The ancient Japanese art is shunted aside or maligned for a variety of reasons, among them claims that it isn’t poetry because it’s too short, doesn’t rhyme, is restrictive or leaves little room to express. It’s not uncommon for these views to be expressed by those without even a precursory study of haiku, which amounts to viewpoints based on ignorance. I can’t have that.
Haiku is a subject of vast breadth and depth that fills volumes. A posting barely scratches the surface. My goal is to educate and perhaps cultivate some appreciation for this fine art.
Originating in Japan in the 16th century, haiku was birthed by poet Matsu Bashoo. Bashoo left the samurai world into which he was born after his master’s death. He became a Zen monk, studied classical poetry and Taoism, wandered the countryside while keeping journals.
Springboarding and departing from the conventional long linked poems called renga of the era, Bashoo sought to express beauty, nature, the mystical and the human heart in crystallized verse that morphed from its uniquely Japanese format into the 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllable pattern recognized by Westerners.
Haiku was never intended to rhyme. Haiku has always been about nature and emotion and resonating truths deeper than the words perceived by the eye. Genuine (traditional) haiku incorporates strong inferences or references to the seasons through evocative language and imagery.
An example by author Natsume Soseki:
Over the wintry forest
winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow
From the otosan (father) of haiku himself:
On my travels, stricken—
my dreams over the dry land
go on roving
and Bashoo’s famous frog verse (one of innumerable translations, translations being ever the challenge):
The ancient pond
A frog leaps in
The sound of the water
In the cicada’s cry
No sign can foretell
How soon it must die
Opinion that haiku is not poetry or too short or restrictive to be enjoyable will persist. Perhaps it’s for my Eastern sensibilities that I’m unable to echo that view or respond to haiku with anything but a resonating sensitive heart.
Mindfulness of its origins and intent and challenge inherent in the ancient art form is, for me, to appreciate the moment and human experience distilled into poetic conciseness and simplicity.
I close with a reverential and respectful bow to haiku and a nod to the Zen poet-monk who penned:
For a lovely bowl
Let us arrange these flowers
Since there is no rice