Haiku – Lost in Translation

We had so much fun with our last Haiku assignment that I assigned some extra-extra credit.  I challenged the students to find Arakida Moritake’s “Fallen Flower” haiku in Japanese and feed it into Google Translate.

Three students took me up on it and I received three completely different translations:

The Original (from our textbook, Abeka’s World Literature)

The falling flower
I saw drift back to the branch
Was a butterfly

Some of us found a different translation of that online, and we agreed it was the better of the two:

Translation by Steven D. Carter:

A fallen blossom
returning to the bough, I thought —
But no, a butterfly.

Carter, Steven D. Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology. Stanford University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0804722124 p338

And here are the translations my students did with the help of Google Translate:

Translation by Sandis Wightman:

I went back to the branch and saw the drift
It was a butterfly

Translation by Darynne Sato:

If you look to the fallen branches and you see it.

Translation by Michael Capparelli:

Lukha.z When you return to the moon butterfly and clothes fallen flower branches, the moon is unprepared.

And this, students, is why it’s so important, when reading literature that originated in another language, to find a reputable translation.

Or you could learn the language.  That would work, too.  😆


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