Seeking a four Dimensional Haiku

WHC Japan

May 2001

Seeking a Four-Dimensional Haiku
Yasuomi Kogane

WHC’s Japan Director, Yasuomi Koganei, gives a unique view on the structure of haiku in his paper “Seeking a Four-Dimensional Haiku” and claims that the four-dimensional haiku with a bipolar structure could realize the greatest power of poetic expression.

This is a view which is rarely heard outside Japan. By introducing the concept of the fourth dimension, the paper attempts at the importance of time element in haiku. This would be particularly of interest, or more precisely, a challenge, to those Western haiku poets who have come to believe in the “present tense” canon of haiku writing. It indicates the depth and richness which time holds in a haiku, a point largely lost in most Western haiku.

Koganei is a founding member of MIFA International Haiku Circle, based in Meguro Ward of Tokyo. (MIFA stands for Meguro International Friendship Association) The Circle was created in February 1995 and since then it has been growing steadily. It has over sixty members from nine countries. Last year, it published an anthology and essays, their achievements of five years. The book was shown at the World Haiku Festival 2000 Exhibition in London (August 2000) and in Gunma (October/November 2000).

One of Koganei’s own haiku poems goes: –

Pale moon
Resting on skyscrapers
Cold rising from toes.


Seeking a Four-Dimensional Haiku
Yasuomi Koganei

In what follows, some excellent haiku shall be analyzed, in an endeavor to discover just how the truly fascinating ones are composed. Though many favorable haiku have a three-dimensional structure, four-dimensional haiku which have a bipolar structure, provide the greatest power of expression.

1. Three-dimensional haiku

A haiku about Tanabata (Star Festival) appears in the chapter of Echigo  Road in Basho’s Oku no Hosomichi: The Narrow Road to Oku[1]1.

araumi ya Sado ni yokotau amanogawa (Basho)

Araumi ya: wild sea

Sado ni yokotau: stretching to Sado Isle

Amanogawa: the Milky Way (literally)

This must be the masterpiece of three-dimensional haiku with bipolar structure. That is, Sado connects the wild sea (Earth) and the Milky Way (outer space) to demonstrate an extensive perspective, or three-dimensional field (Fig.1).

The Milky Way (according to an ancient legend associated with Star Festival) excites pity for the Altair-Vega couple. They can meet only once a year at the time of the Star Festival called Tanabata in East Asia. Sado recalls the sadness of noble people who were exiled there, such as the famous Noh-dancer Zeami or Saint Nichiren (Buddhist). The violent sound of wind-whipped sea arouses great fear in readers.

The images of the Milky Way, Sado and wild sea work in synergy to induce readers to feel hopeless sorrow. Those who are familiar with European history may recall Saint Helena, and the exiled Napoléon Bonaparte, to strengthen their interpretation. The haiku can be interpreted adequately without knowledge of the Star Festival of Tanabata.

shibyo ete tsume utsukushiki hioke kana (Dakotsu)

Shibyo ete: terminally ill
Tsume (nails) utsukushiki: her beautiful nails
Hioke (brazier) kana: (over) the brazier (literally)

The brazier connects the terminally ill (death) and beautiful nails (life) to create a bipolar structure (Fig. 2). It reveals what is in the woman’s mind, namely that she is manicuring her fingernails even though it is useless since she is approaching death. The lady, knowing that death is near, is manicuring or polishing her fingernails over the brazier, also warming herself, desiring to live the rest of her life beautifully and, possibly with a faint hope of love. The brazier suggests healing. The field (three-dimensional) of this haiku is the room, in which we find her and the brazier.

2.  Four-dimensional haiku

oteuchi no meoto narishi o koromogae  (Buson)

Oteuchi no meoto: a married couple sentenced to capital punishment which is to be carried out by the landlord (Daimyo) in person

Narishi o: have been given a reprieve and years after that

Koromogae: are changing garments for the season (literally)

Following is the traditional interpretation of this typical four-dimensional haiku. In the feudal era of Tokugawa (1600-1868) which upheld a strict code of conduct, a young samurai (warrior) who fell in love with his lord’s maid was sentenced to capital punishment.

However, they were given a reprieve because of their contribution to the lord’s government, and because they lived unobtrusively. As the years went by, they gradually felt relaxed, and when the season came to change clothes, they replaced padded clothes with lined kimono (summer wear), and felt grateful for their lord’s lenience.[2]2

From a structural viewpoint, “oteuchi no meoto: the married couple sentenced to capital punishment” implies a space including the married couple, or a three-dimensional field, and “narishi o koromogae” implies what a long time passed before they were able to change clothes for the season with a feeling of ease (Fig.3.A). Moreover, “oteuchi: capital punishment” and ” koromogae: changing clothes” forms a bipolar structure (Fig. 3. B).

My favorite interpretation of this haiku is slightly different from the above. A young, runaway, married couple who have eluded the pursuit of the lord, gradually become relaxed as the years go by. Now they are comfortably changing clothes for the season. However, they are always suspicious that strangers passing by or people talking in whispers might be pursuers or informants. They never feel completely free from pursuit. The latter interpretation is more thrilling than the former.

Nowadays, local war is still breaking out in some areas, though tension from the Cold War is neutralizing. The haiku may ring true with a married couple who are refugees seeking political asylum after crossing a border, tearing themselves from the hot pursuit of intelligence. In the case of a single refugee leaving his family in his country, his heart would be even more miserable than those expressed in this haiku.

3. Quasi four-dimensional haiku

A diffusing sound or smell produces the image of an expanding sphere with the elapse of time. Thus, such haiku might be called quasi four-dimensional since they give us the perception of a relatively short elapse of time. The following haiku of Basho composed at Ryushaku Temple is used to exemplify a quasi four-dimensional haiku. Ryushaku Temple is built on a towering rock mountain with other smaller temples and pine trees around it. It is located near Yamadera station on the Senzan line between Yamagata and Sendai stations.

shizukasa ya iwa ni shimiiru semi no koe (Basho)

Shizukasa ya: how calm

Iwa ni shimiiru: soaking into rocks

Semi (cicadas) no koe: tremolo of cicadas (literally)

“Shizukasa” suggests a scene without people, just a rock mountain, temples and a pine forest (three-dimensional field) (Fig. 4. A). “Iwa” is the rock mountain on which Ryushaku Temple stands. Many cicadas might have been trilling at that time, but the emergence of one cicada’s tremolo is illustrated for simplification (Fig. 4. B).

“Iwa ni shimiiru semi no koe: the cicada’s tremolo is soaking into rocks in the surrounding area” gives a deep impression of stillness after the short stop of the tremolo or it could imply that Basho is becoming unconscious of the cicada and preoccupied by the scenery around him (concentration on seeing).

furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto (Basho)

Furuike ya: old (quiet) pond

Kawazu (frog) tobikomu: frog jumps in

Mizu no oto (sound): sound of water (literally)

“Furuike ya” is a field that conveys the image of an old quiet pond in a dense forest, farm or plain. ” Kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto” suggests loneliness or stillness in the unbounded space formed by the diffusing sound that went through Basho (the reader)’s body and vanished beyond the horizon. Required time for the perceptual process is not so long.

4. Selected Haiku from MIFA Meetings

I have encountered several very talented haikuists and significant haiku at MIFA Haiku Meetings and this gratification urges me to join every MIFA Haiku Meeting. So many good three-dimensional haiku are composed at MIFA Haiku Meetings that you can easily find them in Part 2 of this book. I will therefore introduce a quasi four-dimensional haiku here. Four-dimensional haiku as good as Buson’s may, conceivably be composed at a Meeting in the near future.

Some quasi four-dimensional haiku may suggest a relatively short elapse of time in which the author is waiting for something emotional or staring at the thing which has moved him or her.

Waiting for you
crossing country borders
the spring moon.              David McMurray (Canada)

This haiku suggests a wide variety of situations from happy to fearful. “The spring moon” normally suggests a hazy, warm image in Japan, therefore, the haiku may imply a warm, happy and romantic time for the person who is waiting for his lover flying over countless countries to finally reach Japan. On the other hand, the moon may imply an image of inconstancy, or even insanity in the West. If he is waiting somewhere on a continent where there is social unrest or countries are in the midst of a civil war, the spring moon may cause him to fear that she may not come or that their future life may be less than secure.

Embers flicker
as fallen leaves kindle
a new kaleidoscope.              Denise Harford (Ireland)

A lady may be staring at the leaves which are falling intermittently upon embers, while recalling her past, be it gloomy or glamorous, and also looking to the rest of her life in the embers.

[3][1] Donald Keene, The Narrow Road to Oku, Kodansha International Ltd., 1996, page 126-129

[2][2] Riichi Kuriyama et al., Kanyaku Nihon no Koten No. 58 Buson-shu Issa-shu, Shogakukan,1983, page 39

This entry was posted in Haiku, Vol 1-1 May 2001 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Seeking a four Dimensional Haiku

  1. mattymays says:

    hi xmas greetings to you all – matty

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