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August 7, 2008

And so, should your moment include computers and skyscrapers, or any of the myriad other elements which constitute our contemporary life, do not feel that you may not include them in your haiku. To insist only on a view of life which is centuries out of date is a certain way for haiku to become moribund, and even worse, dull.

Writers may choose many things, but they may not choose to be dull. Of course, some things may seem to recommend themselves more readily to haiku, but this is due to at least two biases that we may have already formed. The first is, we already know a certain number of haiku, and if we think our haiku must be similar to those we know, we may find ourselves taking on the same kinds of subjects.

Hence there is a proliferation of haiku about cherry blossoms and frogs, and while these are laudable subjects, they are not by any means exhaustive of the options we have. In fact, they may not even be part of your personal environment, and more than anything else, your haiku ought to reflect the space and time in which you live.

The second bias is a bit subtler, but perhaps even more pervasive for that. Again, these are laudable qualities, but they do not compose the entire range of what is admirable in haiku, nor of what haiku is capable of expressing. And let us append one other idea here, suggested by R. Blyth and no doubt true for all the very best haiku: It is what a haiku implies that makes it a great or worthless haiku. So it may be surprising to hear, but haiku is capable of containing every subject in the world, and conveying every quality and emotion. A form which limits what things we can consider and what they might mean and feel like would be certain to lose its vigor and die out.

Haiku show no indications of doing that. On the other hand, haiku is a small form, a vial rather than a vat. It is designed, like a vial, to hold essences, small and concentrated amounts of pure poetry. It is pointless to try to pour material which requires great elucidation, or narrative, or development, into such a form. And, since there is so little room within the constraints of a haiku, we wish also to find ways to communicate as much material as possible in the fewest words. So it is immediately useful to recognize that haiku lend themselves to the small, the momentary, the intimate.

Haiku are most effective when they are used to express what is, rather than what should be. At their best, they do not put forth ideas or concepts-which may help us to define and articulate a truth, but do nothing to help us experience it directly and personally-but rather images which seek to embody intuitions. Intuition can be defined as the direct apprehension of reality without the intermediary of our logical minds-a direct knowing.

Haiku seek not to explain reality, but to connect us with it. Haiku are less well equipped to convey duration or process although you may find poems where the insight of a moment is the result of prolonged observation or action. Traditionally haiku has been considered to be the poetry of the ordinary, the small, the un- or ill-observed. Blyth ascribes this tendency to a characteristic of the Japanese people and culture, and argues that geography may well be responsible for at least some part of this.

And yet, if we look at classical Japanese haiku we will find such a magnificent poem as. Rather than a proclivity towards the minute, it is perhaps more useful to think of the content of haiku in the way Shiki, the Japanese master who revolutionized haiku into a modern genre, describes it: Remember perspective, he advises us: Large or small makes no difference to the truth of the poem, provided it is truth. It is all a matter of perspective. If we are free to call on any subject, and to convey any emotion, within a haiku, what must it contain to still be considered a haiku? Haiku must contain a moment of insight.

Haiku is not the only form in which such moments are essential-it might even be argued that all poetry is essentially the recording of such insights, and that this is the characteristic which unites haiku with these other forms-but without such a moment, there is no haiku. And what constitutes such a moment? It takes place outside of time-that is, time seems to stop in such moments-and the poet loses his sense of self into a larger sense of belonging.

It is this feeling which informs the moment to make it fresh and sincere, and quite beyond ego. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one-when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there.

However well phrased your poetry may be, if your feeling is not natural-if the object and yourself are separate-then your poetry is not true poetry but merely your subjective counterfeit. Besides the moment of insight, what other elements are essential to the creation of a haiku? In some instances the entire poem is infused with nature content, and in other cases only part of the poem evinces natural reference. This system of shorthand is called season words, or kigo in the Japanese. In the classical tradition it has been considered essential for a poem to include a season word to be a haiku.

The function of the hokku is to indicate the time and place of composition of the renga. It was imperative, then, that the season be indicated somewhere in the body of the poem. Over time, a set of words which indicated not only the time of the year, but an apotheosis of certain natural events, came to be established and utilized for this purpose. When the hokku evolved into the contemporary haiku, this element had already been incorporated within it, and so it has remained an essential part of haiku into the twentieth century.

The seasons have been the underpinning subject of haiku-indeed, of all traditional Japanese poetry-for several centuries. And season words have evolved naturally from this need to include nature, with positive benefit. Their availability and codification of the natural cycle, their compression and common usage, have made their usage not just a rule to follow, but a shorthand which permits greater ease and breadth of expression and resonance, as well as association, throughout the corpus of haiku. Additionally, in a volatile geophysical locale in a premodern agricultural culture, such a deliberate consideration of the natural cycles was essential, not only for literary purposes, but for survival.

This close association made the literature of Japan an extension of its deepest needs, and it should be no surprise that such lore would support its most basic cultural presumptions. However, even in traditional circles haiku have long been written on certain subjects, imported from earlier traditional topics of poetry, which are considered to lie outside the structure provided by the natural cycle-poems primarily concerned with human behavior such as love, religious belief, travel and so on.

These are regarded no less as haiku, but because haiku are generally preserved by their appearance in anthologies and saijiki listings of topics and words, with often copious illustrative examples, indicating the topics for use in haiku composition , which are arranged by season, such works are more difficult to find and retain. In fact, since such poems are difficult to place in saijiki, it was at first merely a matter of inconvenience for the editors, but over time, since examples of non-season word haiku were essentially neglected, it came to regarded that such poems belonged outside the tradition, and finally that they were evidence of poor crafting.

And so what was an editorial difficulty became a traditional mandate. Things have changed over the past one hundred years. For one thing, the life of the average Japanese and many others as well is far less rural and agricultural than it was when haiku was finding its classical form. Likewise, haiku still take nature as their primary content, but the definition of nature is much broader than was the case even fifty years ago.

Today we might discover Japanese haiku to include work such as this: This sort of poem, widely recognized as haiku, makes us reconsider what must truly be considered essential for a poem to be a haiku. And we might well ask: The answer, as is the case so often, is that we are always free to do whatever we wish to do. The real issue is more a matter of what do we get, and what do we lose, from choosing one way or another. And this goes back to our original consideration: And what is the best strategy to realizing our goals? And so the proper question is, does the use of a season word in my haiku help better convey the experience I wish to share?

Or is the nature of my experience a moment of insight which is not focused within the natural cycle? And if this is the case, what alternatives do I have? Season words will continue to matter in haiku in all cultures. And so in many instances a season word will prove a useful strategy in conveying these experiences. But increasingly we will find that the traditional significances of season words will not embody all the moments we discover, especially as haiku is written in cultures whose climates are widely divergent from that of Japan, and as our increasingly urbanized environments become the locus for more and more of our insights.

We will discover, then, that we want a system of words which function as season words do-that is, codify our experiences, provide a shorthand for expressing them, and unify our writings through association with other expressions in the form-but which more fully embraces the range of experiences which haiku may convey.

This larger system we call keywords. A keyword is a near kin to a season word. In fact, it may be a season word. But it may be other things as well. The most useful way of thinking of the idea of keywords is not as a one-to-one replacement for season words but rather as an overarching system of correspondences available to the haiku poet which incorporates season words within its bounds. What we would have done in the past is to call this a non-seasonal haiku, or else assign it a season. This is the way we have worked within the mindset of season words.

In the new way of reckoning, however, a season word is not an assumed part of a haiku, but a keyword is. There are thousands of others, including all the known season words. The poem is a haiku employing a keyword, with a seasonal feeling since it is a natural event being described but not a definite seasonal attribution. Season words operate as one large and important subset of all keywords, but are not the only words which a haiku may employ to the same effect. Keywords can replace the notion of season words completely, and successfully, without radically altering the nature of haiku as we know it.

This process is more evolutionary than revolutionary. The keyword here, snow, is a season word. It grounds the poem in the specific, provides context, and promotes resonance: The second haiku contains a non-seasonal keyword, ocean. It would be possible to imagine the season here-we might even be tempted to guess at it-but no matter our conclusion, it remains speculation.

And rather than this being a problem for this poem, this ambiguity actually helps it. The poem is not dependent upon the season for its power, but rather upon the image itself. The ocean is powerful in its own right and commanding in all seasons. The third example also contains the keyword funeral which suggests a human and personal context to the poem. The important point is not that the poet mentions himself. What matters is that the poet treats himself objectively-another image in the nexus of images which constitutes the poem.

The poem is not about the self as ego, but about pointing to something objective about the self, something that might be shared. This is an important point: Many poets, coming to haiku from contemporary western poetry, mistake the form as another type of confessional poetry. This could not be further from the case.

Haiku is not a form for self-expression, or about interior states of mind. Haiku are, instead, a means of sharing perceptions of the world outside us, an interaction with the exterior reality, a looking out rather than a looking in. This distinction cannot be stressed firmly enough: The final example shows another orientation of the keyword, this time as a religious association. The keyword Easter allows the reader to recognize that a special understanding is being brought to this moment.

Nevertheless it is worth considering the legacy of such an orientation in the transmission of haiku to western poets. Many of the first students of the form outside Japan came to haiku directly or indirectly through their interest in Zen. A substantial number of books and papers have been written espousing Zen as the true way of haiku. It is often noted that Basho was a Zen priest. Even the great R. Blyth goes so far as to state categorically that Zen is the correct state of mind for understanding haiku.

All this and more have perhaps led us to overvalue the role of Zen in haiku, both classical Japanese haiku and that of today. There is no denying that Zen has been an important element in the transmission of haiku understanding in the west. And there is no doubt that there are some poems, in Japanese as well as in English, that have been accorded value by readers and critics that nevertheless remain closed to us in some way. But the fact is that the vast majority of writers of haiku, Japanese and English alike, attempt as the fundamental concern to communicate a moment of insight to all their possible readers, not just the cognoscenti.

While discovering the revelatory in the ordinary may sound like Zen, it also sounds like any other exhortation toward heightened perception: This might just as well be a step-by-step procedure in scientific enquiry as Zen understanding. What may be more accurately said, then, is that Zen is one of several orientations of mind which holds in common many of the valued precepts of haiku. When two bodies of knowledge overlap to a great extent, it is perhaps inevitable that analogies be made about their separate practices.

Suzuki be conflated, and even seen by some as identical. Does it need to have been for us to appreciate his achievement in this poem? And because of this experience of timelessness, we do not conceive of things happening during such a realization in the past or future, but only in an eternal present. The practical effect of such a sensation is that we write haiku in the present tense. This is more than simply an affectation or aesthetic decision: It has the further effect of allowing the reader to enter more directly into the poem: Consider how differently we feel about this poem: Another effect of locating haiku in the present is that this provides every poem with a sense of endlessness-it is the psychological truth that, given literary form, we can experience only the present moment.

Any memory or dreams I can imagine, can only happen right now. Since this is true, it is true, too, that dreams and memories have a place in haiku. The present is the time of poetic truth, the time of the possibility of sharing, and the time of haiku. So, finally, what is the content of haiku? Haiku are about all the things we encounter in the world each day, and what they tell us about the world, and ourselves.

They contain some reference to nature, but nature in the broadest sense. And they are about the present moment, the moment in which we are capable of experiencing new revelations. But there are some things which do not constitute haiku content: These are the greatest dangers to writing good haiku, the urge to interpret, to think logically, to draw conclusions: It takes faith to let the images of our moment stand on their own, and to let the reader come to these images and intuit his own understanding. But this is exactly what we must do.

Because, at the last resort, it is not the content of haiku which is essential to us: And so we must not interfere with the things which allow us this growth. In the end, we are best advised to let things speak for themselves, and they will speak well for us. Haiku are always about relationship. Sometimes this relationship is obvious, sometimes implied, but haiku always are positing image against image, and allowing the energy contained in these images, and in the way we phrase them, to charge the whole of the poem.

We might consider the images to be the two poles of an electrical element, like a Tesla coil, and the relationship between them to be the spark which shoots the gap. The more powerful, clear and certain the choice of images, the brighter and surer the spark, the more easily seen and shared. And the stronger the spark, the more likely we will find secondary sparks as well, which in haiku we term resonance. Our goal in haiku is to find the correct images to serve as poles, and to allow the energy in the things themselves, the images and the language, to provide the spark inherent in them.

What should be the order of things? How do we make the things speak with each other, to create the gap? How do we charge the language to make the energy contained shoot that gap? How do we balance the whole of the poem to maintain the same relative feel as the experience? In this section, we will consider the many ways in which the materials of haiku may be handled to best recreate the experience we have felt, so that we might communicate it as best as it might be.

Let it tell you if it is a haiku, or some other form, or something inexpressible. If, after having allowed the moment to resonate in you, you find that it seems to demand a haiku treatment, then considerations of technique come into play. It is best to begin by taking our moment of insight very seriously, and literally.

Where were you at the time? How did this play a role in your coming to your insight? Who or what were the elements that insinuated themselves into your moment? Why is this understanding new to you — how is it different than the understanding you had just before the experience? A good rule of thumb is to present the moment exactly as it has come to you. Most often, an exact recreation of this order proves to be most effective in communicating the poem to others. In general, there are three different kinds of haiku we will encounter and write: Usually the context of the poem provides basic material necessary for the reader to visualize and comprehend the range of possibilities which the poem is presenting.

In fact, it is just this expected range of possibilities which the poet is exploiting. If the poet provides, by way of context, this: If we saw into the lives of all things all the time, then haiku would not be possible; or rather, we would live a life of haiku, and never notice. Our lives of mundane perception, with their relative impoverishment of revelation, make haiku notable and prized. In the majority of haiku, two images are presented to the reader.

This is in order to create the poles of the coil we have suggested earlier, and permits the sparking across the gap. Occasionally three or more images are encountered, but this creates a very complex moment which our minds may have difficulty ordering, or understanding. Haiku of context and action are just what they sound like: The first of these is a very clever poem. So it is charged with energy, and humor, a very fine combination. It is doubtful that many readers immediately identify the place as Mount Rushmore. But once the action is expressed, all is clear: In the second example, we are given a seasonal context first.

Only later do we recognize that we are inside a house, occupied with the mundane, and it is a further surprise that even the light which makes this homely task possible is provided artificially — a tribute to the dark powers of winter, neatly sustained by the poet until the very end of the poem. In the third example, the exact technique is used. The context begins as an interior space, as expressed by pregnant. Very occasionally, a haiku which contains only a single image still seems to contain sufficient interest to find lasting resonance in us.

Consider this famous poem by Buson: In haiku such as this, there is the first, strong image of peony petals having fallen. But haiku are always about relationship, as we have stated: In this instance, as in the other instances where we find a single image sufficient, it is the unstated but implied context which serves as the point of comparison. It is easy to imagine that we are in a garden, a garden which contains other peonies. Or else we are in a living room, and the peony in this case has been cut.

This peony is seen in the context of other peonies in the garden, whole as yet; but more, it is seen against all peonies, and our very image of peonies. One of the reasons such a treatment is rare is because the poet must create the whole of the sense of context out of the image in question. It is only an occasional image powerful enough to sustain the whole of this responsibility.

Imagine, for instance, that Buson had written: In this case, the context serves to limit the expressive range of the image chosen. The other type of haiku we encounter is haiku of juxtaposition. In these, two images not obviously related by context or action are paired. The energy which results from the pairing is the measure of its success. These haiku range from the hermetic: In the first example, it might not be readily apparent how a lump in the breast is related to frying eggs. It may be possible to explain this relationship, but explanation is the death of haiku: It is essential that the images speak clearly for themselves, and not require this sort of intellective discursion to be understood.

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In this poem, what may not be apparent at first gradually comes into focus, and the resonance of the poem is all the greater for the delay in coming to experience the moment. This is, in some ways, similar to the difficulties which haiku face when they are translated from one language or culture to another. What is apparent to one reader might be completely lost upon another. Poetry in general, and haiku in particular, are especially fragile in the fashion, and many do not travel well. In the second instance, however, the moments chosen seem less cryptic: We can find, once the poet has placed them before us, a relationship between music of the distant past and the gathering of color from the steeping tea, and this relationship deepens with subsequent readings.

Haiku of juxtaposition are riskier than haiku of context and action: They are more dependent upon cultural cues and understandings for their meaning. But just as the risk is greater, so, too, can be the reward. Many of the very best haiku in any time are haiku of juxtaposition, a proportion higher than would be expected given the relative scarcity of them. But they are to be approached carefully, with full awareness that when they fail, they fail utterly.


Haiku is not about language, but experience. The nature of this experience may be such that it defies language, that it informs us wordlessly, or at least before we try to fit words to it. It has a language of its own, an emotive and sensuous language, and there is no very good correspondence between it and the spoken and written languages of the world. This is true of the private experience of a moment of revelation, but it is not true of the shared experience of haiku. All haiku is, in this sense, translation. Poetry, on the other hand, is about language, and we have said that poetry is the ultimate standard for haiku.

So it is a measure of how we succeed with language that will determine how well we are seen to be successful with haiku. Chances are good that you would not be reading a book on how to write haiku if the private experience was sufficient to you. Haiku is one way to share some of our deepest moments, perhaps even our wordless moments, in the most immediate fashion possible.

The way this is achieved is, as we have mentioned, to be as direct as possible in our treatment of the images and syntax of the words we use to convey our moment. In other words, it is the language which creates content. It is easy to forget that the moment is not the words, but that the words are only pointing to something beyond themselves. Getting the words right is essential to helping others get the experience right. In this chapter we will spend some time considering what it might mean to get the words right, and how we might try to achieve this.

Haiku is the poetry of the real. That is, it is the poetry which seeks to convey as clearly as possible the actual events of an experience so that the reader may come to find the same experience in himself, and therefore share the insight which the experience prompted. Anything which diverts the reader from that moment works against the purpose of the poem.

So it follows that the language in haiku should be chosen with an eye toward making the expression of the experience, the haiku moment, as clear as it possibly can be. As a result, haiku employs a diction which is often very different from other western forms of poetry. In fact, it is not far wrong to suggest that haiku is poetry written without what many people consider to be poetic language.

However, there is a tradition of poetry in the West, beginning with the Imagists and carrying through William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost, up to the present with Ted Kooner and Alice Notley and many others, which advocates similar qualities of diction. Pound said it this way: All language carries its packet of energy, and all writers seek to encapsulate as much of this energy as possible into their work. It is the ability of certain combinations of words to maintain their energy over time that gives a poem durability.

Take, as an example, the following collection: As a list, nothing special. But arrange it so: It holds weight beyond the assemblage of its constituent words. The words come together in a specific pattern which holds the energy in. We may liken it to a knot. If the knot is untied-that is, if we take the words out of their order, as in the list above-the energy drains away. There are thousands of such knots into which we pour our truths, our lies, our culture, and which we recognize as retaining some portion of the original energy which forged them.

What these phrases have in common is worth noting: Phanopoeia-Pound again-meaning the throwing of the image on to the visual imagination. Certainly these phrases cannot be divorced from their context for their full significance, but even apart they convey some of the weight of the larger works in which they appear: Haiku strive for similar knottings of language.

They do not seek to poeticize, which is to enhance or alter an object or event. Instead, they seek this same phanopeoia. A rose is a rose is a rose in haiku-it may also be a symbol of love, or beauty, or decay, or the royal houses of England, but first and foremost it must be a rose, with all that a real rose brings with it-thorn and petal, scent and color, earth and rain and sun. Here we have nouns-a rose, a [summer] evening-and an action-deepening [as in the fading of light].

Haiku is a poetry of nouns-things-and not just things, but the essence of things, and the unexpected but imminent consequences of those essences. A haiku is the essential sketch of a single moment. But more than this, it practically is a moment. This is not to underestimate its significance: But it is fitting that the form of haiku imitate its duration: And so the intent is not to be exhaustive, but to offer sufficient information that the reader might imagine the moment for himself, and in so doing, share the insight of the poet.

A haiku, then, is a joint creation between the poet who offers the situation in sufficiency, and the reader who imaginatively recreates the moment. This is an important aspect of all poetry, but never more important than in haiku. As a result, the haiku poet is compelled to use his few words as a good artist sketches with a minimum of strokes.

What results is a clarity of expression, and a compression of language-only the words needed to convey the moment, nothing more: Another way in which compression is achieved is through the avoidance of self-reference in haiku. This may be reflective of the scarcity of use of the first person pronoun in the Japanese language, but even in English it makes good sense, not only in tightening the poem, but also broadening its meaning and impact. This is not simply a philosophical point: The poem opens up when the personal reference is removed, and the reader as a result may enter more directly into the experience himself.

There are times when self-reference is important to a haiku, as when the poet uses his presence in an objective way to humanize a moment. But in most cases where such reference is reflex, this extra element which the reader must consider is best discarded. Yet another way in which compression of language has been achieved has been through the use of keywords, notably season words, as we have mentioned in the chapter on content.

Keywords function as a kind of shorthand, giving us important cues about the environment in which the haiku moment took place, and invoking directly our sensory response to them. We can hardly read a haiku such as. We need not write all this directly into the poem, since it is all implicit. Brevity is also achieved as a matter of style. Writing with concision, but also with an eye and ear toward the rhythm and music of the phrase, contributes to a smoothness which permits a poem to flow more readily and occupy less time. Brevity is not always achieved simply by reduction, but sometimes by the quality of the elements included.

See how this 5 — 7 — 5 haiku reads more quickly and lightly than many much shorter poems: Finally, haiku are kept brief syntactically-that is, by eliminating words and usage that might otherwise turn them into complete sentences. What constitutes completeness in a grammatical structure is not the same as what constitutes completeness of comprehension. In many cases we may remove most articles, some or all punctuation, the occasional preposition of a poem without destroying its meaning.

Be careful, though, not to chop away so much that your language becomes stilted, especially by removing articles and adjectives that are essential to a naturalness of phrasing and a clarity of image. What we seek is the same as the sculptor seeks: The very best haiku are so contrived that to subtract anything more would be to begin to lose meaning.

Paradoxically, anything more added would have the same effect. When we seek the essence of things, and let these things speak for themselves, we discover the power inherent in the naming process. English is particularly rich in specific nouns, and this gives us great potential for our haiku. Each bird differs from every other bird, each tree varies from all other trees, and each carries within it its own habits, context, understandings. To name is to conjure whole. Consider for a moment how indistinct we can be using apparently clear English.

In fact, this last is a terrific first or last line for a haiku provided it corresponds somehow with your moment: Of course, while this specificity is a powerful tool, it can also be a misleading one. It is not always in the best interest of the poem, or its poetic truth, that such a specified image be employed, and when it is beside the point, it can actually clutter up the mind with details that are not important to realizing the moment. It is critical that the poet know what it is he is trying to achieve, and use the appropriate tool.

What is given up is a precision wholly outside the needs of the moment, or the moment recollecting it, and what is gained is the immediacy needed for the moment to be shared. Besides words that are technically specific, such as species names, it is important to use words that are appropriate to the action or meaning of a haiku, especially when such action is critical to the precise way in which a moment comes about.

Here, cushaw is exactly right-to try to get by with a synonym would diminish the power of the poem. Notice the difference in power, tone and impact selecting the precise word has made. Sometimes choosing precisely will mean that you must opt for a word that is less common. There is a temptation at times to settle for a simpler but less evocative or exact word.

This is, however, a mistake: If your work is sufficiently interesting, the reader will look up the unfamiliar word. The haiku are, as the poet says, modified, in that they are not traditional haiku numbered syllables. But none the less, they have the feeling and flavor of "real" haiku. I used to read a lot of haiku as a young teenager and wrote a few. Now I wrote longer rhymed poems. Although my theological views may differ in some significant ways from the author, I greatly admire his piercing, targeted and minimalist descriptions of the current world's hellishness, faults, pains and evils.

Universal, true and needs to be said. I hope that people read these descriptions of the world's evils and wrongs; and although very concise, paint detailed pictures in the mind. I highly recommend this small book of haiku to anyone, of any faith or none. Some of the verses clearly describe the coming of God according to various Christian eschatology beliefs, and even if a person such as I do hold differing views, that really doesn't make these poems any less readable or valuable.

The joy of experiencing the presence of God is described very beautifully, with depth, His presence may be felt and experienced in many ways, and the author's descriptions are full of life. I hope the author writes more books of haiku. One person found this helpful. There was a problem loading comments right now. For me, the tipping point in reading each poem occurred at the 78th containing, ' The work is striking for a number of reasons; for instance, increasingly dark times are described, also, noble and kind motives are exemplified and encouraged.

Actual calamities are examined for underlying causes. Distractions and deflections are exposed, and characters, both great and small, are painted with plain colors. Shinji Ogawa points out that by the time of Chikamatsu Monzaemon the negative meaning of shidara was well established. An allusion to New Year's libations The master account book is kept in the store. It was the custom in Edo period for people to buy daily necessities on credit and pay off the debt at the end of the year. Issa obviously has not paid his last year's debt, so he is obliged to pay in cash for the sake to celebrate the New Year.

We can picture the delivery boy writing down 'paid in cash' in the handbook. A New Year's offering to the departed pet, left by a child or, perhaps, Issa? Here, it seems to refer to one face of the paper lantern. Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan This undated haiku is almost identical to one written in , which ends with the phrase, ake no haru "first of spring".

Shinji Ogawa has pointed out to me that kusa no to is not to be read literally as "grass door," but figuratively as "my hut. Spring's first dawn is New Year's morning. Since the haiku is undated, we have no way of knowing exactly how long Issa had been absent from his home in Kashiwabara village when he wrote this.

Shinji Ogawa notes that he had been away for so long, he must have had many things on his mind, myriad thoughts and memories whirling within--summed up cryptically by the single word, "amazing" fushigi. In he writes a similar haiku: The haiku has the prescript, "After fifty years' absence, returning to my native village. Shinji Ogawa explains that the phrase hirou kami "the god who picks you up" is part of a longer expression: This is a rewrite of a haiku of In yet another revision, Issa begins with chiri no mi wo "even for this body of dust".

According to the Shingon sect, Miroku Bodhisattva will become a Buddha far in the future, to save all beings who cannot achieve enlightenment. Shinji Ogawa explains that the phrase, nesoberu hodo wa , means "as much as a lying down person. This haiku has the prescript, "In a picture of Mount Fuji. Shinji Ogawa explains that chiyo no tameshi can be translated as "old precedent. As he did not see much smoke, he released the people from the tax for three years. As a result, the court decayed but the country was filled with smoke. Of course, the smoke was cooking smoke. Originally, I translated the last phrase, "little faces," since Issa writes, literally, "bean-sized faces" mamena kao.

Shinji Ogawa informed me that mame signifies "healthy" when it is used as an adjective. He adds that "bean-sized face is, however, not totally impossible but less likely. This haiku has the prescript, "First Day. This haiku has the prescript, "On a journey. Tomorrow I'll be still on a journey. Issa says that the smoke forms or creates the sky, an extremely creative statement. Perhaps he feels that the sky isn't complete without smoke rising languidly into it. A comic haiku about a leaking roof. Tan to is an old expression that means takusan "a lot" ; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan This haiku refers to the New Year's custom of visiting a shrine or temple located in a lucky direction.

Issa wrote two other versions of this haiku, both dated In one, he begins with oku saga ya "deep in Saga" ; in the other, he begins with hata heri ya "edge of a field". This haiku refers to a custom at a certain Buddhist temple in Kyoto. On the first Day of the Tiger of each year, pilgrims could purchase the temple's famous flint stones by lowering a basket with their money into a hole. Unseen monks below would then exchange the stones for the money.

Shinji Ogawa notes that the hiragana symbols make should be pronounced mage: The blossoms are falling onto someone's hair. The moon is a "three-day moon" Though it is a religious day of fasting sainichi in the New Year's season, there are noisy, boisterous blossom-viewing parties at Ueno. Shinji Ogawa notes that this haiku can be read two ways: After New Year's First Month, 16th Day , servants in the cities were given time off to return to their native villages and families.

The dances in question are sacred Shinto dances kagura. The servant in this haiku arrives home a day late. An earlier version of this haiku, dated , ends with the phrase, yama kagura "Shinto dances on the mountain". In an earlier version of this haiku, dated , Issa ends with ume no hana "plum blossoms".

Shian-bashi, literally translated, is "Meditation Bridge. Meditation Bridge A note on yabuiri: Japanese is highly metaphorical, very flexible. Literally, yabu-iri means "going into the thicket," but "thicket" is a metaphor for leaving the big city, going into the "sticks"--the remote home village somewhere in the trees. In some of Issa's haiku another layer of metaphor is added: Pulling up a young pine tree on the first day of the Year of the Rat is a custom that originated in China.

Shinji Ogawa explains that its purpose was to bring good luck or longevity. This is similar to a haiku of that ends with the phrase, ogamu nari "he says a prayer". Shinji notes that the humor of this haiku lies in the fact that people want to watch the ceremonial pine pulling, but at the same time the pine puller wants to watch the people Here, someone sleeps through the celebration. Gabi Greve notes that "Hakama is an outer garment worn over the kimono that is either split between the legs like pants or non-split like a skirt.

Hakama pants originated as an outer garment to protect samurai warriors' legs from brush when riding a horse. Today, the hakama is worn as formal attire for ceremonies, traditional Japanese dance, artists and martial arts. This haiku refers to the New Year's pine-and-bamboo decoration. The animal in question is a Japanese serow, a goatlike antelope that lives deep in the mountains.

The verb harau is being used in its sense of "to prune" as in eda wo harau "prune a branch". The - inu ending forms the perfect tense "has pruned". Shime refers to ceremonial ropes with tufts of straw. This haiku has the prescript, "Traveling alone. For this reason, I translate mame sokusai as "in good health. Sokusai is a word with special resonance for Buddhists, signifying a sense of tranquility in the knowledge that the merits of Buddhism can overcome the misfortunes of this world; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan Issa ends an version of this haiku with the phrase, "dawn of spring" kesa no haru.

The "my" doesn't appear in the original, but the dilapidated structure is certainly Issa's--based on countless similar allusions to the poet's home. This undated haiku is similar to one written in This undated haiku is a revision of one written in New Year's gift of tea-- where did you go on your journey back to me? Normally, I avoid rhyme in haiku, but the rhyme in this translation "just happened," so I've left it in. A haiku about regifting. Shinji Ogawa notes, "It is a Japanese custom to write with a writing brush on the second day of the year.

This haiku refers to the year's first calligraphy. But instead of using a brush, the child draws a character on a larger scale--most likely in snow. Shinji Ogawa, who helped with this translation, notes, "It is a Japanese custom to write with a writing brush on the second day of the year. This haiku refers to the first water boiled on New Year's Day waka yu.

Issa honors this ritual even on his secluded mountain. Shinji Ogawa explains that Issa is punning in this haiku. The final phrase, tsumi hajime not only denotes "first sin" but suggests that the poet is "pinching" the lice, after his bath. According to Shinran, the founder of this most popular of Japanese sects to which Issa belonged, sin including louse murder is inevitable in this fallen world and age. Akambe or akanbe or akanbee , which literally means to turn one's eyelids inside out.

It denotes making a face at someone: Ocha-no-mizu, a section of Edo today's Tokyo literally means, "tea water. Flying kites is a New Year's activity for boys; this particular one has spent all of his energy in the excitement of the day, and now sleeps, hugging his beloved kite. The haiku paints a picture of pure, trusting love--the love of a child for a toy.

The image has much to teach adult readers, if they open themselves to it. A lion puppet play shishimai is a popular New Year's entertainment. This haiku refers to a special tooth-hardening meal eaten in the New Year's season. The cat, with better and harder teeth, seems to be laughing at poor Issa. Kaki can be translated as "fence" or "hedge. Shinji notes, "In spring, even a mountain monk becomes a Peeping Tom.

It's a long day of springtime. Mugi is a generic term that refers to several grains: Shinji Ogawa helped with this translation. The mai-mai is also called a "water spinner. Shinano Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1. In this self-ironic portrait Issa suggests that he is so ragtag and beggarly-looking, the used clothes merchant looks past him, confident that he has nothing worth buying. Originally, I translated furugigai as "old clothes seller," but Sakuo Nakamura suggests that "buyer" fits better here: This is a rewrite of an haiku; in the original the crow was a "field crow" no-garasu.

Tabira yuki is an old expression that connotes a light, flitting snow; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan Winter was long in Issa's snowy, mountainous province. This haiku has the prescript: Shinji Ogawa notes that aioi means "growing up together" and "growing old together," and so this word is often used in wedding speeches.

Shinji Ogawa notes that there is a mountain called Matchi, but "Mount Matchi" matchi yama is also a pillow word conventional poetic expression for "waiting. This is a rewrite of an earlier haiku of In another version it focuses on a "Buddha of the thicket" yabu no hotoke. Shinji Ogawa assisted with this translation. In his original verison of this haiku , Issa pictures "a little servant girl" tomo no musume. Issa is referring to the great Shinto shrine at Ise. Shinji Ogawa helped me to understand Issa's meaning. Literally, the poet has Ise Shrine under his umbrella-hat; actually, this is a lucky charm which he purchased at Ise Shrine.

Shinji Ogawa notes that hitotsuba is the name of a weed: As it rises in the sky, the moon passes through the branches of the pine. The season word in this haiku, oboro , refers to spring haze. Sakuo Nakamura pictures the setting in high country, where Issa lived. There, "the hazy moon is rising up at our eye level; the tree is slender, and the moon can be seen through the young leaves. In Japanese folklore the fox is a powerful spirit. A wonderful portrait of the poet's life and, by extention, the life of all human beings. There are two definitions for sotoba: Sakuo Nakamura and Gabi Greve believe that Issa has the second meaning in mind when he uses this term.

Because of the mist, their hand gestures and their bowing heads are hard to see. As one walks away from the other, his shape soon is swallowed by the mist, and is seen no more.


In my first translation, I read the nu in kakurenu as a negative: In an earlier haiku the subject is a mother bird: Shinji Ogawa offers this wonderful translation: Take my snow too into your flow A shakushi is a sort of serving spoon or ladle for rice or soup; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan In this wonderful haiku Issa prompts his readers to imagine a brood of puppies following behind while their mother tests the depth of the cold, rushing water.

This simple scene is imbued with a feeling of protective love, reminding us that this emotion is not an exclusively human trait. Issa is referring to the spring equinox. Kakine can be translated as "fence" or "hedge. In springtime, old servants were replaced by young ones. The old ones would leave their employers to return to their home villages; the young ones traveled in the opposite direction.

In earlier times this took place during the Second Month; later, the Third Month. The old servant, with his sixty-year old face, finally returns to his home village after many, many years. Nagure is the same as nagori "vestiges," "remains" ; see Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan The crows at low tide are doing the same thing as their human counterparts: A few linger behind in trees and field. In an earlier version of this haiku, the burnt field was the playground of "children" kodomora.

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The crane and tortoise, emblems of longevity, contrast pointedly with the transience of the field's grass that has gone up in smoke. While Issa plants the pine, he wonders who will stand under its shade, one day, when it reaches maturity. This haiku was written in It is a rewrite of a haiku of , in which the cat returns from his amorous adventures with an "I'm not talking face" nakanu kao shite.

In a similar haiku of the cat licks his chops while "escaping" nigeru. In that poem, it would seem that the food that makes him lick his lips has been stolen. Or has the cat in this haiku found another person willing to feed him? Gill points out that pokkiri in the Edo era connoted "the sound made when a hard thing breaks. The original version starts with the phrase, "nestling" su no tori ya. In an earlier version of this haiku , Issa begins with "the black kite" tobi. The "unlucky direction" kimon is the northeast.

A rice gourd, according to Shinji Ogawa, can be the size of a basketball. In a haiku written in Issa has a bat chirping in the gourd. Note the fun alliteration of the middle phrase, "naka de naku nari. This haiku is a rewrite of one that Issa composed in He ends the original version with "little gambling shack" bakuchi goya. The verb nukaru in Issa's time meant to commit a careless blunder; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan Issa uses its negative form nukuranu to modify the bird's face: The Lotus Sutra is one of Mahayana Buddhism's most popular texts.

Issa imagines that the bird is chirping passages of it, intimating that birdsong, to Issa, is natural prayer. This is an undated revision of a haiku written in In the original poem, the bird poops. In an earlier version of this haiku, written in , Issa ends with inaka kana: Usually pronounced made , mate signifies "both hands"; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan According to Shinji Ogawa, there is an old Japanese phrase, te ga mawaru "hands are circulated" or "hands are in circulation".

This means that a thief is being pursued; that police are "closing in. Ironically, they "besiege the police quarter. I picture a nightingale landing on a hanging bucket that starts rocking wildly up and down: The bird bathes in the font that holds water for hand-washing purification at a shrine. Issa is referring to Matsushima, the famous sightseeing resort consisting of many tiny pine islands. While the Japanese reader will instantly get a mental picture from the proper name, Matsushima, the English reader may or may not.

For this reason I have translated the name literally as "pine island. Originally, I had the radishes "becoming flowers," but Shinji Ogawa points out that radishes, being roots, do not themselves bloom. This haiku is a rewrite. There are two types of usu or mill: The cake maker pounds the ingredients with a wooden mallet. The second definition fits here. Though nobi-agari literally means "on tiptoe," a secondary meaning is "arrogantly.

Chiyo no matsu signifies "a thousand year-pine. Shinji Ogawa sees the pheasant's cry as its protest. Issa is saying, "How do you feel when strangers peep into your house? An amadare is an eavesdrop, where water falls from a roof's overhang. This is a spring haiku; the wild geese are leaving Japan i. In an earlier version of this haiku, composed in , the lone goose is "plodding along" tobo-tobo. The poet admires the disciplined, hard-traveling geese. This haiku is a revision of one written in , in which the geese or goose appears at Issa's gate.

The ordinary frogs, perhaps Issa's, must pay respect to the frogs of high birth. When it comes to this type of humor, Issa towers above the rest. A kotate also pronounced kodate is a type of shield; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan The frog appears comically as a flesh-taming arhat. Shinji Ogawa glosses jikunande as an expression meaning "for self-discipline": In an haiku Issa uses jikunande to describe a frog moving through a thorn bush. This undated haiku resembles one that Issa wrote in Shinano Mainichi Shimbunsha, 2.

Field Notes 2: What can haiku poets learn from other forms of poetry?

This undated haiku is a rewrite of one that Issa composed in The original version begins with "weak tea" cha no awa. This undated haiku is a slight rewrite of one that Issa composed in This haiku has the prescript, "A little girl was serving as my guide on a mountain road, when a capricious rain suddenly fell.

However, the haiku is just as tender if we imagine a real butterfly. Here, it serves as a cradle; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan In a related haiku written in , Issa sees "creeping through" the crotch of a plowman. Leslie Anderson writes, "The child symbolizes the human position, and the butterfly symbolizes transformation or improvement.

Issa ingeniously relays that it is a natural instinct for human beings to desire or seek greater dreams. Perhaps, in the eyes of Issa, such dreams may have included rebirth. Although the butterfly dreams may seem beyond reach, the child humans does not crawl forever. The child crawling and chasing the butterfly represents everyone chasing the hope of reaching Enlightenment.

Issa presents a little motion picture: Undaunted, the baby crawls again toward its new, colorful friend, who, once again, flits away. It is customary when entering the alcove of a Japanese house to give a formal salutation to the people within. The butterfly, of course, ignores human etiquette. The butterfly seems "down" gakkuri shita because its day of cavorting is over. In the original, the butterfly toils "from morning" asa kara. To complete the idiom in English, "to dusk" has been added. Bridget Dole comments, "I am reminded of something I read about the raising of silkworms and how the families with silkworms in their attics were very careful of the silkworms' moods.

They were careful not to make loud noises, display discord, etc. If a silkworm stops spinning, it may not have enough silk left to make another cocoon. Anyway, I'm just wondering if toraruru could be translated to indicate the catering of the people to the silkworms. They are soothed by the whole family silkworms In a hasty manner they are soothed silkworms He comments, "It is Issa's humor to show the odd combination of the hasty manner and the soothing. Nevertheless, Issa's sketch is accurate and skillful.

It is a hasty manner because the farmers are so busy; the soothing is half-hearted only because it is the custom. Shinji Ogawa comments, "This is Issa's domain.

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This haiku has the prescript, "Hell. This haiku is poem 1 of a six-poem series on the Six Ways. The present haiku appears only in the later, version. Shinji Ogawa believes that the "singing" is the sound of the snails spitting water. Debi Bender theorizes that Issa is hearing the hissing of the shells, "making a noise, something like air escaping a tea-kettle, only not as loud.

He explains, "To distinguish the evening moon from the night moon is rather important for the fate of the pond snails. The kettle may have been prepared for tonight, and the pond snails may not have tomorrow. But, the pond sails are singing. This seemingly tranquil scene well deserves to be described as Hell. Issa, in his well-disciplined way, keeping it low key, using plain everyday words and common settings without any adjective, without a drop of blood, describes Hell.

Hell is not a matter of the next world, but here. It is a reality in which we must kill others in order to survive. Worse, we may call it a feast. As they are grilled or boiled, they steam in the shells and the loss of moisture causes their bodies to shrink and steam escapes through the edges of the seal causing a shrill whistling noise like a high-pitched scream.

It isn't something you are likely to forget and also, the haiku is definitely regional, Issa was from my side of Japan and had a lot of experiences out of the norm of Edo, which may be why he didn't include it in the final Kabuban. The whelks are done when the button-like seal pops out and the shrieking stops. I also think he was playing with onomatopoeia here as my translation would be a little different: Snails shriek in the ringing kettle neither knows the other The scene is on the outskirts zai of Kamakura; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan The word "meet" doesn't appear in Issa's orginal text, but this seems to be his implication.

The hungry wild geese and sea gulls are feasting on the clams. Komachi is a beauty or a belle. In a haiku of , the print is left in fallen blossoms: Bunmi Abraham writes, "Literally, he is comparing grass to blossoms, but symbolically the grass represents the ordinary people, and the cherry blossoms represent the rich nobles. Even though the nobility are important and rich, ordinary people are just as important. Blyth identifies the blooming grass in this haiku as "primroses," which he calls the people's flower, contrasting with the noble cherry blossoms; A History of Haiku Tokyo: This is an early haiku written in the s.

Mustard also called rape and canola is a bright yellow flowering oil seed plant. In Issa's time, shimo yashiki denoted a shed located on the premises of a daimyo's residence in the suburbs of Edo. See Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan More than a beautiful postcard of color and perspective, this haiku has religious resonance. Since the Buddha's Pure Land was thought to lie somewhere in the mythic west, the direction alluded to in this haiku is significant. Shinji Ogawa adds, "A rape plant blooms bright yellow flowers in spring in Japan.

The seeds are used to make cooking oil. It is rather a common sight in spring that the bright yellow flowers cover the farmland as far as the eye can reach. Obviously, Issa was well aware of Buson's famous haiku, na no hana ya tsuki wa higashi hi wa nishi ni , that is, 'Flowering rape My translation changes the focus of this haiku.

Drunkard This correctly presents the haiku's "leading actor," but passive voice is less forceful than active voice in English, especially in English poetry. Complicating matters further, Issa ends with the verb, not with the drunkard. Drunkard is yanked out This translation is the most faithful to Issa's grammatical emphasis and poetic structure, but not very natural-sounding. Hongan Temple is named after the "Original Vow" hongan of Amida Buddha, who promised to rescue all who relied on his liberating power.

What else is opening in this haiku, suggested by the word "too" mo? The doors of the temple? Shinji Ogawa explains that haru no hi in this context means "the spring sun," not "the spring day. A revision of an haiku that begins, "plum blossom scent" ume ga ka ya. One of the old meanings of anakashiko is to express fear or fright, and so I originally thought that the children were pretending to be scared. However, as Shinji Ogawa points out, this word can also refer to feeling great reverence or awe for a person; hence, in old-style letters, it is used as an expression equivalent to "yours truly.

The normally boisterous children lower their voices reverently in the divine presence of the blossoms. There is no such doll showing him riding a dog. The change from bear to dog reflects Issa's sense of humor. He wrote a similar haiku in about another legendary boy-hero: Shinji Ogawa helped me to see that heri refers to "porch," not to the "edge" of the plum blossoms. The original version of this haiku has a different ordering of images: This undated haiku is a revision of one that Issa composed in In the original poem, the horse "flashes bright!

This haiku was written some time between and Specifically, the doll is made of crepe chirimen. Gabi Greve suggests that Issa may be referring to the migawari-zaru of Naramachi: In the old section of Nara, she notes, there's a special custom of hanging out a small red monkey to ward off evil.

The food is an offering left for the fox--a powerful spirit that, if not placated, could possess people. The tree is located in the unlucky quarter the northeast , yet it blooms. Shinji Ogawa helped me to understand the syntax of this haiku. He offers his own translation: Plum in full bloom No house in the world without sake. He observes, "The haiku depicts a humorous scene of a branch of beautiful plum in bloom and the inconvenience. I think the gate must be Issa's, otherwise the value of the haiku may be greatly reduced. In another haiku with the same opening lines, Issa provides the prescript, "A song for playing ball.

Sakuo Nakamura notes that the famous amusement center of Shitaya ward is located north of Asakusa, between Asakusa and Edo castle. He believes that it was a residential block in Edo today's Tokyo. At first, I assumed that the plum blossom thief could be Issa, but Robin D. Gill notes that the grammar indicates that Issa is returning the fan to the thief. This haiku has the prescript, "Picture of Great Master Dharma. Shinji Ogawa explains that the expression, he to mo omowanu consider it less than a fart is a Japanese colloquial expression for "don't care a bit about it.

The bird in this haiku must be a nightingale uguisu --a bird conventionally linked to plum blossoms. This is a revision of an haiku. This haiku is a revision of a poem of , in which the blossoms are scattering hana chiru ya. An image of Buddha that is normally locked inside a temple is being displayed outdoors. At the time, gamblers are allowed to play on the temple grounds, and so "Buddha on display" also connotes gambling.

Just as families stroll and picnic among the blooming cherry trees, Issa imagines that the big and small statues of Buddha are families too. Alastair Watson writes, "Yet again, Issa delivers a loaded verse: This is a revision of a haiku of , in which the middle phrase reads: Shinji Ogawa notes that maigo fuda has two meanings: In the case of this haiku, he suspects that the latter is the case. The old man may be suffering from Alzheimer's. This undated haiku is very similar to one written in This is an undated version of a haiku that Issa composed in An inmon is a paper charm or amulet sold at Buddhist temples; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan Pure Land Buddhists maintain that there are "Six Ways" of possible future life reincarnation: This haiku is poem 4 of a six-poem series on the Six Ways.

Issa thus poetically associates gamblers with angry demons. The present haiku appears only in the second, version. Issa begins the haiku with the word sasuga: He proposes that, "truly," the cherry blossoms fall to death without regret. This haiku has the prescript, "At Mokubo Temple. A honmaru normally refers to the inner citadel of a castle, where the lord of the castle lives; Kogo dai jiten Shogakukan Issa's haiku alludes to Kyorai's haiku: Shinji Ogawa notes that guai is difficult to translate. It means "a condition.

Ashley's Haiku

This undated haiku seems to be a revision of one that Issa wrote in In that version he ends with "mountain cherry blossoms" yama-zakura. Issa hears the clacking of someone's walking stick.