The meaning of the frog and old pond haiku poem by Matsuo Basho

A frog didn’t leap into a pond… The fact of the most famous haiku poem in Japan.


The most famous haiku poem of the most famous haiku poet in Japan.


古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音


It’s a very simple poem. Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) composed it at a haiku gathering in 1686 when he was 43 years old. 


If you pronounce the kanji and hiragana, it’s in the following way.


Furuike ya/ Kawazu tobikomu/ Mizu no oto


Do you know the syllable and format of haiku?

Haiku’s format and rules in English and Japanese


It would be a little difficult to say correctly. The tip is to say without intonating as much as possible. The silence is one of the important elements of the poem.




Meaning of the poem


Even though we know the pronunciation, it doesn’t help to understand the meaning of the poem. Now, I’ll translate it into English.



To an old pond

A frog leaps in.

And the sound of the water.



It’s really simple poem. But a haiku implies the information of five senses, eyesight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.  “Old pond” means the deserted scene and there is no sound around the pond. 


A frog breaks the silence by jumping into the pond. I don’t know the size of the frog, but the sound would be not so big. And after the jumping, the silence comes again… The haiku poem would evoke the image and sound that Matsuo Basho saw and heard. But it’s not exactly true.




The fact of frog, old pond and sound

Most of the people, even Japanese, think the poem shows that Matsuo Basho actually experienced and moved to the scene. However, he didn’t see the scene even the frog. The haiku gathering was held at his hermitage Basho-an with a pond. Haiku poets decided a theme at a haiku gathering and it was “frog” at the day. So, Basho had to put the word into a poem.


“Frog” is a spring season word.

Spring haiku poem examples by Matsuo Basho


Since there was the pond at the hermitage, he possibly heard the sound of the water. But speaking about “a pound”, he didn’t see it when he composed the poem. According to the record of his disciple Shiko, Basho came up with the words of “A frog leaps in/ And the sound of the water.” before “An old pond”. After polishing, he decided to use “An old pond”.  


He created the famous haiku poem in the hermitage and didn’t see the pond. The pond of the poem isn’t reality even there was nearby from him. He made the world of silence which broken by a small creature in his mind. 


Furthermore, Basho made a nobel attempt to compose about a frog. Previously, all of the Japanese poets use the word aiming at the effect of the sound of the amphibian’s croaking. It was the first time that the poem which focused on the sound of a splashing that a frog made.



Read other Basho’s haiku poem.

Best 10 famous Matsuo Basho’s haiku poems in Japanese and English



Books about Matsuo Basho

Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho (Kindle Edition)

Offers the most comprehensive collection of Basho’s prose available, beautifully translated into English.

In Basho’s Journey, David Landis Barnhill provides the definitive translation of Matsuo Basho’s literary prose, as well as a companion piece to his previous translation, Basho’s Haiku. One of the world’s greatest nature writers, Basho (1644–1694) is well known for his subtle sensitivity to the natural world, and his writings have influenced contemporary American environmental writers such as Gretel Ehrlich, John Elder, and Gary Snyder. This volume concentrates on Basho’s travel journal, literary diary (Saga Diary), and haibun. The premiere form of literary prose in medieval Japan, the travel journal described the uncertainty and occasional humor of traveling, appreciations of nature, and encounters with areas rich in cultural history. Haiku poetry often accompanied the prose. The literary diary also had a long history, with a format similar to the travel journal but with a focus on the place where the poet was living. Basho was the first master of haibun, short poetic prose sketches that usually included haiku.

As he did in Basho’s Haiku, Barnhill arranges the work chronologically in order to show Basho’s development as a writer. These accessible translations capture the spirit of the original Japanese prose, permitting the nature images to hint at the deeper meaning in the work. Barnhill’s introduction presents an overview of Basho’s prose and discusses the significance of nature in this literary form, while also noting Basho’s significance to contemporary American literature and environmental thought. Excellent notes clearly annotate the translations.

“Barnhill’s approach to translation is straightforward and unfussy, aiming to be as accurate as possible, making his two volumes a highly serviceable compilation. They will be of great value to readers.” — The Japan Times

“Read cover to cover, the volume presents the breadth of Basho’s prose. If you open it randomly, on almost every page you encounter haunting images of the landscape, village life, and literary culture of Japan. This book inspires us to stop and pay attention to the poetry of the world around us.” — Buddhadharma

“…Barnhill reveals the importance of narrative and social contexts in reading Basho. Barnhill’s careful translations and notes reveal a poet both independent and pious … Above all, Basho’s experience of ‘cultured nature’ emerges unforgettably.” — The Providence Sunday Journal on Basho’s Journey and Basho’s Haiku

“Barnhill’s translations maintain the Japanese originals’ direct sparseness, and retain their dramatic sequence, which all too many translations unfortunately and unnecessarily sacrifice.” — Taigen Dan Leighton, cotranslator of Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of Eihei Shingi

David Landis Barnhill is Director of Environmental Studies and Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. He is the translator of Basho’s Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho and the coeditor (with Roger S. Gottlieb) of Deep Ecology and World Religions: New Essays on Sacred Ground, both also published by SUNY Press.

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Basho: The Complete Haiku (Hardcover)

Basho stands today as Japan’s most renowned writer, and one of the most revered. Wherever Japanese literature, poetry or Zen are studied, his oeuvre carries weight. Every new student of haiku quickly learns that Basho was the greatest of the Old Japanese Masters.

Yet despite his stature, Basho’s complete haiku have not been collected into a single volume. Until now.

To render the writer’s full body of work into English, Jane Reichhold, an American haiku poet and translator, dedicated over ten years of work. In Basho: The Complete Haiku, she accomplishes the feat with distinction. Dividing his creative output into seven periods of development, Reichhold frames each period with a decisive biographical sketch of the poet’s travels, creative influences and personal triumphs and defeats. Scrupulously annotated notes accompany each poem; and a glossary and two indexes fill out the volume.

Reichhold notes that, “Basho was a genius with words.” He obsessively sought out the right word for each phrase of the succinct seventeen-syllable haiku, seeking the very essence of experience and expression. With equal dedication, Reichhold sought the ideal translations. As a result, Basho: The Complete Haiku is likely to become the essential work on this brilliant poet and will stand as the most authoritative book on the subject for many years to come. Original sumi-e ink drawings by artist Shiro Tsujimura complement the haiku throughout the book.

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Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho (Paperback)

Basho (1644-94) is perhaps the best known Japanese poet in both Japan and the West, and yet there has been remarkably little serious scholarship in English on his achievement. This book is intended to address that virtual void by establishing the ground for critical discussion and reading of a central figure in Japanese culture, placing the works of Basho and his disciples in the context of broader social change.
Intended for both the general reader and the specialist, Traces of Dreams examines the issues of language, landscape, cultural memory, and social practice in early modern Japan through a fundamental reassessment of haikai―popular linked verse that eventually gave birth to modern haiku―particularly that of Basho and his disciples.
The author analyzes haikai not only as a specific poetic genre but as a mode of discourse that emerged from the profound engagement between the new commoner culture that came to the fore in the seventeenth century cities and the earlier traditions, which haikai parodied, transformed, and translated into the vernacular.
Traces of Dreams explores the manner in which haikai both appropriated and recast the established cultural and poetic associations embodied in nature, historical objects, and famous places―the landscape that preserved the cultural memory and that became the source of authority as well as the contested ground for haikai re-visioning and re-mapping.

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