“The autumn gloaming deepens into night”

Elin Sütiste’s “A Crow on a Bare Branch” is an exhaustive analysis of 32 translations of Bashō’s famous kare-eda poem:

kare-eda ni / karasu no tomarikeri / aki no kure

The autumn gloaming deepens into night;
Back ‘gainst the slowly-fading orange light,
On withered bough a lonely crow is sitting.
(Walsh, 1916)

Lo! A crow sits on a bare bough,
‘Tis a dreary autumn evening.
(Miyamori, 1930)

Bare barren branch on
which a crow has alighted autumn
Nightfall darkening.
(Unknown, 1964)

The three translations above are the three that most caught my interest. The first two are largely notable for their period charm. As Sütiste observes, placed in chronological order the 32 translations form a sort of ape-straightening-up-into-man (sic!)–style diorama, revealing the gradual coalescence of a “haiku style” in English at the expense of diversity. (Note, though, that Aston’s 1899 translation, the first, was already in something very like that final haiku style; I suspect that close examination of the style’s development would reveal that it was more a story of specific influential figures, probably starting with Aston, than non-directed evolutionary change in the community.)

The last of the three I like because of the pleasing off-kilter effect of the “autumn” at the end of the second line. Is the wandering autumn justified by the source text? Maybe; the aki “autumn” in the original doesn’t show any sign of enjambment, but it could be argued that the shocking inclusion of nine (!) morae instead of seven in the middle section should be represented in the English somehow.

Author: Matt

I live in Japan and read less books than I used to before I had kids, but still quite a few.

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