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Haiku -- Yosa Buson

       
(Poem #277) Haiku
The winter river;
down it come floating
flowers offered to Buddha.
-- Yosa Buson
(1716-1783)

As Martin pointed out to me this morning, it has indeed been some time since we
saw a haiku [1].

Actually, Martin suggested I dig up and run an English haiku (i.e., a haiku
written in English, as opposed to one translated from Japanese). And I tried,
indeed I did. But the fact is, I couldn't find anyone to match Basho, Buson or
Issa [2]. And without any discrimination intended, I have to say that most
non-Japanese attempts to write haiku just don't cut it. There's a peculiar
mastery involved to crafting immortality out of 17 syllables; there's more to it
than just cherry blossoms and mountain paths. I just wish I knew what.

Incidentally, I have yet to read (of) any 'proper' English poet who has
attempted the haiku form [1], though some of the Imagists come close (in spirit
if not in detail). (Which again is not completely expected, given how much the
Imagists were influenced by the Japanese aesthetic of minimalism). Any pointers?

thomas.

[1] No, Peter Porter doesn't count :-)
[2] The Holy Trinity of haiku masters; read the note below.

[Background]

There are three great names in the history of haiku, Basho, Buson and Issa; we
may include a fourth, Shiki. Basho is the religious man, Buson the artist, Issa
the humanist. Basho is concerned with God as he sees himself in the mind of the
Poet before flowers and fields. Buson deals with things as they exist by and for
themselves, in their own right. Issa is concerned with man, man the weak angel;
with birds and beasts as they struggle like us to make a living and keep their
heads above water. Shiki, though strongly realistic, sees things under the
aspect of beauty, as an artist.

    -- R. H. Blyth, 'Haiku'.

[On Winter]

Winter is the season of cold; not only the cold that animals also feel, and the
conciousness of it which exacerbates the feeling of it in human beings, but that
cold whose deep inner meaning we realize only at moments of vision, often when
connected with fear and loneliness, or with apparently unrelated qualities of
things.

In the Solar Calendar, the end of the year does not coincide with any natural
change, but in the old Lunar Calendar it marks the beginning of spring in Japan.
The winter moon and the cold rain at the end of autumn have special meanings in
this season. Snow in winter corresponds in its range of significance and variety
of treatment to the cherry-blossoms of spring, the hototogisu in summer, the
moon in autumn. Fields and mountains, when trees are leafless and thickets are a
wild tangle of browns and greys, have a poetic meaning that the green of the
other seasons does not know. In Japan the grass all dies and turns colour,
making winter more of a time of death than in England. The pine-trees stand
apart, as it were, from the seasons. The religious haiku are nearly all
concerned with the processional chanting of the nembutsu during the period of
greatest cold. Plovers, owls, eagles, various water-fowl and fish are the only
animals treated, and of trees and flowers, it is fallen leaves that give us the
best poems.

    -- R.H. Blyth, 'Haiku', vol. 4
    -- on the web at http://hometown.aol.com/markabird/index.html

[Minstrels Links]

I've run two haiku before, both by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694):
poem #23 and poem #56.

The haiku form is descended from an older verse pattern known as the tanka;
there are two tanka by Otomo no Yakamachi (718-785) at poem #87.

And I would be remiss if I didn't include a link to Peter Porter's wickedly
funny (and piercingly insightful) 'Japanese Jokes', at poem #198.

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