This article compares several French translations of two haikus of Bashō (1644-1694). The aim of comparison is not to observe the improvement of translation over the years but rather to rethink the so-called untranslatability of poetry, in the case of a language so far from the Indo-European languages. If the harmony of a language harnessed by the poetry is not translatable (according to Dante), we must add “the imitative harmony” of the ideograms (Claudel) for the poetry written in Chinese or Japanese. In translating a poem so brief as a haiku, is only the meaning to be considered, even if the translation seems insipid? And, if there is no other solution than a semantic translation, should aesthetic factors be totally ignored? Yet, even as a semantic translation, the two haikus examined each offer a symbolic problem: the first presents an ungrammatical ellipsis which always has to be completed in translation; in the second, the particle of punctuation serves as a caesura, idiomatic and untranslatable. In each case the translation has to deal with an unstated feeling or thought which the brevity of the poem brings out all the more.
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