Red plum blossoms (koobai)

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Red plum blossoms (koobai)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Early Spring
***** Category: Plant


16 pink and red END

koobai 紅梅 (こうばい ) red plum blossoms
mikai koo 未開紅(みかいこう)not yet open red
usukoobai 薄紅梅(うすこうばい)light red plum


06 detail red

Red plum blossoms are quite wonderful in their contrast with the blue sky of spring.

Plum Park in Kume, Okayama, 2009
Photo Gabi Greve


Michael Dickman's Poetry Month Pick, April 2, 2010

"Having Reddened the Plum Blossoms"
by Yosa Buson (1716-1783)
translated by Robert Hass

Charles Simic says that the short poem "is a match flaring up in the dark universe".

One poem that comes to my mind as a match, or even a book of matches, flaring up in the dark universe is a three-line poem by Yosa Buson:

Having reddened the plum blossoms
the sunset attacks
oaks and pines.

I think this is a small and meditative poem about summer that is also somehow a large and raucous poem about bloody desire. It is, to be sure, a poem that asks us to take in and make sense of a great deal in a very short amount of time. The poem moves slowly. But our minds have to race.
We need to make sense of, among other things, plum blossoms turning a color they don't usually take on— by what we're not sure until the second line. We find out it is due to a sunset, but a sunset that attacks, that has martial qualities, and which turns to redden the oaks and pines next.
In its way it is a very fast and violent poem, leaving the reader to wonder if there will be any end to the "reddening." The poem keeps opening out after its final period along with the sunset. Almost cinematic in its jump cuts, the images move in wide circles inside of the world. They start in the miniscule; a blossom, then move out to the grand sweeping sunset and then back to something that lives in-between the two: trees. Buson does this in three lines. Eleven words.

About the effect of images there is the famous comment made by a student of Tu Fu's: "It's like being alive twice", he said. Part of what I think the student means is that thinking in images renders us alive and present to the actual world. And reading poems like this one will leave us gasping for breath, amazed, and lit up like a match.

About Michael Dickman:

Michael Dickman is the author of The End of the West (Copper Canyon Press, 2009). He was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, Field, Tin House, and Narrative Magazine, among others.

* * * * * *

This is not a frequently-translated poem of Buson's. Doing a quick search of various books of translation, I found it in only two places: Hass's Essential Haiku, and Blyth.

Here is Blyth's translation:

koobai ya irihi no osou matsu kashiwa

Red plum-blossoms:
The setting sun assails
Pines and oak trees.

Here is Blyth's comment:
The level rays of the sun strike on the oaks and pines above the plum-tree, and flood them with a strength and depth of colour that surpasses that of the obscurely red blossoms. There is here no attempt on the part of the poet to unite himself with nature, to live his own life into nature. Buson makes himself a 'tabula rasa' upon which to portray the scene which somehow or other disturbs him.
It is true that we can find subjective elements here, as everywhere, the contrast of the masculine pines and oaks with the feminine plum-tree, the use of the word "assail" which which really expresses the poet's own feeling of being overwhelmed by the rich colour of the rays of the setting sun.

* * * * * *

It appears that Hass mistakenly believes that the plum blossoms are white, and are being reddened by the setting sun, along with the pine and oak.

Larry Bole
Translating Haiku Forum

CLICK for more photos
sunset and red plum blossoms


Here is another comment based on the translation by HASS,

haiku have no verbs at all,
and so the tense is left ambiguous:

Having reddened the plum blossoms,
the sunset attacks
oaks and pines.

Here, I see a commonly used format of: "after this, this"
Still the speaking of haiku moment is occuring in the present, but directly after something else has happened.
Showing the passage of time, but still in a designated moment in present time.

My Comments copyright 4/6/1999 by Wendy C. Bialek - Shiki Workshop

* * *

Again we are remainded of the weight a translation has for a reader who does not understand the original and is left to speculate on an English version, that might lead him/her to conclusions that are NOT implied in the Japanese at all.

Gabi Greve


source : www.rakanneko.jp

koobai no rakka moyuramu uma no fun

The red plum's fallen flowers
seem to be burning
on the horse's droppings.

Tr. Sawa and Shiffert

pink petals of the plum
lie on horse dung,
looking ready to flare up

Tr. Ueda

. WKD : Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 in Edo .


Roja flor de ciruelo :
el sol poniente ataca
pinossss y robles.

source : Tr. Fernanso Rodriguez-Izquierdo y Gavala

Worldwide use

Things found on the way


red plum blossom . . .
the little details
that catch my soul

Gabi Greve

Kume Plum Park, Spring 2010


just one spot
of delicious RED ...
spring snow

32 red plum and snow

Gabi Greve, Spring 2010


紅梅(こうばい) 初春
Japanese Haiku Samples

Related words

***** . Plum Blossoms (梅 (うめ) ume)  



snowbird said...

Wonderful photos.
spring snow -
the red plum blossoms

These are really gorgeous! Merrill

Hiruta said...

How beautiful!

The plum blossoms
deepen shades of red
the sun setting


Gabi Greve said...

Thank you, Hidenori sensei!
I will be off to look for wild cherry blossoms today in my neighbourhood.

Ella Wagemakers said...

my tired back
a little less painful
... red plum blossoms

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