A new adventure for the Dilettante’s blog: following in the footsteps of ‘Teaser Tuesday’ in a sense, but with Haiku: I’m calling it The Friday Haiku. Each week I’ll post a haiku for people to muse over, as well as the occasional discussion about Haiku itself.
The reason? I recently came across a flash-fiction competition with a word limit of just 300 words. It’s hard to develop plot, character, action, climax, and denouement with dialogue, humour, and other accepted (and expected) features of fiction in that amount of words … and it got me thinking about minimalist ‘stories’. A believer in serendipity – I am reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami in which haiku is mentioned – I decided to investigate the art of haiku – and as anyone who knows anything about Haiku will tell you, it is most definitely an art.
There are a few guiding principles of haiku, particularly haiku written in Japanese, including the accepted 17 moras written in a three-line 5-7-5 pattern. But even the great Japanese master, Matsuo Bashō – himself a noted traditionalist – occasionally bent the rules, writing at least one haiku of 18 mora (shock horror!). For Basho, more important was the sense of ‘lightness’ – or karumi. Basho was a Zenist and karumi is linked to Zen principles. This ethos allowed Basho to step outside the accepted rules of Haiku, but more importantly re-invigorate the thrust of Haiku altogether. Later, a new school of Haiku, the Soun – or free verse school – began to loosen to format itself, with less emphasis on the number of lines and syllables, and more on the essence of the poetry itself. At its most minimal, Haiku has been reduced to a single word(!) which may seem ridiculous at first, but when you read some haiku and then read that single-word Haiku, it’s hard not to be moved and convinced by it – but more on this particular Haiku … next week!
Two of the other principles of haiku – which Basho’s work shows clearly – are the use of a seasonal word – or kigo – and a ‘cutting’ word – or kireji – which lends the verse ‘structural support’ and “may cut the stream of thought, suggesting a parallel between the proceeding and following phrases, or it may provide a dignified ending, concluding the verse with a heightened sense of closure.”
So what makes good Haiku? Lucien Stryk in his excellent introduction to On Love and Barley – Haiku of Basho, writes: “… the poet presents an observation of a natural, often commonplace event, in plainest diction, without verbal trickery. The effect is one of sparseness, yet the reader is aware of a microcosm related to transcendent unity. A moment, crystallized, distilled, snatched from time’s flow, and that is enough. … it is likely to give the reader a glimpse of hitherto unrecognized depths in the self.” It is the ultimate form of the old advice to all authors: show, don’t tell. The Haiku poet shows us a moment, a scene, and we are left to see it for ourselves, to ponder its meaning and mystery. This ‘mystery’ is a crucial element as Matsuo Basho puts it “The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of.”
So how to begin The Friday Haiku? As a starting point, I selected perhaps the best known haiku by the acclaimed Japanese master, Basho, Old Pond:
古池や 蛙飛込む 水の音
furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto
This separates into on as:
fu-ru-i-ke ya (5)
ka-wa-zu to-bi-ko-mu (7)
mi-zu no o-to (5)
Translated into English:
old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
Very ‘Zen’! What do you think?