Modern Japanese haiku.Each year as darkness comes alive with sparkles, I remember the night my son handed me a jar of wilting fireflies, confident that I could turn their glow back on. I hadn't come across the poet Kasho yet. I wish I had, for his poem on a cage of fireflies might have offset a small boy's disappointment in his father.
Great poets of all cultures, including the haiku haiku (hī`k), an unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which nature is linked to human nature. poets of Japan, are strongly emotional, moving constantly from light to dark and seeking change. Since art's beginning, there have been some who have emerged with a clear mission to revolutionize current practice, stand things on their heads. In the history of haiku, such were Basho (1644-94), and a couple of hundred years later, Shiki (1867-1902), among haiku's "Great Four," the others being Buson (1715-83), equally known as a painter, and Issa (1763-1827), perhaps Japan's drollest, most tender and loved poet. Basho and Shiki shook the art to its foundations.
Before Basho, haiku was largely a dilettantish dil·et·tante
n. pl. dil·et·tantes also dil·et·tan·ti
1. A dabbler in an art or a field of knowledge. See Synonyms at amateur.
2. A lover of the fine arts; a connoisseur.
adj. fashion for the idle. He set about transforming an art for which, from youth, he had a passion, and would from time to time, especially in his remarkable haibun (mix of prose and haiku), comment on its aesthetics. Fortunately, there were admirers farseeing far·see·ing
1. Prudent; foresighted.
2. Able to see far; keen-sighted.
Adj. 1. farseeing - capable of seeing to a great distance
eagle-eyed, longsighted, keen-sighted enough to record his words. We owe much to Doho, for example, for inking this snatch of conversation:
The master said, "Learn about a pine tree from a pine tree, and about a bamboo stalk from a bamboo stalk." What he meant was that the poet should detach his mind from self...and enter into the object, sharing its delicate life and its feelings. Whereupon a poem forms of itself. Description of the object is not enough: unless a poem contains feelings which have come from the object, the object and the poet's self will be separate things.
How profound, at the awakening of new haiku, such comments must have seemed. Few of Basho's disciples, who grew rapidly in number, had prepared themselves as he had done through Zen discipline (he was to become a monk), for so deep an immersion into nature. Though he could on occasion be scathingly dismissive of the work of earlier poets, Sogi (1421-1502), Sokan (1458-1546), Moritake (1472-1549), yet he honored them for having created haiku, for breaking up the haikai renga renga
Japanese linked-verse poetry in which two or more poets supply alternating sections of a poem. The form began with the composition of a traditional five-line poem (tanka) by two people. , sequences of seventeen-syllable verses composed by poets writing together in turn. Haiku was by then a tradition of two hundred years, and it was those poets who started it.
Tradition in the arts is highly complex. Take music. The pianist of today performs not just a Mozart sonata, but also, in a sense, those pianists who learned from each other since his time. Without each interpretation handed on, establishing an ultimate performance, the score would be mere notes played any which-way. Something of the kind is true of poetry, all poetry. The emotions and insights the first poets wished to express were, by their intuitively-arrived-at practice, given forms, which henceforth, up to the present, proved themselves important factors of the art. Basho was as much the son of Sogi, Sokan and Moritake, and those who followed, as their most probing critic. From them he learned the basics, that it was possible to compress within seventeen harmoniously-ordered syllables feelings and insights which meant most to him. What made him superior was a deeper sensibility and a subtler mind, making possible such all-encompassing essences as these:
and plum scent.
of this floating world, swept.
To the willow--
all hatred, and desire
of your heart.
Basho forged what was to be accepted as the essential standard of the art. Soon, others followed him, intimately binding themselves to nature, observing keenly, touching lightly, to the best of their ability emulating the master. One such was Kikaku (1661-1707):
Full autumn moon--
on the straw mat,
of the yam--
The raindrop's world is the world of all true haiku. These poets were fully aware of the physical, and it is this absorption which may be the source of their greatest strength. Nothing too high, too low, they write most lovingly of things unloved by most. Hear Issa:
Clouds of mosquitoes--
it would be bare
In my house
mice and fireflies
On the iris,
in eaves of mansions,
In the West, from the time of the Imagists imagists, group of English and American poets writing from 1909 to about 1917, who were united by their revolt against the exuberant imagery and diffuse sentimentality of 19th-century poetry. , in the early years of the century to the present, it has been the stunning economy, the particularity par·tic·u·lar·i·ty
n. pl. par·tic·u·lar·i·ties
1. The quality or state of being particular rather than general.
2. of haiku which has had greatest appeal. But, in the finest examples, there is something above and beyond keen observation: full disclosure of the poet's sensibility, within the smallest space. Take this poem by Lady Chiyo-Jo (1701-75):
In the well-bucket,
a morning glory--
I borrow water.
And this by Lady Sute-Jo (1633-98):
how hot the skin
Despite avoidance, for the most part, of poetic devices thought essential in the West--metaphor, simile simile (sĭm`əlē) [Lat.,=likeness], in rhetoric, a figure of speech in which an object is explicitly compared to another object. Robert Burns's poem "A Red Red Rose" contains two straightforward similes: , personification--haiku are still able to deal with the most human concerns. With few or no adjectives or adverbs, the poet is able to give sharpest perceptions, startling revelations. That which for years we may have bypassed, ignored is suddenly illuminated, thus better prized as the remarkable thing it has always been:
stick in the mud.
Barn's burnt down--
I can see the moon.
On encountering such poems by his contemporaries, one can't help wondering to what degree they might have been inspired by Basho. It is quite probable that these poets learned from him how a few words could cover so large a range, might express one's life. One thing indisputable: before Basho such poems were not written, as if nature lay dormant until he came along to point to its very heart.
Attempting to give an idea of the way haiku works without making cultural comparisons, I have often cited the American poet Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims.
Please help Wikipedia by adding references. See the for details.
This article has been tagged since June 2007. ," a most admired haiku-like poem:
The apparition apparition, spiritualistic manifestation of a person or object in which a form not actually present is seen with such intensity that belief in its reality is created. of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
A simile, almost as startling as haiku, yet much of what is said would, in a haiku poet, be implied. Incorporating the title (haiku are not titled), he might make the poem read:
Faces in the metro--
on a wet black bough.
If asked why, he might say that the first few words, "The apparition of these," though sonorous sonorous
resonant; sounding. enough, contribute nothing. Nor does the word "crowd," metro stations usually being crowded--and yes, the "petals" of the simile suggest that. His version, he might state, transforms the piece into acceptable haiku, one rather like, perhaps less effective than, Onitsura's:
across the fields,
Without using simile, Onitsura stuns with an immediacy of vision: faces whipped by a cold wind.
Modern haiku began with the last of haiku's Great Four, Shiki, whose impact on the art came close to Basho's. Born in 1867, he died at thirtyfive in 1902. Indefatigably in·de·fat·i·ga·ble
Incapable or seemingly incapable of being fatigued; tireless. See Synonyms at tireless.
[Obsolete French indéfatigable, from Latin pursuing the art, in spite of being ravaged by tuberculosis, he quickly established himself as a master. He sent out shock waves by dismissing virtually all earlier haiku, including Basho's, though conceding reluctantly that perhaps one fifth of the poet's work was good. From the beginning he was out to make a difference, letting nothing, not even the most revered progenitor pro·gen·i·tor
1. A direct ancestor.
2. An originator of a line of descent.
ancestor, including parent.
stem cells. , stand in his way. He proclaimed, "A poem has no meaning. It is feeling alone." Iconoclastic i·con·o·clast
1. One who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional or popular ideas or institutions.
2. One who destroys sacred religious images. , daring to a very great fault, he wasted little time establishing what was soon to be seen as a modern canon for the art.
Shiki's passion was proverbial. Like John Keats, knowing he was doomed to early death, he willed to make the most of his brief residence on earth. He had two great loves: haiku and persimmons--a doctor restricted him to two persimmons a day, but poems...he wrote thousands, of which a surprising number have worn extremely well:
Thing long forgotten--
pot where a flower blooms,
this spring day.
lies, lies, lies.
snow tracing wings
of mandarin ducks.
Shiki had an unusual gift for articulating the most subtle aesthetic insights, always seriously and, when possible, publicly. He would divest haiku of the "sublime," seeking constantly the "richness of the plain." For clarity, he used such common terms as heitan (flatness), heii (plainness), tanpaku (lightness) and jinj (ordinariness)--hardly as elegant or imaginative as Basho, who used the term karumi for "lightness," and was to state that "a good poem is one in which the form of the verse and the joining of its parts seem light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed." Shiki was ready at all times to send down directives to his growing band of disciples: "Don't think--feel. Be natural." "Get your ideas not from past 'classical' haiku, but from the everyday world." "Eliminate every inessential word, down to the bone." "Write from your feelings, and only for yourself. If you feel strongly, so will your reader."
Among the poet's major contributions to haiku aesthetic were his very original concepts, shasei and makoto, which, because of their importance to those who followed him, must be defined. Shasei, simply put, is realism, and means copying the subject, but selectively, emphasizing elements most characteristic. Shiki gave the following example: a red camellia camellia (kəmēl`yə) [for G. J. Kamel, a Moravian Jesuit missionary], any plant of the genus Camellia in the tea family, evergreen shrubs or small trees native to Asia but now cultivated extensively in warm climates and in blooming in dark woods would strike one as especially beautiful in haiku if the darkness of the woods were emphasized, and the flower described as briefly as possible. The Tenro Haiku School, led by Seishi Yamaguchi, holds shasei as virtual creed, and speaks of it as on-the-spot composition, with the subject "traced to its origin."
By makoto, Shiki meant shasei directed toward "inner reality," with the same concentration on the direct rendering of subject, but the subject being the poet's self. The self is experienced as objectively as anything in nature. Above all, perhaps, makoto is "truthful feeling," and, as members of Soun and other haiku schools would have it, Significance. Because makoto naturally leads to a focusing on revelations of spirit, the poet may write less than those practicing shasei alone. That is to be expected, as it would be anywhere. Makoto may also lead, at times, to flouting of formal elements, including, as in the case of Soun poets, the syllabic syl·lab·ic
a. Of, relating to, or consisting of a syllable or syllables.
b. Pronounced with every syllable distinct.
2. restrictions. Soun is sometime called the "free-verse" school, its freedom legitimized by precedent in Shiki himself, who wrote many poems of more, or less, than seventeen syllables.
Shasei and makoto are surely among the most important contributions Shiki was to make to haiku, and he was tireless in expressing views on them and other matters, at times on the most practical and basic level. He wrote a haiku column for the newspaper Nippon, and in 1896, in order to distinguish his group from other larger groups, he published nothing less than a manifesto. His group, he wrote, based their poems on emotion, avoided triteness, despised wordiness word·y
adj. word·i·er, word·i·est
1. Relating to or consisting of words; verbal.
2. Tending to use, using, or expressed in more words than are necessary to convey meaning. , used any and all kinds of language, from that of ancient court poetry to modern slang, so long as the words harmonized har·mo·nize
v. har·mo·nized, har·mo·niz·ing, har·mo·niz·es
1. To bring or come into agreement or harmony. See Synonyms at agree.
2. Music To provide harmony for (a melody). tonally, and finally, he insisted on its independence from all special schools and lineages. A poet was to be respected solely for the quality of his work. Shiki more than implied that other groups were wanting in such matters, he openly castigated them.
Shiki's favorite of all past poets was Buson, and he was at times extravagant in praising the poet-painter, in awe of his startling work, so full of color and imagination, with a vocabulary richer than that of all others. He once stated, with characteristic boldness, that of ten Buson poems seven or eight were superb, whereas the better known and adulated Basho had only two or three good pieces out of ten. That was a staggering judgment, striking many as not only wrong-headed but sourly ungenerous un·gen·er·ous
1. Slow or reluctant in giving, forgiving, or sharing; stingy.
2. Harsh in judgment; unkind.
3. Mean-spirited; illiberal; ignoble. . Yet he persisted, saying such claims were "for the good of the art."
The ideal modern haiku, in Shiki's view, is written in around seventeen syllables, with, as in the past, a "season word." Such a view, while hardly severe, was held provocative by traditionalists, whereas it was applauded, and adopted, by others, who took comfort in the thought that the value of a poem is its individuality and freedom from stereotypes. The ideal poem is fresh and uninhibited uninhibited /un·in·hib·it·ed/ (un?in-hib´i-ted) free from usual constraints; not subject to normal inhibitory mechanisms. , haiku rather than hokku of the past. There may be justice in the fact that Shiki was the first to employ regularly the term haiku: those who gathered around him were challenged and inspired by his example. By writing true haiku, they hoped to prove themselves his worthy followers.
One of Shiki's most illustrious fellow poets, and his exact contemporary (both were born in 1867), was Soseki, who was to become a novelist--Kokoro (1914) is one of Japan's great novels. Yet, like other haiku poets also writing fiction, Akutagawa (Rashomon) among them, his abiding love was poetry. How well Soseki understood the nature of the new haiku:
hatchet hatchet: see tomahawk. felling bamboos
in the mountains.
the autumn stream,
a driven stake.
Akutagawa shows equal understanding:
even their smell.
Akutagawa died by his own hand at thirty-five, and fifty years later, through Akira Kurosawa's film based on his stories, Rashomon, he would achieve world-wide fame. One can only hope that he had many moments wonderful as those poems.
Toward the end of his life, confined to a sickbed, Shiki often reflected on his tempestuous tem·pes·tu·ous
1. Of, relating to, or resembling a tempest: tempestuous gales.
2. Tumultuous; stormy: a tempestuous relationship. youth, expressing regret for outbursts and harsh judgments. At such times, he would concede his comments on Basho had been particularly unfortunate, yet he insisted someone had to do what he had done--for an art to which he had devoted the best of his hours. It had been in danger of suffocating; he had arrived in the nick of time.
In the West, used as we are to upheavals in the arts, the dramatic impact of powerful personalities, we find it difficult to appreciate how socially imprudent im·pru·dent
Unwise or indiscreet; not prudent.
im·prudent·ly adv. the flaunting of norms can be in a culture as convention-bound as Japan's. (Even now, in a modern city like Kyoto, it is considered virtually criminal for a pedestrian to cross against the light, even when no cars are present.) The great Zen poet Shinkichi Takahashi (1901-87) was jailed from time to time as a youth for just such "impulsive behavior impulsive behavior,
n action initiated without due consideration or thought as to the costs, results, or consequences. ." Yet nothing stopped him living as Zennist:
My hair's falling fast--
I'm off to Asia Minor.
In order to give a fuller vision of his special world, perhaps, Shinkichi Takahashi turned to free verse, rather in the way that Soseki and Akutagawa turned to fiction.
Shiki, on the other hand, would have found it impossible--though he did write impressive tanka tan·ka 1
A Japanese verse form in five lines, the first and third composed of five syllables and the rest of seven.
[Japanese. (the thirty-one-syllable form)--to abandon haiku, and because as maturing artist he would from time to time feel the constraints of a form so short, he invented rensaku, or "sequential composition." Rensaku has been especially favored in recent years by the Tenro School, and it is not unusual for its members to gather at a given spot, often a Zen temple garden, and write as many as one hundred haiku on a chosen theme or set of objects. Shiki claimed that through rensaku, the poet would be able to explore feelings too complex, perhaps, for a single haiku, and just as in sequential compositions in the West--among the most important being T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"--he might, through careful modulation and arrangement of parts, give the work greater breadth and complexity, a vision more complete.
Rensaku may very well be regarded as Shiki's most unusual contribution to haiku, possibly conceived so as to give the art the scope and modernity of much Western poetry he knew and greatly admired. His own rensaku, just like his individual poems, established him firmly as one of haiku's Great Four. Of the four, his life was shortest, but hardly least eventful. One of the best-read poets of his day, he became increasingly hopeful of demonstrating the worth of haiku internationally, and all his experiments were conducted with that serious purpose in mind. It is tantalizing tan·ta·lize
tr.v. tan·ta·lized, tan·ta·liz·ing, tan·ta·liz·es
To excite (another) by exposing something desirable while keeping it out of reach. to imagine what he might have accomplished had he been allowed a full measure of years. One thing would surely have pleased him greatly: around a decade after his death, the Imagist school of poetry was established in London by Ezra Pound and others, and a major element of its credo, a key factor of its aesthetic, was the need of bringing into English and American poetry the qualities of haiku, especially its terseness and its sensitivity to nature.
I am listening as I write to a recording of the contemporary Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu's "Raintree," a piece for percussion. The composer, much interviewed and discussed these days, often speaks of an indebtedness to Zen and haiku. On my study wall hangs an old mask which was used in Noh plays in Japan. Facing it there's another prized possession, "Plum Blossom," a sumie (ink painting) by the eighteenth-century painter Ike-no-Taiga, who trained in Zen with one of the most illustrious masters in the history of the sect, Hakuin, and formed a close friendship with the poet-painter most revered by Shiki, and another of haiku's Great Four, Buson. The two collaborated in 1771 on a remarkable album of paintings, "Ju-ben Ju-gi" (Ten Conveniences and Ten Enjoyments of Rural Living), and were regarded as the two masters of Nanga, or Southern Style, painting, also called Bunjin-ga, or Literati literati
Scholars in China and Japan whose poetry, calligraphy, and paintings were supposed primarily to reveal their cultivation and express their personal feelings rather than demonstrate professional skill. painting. Perhaps I might be excused for wondering if Ike-no-Taiga had ever shown Buson his "Plum Blossom." Music, drama, painting, and poetry, are all of a piece in Japan's unique culture, and all quite beyond the spoilage spoilage
decomposition; said of meat, milk, animal feeds especially ensilage. of time.
Though it is true that Shiki's radical dismissal of haiku's past led to the art's rejuvenation Rejuvenation
in extreme old age, restored to youth by Medea. [Rom. Myth.: LLEI, I: 322]
apples of perpetual youth
by tasting the golden apples kept by Idhunn, the gods preserved their youth. [Scand. Myth. (as Basho's had done before him), the new poems show that haiku is today, essentially, what at its best it has always been. As in Basho's time, the modern poet takes a natural, a most ordinary event, and without fuss, ornament or inflated words, makes of it a rarest moment--sparely rendered, crystallized, a microcosm which can reveal transcendent unity. Small wonder that people throughout the world have come to care for haiku.
The wind has shaken free the last drops from Toru Takemitsu's "Raintree," the Ike-no-Taiga scroll "Plum Blossom" illuminates the hours, as it has done for well over two hundred years, and haiku will remain through the ages, rekindled from time to time, as if by a breath sent into a cage of mostly dying fireflies.
Thinking the World Visible
Valerie Wohlfeld Foreword by James Dickey
Thinking the World Visible centers on how mind and body seek to unify a vision of the world. As James Dickey, distinguished poet and judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition The Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition is an annual event of Yale University Press aiming to publish the first collection of a promising American poet. The contest was founded in 1919, and is the oldest annual literary award in the United States. , has said, "Valerie Wohlfeld's words give the sense of a poet whose mind has been suddently freed and is active in a new way. My impression of her is as a spirit-woman, a female shaman or Eve who takes power over the natural world by naming it using the same words that have always served, but with her own truly imaginative angle of vision." cloth $16.00; paper $9.00
Yale Series of Younger Poets, 89
Empire of Dreams
Giannina Braschi Translated from the Spanish by Tess O'Dwyer With an Introduction by Alicia Ostriker
Straddling the line between fiction and poetry, Empire of Dreams speaks of Puerto Rican poet Giannina Braschi's love affair with New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of City--her imagined social, political, erotic, and linguistic relationship to the place that has acted as a magnet to Puerto Ricans for so many years.
"Empire of Dreams is a masterpiece, brilliantly translated. Braschi writes as an accomplished cosmopolitan, heir(ess) to the traditions of Lorca, Neruda, Mistral Mis·tral , Frédéric 1830-1914.
French writer and leader in the revival of Provençal as a literary language. He shared the 1904 Nobel Prize for literature.
n. , and Marquez." --Alicia Ostriker $20.00
Songs from the Gallows
Christian Morgenstern Translated by Walter Arndt
Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914) was a German poet-philosopher and translator whose nonsense poems have been among the best-known and best-loved works in Germany throughout this century. Morgenstern's poems are whimsical yet haunting, a rare blend of humor and odd metaphysical intimations. This edition presents a bilingual selection of some 90 poems from Morgenstern's collection, brilliantly translated and introduced by Walter Arndt. $20.00