A few weeks ago I wrote about McSweeney’s 42 in which stories were sequentially translated between English and another language and back again. One Hundred Frogs, in contrast, consists of a single haiku translated repeatedly from Japanese into English. It’s a famous haiku, written by Basho, about (surprise!) a frog.
A typical translation:
frog jumps in;
sound of water.
As you might expect, many of the translations bear quite a bit of similarity to one another. Yet none are exactly the same.
They quibble, perhaps, over whether the pond should be described as ‘ancient’ or ‘old’ or ‘still’. Or for that matter, is it not a pond at all, but rather a lake or a mere?
But the translational argument I found most interesting was over what produced the sound. Some translations, like the one above, attributed the sound to the water while others attributed the sound to the frog. When a frog jumps into the water what makes the splash?
Luckily, one of the translations resolves this puzzle (koan?):
and a frog-jump-in
Other translations are less literal. There’s a limerick and a sonnet and a prose-poem. The book’s beautiful illustrations form a flip-book which itself could be considered a translation of the haiku, though not into English!
My favorite of the more playful translations takes the minimalism of haiku to its logical extreme: