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Volume 37.1
Winter Spring 2006

book review:

by Vasile Moldovan

reviewed by Raffael de Gruttola

Ikebana, by Vasile Moldovan (Târgu Mures, România: Editura Orion, 2005). In English. 65 pages, 5.5 x 8, perfectbound. ISBN 973-8020-66-2. $15.00 postpaid from the author at Str. Birnova, Nr.8, B1.M.110, Ap.9, Cod-051164, Bucharest, Romania.

In reviewing Vasile Moldovan’s Ikebana (the Japanese word for the art of flower arranging) a word must be said of what can or cannot be accomplished in the art of translating haiku from one language to another. As Hiag Akmakjian said in his fi ne 1979 book, Snow Falling from a Bamboo Leaf :The Art of Haiku, “language does not translate, only meaning does.” This being said, Moldovan’s haiku suffer from a preoccupation by the Romanian translator with syntax, colloquialisms, and word-for-word renderings from Romanian into English. What can be accomplished for the reader is a feeling of the original that appeals to his or her sensibility. Faithfulness to the original often has to be overlooked so that the haiku, written for the eyes, is enjoyed by the ear. Haiku have always been more difficult to translate than other forms of poetry because of the brevity of the form. One wrong choice of a word, a synonym, or part of speech obscures the meaning in another direction.

What Moldovan has accomplished with these haiku is an understanding of his unique landscape and the cultural connection that is quite different from what English-speaking haijin are accustomed to. Each region has its own characteristic names of fauna and flora as well as occurrences. Added to this, the Romanian people have a love of poetry that dates back centuries. They also have had more recently, but also in centuries past, a history of social and political upheaval. The choice of certain words and images suggest to this reader, who visited Romania this past summer, that there is a new Romanian consciousness emerging that is consistent with the political reality of the newer East European democracies.

Notwithstanding word choice and misspellings there are a few haiku from Moldovan’s fifth book of haiku that address the above considerations.

White water lilies
a buffalo takes a bath
under their glimmer

In the grizzled hair
of an old maid
a red geranium

The above haiku show a style of life that is reminiscent of an older agrarian society and landscape that is still evident in the Romanian countryside as soon as one leaves the big cities.

First date—
the youngster holds in his hand
a rosebud

in the open air,
an unseen painter
changes the colours

Here again we find remnants of the old cultural values as a young man takes a
rose to be given to his date. In the second haiku the artist muses in a symbolic
manner over the possibility of newfound freedoms. We are less concerned
with the painter’s style, but rather the freedom of expression and the fact that
even the colors of the landscape will change.

Whirling river—
a simple olive branch
clearing up the water

The first New Year’s dream—
transplanting olive branches
all over the world

Haymaking season—
     both the grass and the weeds
       under the scythe’s blade

The above three haiku again suggest, in a symbolic way, a hope for peace, yet the idea of a scythe in hand reminds one of the recent past regime and the hardships that resulted for the people.

Other elements in Moldovan’s haiku are the preponderance in the use of light and color, especially red. There is much to reflect upon from both a phenomenological point of view as well as the extra meaning that color can provide in the way the above two elements are used.

For the most part, however, the haiku in this book did not provide me with the kind of awe that we usually associate with haiku that capture a unique perception and moment of reality. Excepting the above examples, the haiku were more or less of the standard variety: immediate impressions from nature. The translations do not help much; if anything, they are detrimental to a broader meaning to many of the haiku.



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