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Frogpond 41.2 • 2018

Museum of Haiku
Literature Award

Haiku & Senryu

Essay 1 - "Naked Haiku"

Essay 2 - "Basho's Frog"




Book Reviews


Bashō’s frog, the great survivor

by Geoffrey Wilkinson

Bashō’s frog, the great survivor
(complete PDF version)

Here is a sample excerpt from the opening page of this essay:

The old pond—
a frog jumps in,
the sound of water.

Let’s just call it the “What’s all the fuss about?” school of thought. That is, there are those who think Bashō’s frog hokku has been the subject of too much oversubtle interpretation—mystification, in fact—and accorded an importance it does not deserve. The scholar Naitō Meisetsu, for example, writing in 1904, put it as follows:

There was an old pond, a frog jumped into it, and—plop!—the sound of water was heard. That is all the poem says. The interest of the poem lies in its being purely descriptive of the scene. It goes without saying that this hokku does not rank high among Bashō’s poems. I am certain Bashō and his disciples did not expect future readers to value [it] so highly or to attach so many surprising meanings to it.

This is a minority view, of course, and the consensus now is that Bashō’s frog fully deserves the importance attached to it because it marks a dividing point, a pre-amphibian/post-amphibian moment, not just in but in the broader haikai tradition as well. Ironically, the roots of the modern consensus largely go back to a series of articles, Bashō zatsudan (Small Talk about Bashō, published in 1893–94), in which the poet and critic Masaoka Shiki set out, in effect, to debunk Bashō and his school. The idolatry that had built up around Bashō had to be stripped away, said Shiki, so that there could be a more genuinely critical reappraisal and appreciation of his poetry.

[feature continues for several more pages] . . .

Wilkinson, Geoffrey. "Bashō’sFrog, the Great Survivor." Frogpond 41.2, Spring-Summer, 2018, 99-108.

This excerpt inclues the first page of the feature: page 99. The complete feature includes pages 99-108. To read the complete feature, click on the link to the PDF version:

Bashō’s frog, the great survivor
(complete PDF version)