The HyperTexts

Yosa Buson: Modern English Translations of the Japanese Haiku Master

Yosa Buson [1716-1783/1784] was a Japanese poet and painter of the Edo period. Buson was a master of brief, startlingly clear and concise haiku/hokku. Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson and Kobayashi Issa have been called the "essential masters" of the Edo Era. Many haiku lovers would add Masaoka Shiki to create the "Great Four" of haiku.

Japanese poets like Basho, Buson and Issa influenced many Western poets, including early English/American modernists such as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of Modernist poetry has been a turn away from highly ornate language toward the clarity and conciseness of Oriental poetry forms such as haiku and tanka.

Please note that I call my translations "loose translations" and "interpretations" because they are not literal word-for-word translations. I begin with my personal interpretation of a poem and translate accordingly. To critics who object to variations from the original texts, my response is that there are often substantial disagreements among even the most accomplished translators. Variations begin with the readings because different people get different things from different poems. And a strict word-for-word translation will seldom, if ever, result in poetry. In my opinion translation is much closer to an art than a perfect science and I side with Rabindranath Tagore, who said he needed some leeway in order to produce poetry in another language when he translated his own poems into English.—MRB

compiled 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

Don’t worry spiders, 
I clean house ... sparingly. 
―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

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

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

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

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

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

This roaring winter wind:
the cataract grates on its rocks.
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

While snow lingers
in creases and recesses:
flowers of the plum
―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

White blossoms of the pear tree―
a young woman reading a moonlit letter
―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

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

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

The abandoned willow shines
between bright rains
―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

The hood-wearer
in his self-created darkness
fails to see the harvest moon
―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

White plum blossoms―
though the hour grows late,
a glimpse of dawn
―Yosa Buson, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch;

NOTE: This is believed to be Buson's death poem and he is said to have died before dawn.―MRB

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

Matsuo Basho
Yosa Buson
Kobayashi Issa
Ono no Komachi
Oriental Masters/Haiku

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

Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch

The HyperTexts