Magical Two Days in Hirado Island

WHR December 2003

WHF in Kyushu 2003 – The Report

MAGICAL TWO DAYS
IN HIRADO ISLAND
– A Haiku Meeting
Susumu Takiguchi
Oxford, UK

World Haiku Festival in Kyushu 2003
25-26 October 2003, Hirado, Nagasaki-ken, Japan

The first Englishman who set foot in Japan, William Adams (1564-1620), loved Hirado. A little over 170 square kilometres large, and with about 25,000 inhabitants, this goat-head-shaped island in the westernmost part of Japan in Nagasaki Prefecture has been a historically important site ever since the 12th Emperor, Keikoh (reigned 73-130) built his shrine at the Island’s southern tip called Shishiki.

mokusei no ka honoka naru omiya kana

(All haiku poems by ST unless otherwise stated)

ancient shrine
perfume wafts from nowhere
a fragrant olive

 
Having driven all the way from Sasebo where the World Haiku Club’s regional branch is located, members of the Club were given a brief, impromptu sightseeing of Hirado. They stood still, admiring a beautiful, tiny island of virgin forest called Kuroko-jima, about 500 yards out to sea. It had a remarkable resemblance to Kuroshima Island, Sashu, Oita, where William Adams and some of his fellow crew were washed to shore after their Dutch ship, Liefde (love), was shipwrecked in 1600. The pilot of the ship, Adams was 36 years of age and in the prime of his career.

funa-nori no shini-shi mukasi ya aki no umi

calm autumn sea
betrays the violence that killed
many mariners

 
We were standing in front of the City’s Municipal Culture Centre at the foot of a small hill housing Hirado Castle of Matsura Clan, who was one of the most formidable feudal lords from the ancient times. It was our first stop in our programme of the World Haiku Festival in Kyushu, which was the second regional meeting of WHC following the successful World Haiku Festival in Holland, held only a month earlier. Here, at the Municipal Culture Centre, the 12th National Forum for Taneda Santoka (1882-1940) was about to begin. Our first mission was to attend the event together with some one thousand delegates. Like Adams, Santoka also loved Hirado, and almost decided to live there for the rest of his life.

susuki no naka de kojiki wa neta ka

did the mendicant
sleep here, among
pampas grass?

 
It was in 1932 (Showa 7) that Santoka visited Hirado. His diary, Gyokotsu-ki, records his experience from March 31st, when he entered Hirado from Emukae until April 3rd, when he spent his last and sleepless night in this area. Santoka found everything in Hirado beautiful—the sea, the mountains and the town. Especially, he was overwhelmed with the beauty of the seascape of Kujuku-shima (the ninety-nine islands). According to Kaneko Tota, who was the guest speaker for the 12th National Forum, Santoka, in fact, did not like the sea. Despite that, he seems to have adored the sea around Hirado.

aki no umi migi hidari yama e noboru

right and left
autumn sea, as I climb
the mountains

 
Kaneko Tota spoke for nearly two hours. He introduced a passage of Santoka’s diary, which he said seemed to point to the poet’s true feeling about his life:
To this day I have never loved truly. I therefore have never hated, either. In other words, I have never lived truly.
What an extraordinary thing to say! Santoka witnessed the body of his mother when she committed suicide by throwing herself into the well of the family home. He was only ten. The boy saw her body, having been pulled out, lying on the ground, wet, sprawled out and un-presentable. His father was an impossible womaniser and spendthrift. In my opinion, his life all but ended then. He became a damaged person. The rest of his life was a journey to find death, which he could not arrive at for 48 years to come.

shine-nai jibun ni nani ga dekiru

what can I do
who cannot do so much
as killing himself?

 
Some time ago, there was a national craze in Japan for Santoka. It then died down. Now there seems to be a resurgence. Even so, it was somewhat astonishing that, hearing of the conference, a thousand-strong Santoka-lovers came and gathered together at the drop of a hat to this remotest part of Japan. Back in April 1926 (Tasho 15), Santoka set off on what he called, “a journey of gyokotsu-ruten [travelling mendicancy and vagrancy], with insoluble illusions on my back.” (from his Hachi no Ko) He was 43. Though he settled now and again to live here and there, his journey was continued right up to the year he died—1940 (Showa 15).

do-shiyo mo nai watashi ga aruite iru…….Santoka

I,
who am beyond redemption,
am
walking………………………………………….(version by ST)

 
For Santoka, as it was for Basho, travelling meant walking. One cannot beg if one goes by car, bus, train or plane. Using all these means, I travelled all the way from England to reach Hirado, having never walked except when switching from one of these transport machines to another. Santoka is said to have travelled over twenty-eight thousand miles according to an estimate, most of which presumably being on foot. In my journey, presumably I did not walk more than a mile. This is because mine was to move from A to B while for Santoka every step he took was the his closely intertwined walk of journey and life.

shima dakara moh aruku saki ga nai

being an island,
this place gives me no more road
to walk on

 
At the National Forum’s reception with its sumptuous local delicacies, drinks and dance performances, we were thoroughly spoilt by Matsura Hiroshi. Our host, he is the present head of the Matsura family which goes back to 822 through more than forty generations. All these years ago, his ancestors presided over the Hizen province (present Nagasaki and part of Saga Prefectures) and the seas beyond, fighting off Mongolian invaders in the 12th century, greeting the first Europeans such as William Adams or Francisco Xavier (1506-1552) in the 16th and 17th centuries. All the while they were making Hirado the most thriving trading port for Dutch, English and Chinese trades, bringing fortunes into the province through maritime activities as one of the two strongest suigun (naval forces—in other word, pirates). Even that all-powerful Tokugawa regime had to treat the Matsura clan with some respect, while at the same time constantly spying on them for fear of any rebellion or becoming too strong.

ikuyo mono senran hetaru sakana kana

rich in fish—
survivors, many centuries of
warfare and dramas

 
WHC members returned for the conference dinner of WHF in Kyushu to our seaside inn, an old, detached palace of the Matsura lords. Once again, local sake flowed, and many varieties of fish dishes of incredible quality and flavour were guzzled down. Special, local beef, cooked in a Japanese way, was brought in and downed with chilled sake. We were all nice and warm after a long soak in the onsen hot spring. Gluttony and decadence were the only words which would describe our scene accurately. Our meeting was somehow incongruous with the spirit of haiku, totally unsuitable for commemorating starving Santoka, a spectacle which could pale corrupt ancient Romans into insignificance.

gochisoh no aima ni omou Santoka

only between dishes
do we commemorate
Santoka

 
The following day was an equally fine autumnal day. After another long session of morning baths in the onsen and a breakfast which would normally be mistaken for a big evening meal, we set off for a ginko, driving the length of Hirado. Nothing has changed much since Santoka visited the island, except for paved roads and few other mod cons. Little known is that Hirado is the birthplace of two very Japanese things: Japanese tea and Japanese Zen. Both were brought from Song Dynasty China by Eisai (1141-1215) after his second trip to the area. Hirado was his first port of call on his return to Japan in 1191 (Kenkyu 2). Fushun-an Temple is where Eisai practiced Zen for the first time in Japan and its garden, Fushun-en, is where he grew the first tea bushes in Japan. There is a rock on which Eisai is said to have practiced zazen, or sitting Zen.

katsuzen to satoranu made-mo cha no kaori

smell of tea,
even if not struck with
enlightenment

 
Everywhere, the island of Hirado is dotted with places of historical interest. An earlier Buddhist monk, Kuhkai, or Kobo-daishi, stopped at Hirado on his return from Tang Dynasty China in 806 (Daido 1), and practiced Mikkyo (esoteric sect) rituals for the first time in Japan. Famous names connected with Hirado include Empress Jingu (She ordered conquest of Korea in 212, sending Jujobetsuo to the Island), Yamaga Soko (a famous scholar in Chinese classic and warfare), Yoshida Shoin (a teacher of warfare and European studies in the latter Tokugawa Period), Teiseiko (a Ming Dynasty war hero, born in Hirado of a Chinese warlord and local mother and fought in Formosa against Ching Dynasty forces) and Richard Cox (head of the English factory in Hirado).

eiyu mo hi no mi nokoreru aki no sora

heroes of the past
only their monuments standing
autumn sky

 
In addition to tea, there are other foreign commodities which were brought to Hirado before any other place in Japan. Beer, for instance, is said to have been first introduced to Nagasaki in 1724 (Kyoho 9). However, historians of Hirado are claiming that their trade documents say beer was among the goods imported when an English ship came to the Island in June 1613 (Keicho 18), 111 years before Nagasaki. Tobacco is another such example. Contemporary documents record that it was introduced to Hirado on 29 June 1601 (Keicho 6) by a Spanish friar. Tobacco seeds were presented as a gift to Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) in August of the same year. There are different theories as to when and where tobacco was first introduced to Japan (e.g. a strong theory names the Portuguese as having brought tobacco to Japan in the 16th century), but Hirado’s people insist that theirs is the most accurate claim, backed by historical documents. Coffee may have also been first imported to Japan through Hirado but relevant documents, such as diaries of the Dutch factory, have been lost.

shashi-hin mo kau wa jido-hanbai-ki

luxuries of the past—
tobacco, coffee and tea, all sold now
at wayside vending machines

 
Our team drove to all the prettiest bays, beaches, inlets and coves. climbing all the loftiest hills and peaks. The most attractive seaside spot is a place along an incredibly beautiful inlet. Called Nishi no Hama, the unspoilt shore of white sand, deep green sea and deeper green forest was such that one would be overcome by an illusion that a Japanese Adam and Eve may turn up any moment. Of all the peaks, on the other hand, Tai no Hana (a curious name, meaning the nose of a sea bream) was the best. Through the clear autumn sky, the panoramic view afforded the sight of Sasebo and the Goto Islands and beyond miles and miles away.

ano saki ni jodo arazu ya aki no umi

beyond the horizon
is there not the jodo of pure land,
autumn sea?

 
Having travelled the width and breadth of Hirado, we left the Island. I am now returned to England, but William Adams was not so lucky. Because of his maritime expertise, other invaluable knowledge, including mathematics, astrology and shipbuilding and engaging personality, he entered into the employment of the most powerful man of the land, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Incredibly, Adams was given a Japanese samurai name (Miura Anjin), along with swords, a handsome stipend, 250 koku of land (present-day Yokosuka), retinues and high-ranking samurai status. This was the equivalent of hatamoto, and he was the first foreigner to become a feudal lord. Most importantly he held the position of the advisor for Ieyasu in world affairs. His greatest achievements include two Western-style sailing vessels which he supervised to build. Having gone so deeply native, Adams nevertheless desperately longed to go back to England, and to his wife and family. He helped to establish the Dutch factory in Hirado in 1609 (Keicho 14), the English factory in 1613 (Keicho 18) and then went to work at the English factory. However, he became ill and died on 16 May 1620 (Gen-na 6) in Hirado. We visited his gravesite in windy, Sakigata Park in the City, overlooking the Bay. Next to his tomb stood a modest tsuka (monument) built in 1964 (Showa 39) some of its stones brought over from his wife’s tomb in England.

iki-wakare meoto musubaru oka no ue

unable to meet alive,
the couple now joined
on a windy hill

whc_blmed

 

Posted in Haiku, Vol 3-2 December 2003 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Machines and Men

WHR December 2003

Karakuchi-Ronso -Spicy Haiku Polemics

Of machines and men
and
Haiku machines and haiku taboos
a two-part onlist essay

Robert Gibson
Centralia, Washington USA

It bothers me to see the American Haiku Machine that grinds out the
standardized manufactured haiku destroy an authentic experience.

 
Robert Gibson
Posted to WHChaikuforum; Sat Feb 8, 2003, 10:52 am
Message 18692

 
Of machines and men
Posted to WHChaikuforum
From: Robert Gibson
Date: Wed Feb 12, 2003 1:58 pm

Dear Friends,
1923 to 2003. Some friends have been helping me celebrate my 80th birthday, and it occurred to me that perhaps living for 80 years has given me a perspective that differs a bit from that of younger persons, because it is difficult to be aware of how things are when you have nothing different to compare them to. A dear friend of mine, the anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, put it this way,

I don’t know who discovered water but it certainly wasn’t a fish.

I ask you to just look around you. Is there anything in your world that hasn’t been produced by one kind of machine or another? Look at your clothes, your home, the motion pictures you see, the TV programs you watch, the food you eat, the kitchen and pots you cook in, or the restaurant you go to, and ad infinitum. Now there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food in Shanghai. Don’t bother boarding a plane to go see it because it is the same as the one on your corner, it was produced by the same machine.

How do we recognize machine made stuff and things? The most obvious way is to see that they are all alike. The American artist Andy Warhol issued a warning to the world in painting pictures of row upon row of Campbell’s Soup cans. What he is saying, at least to me, that there are a hundred billion cans of machine made Campbell’s Soup out there and if you are not careful your life can be buried under a hundred billion cans of bad soup. World War II was a battle of small machines, and countries turned themselves into big machines to produce the small machines. Those whose big machines produced the most small machines won the war.

I know that I’m addressing some wonderful creative people and any of you could continue this essay with a thousand more examples. But at this point I want to ask: do you think that we can live in a world like this and our minds, our tastes, be unaffected by it? So when I used the phrase “American Haiku Machine,” I was speaking from the point of view of an old man that has watched monsters grow, and has watched those monsters gobble up great chunks of a beautiful world that you who are younger will never know. As for the indignation expressed at my use of that phrase I can only quote from MacBeth:

Me thinks the lady protests too much.

Haiku machines and haiku taboos

Robert Gibson
Posted to WHChaikuforum
Wednesday March 19, 2003 2:53 pm
Dear Friends,

A short time ago I made a comment about “haiku machines” in an e-mail that turned out to be a matter of concern to several friends. Now I would like to suggest one reason for the development of “haiku machines” and what might be done to lessen their effect if not to eliminate them.

 
First I think it necessary to define the term taboo and point out the universal function of taboos. Taboo is a word taken from Polynesian culture. In that culture the term refers to any person, place or thing that has so much power that it is dangerous to have anything to do with it or them. The islanders feelings about anything taboo is something like our response to a sign reading: DANGER-HIGH VOLTAGE.

 
As taboo became a general term its meaning gradually changed to something like: A thing taboo is an action that good or wise people avoid and people that keep a given taboo are somehow superior to those that do not keep it. Also keeping the given taboo holds together and identifies groups that share the taboo.

 
Here let me list a few well known taboos.

 
• We don’t eat fish
• We don’t eat dogs or cats
• We don’t have sex outside of marriage
• We don’t show our bodies in public
• We don’t discuss earthy matters at the dinner table or not at all.
• We don’t bow down to graven images
• We don’t sing winter songs in the summer
• We don’t smoke marijuana
• We don’t do kinky sex things

 
Now let’s look at some taboos in haiku.

 
• We don’t write about sex
• We don’t use more than one word ending in ³ing² in a haiku
• We don’t write single sentence haiku
• We don’t write about urinating or defecating or menstruating or farting or even eating

 
There are more but these will do for now.

 
How do these taboos function to create the mass produced haiku of haiku machines? One way is that these taboos, consciously or not, become the tools of the gate keepers. Editors and/or contest judges, when faced with a great number of haiku, almost always arrive at winners via a process of elimination and this is how taboos decide who is in and who is tossed aside. Taboos supply an easy rational for narrowing down selection and making the judging job, not easy, but manageable.

 
Of course the choosing of winners and losers becomes feedback to haiku writers and they start eliminating on the basis of taboo right at the source and taboo haiku never reach the editor or judge. Over a period of time this process can narrow down haiku to the perfect haiku type ready for mass production and the creation of a haiku machine.

 
If we look at the history of haiku a pattern of imitation and imitation of imitation and imitation of imitation of imitation goes on and on and the haiku world has to wait for a messiah to throw the mess out and begin the process all over again. Even though I can make some suggestions for counteracting this process, this is something that deserves the attention and creative ability of the entire haiku community. And awareness of the problem is my first suggestion. Another might be a critical look at individual taboos to decide just how much weight in terms of preference should be given to a taboo. We might ask ourselves whether or not in judging a given taboo, Does the breaking of the taboo produce a better haiku? Another thing is let¹s stop taking ourselves so damn seriously. You don’t have to always color between the lines.

 
Haiku is an art form, not a bingo game.

bob.

whc_blmed

Posted in Haiku, Vol 3-2 December 2003 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Use of “Sentence Fragments” in Contemporary Haibun

WHR December 2003

WHCessay – Jamie Edgecombe

The Use of “Sentence Fragments” in Contemporary Haibun

Jamie Edgecombe
Sapporo, Japan

A short time ago, there was an intriguing discussion on the WHChaibun mailing list concerning the nature of, and techniques, involved in the writing of haibun prose. Indeed, there were many references to and queries about the differences between haibun prose and “haibunic” prose. What is this “haibunic” prose, and how does it differ from what we may think of as haibun prose? To answer this question, I would like to briefly explore the work of Bradley University’s Seth Katz. At the same time, I will present how some of his observations could be useful to the writing of haibun prose.

Katz, in his essay, ‘The Poetic Use of Sentence Fragments’ (1997), doesn’t actually make direct reference to haibun, although he does touch on haiku during his explorations into the use of fragmented sentences in other forms and eras of poetry (basically American in origin). Katz examines how sentence fragments were a significant feature in the poetry of the American Transcendentalists, the Imagists and a range of Postmodern poets. However, despite aesthetic differences between these groups, a great many of their poetic practices can be seen as having a relevance to the writing of haibun.

Katz begins by examining the Transcendentalists, who used catalogues of fragments—consisting of pieces of experience, thoughts and presentations of the world—to create a sense of universal order. These list-like poems were supposed to transcend the nature of individual things, and ‘show how all things are manifestations of the divine plenitude’ (p.2). However, during the same era, other poets used such techniques to illustrate how such a destination could never be reached, leading to an perception associating fragments with dissolution. Both views can be seen as having a resonance with many Buddhist philosophies underpinning much of haiku’s origin, especially the theory of the Void, wherein everything is at once individual and isolated—while through this individuality, each is understood as part of a greater whole (Hass, 1998). Such catalogues, where distinction between self and the exterior world become blurred and even mixed, can also be seen as similar to the dissolution of the haijin’s ego. Furthermore, shifting sentence patterns can portray the impermanent (mujo in Japanese) nature of the physical world, the veil of illusion.

Another group of poets which used sentence fragments was the Imagists, who drew much inspiration from haiku and Chinese poetry. Disillusioned with the overly genteel, mundane, “flowery” language of the Georgian Era (Jones, 2001), they based their poetics upon a juxtaposition of images, in which the reader is meant to receive an ‘immediate clear sense of a particular thing’ (p.1). They shunned detailed description as such, stating that it should be left to artists. Instead, they concentrated their efforts on brevity, use of objective language and a focus on imagery. This approach mirrors Makoto Ueda’s characterisations of haibun, i.e.: 1) “brevity and conciseness of haiku”; 2) the use of ambiguous particles and verb forms where “conjunction would be used in English;” 3) “dependence on imagery;” as well as 4) the writers detachment (Ross. 1997).

In Imagistic poems, these aims were achieved through the use of terse fragments, presenting unadorned factual information, such as in Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’ (often regarded as a haiku; Higginson, 1984, p.135 /6), where fragments were supposed to give the poem a sentence of immediacy and, more importantly, sincerity and truth. Katz calls this ‘setting the scene’ (p.3), but goes on to explore how other poets of the era used fragmented juxtaposition, allowing the reader to enter into the poem, discovering for themselves the relationships between the images, therefore giving those images significance and heightening the reader’s sense of reality. Katz states that one of the best examples of this kind of “reader response” oriented poetry was T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”, a poem where the reader is said to fill-in the open spaces between the images and therefore come closer to the truth of the poem (Hibert, 2003), to engage in what Carson calls the “free space of imaginal adventure” (Carson, 2003).

Again, this style has relevance to haibun, for haibun also tries to create a sense of factual reality, often presenting otherwise everyday events from the poet’s life in which revelation—or the attainment of some form of truth or epiphany—has been achieved. However, presentation of this kind of revelation isn’t, or more accurately shouldn’t be told as, a story. Indeed, as Ross (1997) states, haibun writers should: ‘[P]oetically chronicle events as they happen, respond impressionistically to other writers’ poetic expressions, explore poetic experience lodged in one’s memory and express moments of deep personal revelation’ (p.52), wherein the haibun should act as a ‘node of emotionally charged images that record[s the] emotion felt in a given moment, in a given place without explanation, without narrative, without figurative adornment’ (p.61).

Of course, the use of a storytelling mode of writing would rob the piece of its conciseness and brevity. At the same time, the authoritative structure of storytelling (in which everything the reader needs to mentally process is given to them by the author) would prevent the reader from truly engaging in the piece, therefore effectively blocking those spaces of creative input. Thus, the sense of immediacy and truth that haibun and its haiku seek to incorporate, and indeed, recreate for the reader—is reduced.

Lastly, Katz looks at the most recent era, the Postmodern cannon, in which poets such as Robert Duncan and Weldon Kees have been influential (p.4). Here, the use of declarative sentence fragments, as used by the Imagists, are employed to give a poem the sense that it is reporting facts or clinical details, thereby portraying the truth of the poem’s situation. This relates back to Duncan’s beliefs in “kinds of reality”, where memory, cultural history, racial memory, religion and even the imagination can be seen as forms of reality—and therefore, truth (Fictive Certainties, 1985). In these situations, a sense of sincerity, immediacy and reader engagement can be gained through the use of sentence fragments. This opens many spaces for exploring the nature of human perception and what we deem reality. As Katz goes on to say, this is very similar to the practice of writing haiku, whereby:

‘[T]he poet uses fragments to imitate and so to make an assertion about the nature of human perception: perception consists of fragments, fragments are what we assemble into meaningful wholes (p.6).’

Many haibun, although written in the present tenths, are often written after the event has happened or has been recalled to, or triggered by, memory. Examples of this could include the gaining of insight into one’s childhood from watching one’s own children at play (see Tom Clausen’s New Sneakers, Brussel Sprout, 1994); or feeling a similar emotion from a scene or situation that the reader has encountered in someone else’s haiku (as in Tom Ticos’s Reaching for the Rain, Frogpond, 1992); and so on. It is in these situations that the fragment could be at its most useful, for the sense of immediacy and sincerity which they create can prevent the haibun from looking overtly contrived or story-like. They can also create a great many spaces where the imagination, the past, or even metaphor can intersect with the present; in a way similar to the “haiku moment” as described by Higginson in his Haiku Handbook (1992).

To Katz, sentence fragments mark one of the grammatically identifiable differences between poetry and prose, i.e. how in poetry, the use of such techniques is seen as viable, whereas when dealing with prose, this is not the case (p.1). Consequently, when one considers the prose section of haibun, the term `haibun prose` could be considered as a passage of text which follows a defined set of grammatical rules. In contrast, “haibunic” (or haiku-like) prose may be seen in a more “poetic” light, thereby enjoying a greater freedom from grammatical constraints, as seen in sentence fragments (like those used in haiku). However, I would dissuade people from over-stressing this distinction, or at least try to use a mix of the two styles, because if writers were to believe such an exclusive distinction were to exist, wouldn’t it mean that there is a danger that those wishing to compose “haibun prose”, would fall into the sedative story-telling trap, depriving their readers of those adventurous spaces desired for the creation of a sense of truth? Indeed, why should all the work be left just to the haibun’s haiku? However, having said this, overuse, or arbitrary use, of fragmented sentences could lead to a break down in the piece’s coherency, obstructing the reader’s interpretation of and engagement with the poem. Obviously caution is needed.

I leave these opinions open for others to debate…

whc_blmed

 

Posted in Haibun, Vol 3-2 December 2003 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Is a Syllable?

WHR December 2003

Kara-kuchi Ronso – Spicy Haiku Polemics  

What Is a Syllable?

Michael Dylan Welch
Washington, USA

The following poems have appeared in one of the two North American publications that promote the 5-7-5 syllable structure for haiku in English:

tired old work horse
stands thirsty and sweating in
summer’s sizzling heat

A splash of orange
Tints surrounding clouds and hills
Air charged with dust

Take a moment to count the syllables of both poems. Considering just the number of syllables, at first glance these may seem to be traditional 5-7-5 haiku. This shouldn’t be a surprise given that the two verses appeared in David Priebe’s Haiku Headlines, which consistently offers a higher percentage of 5-7-5 poems than even Geppo, the publication of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society that is fundamentally dedicated to the seventeen-syllable haiku form in English. (“Teikei” literally means having a fixed form, and “yuki teikei” means “having a season word and traditional syllable count.”)

But the truth is, these two poems are not 5-7-5, falling short by one syllable each—due, it would seem, to miscounted words. It is likely that their authors intended these poems as 5-7-5 (indicated in the first poem, for example, by the unnatural use of the preposition “in” at the end of the second line), but because they fall short, the apparent incorrect counting of syllables points up a misunderstanding of what a syllable is.

The majority of haiku published in English today are not 5-7-5 (even in Geppo). In the second edition of Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology (Touchstone, 1986), 88.2 percent of the poems are not 5-7-5. And in Bruce Ross’s Haiku Moment (Tuttle, 1993), an even greater 96.5 percent of the poems are not 5-7-5. A similar dominance of non-5-7-5 poems prevails in most of the leading English-language haiku journals. Which is all to say that, among published haiku today (and in recent decades), 5-7-5 haiku are vastly in the minority. But if the counting of syllables is important to conscientious “traditional” haiku poets, those poets should have a clear understanding of basic phonetics, and know how to identify syllables and count them correctly.

Most English words are not a problem—they both look and sound like a specific number of syllables. The problem words in the preceding poems are “tired” and “charged.” They had to have been counted (incorrectly) as two syllables for the poems to scan as 5-7-5 (which was probably the intent). These words may look like two syllables, but a syllable is not defined by appearance or spelling—and this misconception needs correction. Rather, a syllable is properly understood as a unit of sound. This notion is easily confirmed without wading into linguistics textbooks, although, for those interested, such books are worth a look. But a book as handy as Webster’s New World Dictionary (second college edition) defines a syllable as “a word or part of a word pronounced with a single, uninterrupted sounding of the voice.” It is further defined as a “unit of pronunciation, consisting of a single sound of great sonority (usually a vowel) and generally one or more sounds of lesser sonority (usually consonants).” A key part of this definition is “uninterrupted.” Without exploring the sciences of linguistics or phonetics too deeply, suffice it to say that consonants (spoken, not written) essentially interrupt the pronunciation of vowels. Vowels are a class of speech sounds generated by air passing continuously through the pharynx and open mouth without audible friction. Consonants, on the other hand, are mostly created in the mouth by blocking and releasing or directing air flow (voiced or unvoiced) by a variety of fricative or glottal means, and to varying degrees. With a correct understanding of the sounds that occur in words such as “charged,” the correct counting of syllables is more easily achieved.

For written words, Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a syllable as “any of the parts into which a written word is divided in approximate representation of its spoken syllables” (emphasis added). Similarly, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary identifies a syllable as “a unit of spoken language that is next bigger than a speech sound and consists of one or more vowel sounds alone or of a syllabic consonant alone or of either with one or more consonant sounds preceding or following.” Again, the emphasis is on sound. To properly count syllables for poems intended to fit a specific external form (such as 5-7-5 for so-called “traditional” haiku), the poet must count the syllables as they are spoken. To do otherwise is to misunderstand syllables and is a sign of poetic amateurism. If the reader expects the 5-7-5 form, such a miscounting of syllables on the poet’s part can create confusion or distrust, and decreases the poet’s credibility among educated or well-read readers. Nearly every issue of Haiku Headlines and Geppo contains poems that look like they were intended to be 5-7-5, yet are not because of miscounted syllables, so the problem persists. Fortunately, this misunderstanding is easily corrected.

A recent example of this problem happened at a Saturday-night renku party at the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society’s annual haiku retreat at Asilomar conference center near Monterey, California. I was asked to write (in seventeen syllables) the starting verse for a half-renku (omote awase) that the group wrote. My hokku, inspired by raccoons outside our meeting room:

new log on the fire—
the window streaked with paw prints
from staring raccoons

One poet thought that my poem had too many syllables, believing that “streaked” amounted to two. But when syllables are understood as a spoken unit of measure, “streaked” is properly counted as just one syllable. A similar word that may be miscounted is “stacked.” As with “streaked,” it looks like two syllables. But the sound is not “stack-ked,” but “stact.” The spelling of a word is distinct from the sound of the word (or homonyms wouldn’t exist). These separate matters should not be confused when one is counting syllables for poetry. And indeed, the problem extends beyond haiku to any metrical poetry calling for a specific syllable count. Understanding the nature of syllables and scansion is fundamental to writing any kind of formal poetry.

Other problem words for some haiku poets—in addition to many words ending in -ed—include “fire” (sometimes thought of as two syllables, pronounced in some places as “figh-yer”—although such a pronunciation is nonstandard), “evening” (which may be thought of as “e-ven-ing” when it is really “eve-ning”—when one means the time of day), and “every” (sometimes thought of as “eh-va-ry” when the standard English pronunciation is “ev-ry”).

These problem words suggest another factor that confuses the counting of syllables: regional dialect. Certain words may indeed be pronounced with more or fewer syllables in certain parts of the English-speaking world. So if the number of syllables in a haiku is important, how is a poet to handle words that may be said in two or more ways? One alternative might be to honor the regional pronunciation in a deliberately regional poem. But to seek the greatest universality (one of haiku’s hallmarks), a better alternative might be to consult a reliable collegiate-level dictionary such as the two already cited. Every respectable dictionary not only lists the words, but also divides them into distinct syllables, either separated by a raised dot or indicated by accent marks. These divisions also show where words may be hyphenated at the end of a line of text. If in doubt about the number of syllables in a word, it’s easy to look it up. These divisions are based on comprehensive phonetic studies and common practice, and reliable dictionaries usually include an introductory or concluding essay on phonetics and the division of syllables that can give readers more information. The correct counting of syllables is easily done, and is in fact essential for the conscientious development of “traditional” English-language haiku written in the 5-7-5 pattern.

For an overview of the function and variety of phonics in English-language haiku, a good source of information is Michael Seger’s essay, “Sound in Haiku,” in A Haiku Path, the 1994 retrospective book about the Haiku Society of America. For a broader approach to the many aspects of poetry for the casual reader, college textbooks such as Laurence Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense make for worthwhile reading. This textbook has been through many editions—and the latest edition may have a different title—but my edition (the fourth) has an excellent chapter on “Rhythm and Meter.” Anyone interested in formal poetry should learn the basics of scansion (necessary for writing haiku in a strict 5-7-5 pattern), and this book is a good place to start, offering many accessible longer poems for study. More technical books are also available on phonetics and linguistics.

My point here is not to promote the “traditional” 5-7-5 form. Instead, by showing the difficulty some people have in understanding what a syllable is, my intent is to highlight one of the reasons why aiming for a strict 5-7-5-syllable form is problematic and inappropriate for English-language haiku. Other reasons include language and punctuation differences between Japanese and English, and the fact that the “thought content” in seventeen English syllables is typically greater than in seventeen Japanese sound symbols. These and other reasons have been written about at greater length commonly enough that only those who are new to haiku are likely to be surprised by this assertion. Keiko Imaoka’s influential essay, “Forms in English Haiku,” first published in Woodnotes #29 (Summer 1996) and available online, cogently presents differences between English and Japanese syllabics and word order requirements, showing how the 5-7-5 pattern fits Japanese well enough, but fits very poorly for haiku in English.

My personal preference is to write haiku using organic form—writing as organically as possible, seeking out the ideal internal form of expression in words that best fits the individual moment of experience and insight. In effect, this can mean “reinventing” the form for every poem you write. This can sometimes mean letting the form happen on its own, like letting water find its natural flow, but the form that results is not merely accidental. A more conscientious and disciplined poet makes active choices affecting the content and effect of the poem, and that’s how the form changes to whatever it needs to be. You simply allow the content—what needs to be said to capture the image-moment in the haiku—shape your wording, syntax, and line breaks. Or, as the architect Louis Sullivan famously said, “form follows function.” This dictum guided the organic architecture of Sullivan’s student, Frank Lloyd Wright. (Denise Levertov has written at some length about organic form in poetry, and her essays build on the concepts of “inscape” and “instress” developed by Gerard Manley Hopkins.) Listening to what needs to be said, and applying other haiku strategies, such as seasonal reference, objectivity, and creating the two-part juxtapostional structure takes more discipline than merely counting syllables.

I present these remarks here not in favor of the 5-7-5 pattern, but as a call to greater conscientiousness, understanding, and professionalism among “traditional” haiku poets who choose to count their syllables to fit a prescribed syllable count. I suspect that the problem applies to languages other than English, too. Misunderstanding what a syllable is suggests an amateurism that mainstream and academic poets and critics seem correct in holding against English-language haiku. If poets writing to 5-7-5 syllables can at least avoid the amateurism of miscounting syllables, then perhaps haiku will gain greater respect as poetry and literature.

Michael Dylan Welch
22230 NE 28th Place
Sammamish, WA 98074-6408 USA
________________________________________
Biography

Michael Dylan Welch is originally from Watford, England, and grew up there and in Ghana, Australia, and Canada. After sixteen years in California, he now lives near Seattle, Washington, where he is continuing his career as a professional editor. When at university, his thesis for his M.A. in English was a linguistic study of the invented Nadsat language in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. His haiku and other poetry has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies in several languages. He has won first prize in both of the Henderson and Brady haiku and senryu contests sponsored by the Haiku Society of America, first prize in the Drevniok contest sponsored by Haiku Canada, and first prize in both the tanka and rengay contests sponsored by the Haiku Poets of Northern California. From 1989 to 1997 he edited the haiku journal Woodnotes, and he is currently editor and publisher of Tundra: The Journal of the Short Poem and of Press Here haiku books, which have won numerous HSA Merit Book Awards. In 1991 he cofounded the biennial Haiku North America conference, and in 1996 he cofounded the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento, California. More recently, in 2000, he founded the Tanka Society of America, and currently serves as its president. He is also serving as vice president of the Haiku Society of America.

whc_blmed

Posted in Haiku, Vol 3-2 December 2003 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Beat of Different Drummers

WHR July 2002

Shades of Ink: Translating the Japanese poem

shades of ink red fuji

The Beat of Different Drummers:
English Translations of Hokku from Matsuo Basho’s Oku no hosomichi

Mark Jewel, Waseda University

(*The following paper was first published, without the Appendix, in The JASEC Bulletin, vol. 10, no. 1, September 2001, pp. 1-15. Minor bibliographic changes have been made to the Notes. The Japanese Association for Studies in English Communication is based at Waseda University in Tokyo.)

Haiku is without question Japan’s most successful literary export. Indeed, along with judo in the field of sports and, more recently, anime and video games, haiku is one of only a handful of Japanese cultural products that can be said to have acquired an international following of any significant size. Haiku in English boasts a history in translation of over one hundred years, and an active “haiku community” of original poets that dates back at least as far as the first regularly published magazines of English haiku in the 1960s. As one indication of just how popular English haiku has become in the past quarter century, it may suffice to point out that more than ten single-volume anthologies of haiku in English have been published since the first such anthology—Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books)—came out in 1974.[1]

Small wonder it may seem, then, that the poetic travel diary Oku no hosomichi, by Matsuo Bashô (1654-1694), which contains fifty of Bashô’s hokku, has been translated into English more frequently than any other major work of Japanese literature, with no fewer than eight complete published versions. [2] Part of the purpose of this paper is to suggest that, in fact, eight different versions cannot be called an overabundance in this case. But before turning to an examination of some of the hokku from Oku no hosomichi to help justify this assertion, I think it will be helpful to review the changing fortunes of haiku in English over the past hundred years, for the current high regard in which Bashô’s poetry is held by both translators and English-language haiku poets by no means reflects its reputation among the first serious foreign students of Japanese literature. A brief historical survey should allow us both to identify some of the basic problems attendant upon the translation of this quintessentially Japanese literary form, and also to remark on the existence of a productive dialectic in English between translation and original composition that has already influenced both and promises to lead the genre in new directions in the future.

Makoto Ueda has identified Lafcadio Hearn as the earliest translator of Bashô’s hokku into English. [3] The famous poem about the frog jumping into an ancient pond, for example, appeared in Exotics and Retrospectives in 1898. Later works by Hearn also include a significant sprinkling of hokku, with the Japanese arranged into three lines and a one- or two-sentence English translation placed in brackets underneath. While showing a sympathetic appreciation for the genre, Hearn (in the “Insect Studies” section of Kwaidan) admits that it must be considered an “acquired taste.” British scholar W.G. Aston, on the other hand, writing at about the same time in the first complete English history of Japanese literature, is much more direct in his criticism: “It would be absurd to put forward any serious claim on behalf of Haikai to an important position in literature.”[4] Aston goes on to confidently assert that with the appearance of longer, Western-inspired poetic forms, “the day of Tanka and Haikai seems to have passed. These miniature forms of poetry are now the exception and not the rule.”[5]

The kind of cultural arrogance that lies behind Aston’s pronouncements is really quite astonishing when viewed from our post-Second World War multicultural perspective. Even his compliments are backhanded ones:

Can it be imagined that when a religion is presented to [the Japanese] which alone is adapted to satisfy far more completely all the cravings of their higher nature, the Japanese, with their eminently receptive minds, will fail in time to recognise its immense superiority? They have already accepted European philosophy and science. It is simply inconceivable that the Christian religion should not follow.[6]

But the basic argument that Aston makes is surely one that any advocate of hokku or modern haiku must address—that haiku is an essentially trivial form unsuited to dealing with the intellectual and emotional complexities of modern life. This argument was made to even more devastating effect by another British scholar, Basil Hall Chamberlain, whose reputation among the Japanese themselves has been eclipsed by that of his more congenial contemporary, Hearn. Chamberlain, a scholar of immense erudition, discusses Bashô in a detailed paper presented at the Asiatic Society of Japan 1902.[7] He concludes that compared with the “Palaces of Art” constructed by Tennyson, Japanese hokku resemble “a litter of single bricks, half bricks in fact,” [8] and remarks that the hokku “appears, now as a tiny herb or flower on our path, now as some brilliant insect which hovers for a moment, and, ere we have noticed it, flits away out of sight and memory.”[9] Like Hearn, Chamberlain provides transliterations of the Japanese divided into lines of 5-7-5 syllables, but for translation uses an epigrammatic style that does not follow any set formal pattern (although caesuras and exclamations are often indicated typographically by means of punctuation).

Given this rather dismal early assessment of the value of hokku, what happened to turn the situation around? In terms of the history of English poetry itself, a major turning point came with the modernist revolt instituted by Imagists Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell beginning in around 1912. The poetry of the Imagists resulted in a general (and lasting) preference on the part of practicing poets for patterns of clearly defined images rather than narrative, a preference that was informed by a sympathetic if not necessarily well-informed understanding of Chinese and Japanese poetry, including haiku.[10] In short, haiku now seemed strikingly compatible with the modern mode of perception being advocated by such poets as Pound, Lowell, William Carlos Williams, William Butler Yeats, and T.S. Eliot.[11]

In the field of translation, the transition from lukewarm acceptance to ardent approval was accomplished largely through the work of two men: R.H. Blyth and Harold G. Henderson. Blyth was an Englishman who lived in Japan for more than thirty years until his death in 1964 and spent the Second World War interned in Kobe; Henderson was an American acquaintance of his who published the first (very short) book on haiku in English in 1934 and helped found the Haiku Society of America in 1968. Although the two were close friends (at least initially), they held somewhat different views on haiku. Blyth, who had studied and practiced Zen Buddhism in Korea before arriving to Japan, emphasized the Zen aspect of haiku: an intuitive sort of immediacy that points the way to enlightenment.[12] His translations, which started appearing just after the war, were read by and influenced the Beat poets of the 1950s. Although now considered rather déclassé among many specialists in Japanese literature, Blyth provided the direct inspiration among poets and readers in English for taking haiku seriously as an art form, and his spirit informs the work of such current translators as Lucien Stryk, co-translator of The Penguin Book of Zen Poetry. Blyth’s translations typically give both Japanese (in the original and transliteration) and English, with the latter arranged into three lines of no fixed syllabic length, but with the first and third lines indented so as to give visual prominence to the second line. For haiku in English, Blyth advocates a three-line form that consciously avoids rhyme, with a 2-3-2 accented-beat rhythm that is, however, neither regularly iambic nor anapestic.[13]

Henderson, who taught at Columbia University, revised his earlier book on haiku in 1958, and in 1967 also wrote a book called Haiku in English, which was published specifically in response to a growing demand in the 1960s by teachers, readers, and practitioners for a detailed explanation of what haiku is and how to write it or teach others to write it.[14] No doubt partly because of their brevity and accessibility, these two books greatly influenced the first few postwar generations of Japanologists and the general public as well. In Haiku in English, Henderson concisely reviews the basics of haiku, formulating four “general rules” for traditional Japanese haiku: the use of a 5-7-5 syllable count; the insertion of a conventional reference to nature (the kigo, or “season word”); an emphasis upon particularity rather than generality; and a focus on the present time rather than on the past. These rules are then discussed in connection with writing English haiku, including a short discussion of the use of rhyme (a technique almost invariably and yet subtly employed by Henderson himself). No hard-and-fast conclusions are drawn about the applicability of Japanese models, and Henderson is at particular pains to discount the need for unvarying observance of the 5-7-5 syllabic pattern in English. Instead, the emphasis is placed on conveying by means of suitable imagery what has come to be known as “the haiku moment”: the simple, direct expression of an emotion evoked by some particular natural event or aspect of nature. This approach, although not inherently antithetical to Blyth’s more transcendental, Zen-based approach, does seem to end up being rather more modest in its ultimate goal. And if Blyth’s versions carried greater philosophical weight (especially among the Zen-inspired Beat poets of the 1950s), Henderson’s approach helped to ingratiate the form with the general reading public and facilitated its adoption by American school curricula in the 1960s and 1970s. This, then, is the period when haiku can be said to have entered the poetic mainstream, at least in the United States.[15] And in spite of Henderson’s own reservations, it is probably when the 5-7-5 syllabic pattern came to be widely regarded as a model for composition in English as well.

Currently, the leading proponent of the second, more nature-centered approach to English haiku described above is the American poet and translator William J. Higginson, who asserts in his 1985 The Haiku Handbook that Western haiku poets “concentrate on capturing the kinds of moments—the sudden intimate seeings—that they wish to remember themselves and share with others.”[16] To my mind, this bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the “Kodak moment” extolled in television commercials by the well-known American manufacturer of film and cameras, and runs the risk of re-trivializing or perhaps simply confirming the trivial nature of modern haiku (a question that has by no means been settled). Nevertheless, in its emphasis upon the central role of nature and seasonal change, it does appear to be the approach now followed by the majority of haiku poets writing in languages other than Japanese. Higginson follows Blyth in his preference for a 2-3-2 accented-beat rhythm in English, claiming that this results in a better approximation of the length of Japanese haiku when read aloud than does the 5-7-5 syllabic form. But it should be noted that this pattern does adopt the basic short-long-short rhythmic model of the Japanese, and that Higginson also uses a fairly standard three-line format in his translations. In other words, even while rejecting the authority of the traditional Japanese syllabic count in determining the form of haiku in English, Higginson implicitly acknowledges the importance of both the original rhythm and a three-part organizational scheme. Furthermore, Higginson has recently argued for the usefulness of an international saijiki, or “haiku almanac” categorized by season word, as a guide in composing haiku in Western languages.[17] Acknowledging that the choice of season words to be included in such an almanac must take into account different geographic locales and that provision should be made for a larger “no-season” category than in a Japanese saijiki, he nevertheless holds that this traditional sort of poetic manual fosters the sort of seasonal awareness he views as essential to good haiku in any language.

In this way, Higginson’s attempt to reconcile traditional Japanese hokku/haiku conventions with a nascent set of English conventions can be said to be characterized by a certain amount of expediency and compromise. But rather than criticize Higginson for a lack of logical consistency, it seems best to recognize that expediency and compromise are inherent in any such undertaking, and to regard his example as pointing to the key role played by cross-cultural mediation in the development of this relatively young English literary genre. Indeed, it seems to me that the efforts of both translators and original poets to work out a hybrid set of conventions are a clear indication of the vitality of haiku in English. That is, even as translators have contributed to the development of haiku in English by appealing to the authority of Japanese models, their own practice has been influenced by the work of other translators and by original haiku in English. It may well be that this is the only field in Japanese literature where specialists feel compelled to take into account the work done by those who may themselves have only a very modest background in the Japanese language and the study of Japanese poetry.

Precisely as a result of this quasi-collaborative process, the translations I propose to discuss here can be expected to reveal a surprising diversity of approaches to the problem of translating what is surely one of the most rigidly defined of poetic forms. Of course, reasons that are purely linguistic are also involved—even within the range of seventeen syllables, there is enormous room for variation in syntax and diction. Yet the large amount of variation also reflects conscious choices on the part of the translators about how to handle form and images, and these choices have, in turn, often been influenced by earlier translations, by an awareness of the conventions of English poetry, or by the rejection of solutions adopted by previous translators. The task of the attentive reader is to take note of the methods used in each case and, quite simply, try to decide how successful they are.

To simplify that task in this paper, I have chosen to examine five hokku out of the fifty composed by Bashô  for Oku no hosomichi as rendered by the eight translators mentioned in the second endnote. The major criterion for selection was personal preference, guided to some extent by an eye toward the problems of translation. Despite the relatively small size of the sample, I believe that it can be considered representative—the translators tend to be consistent in their methodology, and increasing the number of examples would not change my basic conclusions. I want, first of all, to use the translations to point out both the strengths and weaknesses of each translator and to make a number of specific comments about hokku translation in English. In this context, the first two hokku are discussed in some detail with regard to each translated version; the remaining three are then used to review and qualify a number of the points already made. After this analysis, and rather immodestly perhaps, I intend to offer a final judgment about the general effectiveness of each translator’s approach, which the reader is free to accept or reject as he or she sees fit.

There are two initial points to be made concerning the original Japanese versions. The first is that of Bashô ’s fifty hokku, forty-seven follow the standard 5-7-5 syllabic pattern. Bashô was a master of this structural pattern, and a significant amount of internal rhythmic variation is to be found in these hokku. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that at least for Oku no hosomichi, Bashô  decided to adhere very closely indeed to the standard pattern.[18] The second point to note is that many of the verses rely for their effect on the use of the technique of the juxtaposition of images that is usually held to be one of the defining characteristics of Bashô ’s mature style. It would therefore seem logical to assume that the ordering of the images is intended to produce a specific effect in each case, and that tampering with this order in translation risks altering that effect.

Using these two preliminary observations as our starting point, then, let us turn to the hokku themselves:

1. no o yoko ni/uma hikimukeyo/hototogisu

Yuasa:

Turn the head of your horse/Sideways across the field,/To let me hear/The cry of the cuckoo.

Corman/Kamaike:

across the fields/head the horse/hototogisu

Miner:

Cutting across the moor,/Draw still the horse you lead along—/Hear the wood thrush again

Britton:

Turn across that moor,/O horseman, for I hear/A cuckoo singing there!

McCullough:

A cuckoo song:/please make the horse angle off/across the field.

Sato:

Turn the horse round across the field, cuckoo

Keene:

Lead the horse sideways/Across the meadows—I hear/A nightingale.

Hamill:

The horse turns his head—/from across the wide plain,/a cuckoo’s cry


To begin at the level of interpretation, it should of course be remembered that all of the hokku in Oku no hosomichi are placed in a specific narrative context. In this case, Bashô is being led on a horse to the famous Killing Stone (Sesshôseki) in present-day Tochigi Prefecture when the man who is leading the horse asks him for a poem. The quoted hokku is Bashô ’s response. Taking the translations in order, we see first of all that Nobuyuki Yuasa has chosen to translate in four lines.[19] To me, this seems a very misleading method. One reason is that it often forces the translator to fill out the lines with extra material, here meaning the entire third line of the translation. The second reason is that it gives the reader the wrong idea about the type of rhythmic balance that is created in hokku: an asymmetrical three-part balance that is ill-served by Yuasa’s first-half, second-half symmetry. The rhythm in translation is created simply by dividing the English into semantic units, yielding a total syllable count of twenty-two. The 6-6-4-6 pattern used here is repeated just once in Yuasa’s other translations, and indeed, no syllabic pattern is repeated more than once in any of Yuasa’s versions.[20] All in all, the translation comes across as somewhat stilted, although Yuasa does succeed in preserving the order of images in the original, which has the intended effect of emphasizing the (call of the) cuckoo as both the inspiration for and goal of the poet’s proposed detour across the field.

Cid Corman and Susumu Kamaike’s translation offers a stark contrast to Yuasa’s. First, no notice is paid to English conventions such as capitalization, ending punctuation, or even normal syntax. It is also hard to discern any consistent use of rhythm, either in terms of syllable count or even accented beats (although the number seldom exceeds three in any one line). This makes it appear as though Corman and Kamaike want above all to maintain a certain imagistic fidelity to the Japanese even at the risk of violating the usual rules of English usage. In this context, it should be noted that Corman himself (Corman is the one responsible for the final English form of the translations) is a modernist poet of distinction, and that his practice in composing English poetry is no different from his practice in translating Japanese. This may, therefore, be a case in which the perceived similarity in style (the use of concrete, fragmentary images) has intentionally—and somewhat misleadingly—been allowed to take precedence over formal regularity as a principle of fidelity. The treatment accorded “cuckoo” (hototogisu), too, may on one level be said to reflect an insistence on paying attention to the importance of the concrete image—a hototogisu may be a member of the cuckoo family, but it is not exactly the same bird English speakers know, and should not be treated as if it were. Yet one cannot help feeling that the translator’s responsibility as a communicator of meaning is being slighted here, for a reader not already familiar with the bird called hototogisu by the Japanese will have no idea just what is being referred to here. Insistence upon the uniqueness of the image does run the risk of obscurity. Taken to its extreme, the refusal to paraphrase or accept any substitutes would simply result in a word-for-word repetition of the Japanese—the very antithesis of translation. Corman and Kamaike are not really quite so extreme, but the desire to make interpretation more challenging, and hence more rewarding, by disrupting conventional expectations in this manner is a distinctly modern approach. Perhaps another reason for leaving hototogisu untranslated is the effective use made of alliteration in the English version. The translation contains twelve syllables (arranged in a 4-3-5 pattern) which, when read aloud, have a pronounced rhythm attributable in large measure to the repeated H sounds. Corman, naturally enough considering his experience, has an acute ear for rhythm in short poetic forms, at least in English, and this particular hokku seems to me to be one of the more successful translations in the Corman-Kamaike version of Oku no hosomichi.

The third translation is that of Earl Miner, who along with Robert H. Brower wrote the book when it comes to translating and analyzing waka.[21] This twenty-syllable version is very nearly as long in three lines as Yuasa’s is in four, and I must confess that it seems quite wordy to me now in a way it did not when I first read it more than twenty-five years ago. Miner does follow a short-long-short syllabic pattern, but it is telling that only six of his translations from Oku no hosomichi actually fall below eighteen syllables in English. Two other problems exist here. First, Miner interprets the situation differently from the other translators, creating the impression that the poet is already crossing the field on the horse, which is surely mistaken. It is an unusual slip for him. Second, although the major break follows the Japanese in coming at the end of the second line, the imperative verb in the third line shifts the attention of the reader from the cuckoo to the horse driver, which is both repetitious (one command has already been given), blurring the focus, which should be on the image of the bird (or, more conventionally, its song). Miner’s use of “wood thrush” is precisely the sort of vague substitution that Corman and Kamaike appear to disdain. It may be possible to acknowledge its usefulness as an interpretive crutch for non-specialists, but one must finally admit the incongruity of a bird native to North America attracting the attention of a seventeenth-century Japanese poet. This translation thus labors under the disadvantages of being both misleading and drawn out.

Dorothy Britton’s translation comes the closest so far to the standard seventeen-syllable count (the majority of her versions actually fall into the nineteen- or twenty-syllable range). But the addition of extraneous information in the second and third lines—the direct address to the horseman and the explanation of the reason for the poet’s request—lowers the tension achieved in Japanese by keeping the last line semantically separate from the first two. The one-sentence format makes for smooth reading, but one almost feels that it is too smooth, that the juxtaposition of images should have a more forceful impact upon the reader. The conventionality of the English is reinforced by the use of capitalization at the beginning of each line, the rather archaic form of direct address (“O horseman”), and an attempt to match sound values at the end of the first and third lines (a technique that tends toward the rhyming versions Britton often produces). A tight formal unity is achieved, but that unity derives solely from English conventions and disguises the way the translator has rearranged the order of the images. Ease of reading alone can hardly be considered the hallmark of a faithful translation.

The next version comes from Helen McCullough, a translator who can arguably be said to have translated more classical Japanese into English than any other person.[22] When she translates waka, McCullough tends to follow a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern quite closely, but apparently she finds the hokku form too constraining for such a rigorous level of consistency: although none of her versions of Bashô ’s hokku exceed nineteen syllables or fall below fourteen, only seventeen—or about thirty percent—actually follow a 5-7-5 pattern (Keene, with fifteen, is the only other translator even to approach the same level of consistency). McCullough prefers full-sentence English syntax (noun phrases are allowed to stand as whole poems, but otherwise subjects and verbs are clearly stated), which means that her translations typically contain participles and prepositional phrases, end with periods, and use capitalization only at the beginning of a new sentence. She thus follows the pattern set down by Yuasa, Miner, and Britton, but with the important difference that she is more concise than the first two and less given than Britton to applying traditional rhyming techniques and standards of diction. On the other hand, McCullough reverses the position of the first and third lines of the Japanese version. I suspect that she did this in order to avoid adding the sort of explanatory material added by Britton. But, of course, moving the concrete noun to the beginning of the hokku reduces the force of the ending, so that the English version appears to trail off weakly. Perhaps the damage is not as great as it might be with a hokku more obviously dialectic in effect, but the loss of focus is not negligible. Granted that McCullough seems to have found it necessary to compromise in this case, hers seems to be a careful, scholarly approach that draws its strength from its reliability.

The next version, by Hiroaki Sato, is as radical in its own way as that by Corman and Kamaike. Sato advocates one-line English haiku on the basis that Japanese haiku are written and printed as one line and that, when read aloud, the duration of an English haiku should approximate the duration of a Japanese haiku.[23] In terms of arguing for duration as a standard of both translated and original haiku in English, his position is close to that of Higginson, whose suggestion of a 2-3-2 accented-beat pattern (with a total length of about twelve syllables) has been noted above. However, while Higginson continues to write in three lines, Sato takes the additional formal step of joining the lines together. The potential disadvantages of such an approach are amply in evidence here. I admit to being confused about how one can turn a horse “round across” a field, and my first instinct is to take “cuckoo” at the end as a direct address, so that the poet is telling the bird to do something with the horse (and in another hokku from Oku no hosomichi, Sato uses “cuckoo” in precisely this fashion). These misreadings follow directly from the format chosen by the translator, which in my view argues strongly against the applicability of this translated form.

Donald Keene’s translation follows the long-short-long rhythmic pattern he takes as his basic model (next to McCullough, Keene has the most translations in “standard” 5-7-5 form—fourteen in all). Cast in sentence-pattern syntax, it seems intended to be as clear as possible in meaning: like Britton, Keene adds “I hear” in the second line to make explicit a logical connection that is allowed to go unstated in Japanese. Keene apparently feels that without such an explanation, the motivation will not be sufficiently clear to the inexperienced reader. But in the attempt both to maintain a syllabic count approximating the 5-7-5 Japanese pattern and to retain the original image order, he has broken the second line in the middle, in effect creating two halves rather than a two-line, one-line division. This has the effect of disrupting the rhythm of the original and slightly drawing attention away from the cuckoo (which Keene inexplicably translates as “nightingale”).[24] When one also considers that leading the horse “sideways” creates the potential for comic confusion, it must be concluded that this is not one of Keene’s more convincing efforts.

Finally, Sam Hamill’s translation must be considered quite wide of the mark in terms of accuracy. Not only does Hill change a Japanese command into a descriptive phrase in English (“the horse turns his head”), he makes it seem as though the cuckoo’s call has caused the horse’s reaction and that that ends the implications of the poem. As Japanese commentators invariably explain, the situation is that having heard the cuckoo call out once in the distance, Basho is telling the horseman to lead the horse nearer the spot so that he (or they) can hear it again. In other words, there is an implied purpose to the poet’s command that is simply ignored in this version. Hamill is an experienced poet and translator, but this kind of carelessness (or eccentricity) appears with distressing regularity in his versions of hokku from Oku no hosomichi. In terms of syllabic count here and throughout, Hamill comes close to Keene in observing a regular short-long-short rhythm (without, however, matching McCullough’s level of consistency), yet he manages to achieve greater directness through the more frequent omission of ending punctuation. This attempt to better match the immediacy of the Japanese, however, seems inadequate compensation for the problematic rendering of meaning.

2. oi mo tachi mo/satsuki ni kazare/kaminobori

Yuasa:

Proudly exhibit/With flying banners/The sword and the satchel/This May Festival Day.

Corman/Kamaike:

chest too and sword/in May hoist high as/paper standards

Miner:

The pannier and sword:/Use them to decorate the Boys’ Festival/Along with carp streamers.

Britton:

What a proud display!/Chest and sword and paper carp,/For Boy’s Festival Day.

McCullough:

Paper carp flying!/Display pannier and sword, too,/in the Fifth Month.

Sato:

Display both casket and sword in May with paper carps

Keene:

Sword and altar both/Display on Boy’s Day in May/When paper banners fly.

Hamill:

Sword, chest, and wind-carp/all proudly displayed/on Boys’ Festival Day


The situation, as described in Oku no hosomichi, is when Bashô arrives at the temple where stand the graves of the two wives of Sato Tsugunobu and Satô Tadanobu, loyal followers of Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Bashô is moved to find that the temple has on display both Yoshitsune’s sword and the pannier carried by Yoshitsune’s famous retainer, Benkei.[25] Yuasa again translates as if the hokku had a basic structure of four parts, although in this case his reversal of normal English sentence order allows for a three-line, one-line division that can be said to approximate the two-phrase, one-phrase division in Japanese. Still, the fact that the last, relatively independent line refers to the month rather than to the paper carp streamers (which Yuasa has confusingly called “flying banners”) certainly detracts from the concreteness of the image. Extra information has been provided in English with the use of “proudly,” a subjective judgment that is best left to the reader to make. The translation also makes a problematic reference to Satsuki as May, which gives the impression that this is some kind of spring festival. In fact, the reference is to the fifth lunar month, which corresponds to the greater part of June under the modern calendar (the season word kaminobori belongs to the “summer” category). If the seasonal reference is to be considered central to the effect of hokku, it will simply not do to substitute spring for summer. Finally, the English translation seems to call on the listener to display all three items together, while the grammar of the original uses the preexisting image of the paper carp as the basis for suggesting what to do with the other two objects. The Japanese, in other words, more clearly reveals the imagination of the poet at work, even in a hokku that is not especially serious in intent.

Corman and Kamaike puzzlingly (in view of their previous treatment of hototogisu) repeat the misleading English reference to the fifth lunar month. Furthermore, the command to “hoist high” the sword and chest results in (for me) the rather bizarre image of the two objects dangling unceremoniously from ropes. Clearly, placing the semantic elements in the same order as in the Japanese does not by itself make for appropriate translation.

Miner substitutes “Boys’ Festival” for “Satsuki,” attempting to avoid the calendar problem while relying on the reader’s knowledge to locate the festival in its proper season. The potential gain in clarity, however, once again comes at the cost of a certain verbosity (the second line alone contains eleven syllables). “Carp,” too, is a more specific image than “paper banners” or “standards,” signaling Miner’s basic policy of making concessions to the needs of non-Japanese readers. Miner does not seem to add subjective elements as Yuasa does, but otherwise his style of rendering English in fairly complete semantic units produces a similar impression of bulkiness (Miner arranges his translation in just three lines, but it actually contains one more syllable than Yuasa’s four-line version).

Britton’s translation is tightly unified by rhyme this time. It appears to be a technique adopted from Henderson, who justifies the practice on the basis of personal preference and the need to keep hokku from seeming fragmentary.[26] Since the Imagists and other modernists have prized just this fragmentary aspect of hokku, the general reluctance of other translators and haiku poets to adopt rhyme is perhaps only to be expected. Here, especially, the result is a sing-song quality that is positively distracting. Not only that, the imagery itself has again been rearranged to achieve the rhyme. Instead of one set of images (“pannier” and “sword” in the first line) set in juxtaposition to another image (“carp streamers” in the third line) with the second line used to mediate between the two, we have all three images lumped together in the second line. This is a distortion of the basic technique for which Bashô is most justly famous, and in this case it trivializes the poem.

McCullough’s translation, too, rearranges the order of the images, transporting the paper carp to the first line, moving the pannier and sword down a line, and ending with the reference to the Fifth Month. Although, as before, a juxtaposition of sorts is maintained, the mediating function of Basho’s second line is lost, and the result is an undue emphasis on the time of year. Thus, even while McCullough’s translation can be called faithful in that it adds no extra interpretive material and takes note of the lunar calendar by the expedient of capitalizing “Fifth Month,” the effect is by no means the same as when the hokku is read in Japanese.

Once again, Sato’s translation seems almost to flout English standards of common sense in its determination to match the presumed one-line format of the Japanese. Since the English is in one line, the phrase “with paper carps” may at first be taken as modifying “in May” rather than the verb “displayed.” It might perhaps be argued that recognizing a 2-2-2 accented-beat rhythm in the English helps to avoid that misreading by cutting off “paper carps” from the immediately preceding phrase; but if that rhythm is to be taken as the basis for a semantic yoking, then a different problem arises in the separation of “casket” from “sword” and in the subsequent linking of “sword” with “May.” In addition, Sato makes the unfortunate decision to translate the Japanese “oi” as “casket,” a word too readily associated with the image of a coffin. “Carps,” while technically correct, is a relatively uncommon plural form that calls undue attention to itself here. And apparently Sato intends the inaccurate use of “May” to be justified on the basis of contemporary custom rather than tradition. It is interesting to note that, as a rule, Sato’s most successful translations resemble the epigrammatic forms used long ago by Hearn and Chamberlain. Sato is, however, less concerned with observing standard English grammar, and when he departs from it in his desire to establish a fixed rhythm (of sorts), the gain in rhythmic regularity can be outweighed by an increase in semantic confusion.

Considering Keene and Hamill together, we notice that although Keene has also unaccountably decided to translate “Satsuki” as “May,” he retains both the order and placement of the original images. Hamill has invented a new English word in “wind-carp,” combined the three central images in the first line, and inserted a subjective judgment with the addition of the word “proudly.” Hamill’s version may have a bit more sparkle and a better sense of English rhythm than Keene’s, but Keene’s does Basho the service of preserving his characteristically synthetic method of constructing poetic meaning.[27] As before, blandness seems a modest price to pay for Keene’s more consistent level of fidelity to the original.

3. natsukusa ya/tsuwamonodomo no/yume no ato

Yuasa:

A thicket of summer grass/Is all that remains/Of the dreams and ambitions/Of ancient warriors.

Corman/Kamaike:

summer grass/warriors/dreams’ ruins

Miner:

The summer grasses:/The high bravery of men-at-arms,/The vestiges of dream.

Britton:

A mound of summer grass:/Are warriors’ heroic deeds/Only dreams that pass?

McCullough:

A dream of warriors/after dreaming is done,/the summer grasses.

Sato:

Summer grass: where the warriors used to dream

Keene:

The summer grasses­––/Of brave soldiers’ dreams/The aftermath.

Hamill:

Summer grasses:/all that remains of great soldiers’/imperial dreams


This hokku, one of Bashô’s most famous, refers to the ill-fated members of the Fujiwara clan at Hiraizumi who perished at the sword of Minamoto no Yoritomo. The order of images in the Japanese is summer grass-warriors-remnants of dreams, again reflecting Bashô’s characteristic three-part organizational process. A major break comes after the cutting word at the end of the first line, resulting in a common variation of the standard 5-7-5 syllabic pattern. Yuasa is the only translator to depart conspicuously from this pattern, although McCullough once again reverses the first and last lines, thereby failing to suggest the correct location of the break while still separating the image of summer grasses from the other images. Corman and Kamaike are the most “literal,” stripping the English down to its bare essentials, but awkwardness results from using “warriors dreams” possessively as a compound noun and breaking it in half at the same time. Britton’s question is, of course, rhetorical, but the Japanese does not even imply the trifling doubt of a rhetorical question. It is perhaps misleading for Hamill to refer to the “imperial” dreams of soldiers who lived at a time when the imperial court was no longer the seat of real political power. Other than these relatively minor quibbles, however, this hokku seems to offer the reader an excellent chance to form a preference for any translator purely on the basis of style. And if that decision seems a hard one to make (at last with respect to more than one translator), then I think a good case has already been made for translating a poet like Bashô repeatedly. In translation, “definitive” is not a word to be used lightly, and different approaches can succeed in illuminating different aspects of the same work. I certainly would hesitate to choose any of these versions as the definitive English version of Bashô’s hokku; rather, I enjoy having the chance to read and consider them all.

4. shizukasa ya/iwa ni shimiiru/semi no koe

Yuasa:

In the utter silence/Of a temple,/A cicada’s voice alone Penetrates the rocks.

Corman/Kamaike:

quiet/into rock absorbing/cicada sounds

Miner:

In seclusion, silence./Shrilling into the mountain boulder,/The cicada’s rasp.

Britton:

In this hush profound,/Into the very rocks it seeps—/The cicada sound.

McCullough:

Ah, tranquility!/Penetrating the very rock,/a cicada’s voice.

Sato:

Quietness: seeping into the rocks, the cicada’s voice

Keene:

How still it is here­––/Stinging into the stones,/The locusts’ trill.

Hamill:

Lonely stillness—/a single cicada’s cry/ sinking into stone

This is a personal favorite of mine and another of Bashô’s most famous verses, in which poetic meaning is once again generated by a synthetic process based upon the juxtaposition of images. The text of Oku no hosomichi makes it clear that the reference is to Risshaku (or Ryûshaku) Temple in present-day Yamagata Prefecture. The translations by the various translators essentially fit the stylistic patterns that have already been identified. Yuasa adds an extra line; Corman and Kamaike are cryptic; Miner is wordy; Britton uses rhyme; McCullough is reliable; Sato uses a single line (here, however, clearly demarcated semantically); Keene uses an Americanism to translate “semi,” and the alliteration does not suggest the sound of cicadas very well; Hamill is the only translator to take the (largely unwarranted) liberty of altering the original order of images. What makes this hokku especially interesting, however, is the various ways the translators have rendered “shizukasa,” “iwa” and “semi.” Corman and Kamaike are the only ones to use a single English word for the first line of the Japanese, while McCullough adds an exclamation to account for the cutting word “ya.” The other translators all try to specify the quality of the silence by adding modifiers. Five of the translators use a countable word for “iwa,” the other three use an uncountable word. A majority (five) prefer the idea of one insect, one translator hears more than one, and two translators finesse the issue by using a compound noun in which “sound” becomes the key word (although that, too, can be countable or uncountable).[28] Here, it seems to me, is another hokku where the existence of different variations in English translation tends to amplify the meaning of the original rather than disperse it. How many insects should we hear? What is the precise quality of the silence? Is it, in fact, necessary to provide a definite answer to these questions? I think it is a tribute to Bashô’s skill that the Japanese encompasses all of the possibilities suggested by the translators (it is not common to find such wide discrepancy in the use of singular and plural among experienced translators of Japanese), and at least for this hokku, I would say that the answer to the last of my three questions is no.

5. hamaguri no/futami ni wakare/yuku aki zo

Yuasa:

As firmly cemented clam shells/Fall apart in autumn,/So I must take to the road again,/Farewell, my friends.

Corman/Kamaike:

clam/shell and innards parting/departing fall

Miner:

Parting for Futami Bay/Is like tearing the body from the clam-shell:/Autumn goes to its end.

Britton:

Sadly, I part from you:/Like a clam torn from its shell,/I go, the autumn too.

McCullough:

Off to Futami,/loath to part as clam from shell/in waning autumn.

Sato:

A clam/separates lid/from flesh as autumn departs

Keene:

Dividing like clam/And shell, I leave for Futami—­/Autumn is passing by.

Hamill:

Clam ripped from its shell,/I move on to Futami Bay:/passing autumn


This is the last hokku in Oku no hosomichi, composed as Bashô, after being greeted by disciples and friends at the end of his journey, is preparing to set off in a boat to offer prayers at Ise Shrine. Of the hokku being considered here, it probably represents the greatest technical challenge for the translator because of the wordplay surrounding “futami” (both the name of the bay that is Bashô’s destination and a phonetic combination meaning “shell” and “body”) and “wakare-yuku” (referring to the separation of a clam from its shell, the departure of the poet, and also to the passing of autumn). Yuasa simplifies matters greatly by dropping the place name and the reference to the end of autumn, and yet even then he requires twenty-seven syllables to make his translation. What is more, he has the poet address his friends directly, something not warranted by the Japanese. Corman and Kamaike also pass over the geographical reference (and so the poet’s reference to his own departure), but the whimsical “parting departing” combination is surely the most effective treatment of “wakare-yuku” to be found among these versions. Miner fits in all of the elements, but takes twenty-four syllables to do it. Britton’s use of rhyme seems less intrusive here than elsewhere, and this can probably be counted among her more successful translations. However, she, too, is unable to find room for the geographical reference, and the use of “sadly” adds an unnecessarily sentimental note to the verse. McCullough rises to the challenge nicely by explaining the meaning of the puns in a well-turned 5-7-5 translation. Of course, to explain wordplay in this manner is also to diminish its effectiveness as play, so perhaps it cannot be helped that her version (like almost all of the others) does not convey the lightness of Bashô’s original. Sato gives the distinctly mistaken impression that the clam is somehow dividing itself from the shell and, of course, he also omits the geographical reference. He has, however, translated this hokku in three lines, noting that “at least two” of the three manuscript traditions also do so.[29] This seems an oddly literal affirmation of the formal constraints imposed by the original when Sato has no compunctions about ignoring Japanese conventions regarding syllable count. Keene ends up committing a grammatical error in attempting to accommodate all the elements involved in the wordplay: starting the first line with a participial clause, he has “I” dividing like clam and shell, apparently intending this to refer to Bashô’s separation from his friends. The effect, however, is inadvertently humorous. Hamill’s version seems well done in this case, although the violence of the separation (not inappropriate to the actual act of shelling a clam) is stronger than that implied by the intransitive form of “separate” used by Bashô. Wordplay may be difficult or even impossible to render adequately in translation, but it goes without saying that in a verse obviously meant to embody the playful spirit of haikai, a translation that works will itself be lighthearted. This is why, despite its omission of one key element, Corman and Kamaike’s translation finally seems best here, and why the other translations from this relatively unknown version of Oku no hosomichi can at least stake a valid claim to the reader’s attention.

Having surveyed a total of forty versions of five hokku, we now seem very much in danger of running afoul of the law of diminishing returns. Let me therefore conclude this discussion of specific examples by making a few short (and admittedly opinionated) comments on the overall merit of each translator’s approach. Yuasa’s complete translation of Oku no hosomichi was the first to appear, and since it is included in the Penguin Books series, a certain amount of prestige has accrued to it. His versions of hokku are often the ones readers encounter first. Yuasa’s understanding of the meaning is reliable enough, and the prose sections of his translation of are quite competent, if rather pedestrian. But I have already expressed my strong reservations about the four-line model he has chosen as the paradigm for his translations of hokku, and I would say that his versions have now served their purpose and should be retired to the back shelves of the library. Penguin Books needs a fresh edition of Bashô.

Corman and Kamaike, as we have seen, take a deliberately modernist approach that also insists on following the original image order as closely as possible. William J. Higginson, for one, has pronounced this the best translation available in English.[30] I am not so sure. Granted that even in Japanese a certain amount of external knowledge is required to identify allusions and untie the syntax of many hokku, the original still strikes me as being much more conventional in expression than Corman and Kamaike’s English would lead the reader to believe. Their choppy and sometimes cryptic style often makes it almost as much of a challenge to get through the English as to read the Japanese, and the rhythm—at least for me—is a very different kind of rhythm. It is an interesting experiment with some notable successes, but still very much experimental in nature. I would not choose to send a class of American students to it first.

Miner’s translation is a relatively early scholarly version, and as such it admits of more substitution and approximation in its hokku than most scholars (and other translators) would now feel comfortable with. Although Miner always observes a three-line format in English, the wordiness of his translations sometimes comes close to defeating the purpose in doing so. Yet I myself did not really notice this verbosity until after I had had the opportunity to read other translations, and comparing Miner’s version with those of several later academic translators provides a useful index to the extent the modern preference for brevity and unexplained, juxtaposed images has taken hold even among specialists in Japanese literature.

The hokku translations contained in Britton’s translation of Oku no hosomichi are clearly intended for the general reader. They suffer to some extent from being removed from their prose context, the smoothness of which seems makes her version quite accessible to those who do not want to wade through copious notes and explanations. Unfortunately, the obtrusive reliance on rhyme and the resulting distortions of poetic structure mean that Britton’s hokku often have a different specific gravity, so to speak, than Basho’s originals, and her style is unlikely to appeal to many future translators.

McCullough typifies the diligent, scholarly approach of many academic translators. At her best, she combines attention to detail and precise diction with a disciplined respect for the syllabic rhythms of the original, without, however, insisting on unwavering obedience to those rhythms. If there is a risk to this kind of scrupulousness, it is the risk of dryness and the willingness to subordinate other aspects of poetic structure—such as image order—to a syntactic order based on syllabic and syntactic considerations. Like most other academics, McCullough diligently includes transliterations as a way of allowing the reader to verify the appropriateness of her methods. All told, McCullough would seem to be an excellent choice for serious students of Japanese literature or for those enrolled in university survey courses.

In the introduction to his translation of Oku no hosomichi, Sato declines to justify his method of translating in single lines, stating that it is an experiment that must stand or fall on its own merit. This is surely true, but personally I tend to agree with Edwin Cranston when he says that the tension and interplay between visually separate lines offer valuable opportunities unavailable to a translator such as Sato.[31] I have remarked on the awkwardness of Sato’s hokku translations, and this awkwardness also characterizes the prose sections of his version of the travel diary. I must confess I am quite puzzled when, in the introduction, Cor van den Heuval pronounces this the “most accessible” English version to be found. That is hardly the case. While admitting the value of the experiment, I have to say that I think the experiment fails. This is the most heavily annotated of the translations, by the way, and the wealth of information is very useful. But providing so many notes in a version like this (which also contains transliterations of the Japanese) seems to constitute an invitation to the reader to regard them as a sort of corrective to the excesses of translation, and one gets the impression that the real goal is a synthesis of the two aspects. I do not think the translation stands up very well on its own.

I have heard it said that Donald Keene has read more Japanese literature than any other person alive. Such scholarship is not to be taken lightly. Still, as a translator Keene has never been the stylist that contemporaries like Edward Seidensticker have proved to be. Keene’s translations almost always leave the impression of being extremely competent but plain. This plainness is no doubt deceptive to some degree, for I know from experience how hard it is to demonstrate the same level of competence. Keene’s translation of hokku, too, is always competent and in places quite skillful, but I find it hard to say that his versions are in any sense definitive. Indeed, the complete translation of Oku no hosomichi from which they are taken seems rather unsure of its own audience, for the information on the end-flaps is written in Japanese, and Japanese translations are included even for the English notes, which themselves can be puzzling in the sort of information they do or do not offer. Perhaps if a style-minded editor had gone over the English carefully with the translator, or if Keene had designed the book more specifically for a knowledgeable English-speaking readership, more sparkle would have resulted.

The versions offered by Hamill are also disappointing in my view, for reasons that have already been stated. Hamill simply misleads the reader too often regarding the basic meaning (“too often” is a relative term, and I do not mean to imply a very high statistical frequency). I was, quite frankly, startled in the prose section of Oku no hosomichi to find him refer to an honest innkeeper nicknamed Hotoke Gozaemon in Japanese as “Joe Buddha,” and the dropped-subject, diary-like style favored by Hamill in an attempt to convey the compression of Bashô’s prose seems to me to misrepresent the stylistic polish of the original. Still, while the prose deserves consideration as an attempt to come to terms with the stylistic implications of the Japanese, the hokku translations lack authority.

What, then, are some of the general conclusions that can be drawn about translated hokku by Bashô? First of all, as I have already noted, it is important to recognize that definitive versions of individual hokku are very hard to come by. In spite of the criticism I have leveled at some of them, most have something to recommend them and most also have drawbacks. In this sense, the brevity of hokku actually works to the reader’s advantage because it allows different versions of the same verses to be compared without making unreasonable demands on one’s time. It is a luxury not available to many other literary genres. The richness of meaning that has accrued to Bashô’s hokku in English is very much the product of the different versions published by different translators over the years. And the fact that the truest appreciation for the Japanese emerges after reading multiple versions is not so much an ironic comment on the value of translation as it is an indication of the potential of the hokku form as realized by its first great master in Japanese (the recognition of this potential, beginning with the work of Blyth and Henderson, counts as a permanent change in the prestige of the genre in English).

A second point is that the issues raised by the earliest translated versions remain quite volatile today, both among scholars and within the so-called haiku community of poets in English. There is still no unity, for example, over the most appropriate format to use when writing in English. This is so despite the fact that certain methods (Yuasa’s four-line method and Britton’s preference for rhyme, for instance) have failed to win the support of the majority of either translators or original poets. One- or two-line epigrammatic forms, 5-7-5 three-line schemes, rhymed lines, and accented-beat patterns—all have attracted and continue to attract supporters, for experimental purposes at least. The interesting thing is that these different formats have not developed in isolation but have had to compete with and accommodate each other in a way that has resulted, for example, in Sato’s combination of epigrammatic form with the modernist technique of syntactic disruption and an English-based rhythmic pattern that nevertheless appeals to one aspect of traditional Japanese practice for its authority. Even scholarly translators have been affected by the actual composition of haiku in English to the extent of modifying their own procedures.[32]

Both of the foregoing points are signs of the lively atmosphere surrounding the production of haiku in English (and other languages) today. And all this activity would seem to indicate that we are presently in an age of interaction and convergence, where the tension created between traditional versions, translated versions, and foreign-language versions of hokku/haiku is coming to inform our awareness of the achievements, limitations, and possibilities of each category. It will be interesting to see where this interaction takes haiku in the future.


Notes

[1]. The third edition of this anthology was published by W.W. Norton in 1999, and includes about 850 poems in more than 400 pages. Among the other anthologies, the Red Moon Press series, under the editorship of Jim Kacian, is notable for having published a new volume of original English haiku each year since 1996.

[2]. The translations to be discussed here are those contained in the following books, which are listed in order of original publication: Nobuyuki Yuasa, trans., Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1966); Cid Corman and Susumu Kamaike, trans., Back Roads to Far Towns: Bashô’s Oku-No-Hosomichi (1968; Hopewell, N.J.: The Ecco Press, 1996); Earl Miner, trans., Japanese Poetic Diaries (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1969); Dorothy Britton, trans., A Haiku Journey: Narrow Road to a Far Province (1974; Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1980); Helen Craig McCullough, ed. and trans., Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990); Donald Keene, trans., The Narrow Road to Oku (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1996); Sam Hamill, trans., Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings (1999; Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2000). Because of the many variations in the translated titles, I will be referring to the travel diary here solely by its Japanese title.

It should be noted that a distinction is being observed here between the words “haiku” and “hokku.” It is now widely recognized in the English-speaking world that the hokku (literally, “starting verse”) was originally not an independent form of poetry but simply the first of a sequence of linked verses (renga or renku) that typically went on until a conventional length—typically thirty-six, fifty, or one hundred verses—was reached. The first poet would begin by composing a verse in 5-7-5 syllabic form, and the second poet would add a verse in 7-7 form to cap the first verse and produce a complete 31-syllable tanka. Then a third poet would add another 5-7-5 verse which, when added to the previous 7-7 verse, constituted a second poem formally independent of the first and yet related to it by a fairly complex set of linking rules as well as by the shared lines. Although the importance of the opening verse meant that poets in Bashô’s day often composed hokku separately, there was always the expectation that hokku would (or at least could) be used to start a complete sequence. The term “haiku,” as used to refer to an independent poem in 5-7-5 syllabic form, was popularized by the modern poet Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Following what is now becoming standard practice, I therefore use “hokku” to refer to the “starting” verses composed by Basho, and “haiku” to refer to modern verses that are intended to be read as independent poems.

[3]. Makoto Ueda, Bashô and His Interpreters (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 5.

[4]. W.G. Aston, History of Japanese Literature (London: William Heinemann, 1899), p. 294. “Haikai” is the general term for the genre of “playful” linked verse that emerged in the Muromachi period and in which Basho worked; the hokku was the opening verse of a haikai sequence. Aston’s book remained the only reasonably complete history of Japanese literature in English until Donald Keene’s version began to appear in 1976. It is still available from Tuttle.

[5]. Aston, p. 395. Aston translates in three lines of English, but maintains no regular syllable count in the very small number of hokku he offers (he disposes of the genres haikai, haibun, and kyoka in the space of ten pages).

[6]. Aston, p. 399.

[7]. Basil Hall Chamberlain, “Basho and the Japanese Poetical Epigram,” Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. 30 (1902), pp. 243-362. Reprinted in Japanese Poetry (London: John Murray, 1910), pp.145-260, and also in the final volume of Early Japanology: Aston, Satow, Chamberlain, 4 vols. (Tokyo: Yushodo Press, 1997), pp. 305-426. See also the “Poetry” section of Chamberlain’s Things Japanese, 5th ed. (London: J. Murray, 1905), pp. 374-382, where Chamberlain refers to hokku as the “limit of the little” in poetry.

[8]. Chamberlain, “Basho and the Japanese Poetical Epigram,” p. 307.

[9]. Chamberlain, “Basho and the Japanese Poetical Epigram,” p. 309.

[10]. Pound’s 1913 “In a Station of the Metro” is sometimes put forward as the first English haiku: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/ Petals, on a wet black bough.” This assessment is not universally acknowledged.

[11]. For a convenient, if brief, discussion of haiku in English starting with the Imagists, see Haruo Shirane, Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory and the Poetry of Basho (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998), pp. 44-51. More detailed information can be found in chapters 4 to 6 of William J. Higginson, with Penny Harter, The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku (1985; Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1989), pp. 49-83. Also see George Swede, “Haiku in English in North America,” publication date unknown, 15 March 2000 <http://www.atreide.net/rendezvous/ histnortham.htm>, which apparently combines articles previously published in Haiku Canada Newsletter, vol. 10, no. 2, January 1997, and vol. 10, no. 3, March 1997.

[12]. In his preface to the first volume of Haiku, 4 vols. (1949-1952; Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1981-1982), Blyth states flatly that “haiku are to be understood from the Zen point of view.” For biographical information about Blyth, see James Kirkup’s introduction to The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R.H. Blyth (Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1994); in Japanese, see Yoshimura Ikuyo, R.H. Buraisu no shogai: zen to haiku o aishite (Tokyo: Doho Shuppan, 1996).

[13]. R.H. Blyth, A History of Haiku, vol. 2 (Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1964), p. 351. Quoted in Harold G. Henderson, Haiku in English (Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1967), p. 32.

[14]. Harold G. Henderson, An Introduction to Haiku (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958), and Haiku in English, cited above.

[15]. The first English haiku contest sponsored by Japan Air Lines in 1964 is often mentioned as a watershed. About 41,000 entries were submitted.

[16]. Higginson, The Haiku Handbook, p. 96.

[17]. Higginson has written two books on the subject: The Haiku Seasons: Poetry of the Natural World (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1996) and, with Meagan Calogeras, Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1997). The first book makes the argument on a more theoretical basis; the second represents an actual attempt to create such a seasonal almanac.

[18]. Of the three that stray from the basic pattern (all are in 6-7-5 syllabic form), two appear to do so mostly for linguistic reasons. One of these starts with the phrase oi mo tachi mo (literally, “pannier and sword and”), which consists of two nouns joined in a parallel construction; the other begins with Atsumiyama ya, which is a place name followed by a “cutting word” (kireji) conventionally used when place names appear in the first line of a hokku. The extra syllable in the opening line of the third exception (tsuka mo ukoke/wa ga naku koe wa/aki no kaze) seems to reflect an intent to add emotional emphasis, which makes it a unique case.

[19]. Again for reasons of space, line divisions in the translations are indicated by virgules. The divisions shown in the Japanese originals are matters of convention and convenience rather than a reflection of the practice of the poet. For Yuasa’s (finally unconvincing) reasons for adopting a four-line method, see The Narrow Road to the Deep North, p. 48.

[20]. Yuasa repeats syllabic patterns a total of only four different times.

[21]. Robert H. Brower and Earl Miner, Japanese Court Poetry (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1961). This was also my introduction to the field, and as Edwin Cranston observes when making the same point in the introduction to A Waka Anthology: The Gem-Glistening Cup (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993), it may be that one’s own preferences as a translator are determined by one’s first encounter with a translation, for I have always regarded the five-line translations of tanka by Brower and Miner as basic models for translation. With regard to hokku, however, other translations have succeeded in making me feel the need for greater brevity.

[22]. Among her translations (in addition to the anthology of prose quoted earlier) are complete versions of Ise monogatari, Kokin wakashu, Heike monogatari, Taiheiki, Eiga monogatari (with W.H. McCullough), and Gikeiki.

[23]. Sato argued for one-line versions of tanka as early as the 1987 article “Lineation of Tanka in English Translation,” Monumenta Nipponica, 42:3 (Autumn 1987). His translation of Oku no hosomichi appears to signal an attempt to extend the same principle to hokku.

[24]. Although Keene’s full version of Oku no hosomichi was published only recently, he did translate selections for his 1955 Anthology of Japanese Literature. It may be that he was working from previous notes and inadvertently repeated an earlier, immature error (in Japanese, both hototogisu and kankodori, or kakko, are cuckoos, so he may have wanted to draw a distinction between them). Still, “nightingale” is both factually inaccurate and the usual prewar translation for uguisu (now “bush warbler”), so it should not appear in this translation.

[25]. This hokku serves to demonstrate that the current haiku “rule” about emphasizing the present moment ignores the actual practice of Basho, for whom the past was a constant preoccupation (Oku no hosomichi itself explicitly invokes the experience of past poets such as Sôgi and Saigyô, present already in the travel diary’s famous opening lines). For further consideration of this point, see Haruo Shirane, “Beyond the Haiku Moment: Bashô, Buson, and Modern Haiku Myths,” Modern Haiku, XXXI:1 (Winter-Spring 2000), pp. 48-63.

[26]. Henderson, An Introduction to Haiku, pp. ix-x.

[27]. Space prevents extensive citation of the kind of misleading carelessness I have already pointed out in Hamill’s translations, but in one hokku, for example, Hamill has young girls making dye when they are in fact dyeing cloth; in another, he describes a famous Chinese beauty as “wrapped in sleeping leaves” when a comparison with mimosa drooping in the rain is intended; and in a third, he translates a line as “Tremble, oh my grave,” when the Japanese obviously refers to another person’s tomb.

[28]. Ueda, in Bashô and His Interpreters, adopts the plural form in his translation of the same hokku; Shirane, in Traces of Dreams, prefers the singular. Ueda used the singular in an earlier translation published in Matsuo Bashô (1970; Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1982), but has apparently changed his mind since then. My own experience with cicadas suggests to me that plural is best, but I must admit that the choice is timorously made.

[29]. Sato, p.132.

[30]. To verify this, it will be necessary for the reader to locate the book on Amazon.com’s Web site and then read Higginson’s review, the URL for which is too long to include here.

[31]. Cranston, A Waka Anthology: The Gem-Glistening Cup, p. xix.

[32]. Both Ueda and Shirane address the issues raised by English “haikuists,” and in Ueda’s case it is instructive to compare the versions of translated hokku that appear in Matsuo Bashô with those that appear in Bashô and His Interpreters. Ueda and Shirane, however, also revert to the practice initiated by Henderson in An Introduction to Haiku in providing word-for-word translations along with the final polished version. The attempt to have things both ways is a recognition of the provisionality of the translation no less than an exercise in scholarly diligence. On a related note, it can be seen that the commonly advanced complaint that a 5-7-5 syllabic count constitutes an arbitrary constraint in English certainly cannot be laid at the door of translators, who as a group have never been dogmatic about form in English.

Appendix

Syllable counts for English translations of all 50 hokku by Bashô in Oku no hosomichi, arranged in low-to-high order for total number of syllables (shading for identical patterns when translations are in multiple lines)

Yuasa

Corman

Miner

Britton

McCullough

Keene

Sato

Hamill

3-4-5-5

4-2-3-4

4-4-4-4

4-5-6-6

4-5-6-7

4-5-6-7

4-5-9-8

4-6-3-5

4-6-6-5

4-6-11-6

4-7-8-5

4-10-5-7

5-4-4-2

5-5-5-6

5-5-6-6

5-5-6-6

5-6-5-6

5-6-6-7

5-6-7-5

5-6-7-6

5-6-7-6

5-7-5-6

5-8-6-7

5-8-7-7

5-9-7-7

5-10-7-8

6-2-9-5

6-4-7-5

6-5-5-5

6-5-9-5

6-6-4-5

6-6-4-6

6-6-4-6

6-6-4-7

6-6-5-5

6-6-7-6

6-7-6-7

6-7-6-8

6-7-8-5

6-10-4-8

6-10-8-6

7-4-5-4

7-5-4-7

7-5-7-5

7-6-4-7

7-9-7-5

7-11-7-5

8-8-7-9

8-3-6-7

8-6-9-4

1-5-2

1-6-4

2-3-4

2-3-4

2-4-4

2-4-5

2-4-5

2-5-2

2-5-4

2-5-4

2-5-5

2-6-3

2-6-3

2-6-4

2-7-3

3-2-2

3-2-3

3-3-5

3-5-5

3-6-2

3-6-4

3-6-5

3-7-5

4-3-4

4-3-5

4-4-2

4-4-3

4-4-3

4-4-3

4-5-4

4-5-4

4-5-5

4-5-5

4-6-3

4-6-3

4-6-5

4-6-5

4-6-5

4-8-3

5-3-2

5-4-2

5-4-3

5-4-4

5-4-4

5-5-3

5-5-5

5-6-2

5-6-3

5-6-4

5-7-4

3-8-5

4-7-5

4-7-5

4-8-5

4-8-6

4-8-6

4-9-5

4-9-6

4-9-7

4-10-4

4-11-5

4-11-7

4-12-6

5-6-6

5-8-4

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-6

5-8-6

5-8-7

5-9-5

5-9-5

5-9-5

5-9-5

5-9-6

5-9-7

5-10-5

5-10-5

5-10-6

5-10-6

5-10-6

5-10-7

5-10-7

5-10-7

6-7-5

6-8-5

6-8-5

6-8-6

6-8-6

6-9-5

6-9-6

6-10-7

6-11-5

6-11-6

7-9-6

7-9-7

7-10-6

7-10-6

7-11-6

4-8-5

4-8-6

5-6-6

5-7-4

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-6

5-8-6

5-8-6

5-9-6

6-7-5

6-7-5

6-7-5

6-7-5

6-7-5

6-7-6

6-7-6

6-7-6

6-7-7

6-7-7

6-8-5

6-8-5

6-8-5

6-8-5

6-8-6

6-9-5

7-7-5

7-9-6

3-7-5

4-5-5

4-6-5

4-6-5

4-6-6

4-7-4

4-7-5

4-7-5

4-7-7

4-7-7

5-6-3

5-6-4

5-6-4

5-6-4

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-6

5-7-4

5-7-4

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-7

5-8-4

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-5

6-7-5

6-7-5

6-7-6

6-7-6

6-8-5

3-7-5

4-6-5

4-6-5

4-7-5

4-7-5

4-7-6

4-7-6

4-7-6

5-5-4

5-5-5

5-6-4

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-7-4

5-7-4

5-7-4

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-8-6

5-8-6

5-8-7

6-7-5

6-7-5

6-8-5

7-6-4

10

10

10

10

10

11

11

11

11

12

12

12

13

13

13

13

13

13

13

13

13

13

13

13

13

13

14

14

14

14

14

14

14

14

14

14

14

14

15

15

15

15

15

15

15

16

16

17

17

17

3-6-6

3-6-6

4-5-6

4-6-5

4-6-5

4-6-5

4-7-4

4-7-5

4-7-5

4-7-5

4-7-5

4-8-5

5-4-5

5-5-5

5-5-5

5-5-6

5-6-4

5-6-4

5-6-4

5-6-4

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-5

5-6-6

5-6-6

5-6-6

5-6-7

5-7-4

5-7-4

5-7-4

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-5

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-6

5-7-7

5-7-8

5-8-4

5-8-5

5-8-5

5-9-5

6-5-5

6-6-4

6-7-3

6-7-5

6-7-5

6-8-4

8-10-5

* Article reprinted with permission of Mark Jewel

Mark Jewel received his BA (in English and Japanese) from the University of Hawaii, and took his AM and PhD in Japanese from Stanford. He has translated a number of short stories for the Japan P.E.N. Club magazine Japanese Literature Today, and has also helped edit two dictionaries. Academic publications include an analysis of dramatic structure in Izumi Kyoka’s novel Yukari no onna and, in Japanese, a discussion of form in “The House of the Sleeping Beauties” for a volume of essays commemorating the 100th anniversary of Yasunari Kawabata’s
birth. He teaches in the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University in Tokyo.

whc_blmed 

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Haiku enlightenment, part 2

WHR July 2002

A Haiku Path – Gabriel Rosenstock

HAIKU ENLIGHTENMENT
Part 2

GABRIEL ROSENSTOCK
Dublin, Ireland

 

The Heraclitean truth. ‘You never step into the same river twice,’ is a truth lived each day by the haikuist, one that is essential to the aesthetics of haiku consciousness:


the autumn wind –
letters emerging one by one
on the wet gravestone

  Yamazaki Hisao

On one level, any unexpected revelation, however ordinary, can be the stuff of enlightenment. On another level, our readiness to absorb the revelation, our ability to be struck by some “epiphany” (as James Joyce used the word) becomes the real  stuff of enlightenment. There are no steps to enlightenment. Steps lead to further steps and so on. There is only the plunge, the awakening. No ashram or yoga needed here, no prayer or mediation. The garden is your ashram, the public park, the highway; the haiku is your prayer, your meditation. You can make the plunge any hour of the day or night. You won’t hear the splash, but the ripples are real. They will change you and the world.

Instant enlightenment. Many haikuists, but not all, are familiar with Zen. ‘Familiar’ is not the best word, as part of the Zen thing is the shock of the familiar seen in unfamiliar light. Caroline Gourlay, one-time editor of Blyth Spirit, Journal of the British Haiku Society, recalls how deeply impressed she was with these lines found in The World of Zen, an anthology edited by Nancy Wilson Ross:

        The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection.
The water has no mind to receive their image.

Haiku happens in this world of daily miracles and is a perfect prism through which Nature herself enlightens us. But, instant enlightenment? Surely not! How many people have spent their lives – many lives – in such a quest! This book is a plea to lower your sights, somewhat, to focus your vision. Many people set themselves such an impossible task that they inevitably loose sight of their goal, blaming themselves needlessly.

This little book, containing haiku by practitioners from all over the world, ancient and new – and the new are as  ancient as the ancient are new — this book will open up a universal path which you may have been walking already, as it happens, without knowing it! Page after page, you will notice what little adjustment is needed — if any — to our antenna in order to receive enlightenment. Our tendency to self-aggrandisement diminishes the more sensitively we respond to the spirit of haiku, until it is with a smile of recognition that we realize why Tarao Kobayashi changed his name to Issa, meaning a single bubble in a teacup — gone before you have raised the cup to your lips.

Grandeur in little things.

old pear tree
now laden only with
raindrops

      Philip D. Noble

This haiku (from the 1998 Mainichi Haiku Contest) is not concerned with some grand, amorphous or Romantic concept of Nature. In haiku, we discover, see and breathe, for a moment, those interstices, those fleeting moments of reality which are as substantial or as insubstantial as a rock, as ourselves. The haiku bears witness to the non-judgemental aspect of our humanity, that instinct for self-expression which drove the ancients to illuminate their caves with spectacular representations of the animals with which they shared this earth, long before philosophy, theology and economics became possible.

Primitive enlightenment. Yes, haiku enlightenment is a primitive form of enlightenment. As a literary device, it has endless sophistication. But literature is not our main concern here. We are talking about awareness. Followers of the mystic traditions of East and West, devotees of Krishnamurti, Osho, Meister Eckhart or Rumi, can and should follow the haiku path. This path does not contradict Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or any other religion. This path is not a religion or a cult. It can be profitably pursued by the atheist, sceptic and believer alike. It can adapt to any language, any culture:

summer drought –
the dazzling stars
all become pale

Marijan Cekolj

summer fog
moonlight blowing
from tree to tree-

   Dave Sutter

Nothing to invent. With practice comes assuredness, boldness. (Note the verb “blowing” above). But the haiku path has nothing to invent. It recreates what is already there. What you seek is at hand. Obviously it is not going to work, for you or for anyone else, if your statement is something flat, without insight: ‘a seagull flies over the roof’. This is just a hum-drum statement. You have not even begun to see, you have not struck the note, the note that is struck by haiku-seeing. The configuration of three lines and – initially, before trying free-style haiku, seventeen syllables, 5-7-5, will in itself be a discipline to help you to see and to structure the haiku moment, to recognise it, instantly, when it happens.

Haiku lets go of concepts, of thoughts, of presuppositions, of opinions, prejudices and all the burden of the mind:

in the waters of spring
a certain thought
flowed away

       Sekishi Takagi

A time for every purpose under heaven. The above three haiku allude to seasons. Seasonal allusion was, until recently, a necessary ingredient in Japanese haiku. A word that places you in a particular season is called kigo. The German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, claimed that the best songs of summer are composed in front of a roaring fire in winter but what may be true of poetry is not true for haiku. Generally speaking, those haiku which deal with a particular season are written in that season, are experienced in that season and belong to that season. In this respect, haiku enlightenment is a very grounding experience. Fantasising is out of the question. There is no need to fantasize. The haiku moment is as exactly as it should be, right here and now. This is its time and place, no other.

In the haiku moment, time is frozen, suspended, yet bursting with life. We are primordial once again, innocent, all senses alive, truly at one with our surroundings, truly human, strong and vulnerable, in a state of grace:

looking together
across the frozen lake
the heron and I

Jan van den Pol

Openness to openness. Haiku encounters the truth in an open, natural state of mind and that openness is rewarded by enlightenment. ‘Deep answereth unto deep, love respondeth unto love.’ and, let us add, openness to openness. Because enlightenment is opening up to see the light. The haikuist is a seer. Though blind, the haikuist still sees. It is the spirit that sees.

While often seeming to concentrate on or probe the almost imperceptible, haiku is an opening up to the world and this trust is rewarded from day to day. The haiku is a returning to the world, a returning to reality, a teshuva wrongly translated as ‘repent’. Let us see the wisdom in the following:

To return to things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always, and in relation to which every scientific schematisation is an abstract and derivative sign-language, as is geography in relation to the countryside in which we have learnt beforehand what a forest, a prairie or a river is.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Phenomenology of Perception, Humanities Press, 1962)

Shapes of emptiness. In our bustling, noise-polluted world, chock-full of garish images, the haiku way of living alludes to the void, the silence at the heart of it all; deep, inviolable stillness in ourselves. Robert Bebek, the Croatian haijin, gave the title, Oblici Praznine/The Shapes of Emptiness, to his highly distinguished second book:

warming even
an empty room, a
beam of morning sun

                     Robert Bebek

The enlightenment pool. As the initiate becomes accustomed to reading, writing and recognising good haiku, there arises an intimate sharing of the haiku moments of others. Enlightenment becomes pooled. French poet Yves Bonnefoy said,

At its most intense, reading is empathy, shared existence.


sickle moon
reaping
emptiness

                                    Gabriel Rosenstock

How rich the haiku harvest is once we become poor in spirit. Walk this lonely, companionable way with us:

wet west Muskerry –
moonlight
drying the clothes

      Seán Mac Mathúna

Yes, that is a little bit crazy. But let’s not forget that haiku was once dubbed kyóku, crazy verse!

Learning selfhood. The magic of the Mac Mathúna haiku is that it appears to happen without the interference of human agency. But it only appears that way. The human imagination is actively at work, transforming a reality into another reality. The human spirit is at work, as effortlessly as the trained Inuit shaman travels to the moon.

Learning the way of enlightenment is learning selfhood.
Learning selfhood is forgetting oneself.
Forgetting oneself is being enlightened by all things

                                          Dogen

(Quoted in Introduction to Kensho, The Heart of Zen by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, 1997).

When you are old and grey and nodding by the fire. Traditional societies respected their elders. Some even worshipped them. The concept of ageism, the neglect of the elderly, prejudice against the elderly – are these products of a youth culture which came to the fore in the 1960s, or products of a society which evaluates our usefulness as mere worker-bees?

The haikuist sees beauty in the aged person – or thing – in the gnarled:

dangerous pavements,
but I face the ice this year
with my father’s stick

Seamus Heaney

grandma and grandpa
side by side on the couch –
wearing each other’s glasses

    Lee Gurga

This, too, will pass. Estrangement, alienation, displacement, these are some of the pathologies of the 21st century. But living haiku does not suffer estrangement. In joy or in wistfulness, in sadness, pain, or in sorrow, the haikuist is at one with friends, family, strangers, the stars above, seeing the mutability and vulnerability of all beings, and of ourselves. This oneness is an all-redeeming illumination:

in the old temple
even the snake has shed
his worldy skin

              Issa

(The Spring of my Life and Selected Haiku, Kobayashi Issa, Trans. by Sam Hamill, Shambhala 1997).

Why furry, feathery creatures are our relations. Diane Wolkstein, writing in the influential journal, Parabola, shares with us the wisdom of the oral tradition of the now extinct Karraru People from Australia. It could be the Haiku Gospel:

All around you are your relations – the crawling, moving, feathery, and furry creatures – the water, the grass, the hills, and the wind. This is their place. Now it is your place, too. Where you were born is your Dreaming. You must always take care of that piece of land. Care for the land for your grandmothers and grandfathers, as well as for your grandchildren. I travelled every step of the earth and it is alive.

Which one of us would not like to feel the truth of all that for ourselves? With haiku we can and we do. What? Think like that? Proclaim feathery, furry creatures to be our relations? Thomas Berry, also writing for Parabola, challenges our scepticism and insists that,

The outer world is necessary for the inner world. The greatest and deepest tragedy in losing the splendour of the outer world is that we will always have an inner demand for it.

Without the natural world, he claims, our integral spiritual development can never take place.

Crafts people and artists in all disciplines go to Nature, not to copy Nature, but to find something new:

Nature is the eternal creator where each art comes to be renewed, where the eye of every thinker and artist reads a different poem.

                                                             Emile Gallé

(Quoted in Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Duncan, Eidelberg, Harris, Thames and Hudson, 1998).

Posted in Article Series, Vol 2-2 July 2002 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haiku and the Lyric Poem

WHR July 2002

What is Poetry?

Haiku & the Lyric Poem

Tobias Hill, UK

One of the questions addressed by this [WHF2000] Conference is whether and to what degree haiku can be regarded as poetry. I would like to approach this problem by explaining what I value in poetry, and then considering how and whether haiku embody these characteristics. However, I would also like to put my own values in context, to show how I have come to my personal evaluations, and to this end I will say a little about how I became a poet.

Some poets come early to their calling. There are hints of their talent at an early age. George Szirtes, for example, began to read before he was two years old.  He tells the story of his parentsí dismay when they found him obsessively staring into the cutlery drawer in their Hungarian kitchen: it took the local doctor to realize he was reading the newspaper under the fish forks. It may be that such people are born writers. This was not the case with me. I entered the world with no distinguishing features except an all-encompassing allergic rash, and in this less than perfect state, I continued for many years without showing any interest in words at all. Until I was seven, reading and mathematics went together in my head as trials by paper. The only thing language had over numbers was that stories tended to have better endings than sums, although in some cases, what Peter did with Jane was only marginally more engaging than what 2 could do with 3. Nevertheless, stories had pictures, clues to their solutions, and I suspect it was this, rather than any pleasure or skill, that turned me away from the career of a physicist and toward the vocation of poetry.

At that stage, I found that writing meant nothing to me, and less than nothing.  I donít know if others felt the same. I havenít asked; but I suspect so. Books were hard graft, and their existence seemed opaque, because as children, we possessed the powerful memories of people without script. We had more stories and poems in our heads than we knew what to do with; they mutated and bred, apocryphal, from street to playground to campfire. Poetry was hopscotch, the Lordís Prayer, shipping news. In retrospect, I see how characteristic this is of poetry: that it is not only in my life that poetry existed before writing, but in the history of poetry and writing themselves. Written poetry is deceptive in this way. It is easy to overestimate the proximity of poetry to other written forms, just as it is too easy to underestimate its relationship to music and rhythm. And this is a point of some relevance to comparisons of haiku and lyric poetry. Not all lyric poets are writers. The lyric came long before the page. But in its indigenous script, the haiku has come to have a strong page presence, stronger and more sophisticated than the alphabeticised lyric poem can achieve. This is something I mean to return to later.

When I think of childhood, it is a time so buried in poetry and rituals that the reality of those years is hard to keep hold of. I believed the poems and stories we told. Once, my best friend and I convinced ourselves that we could fly with nothing more than the aid of bathroom towels and a large wall. Now the memory of the pain has worn off, I am left only with the recollection of the power of that story. Any sense of art or artistry was decidedly secondary. The power of poetry and prose is something I saw again in Japan, where for two years I encouraged Japanese children to colour the dog purple, the chicken green and the cat black.  The classes were very large, sometimes reaching 100 students, and the students were very small, sometimes as young as two. It was not the ideal combination of numbers. However, at least some of the children were old enough to be gullible, and anyone who is gullible is also old enough for fiction. 

îWhy do we have to colour the dog purple?,î the children would ask.

ìBecause, in England, all the dogs are purpleî, I would tell them. Even now, there is an entire generation of people growing up in Aichi province who believe that England is overrun with purple dogs and other excitingly coloured domestic animals and even people and heavenly bodies, from the puce postman to the pink moon.  Now, when I hear definitions of terms such as poetry and prose or lyrics and haiku, I am often struck by the emphasis on art and artistry, on technical features. It seems to me that if haiku are poetry, they should qualify or be disqualified in some more fundamental way than this, since I believe poetry itself is more fundamental than its rhythms and meters.

By this time, I had begun to write, first intermittently, then daily: writing is an addictive occupation.  I found myself the proud, but secretive owner of lyric and narrative poems, haiku and sonnets, short, short stories and long, short stories and novellas. I also found myself largely indifferent to distinctions of genre.  The techniques of different forms seemed like various means of achieving the same end ñ that being good writing. Only poetry seemed substantially different.  More than a genre, it felt like an approach to writing. It seemed a discipline in which every element of language was taken up and consciously used. The language was made to work in more dimensions than seemed possible in prose, as if poetry possessed different rules of physics. It seemed to me that in the best poetry, almost nothing was arbitrary, from the length of a word to the rhythm of its syllables, its shape on the page, its place in the line, its shape in the mouth, its fizz on the tongue.  Poetry is language at its most decisive, its most intentional.

In English, my haiku were very formal, and in Japanese, very bad.  At parties, my Japanese friends would ask me to recite my kindergarten standard descriptions of red dragonflies resting on high mountains.  Then they would laugh until they fell off their chairs. My own response to haiku was a mixture of delight and envy; envy of the physicality of its indigenous language. My instinctual response was to consider the haiku as poetry, and here I am particularly speaking of the haiku written in kanji. I remember once visiting a park, a cycle-ride from town. When we arrived, we found it was not possible to enter the garden by the main gate. A plum tree grew there, very old and bent, and visitors had to use a side entrance.  Inside, we found a classic Japanese garden ñ that is, everything was intentioned and in its place ñ the pool, the bridge, the trees and stones.  Nothing was without intention, except, apparently, the tree in the gateway. We unpacked our picnic and idly considered the unenterable entrance. It was some time before we realised that the tree in the gate was a poem. The character for tranquility, kan, is a tree in a gateway. The gardener had grown his written language.  How could any poet not be envious of that? 

It seems to me that the tree in the gateway was a poem: A concrete poem, in a way that no alphabetical expression could ever hope to achieve. The tree seems poetry to me because of the rigorousness of the intention behind it and the elegance of its expression. For me, this intentionality is the first characteristic of poetry, and it is a clear characteristic of haiku.

Over time, I have come to an agreement with myself about what I value in poetry. These things are not in any way meant to be rules for writing verse.  These are observations prescribed by myself to myself, and formulated from a poetís point of view, and I give them now in the light of this. I would like to look at how each relates to the haiku, just as I have done with the question of intention and non-arbitrary language.

For me, the second characteristic of poetry is formal evolution. I believe poetry is the cutting edge of language. There are people who ask whether poetry is important today. In this question, I think there is an implicit awareness of the age of poetry.  After all, if we compare poetry to other literary methods, we find that it is almost incomparably old. The novel and the short story are young forms ñ so young that you can count their combined centuries on the fingers of one hand; whereas, poetry is old as language. There has been poetry as long as there has been rhythm –as long as there have been jokes. People question whether poetry is moribund, in part, only because it has been in existence for so long.

In answer to these people, I would examine the three forms again: the novel, the poem and the short story. I would look at how they have technically evolved. I find that the media of fiction have hardly changed at all in their short lives. They are comparatively static. There has been no great advance in their form since Tristam Shandy. The colossal movements of the twentieth century are not greatly reflected in their structure, only in what their structure contains. They are formally stagnant. On the other hand, poetry has changed almost beyond recognition. Poetry responds to history, it revolves to face revolutions, it reacts century by century. In this way, poetry is lighter on its feet than prose, although its steps go deeper. It is the cutting edge of language, the point where most innovation occurs. Fiction moves in its shadow. Inevitably, poetry is the medium which reflects its time and place most intimately, and this, in part, is why it has flourished for so long. The most modern form of writing will always be poetry.

The very fact that we are here today at a world haiku event suggests that the haiku may fulfil this need for formal development. It would be a very dull Conference if all haiku were still haikai. In becoming a global form, the haiku has had to change. To pick on a simple example, there is the question of differences in syllable concepts between Japanese and European languages (where London will count for four beats in one and two in the others). On a broader scale, the haiku has been formally developing for many decades, and will continue to do so.  There is no longer a single set of rules for writing haiku: there are only observed strengths. This is a healthy characteristic. The first rule of poetry should be that there are no rules.

For me, the third important characteristic of poetry is emotional honesty. Truth is a word I hesitate over. However, I think good poems ring true, not necessarily in a straight factual sense, but in the emotional truth behind the facts. Not every poem Iíve written happened as it happens in the poem, but I try and get the sense and feel of it right. The best poems donít spin yarns. They donít tell tales. These things are wonderful as purple dogs and puce postmen, but for me, they are provinces of prose. The best poems always go deeper than this. It is ironic, of course that the subjects, which involve the most emotional honesty, are also the hardest to write about. Love and death are not as easy to examine squarely, in ways that will reach others. The more intense emotion is in a poem, the harder it is to control the writing, and the harder it is to write for other people. Once you start adjudicating poetry competition, you become intimately familiar with the lyric poem that relies on intensity of emotion to make it valid. Often, these poems are about cats.  Sometimes, dead cats, sometimes almost dead cats. A few months after Princess Diana died, I unwisely agreed to judge a poetry competition.  One entry compared the princess to the poetís dead flamingo. Even if I had a dead flamingo of my own, this poem wouldnít have reached me: it was burning off emotion, using poetry for something personal, not public.

What is so bad about this kind of poetry? Why shouldnít people use verse for private purposes? There is nothing wrong with it at all. Private poetry is a way of coming to terms with difficulties for millions of people, and in this role, I suspect the haiku is as eminent as the lyric. There are more people writing for an audience of one, for the self, than will ever buy a book of mine or any other contemporary poet.  In this sense, private poetry is more successful than public.  But there is a difference between the two. The experience of writing private poetry can be powerful:  often the writer imagines that it will be powerful for other people, too. It hardly ever is.  Public poetry is a gift, written for others before it is written for the self.

From its conception, the haiku has been a public form. It is also characterised by an intense and complex charge of emotion. The best haiku ring absolutely true. In its emotional structure, the haiku bears the same psychological hallmark as traditional Western forms such as the sonnet: that is, there is often a point in the haiku where the image and accompanying emotion twist back on themselves, a volta. It is also worth saying that the weaknesses of lyric poems and haiku are often similar. Both are susceptible to sentimentality. There is nothing worse than a cod haiku except a cod rondeau. Emotional intensity can be the strength and weakness of both lyric poetry and the haiku. On this point, I find no reason to differentiate between them.

The fourth characteristic of poetry is the technical equipment that goes into its construction. By this, I mean — with regard to the Western lyric — rhyme and rhythm, assonance and alliteration, and all the other tools of the lyric tradition. The individual words in poetry can carry more weight than in fiction. They are more like physical things. You can touch them with your tongue, like loose teeth. Poetry is a shaping and carving, and you can line up the methods like a sculptorís tools. Rifling through the toolbox, itís striking how powerful these tools are, particularly in comparison to those used in prose. Rhyme and rhythm are power-tools and etching acids. In some bad poetry, they get over-relied upon, just as other bad poems over-rely on emotion.

I want to say something about the techniques used in Western poetry — to pick over the tools (of which I am measuring haiku against): the first one I want to look at is the short line. The Black and Decker short line tool. It comes with batteries included and a lifetime guarantee. It has two settings; line break and stanza break. Both kinds of break do something to language. A good break has something in common with a well-placed comma. A line break in the wrong place is like a full stop.  In the middle of a sentence.

Stanzas and line-breaks are also more flexible than the solid ink of standard punctuation. Breaking can emphasize a word, or the space between words.  It can back up a rhyme or rhythm, or it can work against rhythm. It can give poem space, or its absence can create density.

Most of all, I think line-breaks let poetry take breath. They are as natural as breathing. They breathe in clear white paper, which becomes part of the poem, and which balances the intensity of lyrical poetic writing. The genius of Shakespeareís sonnets and the best haiku is that line breaks donít happen every ten beats or five syllables, but that they happen where they happen where they naturally belong.

Two more tools for the Western box: rhythm and rhyme. These also do specific things to language, and what they do isnít very different. One of them repeats a beat. The other one repeats a sound.  They both set up repeating patterns.  Patterns — in writing, in music, in a carpet, in a fern-head — give the onlooker or listener a particular sense. The audience gets to understand something that is going to happen again. They get to predict the future. There is even a certain trickiness to rhyme and rhythm, because they create a sense that, ìAh, this word fits, this is the way the poem should end; this is rightî. Rhyme and rhythm are similar as nails and screws. They do the same thing in different ways.

Using too much rhyme and rhythm will carve away a poem until nothing is left except patterns. The patterns clunk into place with the dullness of ìthe cat on the matî and ìthe rain in Spainî — the poem becomes predictable as a bad pun.  Good poetry is not about getting the rhyme exactly right. A poet who wants all rhyme and rhythm to be flawless is working on patterns instead of poetry, reducing it to mathematics, a craft, a love for tool-work instead of what the tool-work can express.

In all genres, perfect patterns miss something. The most beautiful art isnít always perfect in this sense. Michelangeloís ìDavidî would not be better with perfectly proportioned hands, nor would ìThe Prisonersî be improved if they were released from their unfinished block of marble. Kurosawaís films would not be better with Dolby Sound and Technicolour. The desire to turn the painting straight on the wall is not the desire that makes great poems or novels. People may hanker for patterns to be perfect, but perfect symmetry is soulless. The rhyme and rhythm in good poems often have some kind of asymmetry. It makes them more alive. Someone once asked Jean Renoir why he didnít improve the camera work in his films.  He answered that ìThe perfect product is perfectly dull. You have to give a little humanityî. This is true. You just have to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, a thing made with the utmost professionalism and often with all the soul of a dead donkey. In good poetry, especially good contemporary poetry, rhyme and rhythm are used in ways that humanise language. Instead of perfect rhyme, there are half-rhymes, vowel rhymes, rhymes and rhythms hidden inside lines like nuggets.

There are people who would say these tools are the poetry in poetry. This is a little like saying the paint is the painting: of course it is, and of course it isnít. I suspect that often, when people say that the haiku is not poetry, what they mean is that it does not use the same toolbox as the Western lyric poem. But technique is only one characteristic of poetry; it is not the most important, and the haiku comes with its own bag of tricks. In particular, there is the importance of the way the ideogrammatical haiku looks on the page, the physical images of its characters, the way such a haiku will reach the reader first through these things, then, through the more abstract levels of grammatical language.  This brings us back to the characteristic intentionality of poetry. Rhyme and rhythm are incidences of intentionality; they are ways of making language lie close alongside the physical world. So, too, are the concrete poetic qualities of the haiku. If the tree in the gateway is intentional, how much moreso is the haiku?

The fifth thing that characterises poetry, for me, now and at the age of four, is musicality. Poetry is as close to music as it is to prose. The music comes out of looking at language, knowing it inside out. Itís a way of showing what you mean without having to tell. More than fiction, poetry makes language work in many ways at the same time. There is the physical sound and rhythm of it, and the abstract, grammatical sense. Poetry is both sense and sensation. It communicates in the musical contact of tongue, teeth and breath; then it communicates again in the grammatical ways that all writing communicates. 

Sometimes the music is complex. Onomatopoeia is a term usually applied to a simple kind of echo – ìwow wowî, ìmiauwî, ìtick-tockî — the utterances echoing the sound of a dog, or a cat or the rhythm of a pendulum. ìWhy ëtick-tockíî?, is a question to start with; why not ìtock-tickî?  Why not ìtock-tockî? Go listen to a grandfather clock. Its it an accident that the smaller, sharper vowel sound comes first? Does the movement of ìiî to ìoî echo a physical movement? is this kind of onomatopoeia the same as the onomatopoeia of ìwoofî, or is it more complicated? How much more complex can such echoes become?

There is nothing primitive about the musicality of poetry, except the directness with which it communicates itself. Here are some examples:


ìEvery streetlight that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drumî.

ìHorse-flies siphon the green dung,
glued to the sweetness of their graftî.

ìA cry, a greening hollow undulation
Echoes slapping across the enclosed bathing-poolî.

I chose these extracts by picking three collections of poetry at random from the bookshelf behind my writing desk, and opening each book at random. In the first passage, the rhythm of words echoes the drum, which the words describe (and the footsteps behind the drum). In the second passage, the poet contrasts the smooth sibilance of the first line (which makes it easy to say) with the ìstickinessî of the second, where the texture of hard consonants and long vowels on the mouth, lips and palate ìechoî the physical texture described by the words (ìGlued toî). In the third passage, the word, ìechoesî itself is echoed by a line of two-syllable words, in which the vowels begin sharp and fade away into longer, softer vowels, concluding with the single, extended syllable of ìpoolî.

T. S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill and William Empson are not poets associated with extensive use of onomatopoeia. Had I set out to find a really obvious example of the echo in poetry, I might have chosen the work of Hopkins, e.e.cummings, Carol Ann Duffy or Seamus Heaney.  But the complexity of the passages above is typical. In the first, the heard-rhythm of words, echoes two rhythms heard in nature. In the second, the felt texture of words ìechoesî a texture felt in nature.  In the third passage, the rhythm and tone of words echo the rhythm and tone of a natural echo.

Most media in art are linked to the five senses in a fairly clear way. Music is aural; painting, visual; sculpture visual and tactile; opera aural and visual. So, there is something ghostly about all language as a medium. It has no texture, no colour, no smell, no taste. It can be sound, but the sounds often seem to be abstract — so that the most beautiful novel in English will sound meaningless to someone who speaks only Japanese.

But this is not the case with poetry. Rhythm and rhyme, assonance and alliteration, repetition and rhyme, assonance and alliteration, repetition and line-breaks — the echo in poetry and the patterns which create it cross the grammatical boundaries of languages. We can pick up some understanding from these things even when we donít quite understand the languages in which they are expressed:

 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
did gyre and gimble in the wabe
all mimsy were the borogroves
and the mome raths outgrabe.

Matsushima, ah! Matsushima! Matsushima!

 

How do we understand that? What is it that we understand?  Imagine that this morning we were to go on a field trip to look for the musicality of words.  We find a churchyard in walking distance of here, sit in the yard and listen to the church bells. Each of us writes down a word to echo the sound of bells. I write ìoranges and lemonsî. Are my words right?  Are my words better than anyone elseísí? Everybody here has an ear for the way language echoes real things. There are many other words, in other languages or in an invented language, which could echo the sound of bells.  But negatives are also illuminating: imagine that someone in our church yard lacked an ear for this musicality.  Say the word they used to echo the sound of bells was ìbeep-beepî. Or ìTrevor MacDonaldî (actually, Trevor MacDonald isnít so bad). How do we know that ìbeep-beepî is not a good echo of the sound of church bells?  How do we know that ìranges and lemonsî is? We know these things because we have a talent for the musicality of languages. In poetry most of all, language is not entirely abstract. It grows from the senses; from the eyes and ears and from the ends of our fingers.

Does the haiku fulfil this characteristic of poetry? Is the haiku an expression of the musicality in language? For me, this is the point of greatest divergence between the Western lyric and the haiku. The acid test is whether any of the poetry in a Japanese haiku will reach a listener who has no knowledge of that language, in the way that an audience will hear the music in Dante while being ignorant Italian.  And I think that haiku that achieve this element of poetry are rare. It is as if the emphasis of the haikuís poetics is different from those of the lyric.  The Western lyric still exists as much in the voice as it does on the page.  Its native alphabets provide readers concrete expression on the page. On the other hand, the ideogram provides an entirely different environment for the Oriental poem. It allows words to grow in a walled garden. It gives the haiku an extra dimension which alphabeticised verse can only attempt in mawkish ìconcrete poetryî. I feel that the haiku has adapted to the page to a greater degree than the lyric poem.

What does this mean when the page is altered? What happens when haiku are written in Western languages? This is a question which has been at the edge of my mind throughout the writing of this essay.  How great are the differences between haiku in Japanese and haiku in alphabeticised scripts? My feeling is that they are considerable.  The haiku in alphabet is like a sonnet that cannot be read aloud: a whole level of meaning has been removed from it. In such circumstances, I think it is entirely natural for new techniques to be applied to the Western haiku. I wonder if there may not come a time when Western and Eastern haiku begin to diverge more noticeably. I wonder whether the development and contemporary techniques of each will become distinct. It seems entirely possible to me that the alphabeticised haiku and the ideogrammatical haiku become as different from one another as the scripts they are written in and the traditions in which they are read.  If so, I hope there will still be world haiku conferences, and that I will be able to continue to attempt bad haiku in Japanese. If not, I will have to find other ways to make my Japanese friends fall off their chairs with laughter, and although this is not always difficult, I suspect none of those ways will give me as much satisfaction as the writing of seventeen syllables.

 

Read at WHF2000, London-Oxford, August 2000

Posted in Poetry, Vol 2-2 July 2002 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tree, a haiku nature game

WHR March 2003

 

 WHChaikujunior – Haiku Exercise Fun

A Tree
A Haiku
Nature Game
Karina Klesko (mom)
and Samantha Klesko (daughter), age 4
Louisiana, USA


I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree”
(from: “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918)

When we read the words, “a tree,” it can force us to think about a tree we have seen before — or one which we can see in a picture — or a tree which is right in front of us.

But as we observe nature carefully, we will become aware of things that we would miss, otherwise.

Let’s try a fun exercise that will help us to look closely at nature. Here is a game that Samantha Klesko and her mother, Karina, like to play to notice the world around them, and to respond with their feelings and thoughts. Parents and their children, and teachers with their students may enjoy making their own versions of the nature game below, to heighten awareness before writing poetry and stories. You may wish to include the five senses — sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch, or concentrate on one or two of the senses.

The Nature Game:

Mom: What do you see ?

Samantha: A tree.

Mom: What else do you see?

Samantha: A bird just flew on the top.

Mom: What color is it?

Samantha: Red.

Mom:  What is the bird doing?

Samantha: Singing.

Mom: What else do you see?

Samantha: There are no leaves.

Mom: Anything else?

Samantha: A branch is broken.

Mom: Is that all you see?

Samantha: Well, the spider lives there, that made the web before.

Mom: What happened to the spider web?

Samantha: It rained and washed it all off.

Mom: Anything else about the tree?

Samantha: Remember? We picked figs and the mosquitoes bit my leg.

Mom: Do you think the tree is like a friend?

Samantha: Yes.

* * *

What did Samantha notice?

  • a tree
  • a red bird
  • a red bird singing
  • a broken branch
  • the branches without leaves (tangled)
  • a spider’s home rained out
  • picking figs
  • a friend


Samantha’s poems from the observations:

a red bird
on a broken tree branch
singing

mom and I
picked figs last summer
a red bird in the same tree

no leaves on the tree
the branches all mixed up
waiting for spring

The following haiku came about from the warm feeling of sharing friendship between Samantha and her mother, and by discovering friendship or a connection to the tree in their exercise:

old friends
a bird, a spider
a tree and me

Samantha’s mother likes to write her own haiku, too. Here is one written from their exercise:

a friend and I
stand in the rain together
waiting for spring

Karina Klesko

Sometimes Samantha and her mother write a haiku together from what they both have observed. This kind of writing is called “collaboration.” Here is a haiku written by both Samantha and her mother from the “tree” exercise:

that spider’s web
washed out by the rain
still remembered

Karina and Samantha Klesko

Samantha is 4 years old. Her mother encourages her to compose haiku from these kinds of games. Karina writes Samantha’s observations and answers in a notebook. Then she guides her in writing haiku.

Samantha tells her mother how she wants the sentences and words to be arranged, and what kind of punctuation to use. Her mother enters the finished poems and thoughts into Samantha’s “Daily Journal”.


*Note: Haiku are normally “concrete” instead of “abstract” or “conceptual”. Concrete means that the words are written on subjects as they are perceived with the 5 physical senses. They “show” the scene through the presence vivid images, sounds, smells, textures and tastes. They may employ color, size, degree of light, distance, time, temperature, and many other elements perceived by the senses.

Haiku usually do not “tell about” the scene or say what the author thought about the subject(s), which may be “abstract” or “conceptual” thinking. But the haiku can cause feelings of emotion and inspire many thoughts within the reader, even though words directly expressing emotion are not used.

Haiku generally don’t employ direct “simile”, which is comparing two different things with the words, “like” or “as” — although some can surely be found. Instead, when two things are compared in a haiku, the reader is invited to recognize for himself the connections or comparisons between images — unspoken and indirectly.

whc_blmed 

Posted in Lessons, Vol 3-1 March 2003 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doodles and Synaesthesia

WHR March 2003

 

 WHCmarlenemountain

whcmm poetry selections
marlene mountain, editor
paul conneally, editor


A fascinating programme from the bbc on synaesthesia – where people might hear colours etc a kind of merging linking of the senses – i found deep associations with some aspects of renku linking also interesting terms of haiku/haibun written in response to sound/music rather than visual.

The programmes (there are two) can be linked to from the above page and heard as a real audio file – I hope that some of you might listen to it and enjoy it (4,5)

– are any of you blessed with synaesthesia?

much love,

paul conneally (1)

doodles
a construction
by DW Bender
haiku april 28th 2001
prose (with revisions) january 18th 2003
arrangement by DW Bender & paul t conneally

________________

The bell of the temple is silent,
But the sound continues
Coming out from the flowers
.

Matsuo Basho (2)

From time to time synaesthesia is mentioned in relationship to haiku and particular haiku by classic poets. One should consider the original with the translations, as one Japanese haiku, written in characters, may be interpreted in various ways…

suzushisa yakane wohanarurukaneno koe

As the bell tone fades,
Blossom scents take up the ringing,
Evening shade.


Matsuo Basho
(3)

…therefore translations differ. The “bell /blossom” haiku by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) has been interpreted as an “incredibly synaesthetic experience”  [Odin 1984], but researchers in the field are doubtful that he actually had synaesthesia.

Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

Matsuo Basho (4)

I’m not synaesthetic that I know of. I saw five 2’s right off in the Ed Hubbard 5-2 pop out test for ‘grapheme-colour’ synaesthesia, but no colors.(4b,5)

I always wondered
how the sky would taste
blue popsicle

But I do have sensory, or intuitive “atmospheres” akin to or in addition to emotional feelings which can sometimes be dramatic, other times subtle…

black ink
how painted lines
on paper move me

…in response to hand-drawn or hand-painted lines, numbers, letters, writing, symbols, sounds, musical notes or chords, colors and any number of things.

April morning
the coolness of grass
also feels green

It would probably not be classified as synaesthesia, but I think most people might have the same sort of responses which can be mood-altering, or which are a sort of creative-connectivity.

even the sun
is not as yellow
new dandelion

By whatever creative vehicle a person develops or expresses him/herself, these atmospheres, feelings and connections might be the inner-inspirator.

O orange
your name sounds
so round

This could be “heightened sensual awareness”,  which may be developed by artists and other creatives…(4a)

red rose
in you every color
but the one you wear


I recalled a haiku series I’d made last year from some of my poems on color, which relates to synaesthesia and/or heightened sensual awareness and it came to mind when reading the articles on synaesthesia.

what is purple?
the scent of lavender
or a fresh bruise

I’ve found it in my files and write them here to share with you…

the white space
on the side of this page
invites doodles


1. WHChaibun Message 1676
From:  “Paul Conneally”
Date:  Sat Jan 18, 2003  10:40 am
Subject:  synaesthesia

PSEUDOSYNAESTHESIA IN LITERATURE

“Of course, we are all familiar with one type of pseudosynaesthesia: metaphor. That’s right, the literary device that teachers once pounded into your head often takes on a synaesthetic quality. Critics differ as to whether the extremely vivid forms of synaesthetic metaphor should be attributed to the author’s actually being synaesthetic, or whether the author was merely trying to achieve a synaesthetic-like experience. Of course, the two ideas are not mutually exclusive; the author may have had synaesthesia, and then tried to reproduce his sensations for the rest of the world to know.

Basho

The Japanese Haiku poetry of Basho (1644-1694). We have only the inference made by Odin (1984) concerning the transitions made in Basho’s work from one sense modality to another. For instance, he quotes as “an intensly synaesthetic experience of nature” the following:

As the bell tone fades,
Blossom scents take up the ringing.
Evening shade.

Odin suggests that “the reverberating sound of a fading bell tone merges with the fragrant perfume of flower blossom, which in turn blends with the shadowy darkness of evening shade”. Our experience of individuals with synaesthesia has been that auditory stimulation at once gives rise to the visual synaesthesic percept. Therefore the temporal progression from the ringing of the bell tone to the ‘ringing’ of blossom scents seems to suggest that Basho is relating metaphor rather than a genuine synaesthesic percept. This does not necessarily mean that Basho did not have synaesthesia, simply that there is no conclusive evidence either way. …”

 

Science: HEARING COLOURS, EATING SOUNDS, BBC Radio 4, Presenter: Georgina Ferry, writer and broadcaster.

(a) Pale yellow Cs, turquoise Thursdays and wine-flavoured Vs

“…there are many who deliberately cultivated a heightened perception for extra artistic effect: our culture is littered with poets, artists and musicians, including Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Kandinsky, Messaien and Scriabin who have claimed to have synaesthesia. Today, thanks to fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), neuroscientists are able to prove that synaesthetic experience is a genuine phenomenon. …”

(b) Synaesthetic Perception

“If you think you may have ‘grapheme-colour’ synaesthesia – seeing specific colours in response to specific letters and numbers – take a look at this ‘pop-out’ test (courtesy of Ed Hubbard). It’s not an acid test for synaesthesia, but grapheme-colour synaesthetes should quickly be able to distinguish a shape among the numbers.


How quickly do you see the ‘2’s among the ‘5’s? …”

 

V.S. Ramachandran and E.M. Hubbard
Synaesthesia — A Window Into Perception, Thought and Language

“We investigated grapheme–colour synaesthesia and found that: (1) The induced colours led to perceptual grouping and pop-out, (2) a grapheme rendered invisible through ‘crowding’ or lateral masking induced synaesthetic colours — a form of blindsight — and (3) peripherally presented graphemes did not induce colours even when they were clearly visible. Taken collectively, these and other experiments prove conclusively that synaesthesia is a genuine perceptual phenomenon, not an effect based on memory associations from childhood or on vague metaphorical speech. …”

whc_blmed

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Requiem for a Poet

WHR March 2003

Requiem for a Poet – Suzuki Masajo (1906-2003)

requiem

 

Last Farewells to Masajo —
A Life of Love and Haiku

Susumu Takiguchi
Oxford, England

One of the most distinguished and best loved haiku poets, Suzuki Masajo (1906-2003), has passed away. She was 96. She died a natural death peacefully at a retirement home in Tokyo on Friday 14 March 2003. Her life was one of love and haiku, which is chronicled in her own unforgettable poems and essays.

Masajo was a successful business woman and restaurateur, beside being a poet. She ran the famous watering place in Ginza, Tokyo, called “Unami”, of which she took personal charge every day until she was 90. Born nearly a century ago into an old family of hoteliers in Chiba, dating back to the Edo Era (1603-1867), she lived a life comparable to those of heroines in operas such as La Traviata or Tosca. Her first husband “disappeared”. Her elder sister, who inherited the inn business, suddenly died. Masajo took over the family business and married the sister’s husband. They had a troubled married life from which she “walked out” to start her own new life in Tokyo at 50. She opened Unami and then her business and career as a haijin went from strength to strength, blooming and flowering even more beautifully every passing year. She made friends with some of the most famous writers and celebrities, was adored by them and became the heroin of at least two best-selling novels, one by Niwa Fumio and the other by Setouchi Jakucho. Incredibly, she never lost her humility and personality to put other people’s interest first.

 Her haiku teachers included Kubota Mantaro and Anju Atsushi. They must have had an easy time as she was a born poet and a natural haijin and above all her life itself was poetry. Copies of her anthologies such as “Yu-botaru” (evening fireflies, 1976) and “Shi-Mokuren” (purple magnolia, 1999) are treasured by her ever-increasing fans as something more than haiku books.

 Her haiku poems follow traditional Japanese lines in form, style and themes. However, these are mere stage sets. The content, impact and originality have come from her life itself. She was one of the best “actresses of life”, where poetry, nature, human existence and events were all one. This is partly because she lived through one of the most dramatic times in Japanese history. As such, her haiku poems are rich and deep, ranging from despair and sadness to the rupture of sensual pleasure, from macabre tales to the lightest touch of humour.

haku-to ni hito sasu gotoku ha wo ire-te

pushing the knife
into white peach’s flesh
as if to stab someone

kon-jo no ima ga shiawase kinu-katsugi

this life of mine
now is my happiness —
boiling taro

Her love poems are too numerous to quote. Having been born and brought up along a coast, the sea was her “home” and waves were one of her frequently favoured themes, whether they were waves of the sea or waves of the vicissitudes of life. The name of her small restaurant, “Unami”, means summer waves. Masajo of course knew that one was born and died but she also believed in the eternity of things. The transitory and the permanent lived happily together within her. As someone who is fortunate enough to have been given a tiny sliver of friendship by this most generous of the generous hearts, I humbly wish to offer the following to Masajo, people’s eternal love:

izuku nite kurasu mo natsu no nami-gashira

wheresoever
one happens to live —
summer white horses

  

To read more about Masajo in an article by Susumu Takiguchi in World Haiku Review, please visit:

 

World Haiku Review, August 2001, Vol. 1, Issue 2,

FIRE, BEAUTY AND HAIKU  
Life, Love and Poetry of Suzuki Masajo
“:

Haiku by Suzuki Masajo
English language versions,
Susumu Takiguch
i

 

hito koishi aoki konomi wo te ni nukume

1958, Masajo       

longing for my beloved
I warm a green berry
in the palm of my hand

koi shita ya ichigo hito-tsubu kuchi ni ire

1961, Masajo 

wishing to fall in love,
I pop a strawberry
into my mouth

futokoro ni tegami kakushite hinata-boko

1951, Masajo      

deep inside the kimono
I have hidden his love letter
sun-bathing

tare yori mo kono hito ga suki karekusa ni

1958, Masajo 

more than anyone else
this person do I love;
on withered grass

hitasura ni hito wo aiseshi kako ya kan

Masajo             

with all my heart
I loved a man
such a past!
early February cold  

koi wo ete hotaru wa kusa ni shizumi-keri

Masajo

fresh in love
two fireflies have sunk deep
into grass         

sae-kaeru sumajiki monono naka ni koi

1966, Masajo

soul-chilling cold
among things one musn’t do
is a love affair!                   

biiru kumu dakaruru koto no naki hito to

1960, Masajo

pouring each other beer,
these men with whom I shall never
make love

Mozu-takane on-na no tsukusu makoto kana

1963, Masajo

the shrill of a shrike
what true hearts with which
women care for men!

kare-kusa no hito omou toki kon-jiki ni

1962, Masajo

withered grass,
when I think of my sweetheart,
turns golden

waga koi ya akikaze wataru naka ni ari

Masajo

my love affair
lies in the passing
autumn wind

kabi no yado ikutose koi no yado to shite

Masajo

mouldy dwelling
how many years now
as a love abode?

nyotai hiyu shiireshi uo no sore yorimo

1972, Masajo

woman’s body gets cold,
colder than the body
of the fish I bought

on-na no aki kami some-agete ura-ganashi

1972, Masajo

autumn for woman
having dyed my hair,
I feel sad, somewhat

nani wo motte akujo to iu ya hitorimushi

Masajo

on what ground
do they call me a bad girl?
a moth

hito wa nusumedo mono wa nusumazu sudare maku

1973, Masajo

I may have stolen men,
but I have never stolen a thing
winding up the rattan blind

sono mukashi koi no hamabe ya kani hashiru

1968, Masajo

once upon a time,
on the beach of our love
crabs scuttled

tohki tohki koi ga miyuru yo fuyu no nami

Masajo

I could just see them,
my love affairs of long long past
in the waves of winter

aki no me ya mizumizushiki wa koi no kao

1973, Masajo

buds in the autumn!
as fresh as the face of
a woman in love

tohnoku wa ai nomi narazu yuu-botaru

Masajo

what goes away
is not limited to love
an evening firefly

houtaru no shi ya sanzun no kago no naka

Masajo

the death of a firefly
occurred in the cage of
three inches

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