Won’t you come and see loneliness? Just one leaf from the kiri tree.

Haiku.

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

and:

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

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Doug
    Dec 06, 2010 @ 03:06:15

    Brevity, nature, transcendence. What’s not to love about it? I believe the five seven five is a compromise for the purpose of writing and translating into English, but I don’t find it restrictive at all. A good haiku must prune away extraneous images, develop contrast, and fix the reader/listener in a single moment. They are like photographs.

    The poems you chose are lovely.

    Reply

    • allycatadventures
      Dec 06, 2010 @ 12:03:17

      A haiku appreciator?! Welcome. 🙂 The 17 syllables sum is a Westernization of the 17 moras, in the 5-7-5 mora pattern, that form Japanese haiku. (Syllables aren’t the same as mora yet will suffice for Western purposes 🙂 ) You’re very right in your description, they are like photographs. Like bonsai, nature expressed in words pruned.

      To further the challenge, traditional haiku have two requirements, the kigo (“season”) word (self-explanatory) and the cutting word, kireji (“kiri” is cut), the latter itself being intricate and essentially serving to cut the flow of thought and provide closure. As noted, volumes have been written on the fine and, really, intricate art of haiku and easy to see why.

      I’m pleased you enjoyed the poetry and here for you in closing is another loveliness.
      Autumn moonlight —
      a worm digs silently
      into the chestnut.

      Reply

  2. Invictus
    Dec 06, 2010 @ 20:23:20

    Some segments of Western society do value haiku; although we didn’t spend a lot of time on it, I remember studying it in grad school, and it was no less appreciated than any of the other forms that follow specific rules (like, say, a sestina). I’ve always enjoyed it myself, especially once I got a little older and could appreciate the value of rules. Since ’tis winter, I offer one of my own humble efforts, from a bunch I wrote some time ago on the season:

    Crystalline vapor
    Puffs to mark the winter track
    A solstice passing

    Reply

    • allycatadventures
      Dec 09, 2010 @ 12:37:36

      @B – “Some segments of Western society do value haiku” — Oh for sure. I remember liking and writing haiku as a teen (or possibly preteen). I also displayed an affinity for bonsai, the Chinese scroll hanging in the dining room and eating with chopsticks so perhaps I was just weird. Your haiku is lovely.

      Reply

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