Shiki Haiku Translation


If someone asks ...


Masaoka Shiki’s Life and Haiku

translations by
The Shiki-Kinen Museum English Volunteers, pp. 73, Matsuyama Municipal Shiki-Kinen Museum,
Printed by Myojo Printing Company, Japan, September 2001

This wonderful book has now been translated into
Hindi by Dr. Angelee Deodhar.

Hindu Translation and Bilingual Publication
December 2005


"Yadi koi pooche"
Book Review by Narayanan Raghunathan
Wonder Haiku Worlds, May 2006

This book “ Yadi koi pooche” (If Someone Asks) is a translation of the legendary Masaoka Shiki’s Haiku into Hindi done by Angelee Deodhar from a standard English Translation made by the translators of the Shiki-Kinen Museum, Matsuyama. It is a selection of 116 Haiku, out of more than 23600 Haiku written by Shiki.

“The paucity of Haiku related material to readers in Hindi made me take up the task of presenting this book It was an arduous task and some might question the translation. However since one must start somewhere, I felt it would be worthwhile to introduce in Hindi this selection of Shiki’s work, originally done by the sixteen translators of the Shiki-Kinen Museum Matsuyama. It has taken three years to do this work.”

“I have taken the liberty to omit the Japanese and Romanization of the original text and this book is presented in a bilingual format only. Ordinary, everyday language has been used rather than literary Hindi to make it easier for Shiki’s Haiku to be understood and appreciated by the reader - eg. in Hindi ‘nurse’ is ‘paricharika’ and a diary is called ‘dainandini’ : both words are not commonly used, so the words nurse and diary have been preserved in the translation too.” [ Page 0 ]

After the Hindi translator’s note and preface, there is a brief biography of Shiki and a fine chronological account of his life followed by notes on Haiku, Translation, and Romanization which are all rendered in English and Hindi translation.

Translating these Haiku surely must have been very challenging. She bestows a great honour to the Hindi Language and Hindi readers by rendering this great service to popularize Haiku and Shiki in Hindi.

A few Haiku afford straightforward translations like this one

a letter
from france
with a violet

ek patr
france se
ek violet ke saath
[ page 49 ]

But majority are a challenging task for the translator and Angelee Deodhar has shown her deep sensitivity to the genre of Haiku and its unique expression in Hindi. This is not surprising since Ms. Deodhar is a distinguished Haijin writing in English. We provide below a few samples.

higher than the autumn sky
the castle tower

pathjhad ke aasmaan se oonchi
durg ki minaar
[ page 16 ]

deutzia blossoms jostling
overflowing again

deutzia ke phool dhakkam-dhakka
labalab ho gaye phir se
[ page 18]

So pleased –
damn! I told my first dream
of the new year

kithna prasann –
oh! Mene apna pahala swapn bathaa diya
naye varsh ka
[ page 20]

plum blossoms
just have to show a branch
to the invalid

aaluche ke phool
keval ek tahani dhikha den
ek apang ko
[ page 21 ]

torn banana leaves
your reading voice
is close

phatte kele ke pathe
thumhaari padne kee awaaz
paas mem hey
[ page 21]

opening the back gate
calling in the ducks
early winter shower

pichlaa phaatak khol kar
bathkhom kho bulaa rahaa
sharad ki paheli varshaa
[ page 22]

the train passes through
only twice a day
flowering silver grass

relgaadi gujarthi hai
din me keval do baar
khilthi chaandini ghaas
[ page 27 ]

as it’s dragged away by ants-
cicada in autumn

rota hua
cheentiom se khincha jaa raha -
pathjhad me jheengor
[ page 31 ]

in the snow
the mountains are purple
this evening

barf me
parvath baingini hey
yah sandhyaa
[ page 37 ]

again and again
I asked the depth
of the falling snow

mene poocha gahraayi kithni hey
girthi barf ki
[ page 39]

Here are three translations of the same haiku

lying on my back
talking big
the Milky Way

lying on my back
acting innocent
the Milky Way

lying on my back
reciting a poem
the Milky Way

peet par leta hua
badi-badi baathem kartha
aakaash ganga

peet par leta hua
bhola ban raha
aakaash ganga

peet par leta hua
kavitha dohra raha
aakaash ganga
[ Page 42 ]

The season and the kigo are given for each Haiku and this enhances the reading experience.

There are excellent notes by the English translators and these are rendered in Hindi too. Perhaps, Ms. Deodhar could add additional notes about her Hindi translation too which would be useful to potential translators and readers too.

Ms. Deodhar has taken considerable care to make this translation as perfect and useful as feasible. Of course, one may sometimes feel an alternative possibility: this is inevitable since translation is a subtle art that can be approached from different perspectives. Altough it is legitimate and appropriate to use English words like ‘nurse’ ‘diary’ ‘violet’ ‘deutizia’ etc. in the Hindi version, in some cases like ‘kingfisher’ and the ‘mount’ in ‘mount Tsukuba’ one may wonder why some Hindi equivalents are not used. These are general observations not to detract us from the general excellence of this meticulous translation.

The book closes with a brief suggested reading of English books on haiku, index by season in a bilingual format, a note about the orginal translators from Japanese into English with their names and their original acknowledgments also in English and Hindi.

The page design of the book is excellent. My only suggestion is that font sizes could be slightly increased. The few photos of Shiki and paintings by Shiki in the beginning of the book are a rare collection. The book’s cover looks somewhat ordinary and gives it a solemn appearance of a textbook in my opinion. Perhaps, Angelee Deodhar could use one of Shiki’s paintings or even one of her digital Haiga on a Shiki Haiku and design a more exotic cover in a future edition.[ The Shiki self-portrait now on the cover could be pasted inside ] She has many lovely digital Haiga also to her credit we may note in passing.

[ For Angelee’s Haiga Please See ]

I also humbly suggest that a possible edition with the Japanese originals with Romanizations may be useful to a minor group who have some knowledge of Japanese and who are adept in Hindi. A brief biographical note of the translator will also be appreciated.

The Title of the book “If someone asks” [“yadi koi pooche” ] is appropriately taken from Shiki’s Haiku given on the back cover trilingually.

if someone asks
say I am still alive
autumn wind

yadi koi pooche
kaho mem abhi jeevith hum
pathjhad ki hava

Well begun is surely half done. This is a great beginning made by Ms. Angelee Deodhar. We may hope that many more such translations of Haiku and Haiku related materials will appear in Hindi and other languages, Indian and otherwise.

Narayanan Raghunathan


© Quoted from LYNX, XXI: 3 October, 2006

A Book Review of a A Hindi Translation of Masaoka Shiki’s – If Someone Asks . . .by Dr. Angelee Deodhar.

if someone asks
say I’m still alive
autumn wind

yadi koi poochhe
kaho mayn abhi jeevit hoon
patjhad ki hava

One morning, I received a mail from Angelee saying that she has sent me her book, a translation of Shiki’s poems into Hindi. I waited and waited for its arrival. I was more than rewarded . . . I read it many times over, both the English and the Hindi versions.

If Someone Asks . . .Masaoka Shiki’s Life and Haiku, originally published by Matsuyama Municipal Shiki-kinen Museum has now been translated into Hindi – India’s national language – by the renowned haiku poet Dr. Angelee Deodhar.

Ms. Angelee in her translator’s note says: "Masaoka Shiki, though well known to the western world through numerous excellent translations, is little known in India. The paucity of haiku related material to readers of Hindi made me take up the task of presenting this book. It was an arduous task and some might question this translation. However, since one must start somewhere, I felt it would be worthwhile to introduce in Hindi this selection of Shiki’s work, originally done into English by the sixteen translators of the Shiki-Kinen Museum, Matsuyama. It has taken three years to do this work"

Translation cannot be everyone’s cup of tea. It needs a certain sensitivity, a certain way of seeing things, through the eyes of the poet and the translator, the experience and what is experienced. To be able to stick to the spirit of the original and still get into the skin of the translated language. In other words, not just to translate but to trans-create, which can be done only when the translator internalizes what needs to be translated. The amount of time, effort, inclination, and pure love that this kind of work demands is clear when one comes across a good translated work.

Then comes the art of translating haiku, which is so simple that it becomes complicated. All great art is simple. It looks simple.

From page one, Ms. Angelee’s translation sticks to the original, a faithfully and honest rendering of the Master. Hindi when spoken as it should be spoken sounds simply beautiful – the language of the great poets like Saint Kabir and Saint Meera is both lyrical and forceful.I’ve put a few of Ms. Angelee’s Hindi translation into Romaji for your reading pleasure; just read aloud and feel the texture of the words – the experience is rewarding!

again and again
I ask the depth
of the falling snow

maynay poochha gehrai kitni hai
girtibrrph ki

me leaving
you staying
two autumns

mera jana
tumhara rehna
do patjhad

snow –
white cat on the roof ridge
just its voice

brrph –
safed billi chhuth kay chhajay par
keval uski avaz

tugging at
the quilt’s shortness
the cat meows

kheechtay huay
razai ka chhotapan
billi ki avaz

spring ebb tide
I am happy
everything is alive

vasanti bhatay mein
mayn prasann hoon
sab kuchh sajeev

my chair is moved –
in the shade of young leaves
I see the sky

meri kursi hilai gai –
nanhi pattiyon ki chhanv mein say
mayn akaash dekhta hoon

At first glance, I must own I was slightly disappointed with the cover. But after giving a thorough reading and seeing the world through Shiki’s eyes, his self-portrait said so much more and seemed so meaningful. The editing is faultless and all the credit should go to Dr. Angelee.

Any translation, if well done, is like the two faces of a coin. Even after it has settled down well in its new language it makes the reader ‘hunger’ for the original. If this happens to the reader after reading this book, it is the most beautiful thing ever to happen!

Kala Ramesh, Pune, India

ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo

If Someone Asks ...
Book Review by Denis M. Garrison, Loch Raven Review


Masaoka Shiki’s Life and Haiku

translations by The Shiki-Kinen Museum English Volunteers, pp. 73, Matsuyama Municipal Shiki-Kinen Museum, Printed by Myojo Printing Company, Japan, September 2001

Reviewed by
Susumu Takigchi, Oxford, England

This is a new book of some international importance. It was published last autumn by Matsuyama Municipal Shiki-Kinen Museum in Japan.

Called If Someone Asks … Masaoka Shiki’s Life and Haiku,
the book, though of modest size, is a new addition to a corner of the bookshelves of haiku-loving people across the world, especially fans and students of Shiki. It should be characterised as a selection of Shiki’s haiku in Japanese and English and designed to be read primarily by non-Japanese people in English translation.

Sixteen volunteers have worked hard to accomplish this worthy translation project. The book is the result (one wants to say a “triumph”) of five years’ efforts, intensive reading of over 20, 000 of Shiki’s haiku (out of 25, 444 haiku which Shiki is estimated by one academic to have written, or 23, 600 according to this book), and endless discussion among the people concerned. In the preface, it is declared that they are not scholars or professional translators. They therefore restricted their selections to those poems which they liked -- real labour of love.

Their favourite poems gave them the starting point: about 500 haiku. These were eventually whittled down to the final 116. Only history will judge the quality of the translation but the unassuming, uncluttered and sincere style in plain English without any extra information imposed on the poems has an immediate attraction and seems most appropriate to convey the feelings of Shiki when he wrote the poems in “simple and direct language, avoiding difficult or esoteric expressions” (quoted from the book’s “Shiki’s Life and Times”).

It is an interesting and encouraging discovery that the procedure which the translators formulated for themselves to arrive at final versions looks surprisingly similar to that which the World Haiku Club has created for its Masaoka Shiki translation project. In their useful explanation about how they did the translation work, the translators give an account of what they call an “unusual” process: “With each haiku, we started by writing on a board the translation(s) of one or more of the members.

Then we all tackled it together; discussing the meaning and making changes until we had something we liked. Over the years we went over each one again and again, always as a group.”

The compact book seems to have everything: photographs, a chronology of Shiki’s life, short accounts of haiku, of translation and of romanisation, a short reading list, the index of selected haiku by season and in chronological order in each section. In other words, the book can also be used as a handy introduction to haiku. The brief account of Shiki’s life set against the time he lived in, only two pages long, is one of the best writings of the kind. Academic books on Shiki in English are woefully needed. However, this book will bring Shiki right into the heart of ordinary haiku-lovers and take them directly through the wonderful world of his haiku poems.

Of particular use is the way in which each haiku is arranged: first, it is presented in the original Japanese, followed by the English translation and romanised version. Then the season of the haiku is given with the kigo used both in English and Japanese. The age at which Shiki wrote that particular haiku is also given and last but not least some account (including maegaki) is given in many poems to explain the background and circumstances of the haiku in question.

Some translations are brilliant but masked by modesty:

supari supari asa karu waza no omoshiroki

swish, swish –
mesmerized by
the flax cutter’s skill

furansu no sumire o fusu shoshin kana

a letter
from France
with a violet

kimi o okurite omou koto ari kaya ni naku

after saying good-bye
mixed feelings well up
crying inside the mosquito net

mukiote naku ya uzura no kago futatsu

facing each other
the quails call out
from two cages

shiokumi no michimichi tsuki o koboshikeri

salt worker carrying sea water
spilling moons on the way

And the wonderful haiku from which the title of the book was derived:

hito towaba mada ikiteiru aki no kaze

if someone asks
say I’m still alive
autumn wind

ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo

hechima saite tan no tsumarishi hotoke kana

the sponge gourd is in bloom
this hotoke
choked by phlegm

tan itto hechima no mizu mo maniawazu

gallons of phlegm
too late
even for water from the gourd plant

ototoi no hechima no mizu mo torazariki

the sponge gourd water
of two days ago
wasn’t even collected

These modest people who have given us such delightful translation of Shiki’s haiku as are contained in this book must not be kept anonymous: Abe Shigeharu, Ishida Kumiko, Ishimaru Fujiko, Ishitoya Keiko, Miyoshi Ikuko, Nakayama Asako, Noma Minako, Ochi Yasuko, Ojima Kyoko, Onishi Yoko, Taizan Sachiko, Tamai Kiyomi, Tamura Nanae, Tanaka Kimiyo, Tanioka Hiroe, Ruth Vergin (all surname first, given name second, except for the last person)

Read the full review here at the WHR World Haiku Review.


. Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規  .


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