Celebrating National Poetry Month with a haiku or two…
Haiku masters can often say more in a handful of words than a novelist can say in three hundred. I was thinking about this on my morning walk as I photographed the neighborhood in bloom: a haiku is like the blooming season — short and full of possibilities. It’s a starting point for trains of thought and emotion. The following haiku by Kikaku is one of my favorites. It is considered Kikaku’s comment on human life.
“A tree frog, clinging
to a banana leaf–
and swinging, swinging.”
(I like this image and it works in a lot of situations. In low times simply clinging to the banana leaf can be difficult, but during high times it’s all about swinging and swinging — or dancing in the air!)
Speaking of dancing in the air…
Our dogwood tree is amazing. It’s huge and old and the arborist says it’s sickly and on its last legs. But, at least for this season, it’s doing okay. When our son was little he called it the bow-wow tree. When the bow-wow tree blooms we know it’s spring!
In nearly every haiku there is some word or expression that indicates the time of year. Here are a few favorites from Basho for spring:
new year; old rice,
(Basho kept a gourd container near the entrance to his house where his students could deposit their presents of rice.)
On the Road to Nara
“Oh, these spring days!
A nameless little mountain,
wrapped in morning haze!”
(Nara is a city of ancient temples, surrounded by famous mountains. For a lovely piece about this part of Japan, see Pico Iyer’s “Nara: Where Japan Began”)
“From what tree’s bloom
it comes, I do not know,
Last week there was something in the air that I did not recognize. The Japonica bushes are blooming, but their scent is not that sweet or strong, so the “perfume” had to be coming from a neighbor’s yard. I didn’t locate it in time and this week it’s gone. However, the sun has brought out the lilacs to sweeten the air.
My lilac bush started as a twig that came all the way from Kentucky more than 20 years ago in my mother’s suitcase on a United Airlines flight. It has adjusted quite well.
When I was growing up in Kentucky my friends and I played in a pine forest near my house. The spring woods were always filled with voices and the scent of pine. That image still sticks in my memory and Onitsura says it perfectly…
“How cool the breeze:
the sky is filled with voices–
pine and cedar trees.”
and another Basho…
“Here on the mountain pass,
somehow they draw one’s heart so —
violets in the grass.”
These violets did not spring up on a mountain pass but rather in my front yard. This year they are everywhere and I love them. I can’t imagine thinking of them as weeds!
Thousands of haiku have been written about cherry blossoms. The poet Buson wrote more than 2,000 poems; like the work of so many others, there are several about cherry blossoms.
with belated cherry blossoms
This year the cherry blossom watch in DC was changed daily and the “height of bloom” date kept being delayed because of the cold weather. Then, we suddenly had a couple of 90-degree days and they bloomed quickly and were gone. This week, however, the Kwansan cherries are blooming and I actually like those better. They have double pink flowers with a deeper, richer color.
Another poem about cherry-blossom time. This one from the poet Issa. *
“In my old home
which I forsook, the cherries
are in bloom.”
Do you recall the blooming things from the place(s) you grew up? I doubt that many people think about the trees they’re leaving behind when they leave home. We had a number of trees in our yard in Kentucky — a cherry that had branches in just the right spots for easy climbing, a pear tree that my dad ordered through the mail and never expected to bear fruit (it did eventually and still does), a weeping willow under which I felt perfectly hidden from the world, and a sweet gum tree with a rope swing where I sailed to the moon and beyond. Did you leave a yard full of trees behind someplace?
*Issa was one of the best-loved of the haiku poets. His work was not as difficult to understand nor as prophetic as Basho’s and he wasn’t considered as great a craftsman as Buson, but Issa was very human. He is said to have “opened his soul to us” in his writing.
Shiki, too, used haiku to record any genuine emotion, no matter how ephemeral or unimportant it might seem, and was criticized for publishing a good deal of second-rate work. Many also felt that his style was nearly impossible to retain in translation. The following are a few favorites for their universal appeal:
On a spring road —
“Backward I gaze;
one whom I had chanced to meet
is lost in haze.”
On how to spend a (perfect) spring day —
“A day of spring;
a hamlet where not anyone
is doing anything.”
On reading the Manyoshu (the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry) —
“And no one knows
who wrote it — this springtime
And one more from Shiki —
“A long-forgotten thing:
a pot where now a flower blooms —
this day of spring!”
“They blossom, and then
we gaze, and then the blooms
scatter, and then…”