Haiku Translation help

Hi there! I am trying to write about Haiku for an essay in university and I am trying to reference the original versions as well as translations to compare how different translations approach different haiku etc.
Anyway this one I am finding a little harder to understand the use of 木魂 with the ni particle!
If you could help me I would really appreciate :slight_smile:

This is the haiku:
te o uteba /
kodama ni akuru /
natsu no tsuki


And here are some translations,
Summer moon,
clapping hands,
I herald dawn - Lucien Stryk

as I clap my hands
the dawn begins to echo
the moon of summer - Tim chilcot

Clapping my hands
with the echoes,
the summer moon begins to dawn - (unknown translator but commonly found)

All the translator’s have chosen to make different arrangements to the ordering - as far as I’m aware this probably isn’t a problem because of the way Basho writes poems - but my japanese isn’t good enough to understand exactly what the function of the ni particle is here, can anyone help me? of course it might be quite abstract but I wonder if anyone has some suggestions of different ways to see it :slight_smile:


Written with those kanji does ‘Kodama’ not imply tree spirits? Like the cute bobbly headed things in Princess Mononoke? I don’t know - I’m asking wiser heads - edit - like tree spirits come alive??


I was actually wondering the same thing- I love those little things! From what I can tell, it can mean a tree spirit or an echo- but with the kanji it is more likely to imply the tree spirits. I wonder though if at the time Basho was writing in if the kanji use was more common to use in the context of an echo? Either way apparently the tree spirits communicate with/ through the use of echos, and thats the link between the two. I’m not 100% sure on this, it’s only what I can see from looking online (mainly from English sources though to be honest.)


I can’t speak with any certainty, but fwiw, the Japanese Wikipedia page for Kodama uses 木霊 as the kanji (though 木魂 is shown in parentheses as an option as well).

As for the original question, I’m not great at poetry in English, let alone in Japanese, but if I were to hazard a guess, I would maybe say the に is acting as a point in time marker – specifically marking the start point of the dawning of the summer moon in this case.

Basically, stripping away the pretty poetry, “When I clap my hands, the dawning of the summer moon begins with the echoes.” (This is too literal and ugly, but that’s intentional to try and stress what I think the に is doing grammatically).

If somebody who is more poetically-minded disagrees with me, I would defer to them, though. :joy:


Thank you! This is a really helpful to show me where each thing is happening in the original. Often translators use a lot of creative freedom that change the meaning slightly so its good to know what Basho is probably doing, or how he may be using the Japanese grammar to create an effect – I personally think your literal translation works really well :slight_smile: :grin:


Sorry I’m late with this, but I was sick and then I had to check with my native friend who taught me haiku whether I was understanding it correctly.
Starting with your question about the に, it’s actually a very good one! It’s a form of に that isn’t used much these days, although I can’t comment on modern poetry. The watered down version that I understood when I first read it, is that it’s the に that implies an addition. For example, when ordering at McDonalds, you could say ビッグマックにポテトお願いします. However, this に gives a bit more meaning than that. It’s almost like さらに in the sense that the person in the poem here is moved by the sound of their clap, and on top of that they see the summer moon, which moves them further. This is a classic Basho haiku in the sense that that moment of the clap gives very clear imagery and you’re left with a beautiful picture in your mind to go along with it.
The 木魂 also requires a bit of cultural background to understand. It is indeed a tree spirit, however the origin of it is where the Jisho entry of “Echo; reverberation” comes in. It was believed that the echo heard while talking in the mountains was the spirit of the trees talking back. In this case, it’s not a voice echoing, but rather the clap.
In terms of translations, I think only the first you’ve listed conveys most of the meaning of the haiku (or at least avoids incorrect additions). There is a sense of dawn in the poem, but it’s important to not confuse 明ける, which is to dawn, and 明くる, which is a pre-noun adjectival meaning next. Therefore, it is not the moon dawning, but rather disappearing and giving way to dawn. One simple interpretation of the poem is that the person woke up before dawn, clapped their hands and looked at the summer moon. The reason why I like Lucien Stryk’s translation the best (and indeed it seems he’s the more qualified of the two in terms of Japanese translation), is that the use of the word “herald” implies some enthusiasm for the breaking of dawn that captures part of the wonder that is encapsulated in the に.
Note that all of these haiku were originally written in one vertical line. While Japanese people are certainly aware of the tripartite structure of the poem, there is also often a 切れ字 that splits the poem into two parts. In this case, there isn’t a traditional 切れ字 such as や or けり, but there could be an argument that the に here acts as one, effectively splitting the haiku like this: 手を打てば木魂 に 明くる夏の月. This split between the action and sound and the scenery makes the second phrase and the function of the に a bit clearer.
Despite being late, I hope this helps clear up the difficulty of that pesky particle! If you have any more haiku questions, I’ll try to answer to the best of my ability (and ask my trusty 先生).


Hi Dorod,

Sorry I’ve only just seen your reply - This is a really comprehensive answer and I’m really grateful for it! My essay is due in about a week so its perfect timing :slight_smile: I’m also glad you are a fan of Stryk’s version because it was the one I was initially most confused by - In my essay I’ve made the argument that Basho is playing with ideas of beginning and sequence, with the phenomenon of an ‘echo’ showing the same instance repeated at two separate instances of time. Knowing that the ni particle may also be functioning as a cutting word also helps with this perspective, with basho, choosing to cut between the ‘echo’ and the ‘next’. I found another translation which I liked and felt captured this interpretation by David Landis Barnhill, I like how he puts the ‘dawn’, inside the ‘echo’

Clapping hands
And dawnlight in the echo:
Summer moon
tr- David Landis Barnhill

Anyway I really appreciate your help! I do actually have one last Haiku question that if you can help me with would be so appreciated. I’m intending to use it as an example of the difficulty of translating haiku. So far I’ve said that 五月雨の is ‘summer rain’ but implies summer rains as a phenomena and not just ‘this summer rain’ in a way that could almost be translated as ‘April showers’, although this doesn’t work because of the etymology 五月 suggesting ‘may rain’.
Anyway, if you have any thoughts I would love to hear them! Thanks again!


samidare no
furinokoshite ya

All the summer rains:
have they left it untouched?
Hall of Light
-David barn hill

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I just happened to notice this thread, and while I have no issues with the literary analysis here (I used to be a literature student myself), there are some things that don’t sit all that well with me from the linguistic perspective, and I say this with the utmost respect.

I’m not a native speaker of Japanese, and I haven’t studied haiku very deeply, but I have dug through some of Classical Japanese (古文) grammar, and it happens that Bashō is on the secondary school 古文 syllabus in Japan (e.g. this Wiki page). Therefore, this haiku is written in Classical Japanese, and should not be interpreted entirely through the lens of modern Japanese, even if some things certainly remain the same. That raises, in particular, this issue:

Actually… 明くる only has that specialised function in modern Japanese. In Classical Japanese, it’s just the noun-modifying form of 明く, which was the classical version of… 明ける. So actually, it’s effectively just 明ける in this poem. The reason it’s not the moon dawning is because 明く refers to the night giving way to the day or a new unit of time succeeding the previous one. As Weblio’s Kobun site states:

(translations mine)

In other words, the reason we need to understand it as the day breaking is that 明ける (classically 明く) is specialised for daybreak or time periods succeeding each other, and cannot be used for celestial bodies.

As for this,

There’s a tendency, as far as I know, for the 切れ字 to appear at the end of one of the three segments. I may not know haiku extremely well, but that’s a pattern I’ve noticed, and you’ll notice that it holds true for all five of the examples in this article on learning 切れ字:

Here’s one I know:

世の中は 三日見ぬ間の 桜かな

Once again, the same pattern: the 切れ字 always appear at the ends of segments. Perhaps you know of a counter-example since you’ve most likely studied haiku in greater depth than I have, but all the examples I know of support my hypothesis. That would lead me to guess instead that the break is indeed meant to appear around 明くる in Bashō’s poem above. Additionally, the definition of 切れ字 in Daijirin (3rd edition) mentions that other sorts of breaks exist:

Now, it’s true that 明くる doesn’t fall under any of these categories because it’s a noun-modifying form (連体形), but it’s still a possible strategy. For example, the Association of Japanese Classical Haiku says this in an article on the use of breaks in haiku:

It’s kinda like poems in English where you jump
from one line to the next, creating a sudden disconnect that leaves the reader yearning for the rest of the sentence. These forms are explicitly incomplete, which creates a stronger break.

A final thought I’d like to leave everyone with is this explanation of the poem in Japanese, which I will attempt to translate:

I’m not saying this is the only possible correct interpretation, but I think it might provide some additional cultural context that might help with understanding what the rest of the scene Bashō was painting might have looked like.

By the way, I imagine that OP is probably already aware of this, but 夏の月 is also an example of a 季語 (seasonal marker), which is a traditional part of a haiku.

I think this interpretation relies on the possibility of に alluding to an ある (classically あり) at the end of the sentence, signifying existence.

You could argue that seasons may start at slightly different times in Japan. Notice how spring and the new school year both traditionally start in early April in Japan. That contrasts with traditional dates for spring in Europe like 21 March in France. Perhaps that similarly allows us to move ‘April showers’ to May in Japanese.

That aside, a perhaps far more relevant fact:

【《五月雨》 】〔「さ」はさつき,「みだれ」は水垂(みだれ)の意という〕
① 陰暦五月頃に降り続く雨。
The rain that falls continuously around the fifth month of the lunar calendar

So yes, it’s based on a different calendar from the one that Japan generally uses today. (By the way, the etymology blurb says, ‘It is said that「さ」means さつき [N.B. the fifth month of the lunar calendar] and 「みだれ」means water dripping.’)

Also, while I imagine you might not need to know this, if you’re wondering about this bit of the translation:

have they left it untouched?

や tended to be used as a rhetorical question marker, and it seems there would often be another bit to the sentence after や. Something like ‘[I wonder if it’s like that] because (〜て) it was left untouched by the falling rain?’


Hey, I’m glad you found the thread and put so much time and effort into the comment! I’ve only written like 3 comments on Wanikani, so I’ll apologize in advance for my sloppy formatting going forward.

About 明くる

Very good catch with the 連体形 of 明く! I was not aware of that 古文, and I’ve asked one of my coworkers who teaches 国語 to confirm. One thing that I will say, is that it is not as clear as you’ve made it out to be. Searching on Weblio, I found the page for 明くる, which reads as follows:

あくる 【明くる】



出典平家物語 一・俊寛沙汰鵜川軍
[訳] 翌日の午前六時に(館(やかた)に)押し寄せて。

This shows that it has had the meaning of 次の since the 平家物語 was written. However, checking with someone more knowledgeable of 古文 than me, he agreed with you that because the following phrase is 夏の月, it is indeed the 連体形 of 明く. Thanks for pointing that out and teaching me to be more careful!

切れ字 and more!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about 俳句, is that the rabbit hole of rules only goes deeper. If you look on Wikipedia, it might tell you about 季語 and 切れ字, but not about their variations and other tools that 俳人 use.
To answer your question about whether 切れ字 can come in middle of a phrase, the answer is yes! They are called 中間切れ, and while rare, they do appear in some 俳句, for example:

春雨の 中や雪おく 甲斐の山 (作:芥川龍之介)

Here you can see that the や 切れ字 comes in the middle of the second phrase! Now I should be clear about my limited research into the history of 中間切れ in that I have not found an example that dates back further than the 19th century.
Bringing the topic back to に, I’d like to apologize for my careless use of language here.

I should have mentioned that even in classical 俳句, there were only 18 proper 切れ字 and に was not among them. What I was trying to say is that you can take the に as a break, or 切れ, in the 俳句.

I don’t think that most would consider an effective 切れ字 to be a sudden disconnect. What they do is create a pause that allows for further imagination or perhaps to give a lingering feeling. In one of your examples here:

The かな at the end is a 切れ字, but since it comes at the end, it brings a lingering quality to the end of the poem. In another example,

there are 2 切れ字 being used. The first gives you the time to imagine the falling snow, but it also leads you into the second part of the 俳句 and gives it more meaning. The reader is left wondering what connection there is between the falling snow and the Meiji Era getting ever farther away (which is further emphasized by ending with けり).
I’ll introduce one more 俳句 technique before wrapping up about に, and that is 句またがり. This is when a 俳句 breaks the 5-7-5 format. The most enlightening example I could find was another 俳句 of 松尾芭蕉:

『 海暮れて鴨のこゑほのかに白し 』
読み方:うみくれて かものこえほのかにしろし

This 俳句 is split into 2 parts instead of 3!
Taking this into account, I thought that the 俳句 could also be interpreted in this way:
手を打てば木魂に 明くる夏の月
If read like this, there is a natural break where the に comes in and thus it is similar to a 切れ字. When talking with my 国語先生 friend, he split it into 3 phrases at first. However, when I explained about how I was interpreting the に, he agreed that it would result in the most interesting interpretation of the 俳句.

五月雨 interpretation and useful website I'm getting most of the information for this bit from this gem of a website [https://haiku-textbook.com/samidarewo-furinokoshiteya/], but it's all in Japanese so I'll give you a quick summary:

It’s hard to understand this 俳句 at all if you’re not aware of the place it’s talking about!

Behold the Hall of Light! Although I’m not sure how it has changed over the past 400 years, 松尾芭蕉 wrote this poem after visiting this temple.
As @Jonapedia said, 五月雨 was during the 5th month of the lunar calendar, which corresponds to around June in today’s calendar. Note that 五月雨 is a summer 季語, so I would stay away from the comparison to the rainy season of some Western countries being in the spring.
Another thing that’s important to know is that the rainy season was known to bring mold and rot to things. Keeping this in mind, it seems like 松尾 was struck by the feeling that the Hall of Light was the only thing left untouched by the rain.
One technique that is being used here is called 体言止め (たいげんどめ), which is simply ending a 俳句 with a noun or a noun phrase. The aforementioned website says that ending in such a way leaves a lingering effect or a stronger impression.

Please let me know if you find any more of my mistakes. I’m always happy to learn more, especially when it comes to 古文!


Yes, and that’s the ‘time periods succeeding each other’ meaning I mentioned earlier. What I meant was that with 明くる in 古文, that meaning was just one of the possibilities because it was just a form of 明く, the classical equivalent of 明ける. Hence why I said

It wasn’t reserved for that in Classical Japanese. Granted, that does make things a little less clear, but 夏の月 isn’t likely to be a time period.

That’s very interesting! Just something I thought about while looking at this though: I believe that や as a 切れ字 is generally used as something like a tone particle, and I’ve often been told (both by friends and Japanese teachers) that these words typically have little or no meaning. That would mean this や is different from the や used in incomplete lists, yes?

Yes, I guess that’s a possibility, and it is true that there’s a contrast between the two things perceived by the persona.

Perhaps I oversimplified: to me, a disconnect also prompts the reader to fill in the gap and to imagine what else might go into it. It’s true that a mere break doesn’t necessarily achieve that, however. Still, in the case of the haiku we were discussing, I think that ending the middle phrase with 明くる could, for example, paint the general image of a day dawning for the reader before the moon is mentioned.

Actually, how would the interpretation have changed if we had gone with the usual three-phrase structure?

Wow, that’s a really nice image. Thanks for the context.

Just a remark: this technique can also be used in essays, though the site I read about it suggested not overusing it in essays in order to avoid being vague.


You also see it a fair bit in the more excitable kind of book or manga brief blurb text that you get on the back covers of books.


@Jonapedia @dorod @pm215 Thank you all so much - you guys have given me a wealth of information to work with and I feel you’re all more qualified to be writing this essay than I am! Still as far as I have found it’s hard to find a lot of close reading of Japanese poetry and its translations written in English, so I’m happy to be learning about it.

Even though it’s ancient Japanese, I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about how the language functions through learning about its poetry :slight_smile:

The website is a great resource, and the picture of the hall of light is really beautiful. This has been my first post on the WK forums so it’s been really nice to have such helpful input, thanks everyone :grin:


I understand your position much better now, thank you! Although, it’s interesting because I think we still have different interpretations of the word. The definition that I was leaning towards was actually the second one:

The reason being that what immediately follows 明くる is 夏, which could be interpreted to mean that it doesn’t necessarily mean daybreak and could instead signal the coming of a new summer season. Because 松尾芭蕉’s haiku were often written based off of his real life travels and experiences, I decided to look up the date of this particular haiku. I found that it was dated 4月23日 of the lunar calendar. With 5月7日 being the start of summer, it seems possible that he was anticipating the new season. Unfortunately, for a 400 year old lesser known haiku, it is impossible to confidently state his intentions.

Looking at the very convoluted history on Kotobank and Weblio, it appears that や first appeared in the 古事記 as a 囃子詞, or a word that has no meaning and just has a rhythmic effect. Apparently the 切れ字 meaning came from a や that was put between 2 nouns to tie them together and indicate emotion. I think a tone particle is a pretty good description of it!

With the 3 part structure, we have the second phrase as 木魂に明くる, which to me gives a much stronger connection between the tree spirits and pretty much restricts the meaning of 明くる to mean daybreak. I don’t think the interpretation is incorrect, but I feel like the break at に gives more time to appreciate the sound of the clapping of the hands and the echo, before switching to the (perhaps new) summer moon.

I know your pain here. I think that surface level readings are important and help people get interested in the art, but it is a shame that there aren’t a lot of English resources for deeper dives. I guess it’s just another motivation to learn Japanese though, so there’s a silver lining!

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