Shiki’s Fireworks

July 2002

 WHC Shiki Celebrations: Essay – Susumu Takiguchi


Shiki’s Fireworks, a note from Susumu Takiguchi

This text is extracted from the introduction to the fifth strand of the Masaoka Shiki On-line Joint Translation Project. An article detailing the development of the strand appears elsewhere in this publication under the title In the Aftermath of Shiki’s Fireworks (Ed.).

hito kaeru hanabi no ato no kura-sa kana         

……..Masaoka Shiki, 1895, Meiji 28

kaeru=return, go home (rentai-kei, or a kind of participial adjective)
no=possessive, or genitive (case) particle
no=possessive, or genitive (case) particle
kana=particle, exclamatory, kireji
on their way home

after the fireworks –
what darkness!

……..version by ST

The fireworks over,
The people all gone, —
How dark it is!

…… by R. H. Blyth, pp. 1025-1026, Haiku, vol. 4

Blyth comments:

This is no mere psychological observation. The darkness was felt by the poet in a physical way. We may explain the matter as a physiological reaction, but what Shiki is telling us is something about the absence of two things and the presence of one as a unity of deep experience.

It seems that there is a slight mistake here (if such a great man as Blyth could make a mistake, which I think he could). Ostensibly, there is no past tense or present perfect in the verb kaeru used. It is in the present tense. Therefore, one cannot say that the people have, or are “all gone”. They may still have been all be there, or some may have gone but others, or the majority of them, may have still been there. Having said that, the real interpretation is not necessarily merely based on grammar. Even if the tense is present like the haiku under review, Shiki could still be ‘meaning’ the past, i.e. people have already gone home. Only in this case, I don’t think so.

The important point seems to me to be that Shiki was depicting the time when the people were in the process of going home. In my experience as a child, as many as a thousand people came to see the fireworks along the coast and it took them half an hour to an hour to disappear completely. In Trafalgar Square, London, thousands would come on New Year’s Eve. Such a crowd take a long time to disperse and disappear. Of course, Shiki could be talking about a few, a dozen or 20, 30 people.

My gut feeling is that he was talking about  eyes having been accustomed to the brightness of fireworks, especially the finale, then being unable to adjust to the sudden darkness quickly; also psychologically being unable to switch from one scene of elation and wonder to the other of darkness and nothingness. This feeling tends to last for some time, which is also my experience. I had never thought otherwise until I started to write this introduction. Contrary to Blyth, I would say that this haiku is about physical reaction to the darkness first and psychological reaction second. I agree with him about the deepness of the poem but, then, perhaps few would disagree to it anyway.

Blyth quotes Shoha’s haiku about fireworks and speculates that it may have inspired Shiki:

hanabi-bune yujin satte aki no mizu


In a boat seeing the fireworks;
When the spectators had gone. —
The water of autumn.

Rather than this, Blyth’s quoting another haiku by Shiki is more appropriate:

Sabishisa ya hanabi no ato no hoshi no tobu


After the fireworks,
A falling star.

Instead of quoting Blyth’s explanation of this haiku, I would just cite our own member’s recent haiku:

the odyssey
of 2001 draws nigh
Jupiter’s bright glow


odyssey 2001
draws to a close
Jupiter’s bright glow

……..soji, Fredericksburg, VA, USA

06/01/02 ST

Read also : In the Aftermath of Shiki’s Fireworks

This entry was posted in Haiku, Shiki, Vol 2-2 July 2002 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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