About the Haiku.

A Haiku should consist only of essential words, making a total of approximately seventeen (Japanese) syllables.It should be possible to place the haiku in one of the five seasons of the year (five because in Japan the New Year is a season in its own right).

A ‘cutting’ word, called a kireji, is also required. This may be placed at the end of any of the three lines. If it is at the end of the first or second lines, it acts  and a combination of lacuna and ligature, dividing the poem  into into two unequal halves, twelve and five syllables. Its use indicates to the reader a need for reflection or gives a certain mood.

If at the very end it indicates attitude obviously without creating a pause. It heightens the emotion by signalling the poet’s wonder and surprise at what he has just observed.

In Japan cherry blossoms are a favourite subject of paintings and poems, and are indeed a symbol to the Japanese people of the transitory delights of the ‘Floating world’, as they call life on earth. For cherry blossoms last only three days, and the Buddhist Japanese thinks of his own life as an equally brief flowering in an endless cycle of reincarnation and dissolution.

Because the haiku is a poem only seventeen syllables long, and is usually a brief poignant insight into the universality of this endless cycle.

The haiku is not intended to be a clear statement, they are fleeting responses or impressions which usually illuminate the poets awareness – and our own – of the identity of life on different planes. It is the Buddhist doctrine that all things and creatures in this world are temporary manifestations risen from the eternal, infinite ocean of life; and that everything, from a mountain peak to a cherry blossom is part of the universal and inter-related brotherhood of creation.

Flower symbolism.

  • Cherry blossom. This is the most popular flower symbol in Japan, so much so that there’s even a festival to celebrate its arrival in the spring (hanami). Cherry blossoms are a favorite subject of paintings and poems, and are indeed a symbol to the Japanese people of the transitory delight of the “floating world” – as they called this life on earth. Cherry blossom is a symbol of wabi-sabi, an important world view in Japan relating to the acceptance of transience and imperfection, as well as gentleness and kindness.They only last a few days, and the Buddhist Japanese thinks of his own life as an equally brief flowering in the endless cycle of reincarnation and dissolution. These short poems are not intended to be clear statements, they are fleeting responses or impressions which usually illuminate the poets awareness and our own- of the identity of life on different planes.
  • The chrysanthemum is the symbol of the Emperor and the Imperial family, and as such appears on the Imperial Seal, Japanese passports and the 50 yen coin. It is also said to represent longevity and rejuvenation. Also known as the ‘King of Flowers’, the peony is a symbol of good fortune, bravery and honour, and is often used in tattoos to signify a devil-may-care attitude. Represents purity of the body, speech, and mind; derived from Buddhist symbolism.
  • Carnation: Symbolises fascination, distinction and love.

The Haiku has been styled as ‘the half thing said’. As Basho said “Is there any good in saying everything”.

I am only learning so thanks to David Cobb for these observations. I have learned something by writing them.

Reading.

1. Look for the British museum’s book Haiku by David Cobb (isbn 0-7141-2401-x) a truly beautiful book in its poems and illustrations and a real quality production.

2. Cherry Blossoms, one of a series of three. No isbn number and no author. produced in the 1960s, found it in a book shop in Kathmandu.

3. A Haiku journey. by Basho a new translation of his work Narrow road to a far Province. It is a short book of  124 pages 35 of which are in Japanese. It relates a difficult and perilous seventeenth century journey by Basho on foot to the remote northeastern provinces of Honshu, Japan’s main island.


Notes on the poets. Some notes thanks to David Cobb. In Japan the family name is put before the personal name.

Akito. b 1930. A scientist and former president of Tokyo university. Between 1998~2000 he was minister of Education, Science, Sport and Culture. Chairman of the Haiku International association of Japan.

Basho. 1644~94. Basho’s pseudonym means banana tree because one grew near his hut. His family was the lowest rank of samurai, little more than farmers. As a renga master he travelled widely, sometimes dressed as a monk.

Chigetsu. d 1634~1708. Born in Yamashiro, Usa near Kyoto. She became a nun. Friends with Basho.

Chiyo-Ni. 1703~75  is regarded as Japan’s most celebrated female haiku poet. Her parents were picture-framers, and she wrote her first haiku at the age of seven. As a girl and young woman, she became well-known for her poetry throughout Japan.

Married at twenty-five, she had only one son, who died, and she found a way to express her love and loss in haiku form.

Poetry must have sustained her, because her life as wife and mother was short: her husband died when she was twenty-seven. Despite her loneliness, she valued her independence too much to remarry. Instead, she enjoyed deep friendships with women, particularly Suejo (or Sue-jo) who was like a sister to her, and with whom she wrote many renku, a longer Japanese form written by pairs or groups of people. At the age of fifty-two she became a nun. Her haiku reflect Buddhist tenets.

Issa. 1762~1826. His pseudonym means ‘one cup of tea’. Born on a farm, he was raised by a  harsh stepmother and dogged by misfortune and poverty, yet found comfort in the companionship of the smallest living creatures with whom he empathised.

Kikaku. 1661~1707. A protege of Basho. He once wrote ‘Red dragonfly / break off its wings /  sour cherry. Basho changed it to ‘Sour cherry / add wings / Red dragonfly’ and said poetry should add life to life not take life away from life.

Kito. 1741~89. A disciple of Buson with a straightforward style. He later became a monk.

Masajo. b.1906 ~ 2003. Her haiku are unusual in that she has taken the theme of love. She was a successful  business woman and inn keeper. A member of the Light of spring night haiku group.

Onitsura. 1661~1738. He worked to elevate haiku to a more serious form of poetic expression, employing the concept of ‘sincerity’.

Renga (renga, collaborative poetry) is a genre of Japanese collaborative  poetry. A renga consists of at least two ku or stanzas, usually many more. The opening stanza of the renga, called the hokku, became the basis for the modern haiku form of poetry.

Richard Von Sturmer. Is a New Zealand born poet and song writer. Born in Aukland’s North Shore in 1957.

Ryokan. 1758~1831. A zen priest and an expert calligrapher. he is best regarded for his tanka. A tanka is poem consisting of five units, often treated as separate lines when translated, usually with the following pattern of syllables 5-7-5-7-7. the 5-7-5 is called the kami-no-ku (upper phrase), and the 7-7 is called the shimo-no-ku (lower phrase).

Sojo. 1901~56. Studied law and worked in insurance. He became an invalid after wartime hardships catching pneumonia and pleurisy. The first poet to rebel against the strict conservatism of Takahama Kyoshi but late in life became very traditional.

Teitoku. 1571~1653. Born in Kyoto. His father was a haiku poet. A classical scholar, he saw the haiku as a way for both commoner and samurai to better understand the literary classics.

Toshiro. b.1911. A high school teacher.

More to come.

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