Monday, August 4, 2008

Haikuu and other stuff

Hi! Thanks again to all who posted to blog #1. This time I'm posting the first haiku in a series I wrote in response to the earthquake in China. The series is titled "China Love Notes." Again I ask all interested poets to post their own haikus in response to this one. Thanks and Peace,


China shifts like a grave.
Brave people pretend it's over
help tomorrow come.


Anonymous said...

Another fine haiku, Mary!

Here's one I posted on my blog this past week, called "Hi, Clue!":

Neither earth nor sea
nor sky can provide more than
now resides within.

pottygok said...


Are you familiar with this book:

Though completely different topics and forms, there are echoes of your haiku in these tanka.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

Again I have to wonder what makes this haiku.

Skipping past the first line, the second line starts "brave people." A haiku is a poem of observation. But "brave" isn't an observation, it isn't even a description; it's an external value judgement. What does "brave" look like when you see it? And "people" is almost the defining example of a generic word. Not a specific person, not an observed scene; at best it's an invitation to the reader to insert their own image of "people" into the poem.

A haiku is immediate and present; a flashbulb illuminating an instant. But this one is an evaluation

Pressin On said...

a brave mushroom cap
in cold steel colander fur-
rows his brow in steam

soldier, mushroom cap
has helmet and eye stance of
hunger, musket, dusk

beatific broccli
beams bright green thru a black
beard softer as it's black'd

Spirit Poems said...

I have to agree with Geoffrey that haiku must avoid any abstract word. "No ideas but in things." There is always an image to convey our feelings and that is the charm of an haiku. As Alan Watts explains, it's like a branch broken off...If you would paint a peach, you must be a peach."
This is how they work. We all come close to this, and it's a good goal. For a time I was doing haiku daily as a meditation. I think I'll get back to that. Larry

Pressin On said...

here’s some pretty abstract haiku from master Issa:

Give me a homeland,

and a passionate woman,

and a winter alone


Just to say the word

home, that one word alone,

so pleasantly cool


here are some poems by Basho that employ some abstract words::

That great blue oak

indifferent to all blossoms

appears more noble


With a warbler for

a soul, it sleeps peacefully,

this mountain willow

words like noble, or peacefully, while abstract in relation to trees endear the writer and reader to nature.

pottygok said...


Thank you for those examples. However, the fact that these are translations must be taken into account. For example, the last Basho haiku that you quoted:

uguisu o
tama ni nemuru ka
tao yanagi


|bush warbler| [object indicator]|
|soul; spirit| [location]| (1) to sleep (not necessarily lying down); (2) to die| [cutting word]

So already, at least for me, there's ambiguity as to whether or not the warbler IS the spirit (as your chosen translation indicates) or putting to sleep the spirit, as this translation from Jane Reichold suggests:

bush warbler
is it putting to sleep the spirit
of the lovely willow?

Also, my dictionary doesn't have "tao" in it, so I'm wondering what that word really means. Any Japanese scholars out there?

Here's another translation, one that seems to correspond with the one you posted:

with a warbler
for a soul is it sleeping?
graceful willow

(trans. Gabi Greve)

Something else to consider is how much a translator can carry over. For example, Basho's disciple Kikaku uses a lot of allusion in his poem, which doesn't translate well and almost always requires a footnote of explanation. I'm wondering if some of these, particularly the Issa pieces, might have that.

Also, Basho was one of the first, if not the first, to seperate haiku from renga. This might be a transitional piece, and more of the exception than the rule. Reichold, in her notes, mentions that this sentiment is closer to that of tanka than other haiku.

One last consideration: Despite the abstractions (and I'm wondering if "soul" or "spirit" is as much an abstraction in Shinto based Japan as it is in the West), a clear, specific moment is present in this piece. There are two seasonal references--warbler, which is all spring, and willow, which is specifically late spring--to ground the reader/listener in a specific moment in time. In other words, it may break one or two of the "rules" of haiku, but capture the spirit.

Pressin On said...

i think more important than anything else is that these translations have been enjoyed by many generations. essentially, does the reader get a good breath out of it?

"Tao" by the by means the path, the way, the breath, the true essence...much like "Ruach" in Hebrew means the breath of God, or the "Holy Spirit" to xtians means the means of holy divination accessible to any open/seeking the way to right-living, and wisdom.

all the same, unless you are wanting them to be different.

then, many differences can be found, to suit the need.

pottygok said...


I know that "tao" means "the path" or "the way" in Chinese (as in Tao Te Ching), but I'm pretty sure it means something different in Japanese. Also, "taoyanagi" may be one or two words, depending on your interpretation of the original japanese.

The "tao" in this haiku (嬌) seems to mean "lovely" or "charming", and be "kyou" in modern romaji.

Pressin On said...

wait, so you're not satisfied with the translations of Hamill, or Blyth?

how many translators would it take to satisfy you with the idea that a warbler's song can overtake the whole song, for a mountain willow, to the willow's satisfaction, so to say, that the said mountain willow could rest, or sleep the more peacefully, knowing the warbler had a handle on the situation?

if this simple message does not satisfy, i suggest you read as many translations as it takes until the essence, or Ruach, or Chi sinks in.

pottygok said...

I'm sorry if you feel that I've expressed a disatisfaction with any translator, especially Hamill (whom I haven't mentioned at all in this post). It's true that I have issues with some choices both Hamill and Blyth make, but I certainly respect and honor their work as translators, especially Blyth, who was instrumental in my understanding of Kikaku and my own translations. Hamill is the man who is more or less responsible for me translating poetry, so I certainly will not express disatisfaction to the level I feel you are suggesting.

The point I'm trying to make isn't disatisfaction with any one translation, or the inaccuracies of any specific translation. The point I'm trying to make is that when analyzing literature in translation, one must take into consideration that the piece IS a translation, and not everything will carry over from one language to another.

To summarize previous posts (and please let me know if I'm misrepresenting anyone), Geoffrey was pointing out that Mary's piece was not, for him, a haiku, based on it's use of evaluating abstractions. He felt that these abstractions led to "evaluation" and not the capturing of a specific "instant" in time. Larry concurred, agreeing that "haiku must avoid any abstract word."

In response, you posted a few haiku with abstractions in them. Coming full circle, I was simply making the point that, in their native language, these might not be as abstract as they seem in English, i.e., the concreteness of a word like "tama" in Japanese might be what is lost in translation; I'm specifically thinking of creatures like the kodama in Miyazaki's Mononoke Hime. Also, despite their abstraction, these haiku clearly capture a specific instant or moment in time, and thus still maintain the "haiku spirit," as it were. I'm not debating Basho's haiku or it's content; if anything, I'm defending it and its use of abstraction.

pottygok said...

For what it's worth, the word "道" ("tao" or "dao" in Chinese, depending on which romanization you're using) is pronounced "michi" in Japanese, which indeed means "road, street, way, path, course" as well as "teachings". However, it is not the same word, 嬌, that Basho is using in his haiku.

Anonymous said...

Why *must* anything *be* anything?

As I am an elegant chimpanzee who follows the authority of my upright shadow, I bristle under system of rule.

But I'm thankful for the pearls round the irritants in my oyster.

Mary Weems said...

hmmmmmm. Thanks to all who've responded...According to the O.E.D. by definition one connotation of "people" is 2) persons composing a community, tribe, race, nation---as in "We the People of the United States" (in this case referring to a very specific group of people)....which is the specific, non-abstract way I use it within the context of this haiku. I appreciate the fact that this blog's inspiring dialogue--always a good thing--keep it coming.

I'd love to see more haiku shared in response to what I post, and thanks to jesus and bree and anyone else who posts theirs. Also, thanks/wow to pottygok/bree for the translation dialogue. More of China Notes forthcoming...Peace, Mary

Pressin On said...

josh--it was Hamill's Basho i transposed...that's why i imagined you were dissatisfied with his take,
abstract or not.

my point is that its tomfoolery to say a haiku is not a haiku if it includes abstract words or ideas,
when master haikuers had a tendency to do so.

it is like saying a master guitarist wouldn't pick with his teeth.....seeing as how classically trained guitarists were not taught to do so. meanwhile, many master guitar players have picked with their teeth.

so the question is, do you as one man or woman like this music, coming out of the man's teeth?

if not, don't listen to that jam man.

pottygok said...

Again, I'm not sure these are as abstract in Japanese as they seem in English. The choices the translator made as well as cultural interpretations may make these seem abstract when, in Japan, they may not be.

Also, what works in 17th century Japan may not work in English. Perhaps it would have been better for the folks disatisfied with abstraction to say "In Western Haiku, abstraction doesn't work." or something similar. If one explores magazines such as Modern Haiku or The Heron's Nest, it is rare to see an abstract word.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again, Mary!

It's been said that "haiku must avoid any abstract word." But I believe that every "word" is abstract. Words are words, not material entities. All language is abstract. The word "stone" is abstract. A real stone is concrete. That's why every language has a different word for "stone." But a stone is a stone, language or no. You can call it a poem or a brick or an illusion - but it's a stone. ;)


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau