What do you think?
Rate this book
544 pages, Paperback
First published March 29, 2016
the gods are invisible
they are believed in
me ni mienu / kami nareba koso / shinjirare
autumn wind –
for me there are no gods,
aki kaze ya / ware ni kami nashi / hotoke nashi
when at last
one longs to be filial
both parents are gone
kōkō no / shitai jibun ni / oya wa nashi
Author unnamed. In Yanagidaru 22 (1788). A deservedly proverbial verse.
Try as one might to live up to the Confucian ideal of respecting one’s parents, one can never fully appreciate something until having experienced it oneself. This poignant message is reinforced through subtle wordplay (sometimes with different graphs): at ‘the time of life’ (jibun) when one ‘oneself’ (jibun) becomes a parent and realizes how challenging it is to raise children, one has a newfound appreciation for one’s own parents, making one ‘desire’ (shitai) being ‘filial’ (kōkō), though it remains an ‘incurable condition’ (kōkō) that by then those parents may ‘not be around’ (nashi) much longer, and sometimes even are already lifeless ‘corpses’ (shitai).
stretched out to Sado Isle,
the River of Heaven
araumi ya / sado ni yokotau / amanogawa
Bashō. This acclaimed meditation on emotional turmoil, displacement, isolation and the hope of reunion, however fleeting, invokes the legend of those long-suffering lovers, the celestial stars Weaver Maid (orihime or Vega) and Oxherd Boy (hikoboshi or Altair), who are rejoined only one night each year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunisolar month.
Yet it also invokes the mystique of Sado Island (Sadogashima), notorious as a remote place of exile (located off the coast in the far north-eastern reaches of Japan’s mainland). [...]
The rhythm and sound of the vowels in the first line, ah-ah-oo-eh-ah, conjure up the choppiness and expansiveness of the Sea of Japan, infamous for its violent storms. Playing with the term amanogawa, literally ‘Heaven’s River’, Bashō has the Milky Way span these waters to Sado – except that instead of the grammatical ‘exist sideways’, he strikingly deploys the transitive verb yokotau, ‘be existed sideways’, implying that some force of creation has moved the very heavens.
cooling breeze –
the boundless sky filled with
suzukaze ya / kokū ni michite / matsu no koe
that gentle breeze
from the slumbering fan –
a mother’s love
utatane no / uchiwa no kaze ga / haha no on
Author unnamed. In Yanagidaru shūi 9 (c.1796–7).
that the loneliness
might be forgotten
takawarai / shite sabishisa o / wasureru ki
this world of dew ...
though a world of dew it remains,
still, even so ...
tsuyu no yo wa / tsuyu no yo nagara / sari nagara
Issa. In Oraga haru (Spring of My Life, 1819). A renowned verse on the death of his young daughter. The pointed repetition of nagara, ‘despite’, effectively unravels the meaning of this verse, suggesting the poet’s own unravelling. And the haunting repetition of tsuyu no yo, ‘world of dew’, suggesting that the poet cannot quite grasp the reality that has brought him to this point, begs pondering. Tsuyu, ‘dew’, has two not-unrelated sets of associations: first, an image of freshness, beauty and moisture associated with autumn – though, ironically, his daughter was in the springtime of her life and died on the day of the summer solstice; and second, a venerable symbol of Buddhist impermanence, as with a well-known line from the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra in Sanskrit; Kongōkyō in Japanese): ‘all conditioned things are like a dream, a phantom, a drop of dew, a lightning flash’. The sari, ‘thus’, in the verse’s final phrase sari nagara, ‘be that as it may’, has homonyms in ‘leaving’ (from saru) and in the desiccated ‘remains’ (also rendered shari) of a cremated corpse. Unpacked, the verse seems to be saying: ‘Intellectually, I understand the truth that this world is as impermanent as dew, but somehow that insight offers no consolation as I grieve over the charred remains of my beautiful-as-dew young daughter, whose death has shaken me to the core.’
old pond!There is also commentary and perspective offered, including a response verse from Shiki, but I will leave that for the reader to discover. The next section focuses on the orthodox and heterodox schools present as haiku grew in prominence. In this section, the author gives an interesting commentary on how one of the common concepts of senryu known as “the “floating world” is a direct humored reference (if not outright mockery) of the sorrowful “fleeting world” of Buddhism. Verse capping (maekuzuke) is the next subject that the introduction dedicates a section to. A style of "senryu competition" was for a judge to offer a challenge verse of 14 syllabets (maeku) that poets could anonymous submit responses to for a prize if the verse is selected.
a frog plunges into
(furuike ya / kawazu tobikomu /mizu no oto)
1. Senryu: overtly comic haikuThe final two sections of this introduction focus on women haiku poets and closing statements respectively. The author names some great women haiku poets that have been historically labeled as the "best woman haiku poets," but the author addresses that having to label these poets with there gender as a modifier is a backhanded compliment. After a few closing comments by Kern in the last section, we are finally done with the introduction and on to the haiku collection.
2. Bareku: dirty sexy haiku (not just sexual senryu)
3. Maekuzuke: haiku verse capping
4. Zappai: seasonless miscellaneous haiku
5. Hokku: opening stanzas to a sequence (the form that traditionalists follow the most)
6. Hiraku: non-opening stanzas within a sequence (uses similar cuts and seasons to hokku, so can be easily mistaken when no context to the placement within the sequence is given)