Japanese Poems: Haiku & Senryu

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of my time working on some translations of sarari-man senryu. The quintessence of Japanese poetry is haiku–the 5-7-5 syllable based poetry we all learned in 5th grade–however, our English versions of haiku do an injustice to their magnificence. For starters, haiku is based on mora not syllables. A mora in Japanese is based on the syllables of Japanese (often referred to as haku). For example, mora is made of two syllables (mo-ra) but 3 mora (mo-o-ra). For those who speak/read Japanese the katakana version of mora might make this easier to see, モーラ. Furthermore, haiku’s importance rests in kigo (season words), gaps, and symbolism. These often don’t translate well in English.

Senryu, on the other hand, has few rules compared to haiku. It’s one focus is on everyday life. If haiku is a strict and stiff older brother, then senryu is the reckless baby of the family.

I’ve actually spent that last couple fo months translating some senryu poems from a website:

Japanese English
退職金

もらった瞬間

妻ドローン

Severance package

The moment it is received

My wife—poof—vanishes

じいちゃんが

建てても孫は

ばあちゃんち

Though grandpa builds it,

His grandchildren call it

Grandma’s house

キミだけは

オレのものだよ

マイナンバー

You, my love, are mine,

My only real property,

National ID number

娘来て

「誰もいないの?」

オレいるよ

My daughter comes in,

“Is there nobody in here?”

A whisper, “I am…”

福沢を

崩した途端

去る野口

Your Benjamin

As soon as you break it

The Lincolns are gone

カーナビよ

見放さないで

周辺で

Oh sweet Siri!

Don’t abandon me with

Still two blocks to go

These are far from done, and they’re not lexical translations, I’m definitely interpreting things for an American audience.

I’d love to hear any feedback! Feel free to also post any of your own favorite Japanese poems.

 

 

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