was an ancient Greek female poet from the island of Lesbos; her homoeroticism lends denotations and connotations to our terms "Lesbian" and "Sapphic." Matsuo Basho was an ancient Japanese master of brief, startlingly clear haiku, who influenced (and continues to influence) Western poets. I'm an American poet with an affinity for all sorts of poetry, who's glad we live in a world where so much good and great poetry is freely accessible. The three poems share a number of important characteristics: brevity, conciseness, clarity, and the use of imagery to convey emotion. In each poem the poet uses an image to convey more information than the literal words. Sappho invokes the lyre, the stringed instrument that gave us our term "lyric." When she calls the lyre "sacred," she invokes the Muses (gods the ancient Greeks invented to explain the source of poetry; they considered it divine). Sappho's voice may be said to combine her voice, the voice of the gods, and the voice of the lyre. So her apparently simple poem may be anything but. Basho's poem is another deceptively simple masterpiece, as it explores the symbiotic nature of life. The butterfly benefits from the perfumes and nectars of flowers; in the process of imbibing their nectar it helps pollinate them. Basho's poem is an example of art mirroring nature; it's hard to say which is more lovely: the butterfly "dancing" with the orchid, or the exquisitely wrought poem. My poem compares a thunderstorm's downpour to a pregnant woman's water breaking. I think it's an effective image, although I don't expect the reader to think me worthy of the great masters. Hopefully, however, I can pay them the homage they're justly due with my translations ...

Pausing between clouds
the moon rests
in the eyes of its beholders
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The poem above demonstrates "power through simplicity" in the hands of a master. My translation has a slightly different "take" on the poem, and I can't say that it's absolutely correct, but I like it. I believe this poem hints at the connection between the stages of the moon and human life: both are a series of passages and rests. If we glimpse the moon at night, slipping between clouds, it can seem eerily lovely, haunting and restful at the same time. When a master like Basho deftly invokes the image of the moon, he can appeal to all the things we know (or think we know) and feel about the moon. And because the moon symbolizes love, to see it reflected in lovers' eyes may seem deeply significant, perhaps even mystical. The poem may suggest this, without saying it directly.

Oh, fallen camellias,
if I were you,
I'd leap into the torrent!
Takaha Shugyo, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The haiku above is another I especially love, because the poet draws the reader into feeling empathy for, and sympathizing with, dying flowers. When I interpret the poem, I see petals falling beside rapidly rushing water and hear the poet suggesting that a quick death is better than a slow, lingering death. One might say the poem suggests that suicide or euthanasia may be preferable to a long, drawn-out death, although there are other interpretations. A good poem may have as many different interpretations as there are readers.

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.
― Sappho, fragment 42, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

There is a "family resemblance" between the brief, concise, evocative lyrics of Sappho and the brief, concise, evocative lyrics of the Oriental masters.

when you opened
my letter
were you surprised
my heart
fell out?

next door
the lovemaking
subsides
stars fall
from other worlds

an old photo
of my parents
young and happy—
of all the things I own
that is the saddest

The three poems above are by Michael Windsor McClintock, a contemporary American poet. In the late 1960s, he was the Assistant Editor of Haiku Highlights. During the 1970s, he was the Assistant Editor of Modern Haiku and also edited the American Haiku Poets Series and Seer Ox: American Senryu Magazine. I think his poems demonstrate how much emotion a simple, clear image can convey: a letter being opened, a star falling, a photo of loved ones touching our hearts. I think the ancient masters would admire such poems.

One apple, alone
in the abandoned orchard
reddens for winter
― Patrick Blanche, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The poem above is by a French poet; it illustrates how the poetry of Oriental masters like Basho has influenced poets around the world.

Grasses wilt:
the braking locomotive
grinds to a halt
― Yamaguchi Seishi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Wilting autumn grasses are compared to a braking locomotive grinding to a halt. Two simple images speak worlds, in the hands of a skilled poet.

This world?
Moonlit dew
flicked from a crane’s bill.
— Eihei Dogen Kigen, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This is another simple image that speaks worlds, to me.

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?
Takaha Shugyo, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The poem above is a tanka, also known as waka. The poem speaks of the human condition: how many people die every day leaving no wake, no trace that they ever existed? The best poets are truth-tellers. They give readers the unadulterated truth, as they perceive it.

On rain-drenched branches
buds of the apricot tree
swell into blossom,
trembling anxiously,
as if waiting to be deflowered ...
Kazuhiko Ito, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The poem above is another tanka. It metaphorically compares human virginity to the virgin buds of an apricot tree (or at least that is my interpretation of the poem). In my translation, I employed three rhymes: "tree," "anxiously" and "nervously." While rhyme is frowned upon in some haiku/tanka circles, I see no reason to avoid rhymes that work. I also employed alliteration: "branches," "buds" and "blossom." Readers will have to decide for themselves if such English poetic devices add to the translation or detract from it.

As I slept in isolation
my desired beloved appeared to me;
therefore, dreams have become my reality
and consolation.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This is another tanka by a female master of the form. More poems by Ono no Komachi can be found later on this page, in the extended tanka/waka section.

Graven images of long-departed gods,
dry spiritless leaves:
companions of the temple porch
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Basho's poem above suggests that the ancient "gods" either never existed or are "long-departed," and are no more effective than dead leaves on a temple porch.

See: whose surviving sons
visit the ancestral graves
white-bearded, with trembling canes?
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Again, Basho speaks honestly, with a daunting but compelling truthfulness. The ancient Greek poets also spoke of death forthrightly. Here's an ancient Greek epitaph (a gravestone inscription) that rivals Basho:

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gull
in his high, lonely circuits, may tell.
― Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Here's another Greek epitaph (a form of epigram) that matches the best haiku in simplicity, honesty, clarity and forthrightness:

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
― Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Here's a much happier poem by a Sufi Muslim mystic:

I caught the happy virus last night
When I was out singing beneath the stars.
It is remarkably contagious—
So kiss me.
—Hafiz

Here's a poem by another Sufi mystic:

When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you're not here, I can't go to sleep.
Praise God for these two insomnias!
And the difference between them.
―Jalaluddin Rumi, translation/interpretation by Coleman Barks

The two poems below are by Hisajo Sugita, a female poet:

I remove my beautiful kimono:
its varied braids
surround and entwine my body
Hisajo Sugita, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This day of chrysanthemums
I shake and comb my wet hair,
as their petals shed rain
Hisajo Sugita, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Here are a number of poems by Matsuo Basho:

This darkening autumn:
my neighbor,
how does he continue?
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Winter coming:
how does my neighbor
fare?
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Let us arrange
these lovely flowers in the bowl
since there's no rice
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Explosion!
The frog returns
to its lily pad.
—Michael R. Burch

The first chill rain:
poor monkey, you too could use
a woven cape of straw
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Lightning
shatters the darkness
the night heron's shriek
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Lightning
the night heron's shriek
severs the darkness
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A flash of lightning
the night heron's shriek
splits the void
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Fever-felled mid-path
my dreams resurrect, to trek
into a hollow land
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Too ill to travel,
now only my autumn dreams
survey these withering fields
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch; this has been called Basho's death poem

This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Like a heavy fragrance
snow-flakes settle:
lilies on the rocks
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The sea darkening,
the voices of the wild ducks:
my mysterious companions!
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Will we remain parted forever?
Here at your grave:
two flowerlike butterflies!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Air ballet:
twin butterflies, twice white,
meet, match & mate.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Ballet in the air!
two butterflies, twice white,
meet, mate, unite.
―Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Come, butterfly,
it’s late
and we’ve a long way to go!
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A spring wind
stirs willow leaves
as a butterfly hovers unsteadily.
―Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dusk-gliding swallow,
please spare my small friends
flitting among the flowers!
―Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

These brown summer grasses?
The only remains
of "invincible" warriors ...
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

An empty road
lonelier than abandonment:
this autumn evening
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Spring has come:
the nameless hill
lies shrouded in mist
Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The Oldest Haiku

These are my translations of some of the oldest Japanese waka, which evolved into poetic forms such as tanka, renga and haiku over time. My translations are excerpts from the Kojiki (the "Record of Ancient Matters"), a book composed around 711-712 A.D. by the historian and poet Ō no Yasumaro. The Kojiki relates Japan’s mythological beginnings and the history of its imperial line. Like Virgil's Aeneid, the Kojiki seeks to legitimize rulers by recounting their roots. These are lines from one of the oldest Japanese poems, found in the oldest Japanese book:

While you decline to cry,
high on the mountainside
a single stalk of plumegrass wilts.
Ō no Yasumaro (circa 711), loose translation/interpretation by
Michael R. Burch

Here's another excerpt, with a humorous twist, from the Kojiki:

Hush, cawing crows; what rackets you make!
Heaven's indignant messengers,
you remind me of wordsmiths!
Ō no Yasumaro (circa 711), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Here's another, this one a poem of love and longing:

Onyx, this gem-black night.
Downcast, I await your return
like the rising sun, unrivaled in splendor.
Ō no Yasumaro (circa 711), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

More Haiku by Various Poets

Right at my feet!
When did you arrive here,
snail?
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I toss in my sleep,
so watch out,
cricket!
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

In a better world
I'd leave you my rice bowl,
little fly!
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

All's well with the world:
another fly's sharing our rice!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cries of the wild geese
spreading rumors about me?
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch


Wake up, old tomcat,
then with elaborate yawns and stretchings
prepare to pursue love
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

An enormous frog!
We stare at each other,
both petrified.
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Skinny frog,
... hang on ...
Issa to the rescue!
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

While a cicada
sings softly
a single leaf falls ...
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The cry of a pheasant,
as if it just noticed
the mountain.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

As I stumble home at dusk,
heavy with her eggs
a spider blocks me.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

All the while I'm praying to Buddha
I'm continually killing mosquitoes.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This windy nest?
Open your hungry mouth in vain,
Issa, orphaned sparrow!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The ghostly cow comes
mooing mooing mooing
out of the morning mist
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

If anyone comes, child,
don't open the gate
or the melons will flee!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It's not at all anxious to bloom,
the plum tree at my gate.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Our world of dew
is a world of dew indeed;
and yet, and yet ...
― Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dew evaporates
and all our world is dew—
so dear, so fresh, so fleeting.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), said to be about the death of his child, translator unknown

Cruel autumn wind!
Cutting to the very bones
Of my poor scarecrow!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), translator unknown

Plumes of pampas grass
Trembling in every wind . . .
Hush, my lonely heart!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), translator unknown

Full moon—
my ramshackle hut
is an open book.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, brilliant moon
can it be true
that even you
must rush off, late
for some date?
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, brilliant moon
can it be true that even you
must rush off, tardy?
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The snow melts
the rivers rise
and the village is flooded with children!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The orphan speaks: the year-end party . . .
I am even envious
Of scolded children
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), translator unknown

Don't weep, we are all insects!
Lovers, even the stars themselves,
must eventually part.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Buddha on the hill . . .
From your holy nose indeed
Hangs an icicle!
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), translator unknown

In our world
we walk suspended over hell
admiring flowers.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Standing beneath cherry blossoms
who can be strangers?
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Petals I amass
with such tenderness
prick me to the quick.
Kobayashi Issa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Standing unsteadily,
I am the scarecrow’s
skinny surrogate
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Children delight
in bonfires
for the dead;
soon they'll light
pyres
for us, instead.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Bonfires for the dead?
Soon they'll light pyres
for us instead.
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Autumn wind ...
She always wanted to pluck
the reddest roses
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Issa wrote the haiku above after the death of his daughter Sato with the note: “Sato, girl, 35th day, at the grave.”

What does it matter how long I live,
when a tortoise lives many times as long?
―Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch



The childless woman,
how tenderly she caresses
homeless dolls ...
—Hattori Ransetsu, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
umazume no hina kashizuku zo aware naru

Clinging
to the plum tree:
one blossom's worth of warmth
—Hattori Ransetsu, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

One leaf falls, enlightenment!
Another leaf falls,
swept away by the wind ...
—Hattori Ransetsu, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
hitoha chiri totsu hitoha chiru kaze no ue

This has been called Ransetsu’s “death poem.” In The Classic Tradition of Haiku, Faubion Bowers says in a footnote to this haiku: “Just as ‘blossom’, when not modified, means ‘cherry flower’ in haiku, ‘one leaf’ is code for ‘kiri’. Kiri ... is the Pawlonia ... The leaves drop throughout the year. They shrivel, turn yellow, and yield to gravity. Their falling symbolizes loneliness and connotes the past. The large purple flowers ... are deeply associated with haiku because the three prongs hold 5, 7 and 5 buds ... ‘Totsu’ is an exclamation supposedly uttered when a Zen student achieves enlightenment. The sound also imitates the dry crackle the pawlonia leaf makes as it scratches the ground upon falling.”

Disdaining grass,
the firefly nibbles nettles—
this is who I am.
—Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A simple man,
content to breakfast with the morning glories—
this is who I am.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
This is Basho’s response to the Takarai Kikaku haiku above
asagao ni / ware wa meshi kû / otoko kana

The morning glories, alas,
also turned out
not to embrace me
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The morning glories bloom,
mending chinks
in the old fence
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Morning glories,
however poorly painted,
still engage us
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
asagao wa / heta no kaku sae / aware nari

I too
have been accused
of morning glory gazing ...
—original haiku by by Michael R. Burch

Taming the rage
of an unrelenting sun—
autumn breeze.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
aka aka to / hi wa tsurenaku mo / aki no kaze

The sun sets,
relentlessly red,
yet autumn’s in the wind.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
aka aka to / hi wa tsurenaku mo / aki no kaze

As autumn deepens,
a butterfly sips
chrysanthemum dew.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
aki o hete / cho mo nameru ya / kiku no tsuyu

As autumn draws near,
so too our hearts
in this small tea room.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
aki chikaki / kokoro no yoru ya / yo jo han

Nothing happened!
Yesterday simply vanished
like the blowfish soup.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
ara nantomo na ya / kino wa sugite / fukuto-jiru

The surging sea crests around Sado ...
and above her?
An ocean of stars.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
ara umi ya / Sado ni yokotau / Ama-no-gawa

Revered figure!
I bow low
to the rabbit-eared Iris.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Yagate shino / keshiki wa miezu / semi no koe
Nothing in the cry
of the cicadas
suggests they soon die.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Yagate shino / keshiki wa miezu / semi no koe
Nothing in the cry
of the cicadas
suggests they'll soon die.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Yagate shino / keshiki wa miezu / semi no koe
Nothing in the cry
of the cicadas
suggests they know they soon must die.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I wish I could wash
this perishing earth
in its shimmering dew.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Spring!
A nameless hill
shrouded in mist.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dabbed with morning dew
and splashed with mud,
the melon looks wonderfully cool.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cold white azalea—
a lone nun
in her thatched straw hut.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Glimpsed on this high mountain trail,
delighting my heart—
wild violets
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A bee emerging
from deep within the peony’s hairy recesses
flies off heavily, sated
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A crow has settled
on a naked branch—
autumn nightfall
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A solitary crow
clings to a leafless branch:
autumn twilight
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A solitary crow
clings to a leafless branch:
phantom autumn
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A raven settles
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightfall
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A crow roosts
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightmare
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: There has been a debate about the meaning of aki-no kure, which may mean one of the following: autumn evening, autumn dusk, the end of autumn. Or it seems possible that Basho may have intentionally invoked the ideas of both the end of an autumn day and the end of the season as well. In my translations I have tried to create an image of solitary crow clinging to a branch that seems like a harbinger of approaching winter and death. In the first translation I went with the least light possible: autumn twilight. In the second translation, I attempted something more ghostly. Phrases I considered include: spectral autumn, skeletal autumn, autumnal skeleton, phantom autumn, autumn nocturne, autumn nightfall, autumn nightmare, dismal autumn. In the third and fourth translations I focused on the color of the bird and its resemblance to night falling. While literalists will no doubt object, my goal is to create an image and a feeling that convey in English what I take Basho to have been trying to convey in Japanese. Readers will have to decide whether they prefer my translations to the many others that exist, but mine are trying to convey the eeriness of the scene in English.

Winter solitude:
a world awash in white,
the sound of the wind
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sick of its autumn migration
my spirit drifts
over wilted fields ...
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), said to be his death poem, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sick of this autumn migration
in dreams I drift
over flowerless fields ...
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), said to be his death poem, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: While literalists will no doubt object to "flowerless" in the translation above ― along with other word choices in my other translations ― this is my preferred version. I think Basho's meaning still comes through. But "wilted" is probably closer to what he meant. If only we could consult him, to ask whether he preferred strictly literal prose translations of his poems, or more poetic interpretations! My guess is that most poets would prefer for their poems to remain poetry in the second language. In my opinion the differences are minor and astute readers will grok both Basho's meaning and his emotion.

Except for a woodpecker
tapping at a post,
the house is silent.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

That dying cricket,
how he goes on about his life!
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Like a glorious shrine—
on these green, budding leaves,
the sun’s intense radiance.
—Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
ara toto / aoba wakaba no / hi no hikar

The legs of the cranes
have been shortened
by the summer rains.
―Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



A kite floats
at the same place in the sky
where yesterday it floated ...
Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The pigeon's behavior
is beyond reproach,
but the mountain cuckoo's?
Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Plowing,
not a single bird sings
in the mountain's shadow
Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

On adjacent branches
the plum tree blossoms bloom
petal by petal―love!
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The red plum's fallen petals
seem to ignite horse shit.
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Intruder!―
This white plum tree
was once outside our fence!
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Picking autumn plums
my wrinkled hands
once again grow fragrant
― Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch


White plum blossoms
though the hour grows late,
a glimpse of dawn
Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch; this is believed to be Buson's death poem and he is said to have died before dawn

The pear tree flowers whitely―
a young woman reads his letter
by moonlight
Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

As the pear tree flowers whitely―
a young woman reads his letter
by moonlight
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The abandoned willow
shines
between rains
Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dawn!
The brilliant sun illuminates
sardine heads.
Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Tender grass
forgetful of its roots
the willow
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

NOTE: I believe this poem can be taken as commentary on ungrateful children. It reminds me of Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays."―MRB

The dew-damp grass
weeps silently
in the setting sun
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Since I'm left here alone,
I'll make friends with the harvest moon.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Because I'm alone,
I'll make friends with the moon.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The hood-wearer
in his self-created darkness
fails to see the harvest moon
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Even lonelier than last year:
this autumn evening.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My thoughts return to my Mother and Father:
late autumn
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Late autumn:
my thoughts return to my Mother and Father
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The roaring winter wind:
the cataract grates on its rocks.
―Yosa Buson (1716-1783), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



The autumn wind eludes me;
for me there are no gods,
no Buddhas
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Such a small child
banished to become a priest:
frigid Siberia!
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I'm trying to sleep!
Please swat the flies
lightly
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

After killing a spider,
how lonely I felt
in the frigid night.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The night flies!
My life,
how much more of it remains?
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A summer river:
disdaining the bridge,
my horse gallops through water.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

After the fireworks,
the spectators departed:
how vast and dark the sky!
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I got drunk
then wept in my sleep
dreaming of wild cherry blossoms.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot see the moon
and yet the waves still rise
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The first morning of autumn:
the mirror I investigate
reflects my father’s face
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch


I thought I felt a dewdrop
plop
on my head
as I lay in bed!
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

As thunder recedes
a lone tree stands illuminated in sunlight:
applauded by cicadas
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Wild geese take flight,
gliding low along the railroad tracks
in the moonlight.
―Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



The childless woman
tenderly fondles
dolls for sale
—Hattori Ransetsu, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot see the moon
and yet the waves still rise
Shiki Masaoka, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The first morning of autumn:
the mirror I investigate
reflects my father’s face
Shiki Masaoka, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven
revealed
Takaha Shugyo, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Silently observing
the bottomless mountain lake:
water lilies
Inahata Teiko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cranes
flapping ceaselessly
test the sky's upper limits
Inahata Teiko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Falling snowflakes'
glitter
tinsels the sea
Inahata Teiko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Blizzards here on earth,
blizzards of stars
in the sky
Inahata Teiko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Completely encircled
in emerald:
the glittering swamp!
Inahata Teiko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The new calendar!:
as if tomorrow
is assured ...
Inahata Teiko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?
Fukuda Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Because morning glories
hold my well-bucket hostage
I go begging for water
Fukuda Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Spring
stirs the clouds
in the sky's teabowl
Kikusha-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Tonight I saw
how the peony crumples
in the fire's embers
Katoh Shuhson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It fills me with anger,
this moon; it fills me
and makes me whole
Takeshita Shizunojo, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

War
stood at the end of the hall
in the long shadows
Watanabe Hakusen, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Because he is slow to wrath,
I tackle him, then wring his neck
in the long grass
Shimazu Ryoh, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Pale mountain sky:
cherry petals play
as they tumble earthward
Kusama Tokihiko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The frozen moon,
the frozen lake:
two oval mirrors reflecting each other.
Hashimoto Takako, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The bitter winter wind
ends here
with the frozen sea
Ikenishi Gonsui, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, bitter winter wind,
why bellow so
when there's no leaves to fell?
Natsume Sôseki, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Winter waves
roil
their own shadows
Tominaga Fûsei, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

No sky,
no land:
just snow eternally falling ...
Kajiwara Hashin, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Along with spring leaves
my child's teeth
take root, blossom
Nakamura Kusatao, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Stillness:
a single chestnut leaf glides
on brilliant water
Ryuin, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The snake slipped away
but his eyes, having held mine,
still stare in the grass
Kyoshi Takahama, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Girls gather sprouts of rice:
reflections of the water flicker
on the backs of their hats
Kyoshi Takahama, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Murmurs follow the hay cart
this blossoming summer day
Ippekiro Nakatsuka (1887-1946), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The wet nurse
paused to consider a bucket of sea urchins
then walked away
Ippekiro Nakatsuka (1887-1946), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

May I be with my mother
wearing her summer kimono
by the morning window
Ippekiro Nakatsuka (1887-1946), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The hands of a woman exist
to remove the insides of the spring cuttlefish
Sekitei Hara, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The moon
hovering above the snow-capped mountains
rained down hailstones
Sekitei Hara, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Oh, dreamlike winter butterfly:
a puff of white snow
cresting mountains
Kakio Tomizawa, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Spring snow
cascades over fences
in white waves
Suju Takano, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

All evening the softest sound―
the cadence of the white camellia petals
falling
―Ranko Takakuwa (1726-1798), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Stillness:
the sound of petals
drifting down softly together ...
―Miura Chora (1729-1780), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A pity to pluck,
A pity to pass ...
Ah, violet!
―Naojo, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Silence:
a single chestnut leaf
sinks through clear water ...
―Shohaku, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



More tanka/waka translations:


If fields of autumn flowers
can shed their blossoms, shameless,
why can’t I also frolic here —
as fearless, and as blameless?
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Submit to you —
is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Watching wan moonlight
illuminate trees,
my heart also brims,
overflowing with autumn.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it
already blossoming in his heart.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

That which men call "love" —
is it not merely the chain
preventing our escape
from this world of pain?
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Once-colorful flowers faded,
while in my drab cell
life’s impulse also abated
as the long rains fell.
—Ono no Komachi, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I set off at the shore
of the seaside of Tago,
where I saw the high, illuminated peak
of Fuji―white, aglow
through flakes of drifting downy snow.
Akahito Yamabe, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Zen Death Haiku & Related Oriental Poems


The night is clear;
the moon shines quietly;
the wind strums the trees like lyres ...
but when I’m gone, who the hell will hear?
Farewell!
—Higan Choro aka Zoso Royo (1194-1277), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I entered the world empty-handed
and leave it barefoot.
My coming and going?
Two uncomplicated events
that became entangled.
—Kozan Ichikyo (1283-1360), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Brittle autumn leaves
crumble to dust
in the bittercold wind.
—Takao (?-1660), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This frigid season
nothing but the shadow
of my corpse survives.
—Tadatomo (1624-1676), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My life was mere lunacy
until
the moon shone tonight.
Tokugen (1558-1647), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

“Isn’t it time,”
the young bride asks,
“to light the lantern?”
Ochi Etsujin (1656-1739), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

With the departing year
I have hidden my graying hair
from my parents.
Ochi Etsujin (1656-1739), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I wish to die
under the spring cherry blossoms
and April’s full moon.
Ochi Etsujin (1656-1739), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Like blocks in the icehouse,
unlikely to last
the year out ...
—Sentoku (1661-1726), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Once again
the melon-cool moon
rises above the rice fields.
—Tanko (1665-1735), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

At long last I depart:
above me are rainless skies and a pristine moon
as pure as my heart.
—Senseki (1712-1742), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cuckoo, lift
me up
to where the clouds drift ...
Uko (1686-1743), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sixty-six,
setting sail through tranquil waters,
a breeze-blown lotus.
Usei (1698-1764), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Returning
as it came,
this naked worm.
—Shidoken (?-1765), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Brittle cicada shell,
little did I know
you were my life!
—Shuho (?-1767), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Like dew glistening
on a lotus leaf,
so too I soon must vanish.
—Shinsui (1720-1769), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Is it me the raven summons
from the spirit world
this frigid morning?
—Shukabo (1717-1775), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

To prepare for my voyage beyond,
let me don
a gown of flowers.
—Setsudo (1715-1776), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

From depths
unfathomably cold:
the oceans roar!
—Kasenjo (d. 1776), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Today Mount Hiei’s sky
with a quick change of clouds
also removes its robes.
Shogo (1731-1798), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I cup curious ears
among the hydrangeas
hoping to hear the spring cuckoo.
—Senchojo (?-1802), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Life,
is it like
a charcoal sketch, an obscure shadow?
—Toyokuni (?-1825), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Having been summoned,
I say farewell
to my house beneath the moon.
—Takuchi (1767-1846), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Since time dawned
only the dead have experienced peace;
life is snow burning in the sun.
—Nandai (1786-1817), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Bitter winter winds ...
but later, river willow,
remember to open your buds!
—Senryu (1717-1790), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This leafless willow tree:
unlikely to be missed
as much as the cherry blossoms.
—Senryu II (?-1818), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My path
to Paradise:
ringed bright with flowers.
—Sokin (?-1818), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Let this body
be dew
in a field of wildflowers.
—Tembo (1740-1823), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A willow branch
unable to reach the water
at the bottom of the vase.
—Shigenobu (?-1832), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Bury me beneath a wine barrel
in a bibber’s cellar:
with a little luck the keg will leak.
—Moriya Senan (?-1838), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Learn to accept the inevitable:
the fall willow
knows when to abandon its leaves.
—Tanehiko (1782-1842), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I wish only to die
swiftly, with my eyes
fixed on Mount Fuji.
—Rangai (1770-1845), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A strident cricket
accompanies me
through autumn mountains.
—Shiko (1788-1845), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The cherry orchard’s owner
soon becomes compost
for his trees.
—Utsu (1813-1863), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Autumn ends ...
the frogs find their place
submerged in the earth.
—Shogetsu (1829-1899), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

First one hidden face is revealed,
then the other; thus spinning it falls,
the autumn leaf.
—Ryokan (1758-1831), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I persuaded a child to purchase rural wine;
once I'm nicely tipsy,
I’ll slap down some calligraphy.
—Ryokan (1758-1831), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The thief missed it:
the moon
bejeweling my window.
—Ryokan (1758-1831), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This world:
a distant mountain echo
dying unheard ...
—Ryokan (1758-1831), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The peonies I planted around my hut
I must now surrender
to the wind’s will
—Ryokan (1758-1831), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Wild peonies
blossoming in their prime,
glorious in full bloom:
Too precious to pick,
To precious to leave unplucked
—Ryokan (1758-1831), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A night storm sighs:
"The fate of the flower is to fall" ...
rebuking all who hesitate
―Yukio Mishima, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch; this is said to have been his death poem before committing ritual suicide.

But one poet, at least, cast doubt on the death poem enterprise:

Death poems?
Damned delusions—
Death is death!
—Toko, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



New Zen Death Haiku, Added 10/6/2020


Air ballet:
twin butterflies, twice white,
meet, match & mate
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Denied transformation
into a butterfly,
autumn worsens for the worm
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Dusk-gliding swallow,
please spare my small friends
flitting among the flowers!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Up and at ’em! The sky goes bright!
Let’s hit the road again,
Companion Butterfly!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Higher than a skylark,
resting on the breast of heaven:
mountain pass.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Farewell,
my cloud-parting friend!
Wild goose migrating.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A crow settles
on a leafless branch:
autumn nightfall.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

An exciting struggle
with such a sad ending:
cormorant fishing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Secretly,
by the light of the moon,
a worm bores into a chestnut.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This strange flower
investigated by butterflies and birds:
the autumn sky
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Where’s the moon tonight?
Like the temple bell:
lost at sea.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Spring departs;
birds wail;
the pale eyes of fish moisten.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The moon still appears,
though far from home:
summer vagrant.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cooling the pitiless sun’s
bright red flames:
autumn wind.

Saying farewell to others
while being told farewell:
departing autumn.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Traveling this road alone:
autumn evening.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Thin from its journey
and not yet recovered:
late harvest moon.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Occasional clouds
bless tired eyes with rest
from moon-viewing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The farmboy
rests from husking rice
to reach for the moon.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The moon aside,
no one here
has such a lovely face.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The moon having set,
all that remains
are the four corners of his desk.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The moon so bright
a wandering monk carries it
lightly on his shoulder.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The Festival of Souls
is obscured
by smoke from the crematory.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The Festival of Souls!
Smoke from the crematory?
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Family reunion:
those with white hair and canes
visiting graves.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

One who is no more
left embroidered clothes
for a summer airing.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

What am I doing,
writing haiku on the threshold of death?
Hush, a bird’s song!
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Fallen ill on a final tour,
in dreams I go roving
earth’s flowerless moor.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Striken ill on a senseless tour,
still in dreams I go roving
earth’s withered moor.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Stricken ill on a journey,
in dreams I go wandering
withered moors.
—Matsuo Basho, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Today, catching sight of the mallards
crying over Lake Iware:
Must I too vanish into the clouds?
—Prince Otsu (663-686), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
Momozutau / iware no ike ni / naku kamo wo / kyo nomi mite ya / Kumokakuri nan

This world—
to what may we compare it?
To autumn fields
lying darkening at dusk
illuminated by lightning flashes.
—Minamoto no Shitago (911-983), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

This world—to what may we liken it?
To autumn fields lit dimly at dusk,
illuminated by lightning flashes.
—Minamoto no Shitago (911-983), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Like a half-exposed rotten log
my life, which never flowered,
ends barren.
—Minamoto Yorimasa (1104-1180), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Overtaken by darkness,
I will lodge under a tree’s branches;
cherry blossoms will cushion me tonight.
—Taira no Tadanori (1144–1184), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Overtaken by darkness,
I will lodge under a cherry tree’s branches;
flowers alone will bower me tonight.
—Taira no Tadanori (1144–1184), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Let me die in spring
beneath the cherry blossoms
while the moon is full.
—Saigyo (1118-1190), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

There is no death, as there is no life.
Are not the skies cloudless
And the rivers clear?
—Taiheiki Toshimoto (-1332), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

All five aspects of my fleeting human form
And the four elements of existence add up to nothing:
I bare my neck to the unsheathed sword
And its blow is but a breath of wind ...
—Suketomo (1290-1332), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Had I not known
I was already dead
I might have mourned
my own passing.
—Ota Dokan (1432-1486), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Both victor and vanquished are
dewdrops, flashes of lightning
briefly illuminating the void.
—Ôuchi Yoshitaka (1507-1551), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Even a life of long prosperity is like a single cup of sake;
my life of forty-nine years flashed by like a dream.
Nor do I know what life is, nor death.
All the years combined were but a fleeting dream.
Now I step beyond both Heaven and Hell
To stand alone in the moonlit dawn,
Free from the mists of attachment.
—Uesugi Kenshin (1530-1578), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

My life appeared like dew
and disappears like dew.
All Naniwa was a series of dreams.
—Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Felt deeply in my heart:
How beautiful the snow,
Clouds gathering in the west.
—Issho (-1668), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Brittle cicada shell,
little did I know
that you were my life!
—Shoshun (-1672), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Inhale, exhale.
Forward, reverse.
Live, die.
Let arrows fly, meet midway and sever the void in aimless flight:
Thus I return to the Source.
—Gesshu Soko (-1696), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem)by Michael R. Burch

My body?
Pointless
as the tree’s last persimmon.
—Seisa (-1722), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Farewell! I pass
away as all things do:
dew drying on grass.
—Banzan (-1730), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Seventy-one?
How long
can a dewdrop last?
—Kigen (-1736), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

A tempestuous sea ...
Flung from the deck —
this block of ice.
—Choha (-1740), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Empty cicada shell:
we return as we came,
naked.
—Fukaku (-1753), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Since I was born,
I must die,
and so …
—Kisei (1688-1764), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Let us arise and go,
following the path of the clear dew.
—Fojo (-1764), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Depths of the cold,
unfathomable ocean’s roar.
—Kasenjo (-1776), loose translation/interpretation of her jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Things never stand still,
not even for a second:
consider the trees’ colors.
—Seiju (-1776), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Lately the nights
dawn
plum-blossom white.
—Yosa Buson (-1783), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Bitter winter winds!
But later, river willow,
reopen your buds ...
—Senryu (-1790), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Who cares
where aimless clouds are drifting?
—Bufu (-1792), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

What does it matter how long I live,
when a tortoise lives many times as long?
—Issa (-1827), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Like a lotus leaf’s evaporating dew,
I vanish.
—Senryu (-1827), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Man’s end:
this mound of albescent bones,
this brief flowering sure to fade ...
—Hamei (-1837), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

When I kick the bucket,
bury me beneath a tavern’s cellar wine barrel;
with a little luck the cask will leak.
—Moriya Sen’an (-1838), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch
Ware shinaba / sakaya no kame ni / shita no ikeyo / moshi ya shisuku no / moriyasennen

Frost on a balmy day:
all I leave is the water
that washed my brush.
—Tanaka Shutei (1810-1858, loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Though moss may overgrow
my useless corpse,
the seeds of patriotism shall never decay.
—Nomura Boto (1806-1867), loose translation/interpretation of her jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

My aging body:
a drop of dew
bulging at the leaf-cliff.
—Kiba (-1868), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Forbearing the night
with its growing brilliance:
the summer moon.
—Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Blow if you must,
autumn wind,
but the flowers have already faded.
—Gansan (-1895), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Time to go ...
They say this journey is a long trek:
this final change of robes.
—Roshu (-1899), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

The moon departs;
frost paralyzes the morning glories.
— Kato (-1908), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch

Stumble,
tumble,
fall,
slide down the slippery snow slope.
— Getsurei (-1919), loose translation/interpretation of his jisei (death poem) by Michael R. Burch



The Orchid


Deep in the valley, a secluded beauty!
Serene, peerless, impossibly lovely.
In the bamboo thicket’s shadowy tower
she seems to sigh softly for a lover.
—Ryokan (1758-1831), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



Here are more of my original haiku:

Dry leaf flung awry:
bright butterfly,
goodbye!
Michael R. Burch

A snake in the grass
lies, hissing
Trespass!
Michael R. Burch

Honeysuckle
blesses the knuckle
with affectionate dew
Michael R. Burch

The day’s eyes were blue
until you appeared
and they wept at your beauty.
Michael R. Burch

She bathes in silver,
        afloat
on her reflections ...
Michael R. Burch

My mother’s eyes
acknowledging my imperfection:
dejection
Michael R. Burch

The whore with the pallid lips
lipsticks
into something more comfortable
Michael R. Burch

I am a traveler
going nowhere—
but my how the gawking bystanders stare!
Michael R. Burch

Even the moon in decline
like my lover’s heart
lies far beyond mine
Michael R. Burch

Night,
the ice and the darkness
conspire against human warmth
Michael R. Burch

Night
and the stars
conspire against me
Michael R. Burch

Late autumn; now all
the golden leaves turn black underfoot:
soot
Michael R. Burch

Celebrate the New Year?
The cat is not impressed,
the dogs shiver.

Michael R. Burch

And here's a poem of mine that's composed of haiku-like stanzas:

Lift up your head
dandelion,
hear spring roar!

How will you tidy your hair
this near
summer?

Leave to each still night
your lightest affliction,
dandruff.

Soon you will free yourself:
one shake
of your white mane.

Now there are worlds
into which you appear
and disappear

seemingly at will
but invariably blown—
wildly, then still.

Gasp at the bright chill
glower
of winter.

Icicles splinter;
sleep still an hour,
till, resurrected in power,

you lift up your head,
dandelion.
Hear spring roar!
Michael R. Burch



The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch:

Matsuo Basho
Yosa Buson
Kobayashi Issa
Ono no Komachi
Yamaguchi Seishi
Takaha Shugyo
Oriental Masters of Haiku
Japanese Death Poems

The Love Song of Shu-Sin: The Earth's Oldest Love Poem?

Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs
Meleager
Sappho

The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
Sweet Rose of Virtue
How Long the Night
Caedmon's Hymn
Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings
Bede's Death Song
The Wife's Lament
Deor's Lament
Lament for the Makaris
Tegner's Drapa
Whoso List to Hunt

Miklós Radnóti
Bertolt Brecht
Ber Horvitz
Paul Celan
Primo Levi
Wladyslaw Szlengel
Saul Tchernichovsky

Robert Burns: Original Poems and Translations
The Seventh Romantic: Robert Burns
Ahmad Faraz
Allama Iqbal
Sandor Marai
Alexander Pushkin's tender, touching poem "I Love You" has been translated into English by Michael R. Burch.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Marina Tsvetaeva
Renée Vivien

Original Haiku and Tanka by Michael R. Burch
Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch

The HyperTexts