Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Thought on Haiku

open blinds
red camellia bows
morning sun

I usually write here first and go to FB to show my link, but this time, I wrote on my FB wall and Haiku Tid-Bids and copy it here because I enjoy exchanges of ideas and comparative anything. 

I'm not a haiku poet, but my father was.  Here is my thought on the difference between English and Japanese haiku.  Masters emphasize that capturing the moment is the utmost importance. But Japanese don't think like westerners.  So, the level of importance is different, I think.  It is not just how much we think the moment important, but how we think and live becomes important.   But "How" is not easy to explain, so the below is an example which I’ve mentioned in my past blog a few times, and Rebb made a comment on it and helped me polish my translation of the Japanese professor’s poem. 

Once, a Japanese professor on poetry dance was telling me that his British professor friend kept trying to get him agree that he would think like Hamlet such as who am I  and so on. The Japanese professor said he replied, "No, are you kidding? No, we don't think like that." He was laughing hard when he said this. I admire the Japanese professor. He is so honest, and what he said is true although there are exceptions.

After I wrote above two paragraphs on FB, I searched for Basho’s famous old pond and frog poem.  The site shows 30 translations.  Wow.  My translation in my heart does not match exactly with any, but at the bottom, I found one that match closely.  I think it was written as this.

old pond
frog jumps in
water’s sound

Above ku as an example, we can see Japanese word order and absence of articles and plural/singular as I’ve mentioned them in my past blogs.  My private heart translation is closer to below although I would not normally share this kind because of apparent criticism.  I’m not writing out of disrespect, but to reveal how my brain works.  Smart readers probably figure it out by now!

old pond
frog jump in
water sound   

But if I ask English speakers to correct it, they will turn it to something like this, of course.

The old pond.
A Frog jumps in.
The sound of the water.

This made me think.  As I was explaining to a haiku member about the above Basho’s poem, he was confused.  This is the simplest poem although it isn’t easy to achieve this simplicity.  But I wonder why anyone would get confused with this simple haiku.  Now, this is deep.

To me, by reading “old pond,” readers have freedom of creating an image in their head the kind of old ponds which can be not just one of many ponds or the pond you choose or you choose not to choose.  By the way in Japanese ku, you’ll see “ya” at the end of “old pond.”  “Ya” speaks to us in soft, loving sound, not an exclamation-mark-like.  So, “ya” helps set a tone for over all image. 

About “water’s sound,” if we analyze English phrase,” the sound of the water,” the sound comes before the water as we read or say.  I think English speakers do not think this anymore because it’s so ingrained into their brain, so this is natural to them.   To master this word order is hard for Japanese speakers.  But when we really think about it, the sound does not come before a frog hits the water.  You might think I’m crazy saying this, but please be patient.

I didn’t think about this until today.  This is very interesting.  I think we say and write as it comes.  Of course, we all do.  Well, do we really?  


Rebb said...


I love this. You always get my wheels turning. Since I like to sit with things, I can tell I'll be thinking of your blog for a few days. Wonderful!  

I like your haiku. There is a radiance to it and it turns into me and makes me feel reverence. 

Sometimes I wish there weren't so many articles in the English language. It seems impossible to write without them, but they are necessary. You made me realize why Westerners may not fully understand haiku. It could be true with Western poetry also?? There is a small poem that I enjoyed the first time I read it, but the meaning I received from it may have been very different than the poet's meaning. Like you said, different images will form in our mind and in turn different meanings. 

Here is the poem:

The Sentence

And the stone word fell
On my still-living breast.
Never mind, I was ready.
I will manage somehow.

Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again—

Unless . . . Summer's ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I've foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house. 

--Anna Akhmatova 
Translated from the Russian by Judith Hemschemeyer

Info. about the poet.

Short article that discusses the poem and the poet's life.

I have more thinking to do on sound. It's like a koan. From the very little bits and pieces I've read here and there, Plato and Sartre come to mind. Plato: "essence precedes existence." Sartre: "existence precedes essence." 

keiko amano said...


I like the poem. The title works. The first stanza was a bit mysterious, so I had to read it twice, but by the third stanza, I understood.

About the photo, I took it about a week ago or so. I shut my bedroom windows while the weather was very cold and through the blinds, I was pleasantly surprised at one camellia facing toward me. I didn't take photos out of laziness. Then when the weather turned warm, I rush to open the blinds. What I saw was much more beautiful and subtle scene beyond the thin lines of the blinds. I regretted not taking photos the first time, but there is always something. Myo. I suffered for the last line for a long time. I wanted February sun there, but I already have camellia which is a season word.  Thank goodness it was warm morning!