Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To the Lighthouse: Three Formulations about the Use of Cutting

According to his groundbreaking essay, entitled "Buson and Shiki" (pp. 409-14), Mark Morris points out three formulations about kireji (cutting words) in the classic Japanese haiku tradition (p. 411) Below are excerpts from the essay, Haruo Shirane’s Traces of Dreams Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, and my Haiku Reality essay, entitled "Haiku as Ideogrammatic Montage:A Linguistic-Cinematic Perspective." [editorial note: In his second videoed lecture on Basho’s famous frog haiku, "Haiku Cosmos 2: Cutting Through Time and Space ('kire' and 'ma')," Professor Hasegawa Kai articulates a new/the fourth view on the use of cutting. For more information, see To the Lighthouse: Cutting through Time and Space)

Type I Formulation: "Buson and Shiki," pp. 409-10

Early in the Tokugawa period, Teimon poets (those following the school of Matsunaga Teitoku) might form hokku by a simple combination of topic and predicate: in more detail, topic/subject-wa plus predicate-kana; an alternative pattern was topic/subject plus predicate-kana. By one count, some thirty percent of the hokku collected in the important early anthology the Enokoshu (1634) follow this pattern, basically that of a sentence rounded off, broken by the final emotive kireji kana." 45 (Note that the motive force of kana is institutionalized and formal, not lyrical. It is as anonymous as an English mark of punctuation -- if we had a mark that combined ! and ? we could come close to it.) In such hokku the kireji cuts in the sense of severing the initial poem of a linked verse sequence from those that follow.  …

Example: Traces of Dreams, pp. 101-2

…the following haiku from Puppy Collection:

falling snow –
hairs of the willow
turned white

-- Shigeyori

furu | yuki | wa | yanagi | no | kami | no | shiraga | kana
falling | snow | as-for | willow |’s | hair | ’s | white-hair | !

The cutting word not only separates the hoku into two parts, it establishes a visual correspondence (mitate) between the two images, implying that the latter represents the haikai essence of the former, a classical topic.

Type II Formulation: "Buson and Shiki," pp. 410-11

…The more complex uses of kireji that come into prominence later on break down this linguistically confined structure of the sentence unit in favor of freer poetic play across the gap made by ya, other cutting-words, or syntactic breaks which cleave the poem in two …

Later in the seventeenth century when Danrin poets formulated their ideas about kireji, the discussion might be presented in terms of Yin-Yang metaphysics or simply in terms of a discrimination set up within a hokku between a "this" opposed to a "that." A work from 1680 put it in a refreshingly slangy way:

The kireji is that which clearly expresses a division of Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang mean the existence of an interesting confrontation within a poem (okashiku ikku no uchi ni arasoi aru o iu nari). For instance, something or other presented in a hokku is that?-no, it's not that but this, etc. 46

Eisenstein, circa 1929, would have replaced Yin with thesis and Yang with antithesis and cast the whole matter in the mold of his peculiar dialectic, but he would certainly have gone along with this Japanese poet's notion of arasoi, "confrontation." "By what, then, is montage characterized and, consequently, its cell -- the shot?" he asked himself in "The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram." "By collision. By the conflict of two pieces in opposition to each other. By conflict. By collision." And the phrases of hokku were, he insisted, "montage phrases," and hence they generated their meaning by a like dynamic process. 47

Example: Traces of Dreams, pp. 102-3:

The cutting word can also emphasizes contrast, …The following haiku, which Basho [editorial note: he used to be a Danrin practitioner] composed at Gichuji Temple (Kiso Yoshinaka’s grave) near Lake Biwa on the 15th of the Eighth Month of Genroku 3 (September 1690)…, is on the topic of harvest moon (meigetsu), which the classical poet praised for its refulgent aura.

bright harvest moon --
on the viewing stand
not one beautiful face

meigetsu | ya | za | ni |utsukushiki | kao | mo | nashi
harvest-moon | : | stand | at | beautiful | face | even | none

The speaker looks up at the harvest moon (meigetsu), which implicitly dazzles him, but when he looks down, he is disappointed by the undistinguished faces of the moon-viewers on the viewing stand. The cutting word, ya, which emphasizes the contrast between the two worlds, also suggests a correspondence that is implied by its very absence -- a beautiful face that would resonate with the beautiful moon

Type III Formulation: "Buson and Shiki," pp. 411
No survey of opinions about matters crucial to haikai is complete without a few comments from Bash6. The Sanzoshi (c. 1703), compiled by Bash6's disciple and hometown friend Hattori Doho attributes to the master a dynamic view of hokku effects similar to that of the Danrin poet cited above: "the savor of hokku is the feeling of going and coming back again." 48

Example: an excerpt from Traces of Dreams, pp. 107-8:

In Sanzoshi, Doho, Basho’s most talented and faithful disciple in Iga, argued that the hokku should have the “spirit of going and returning,” a movement similar to that found between a previous verse and an added verse in a linked verse sequence. … An example is:

in the mountain village
the New Year dancers are late --
plum blossoms

yamazato | wa | manzai | ososhi | ume | no | hana
mountain-village | as-for | dancers | late | plum | ‘s | flowers 24

The poet first states that in the mountain village the Manzai, the New Year dancers, are late and then comes back to reveal that the plum trees are already in bloom. This spirit of going and returning lies at the heart of the hokku. If the poem were very simply

in the mountain village
the New Year dancers are late --

It would have no more force that a single verse in a linked verse sequence (NKBZ 51:592)

To borrow Doho’s metaphor, the reader first “goes” to part A, explores its connotations, and then “returns” by another route to Part B, seeking to find a common path between A and B. The emotional and atmospheric flow moves first in one direction and then returns in a different direction, resulting in a mixing of the two currents.

[Editorial Note: The haiku above has been used as a model haiku for exploring /explaining Shomon’s view of haiku. In the subsection, entitled The Haikai Design, of Chapter 2, The Poetics of the Haiku, of The Poetics of Japanese Verse: Imagery, Structure, Meter, leading literary scholar and critic Koji Kawamoto gives a contextualized and in-depth analysis of this haiku (pp. 65-9)]

Brief Conclusion: "Buson and Shiki," pp. 411
Now this has none of the slam-bang of Eisenstein, yet all three of the formulations about kireji given above share a dynamic notion of artistic effects, one that conceives of meaning not as something given there "in" the text but as something actively generated in the reader or viewer through the artist's deployment of the bits and pieces (words, images, shots) of his medium.

Further Exploration: my Haiku Reality essay, "Haiku as Ideogrammatic Montage:A Linguistic-Cinematic Perspective"

Furthermore, Eisenstein likens montage to haiku, “the most laconic form of poetry.” 30 He describes haiku as the “concentrated impressionist sketch,” 31 in which minute details are highlighted by using minimal language. In the following haiku written by Japanese haiku masters:

A lonely crow
On leafless bough,
One autumn eve.

-- Basho

What a resplendent moon!
It casts the shadow of pine boughs
Upon the mats.

-- Kikaku

An evening breeze blows.
The water ripples
Against the blue heron’s legs.

-- Buson

It is early dawn.
The castle is surrounded
By the cries of wild ducks

-- Kyoroku 32

Eisenstein thinks that haiku is “little more than hieroglyphs transposed into phrases,” 33 and that each of these haiku is made up of montage phrases or shot lists. 34 The “simple combination of two or three details of a material kind yields a perfectly finished representation of another kind – [the] psychological.” 35 For him, “haiku… act simultaneously as linguistic signifiers and denotative images of ‘natural’ things.” 36 Structurally and consequentially speaking, he considers haiku as an extension of the ideogrammatic structure characterizing the Chinese and Japanese writing systems. He believes that a Japanese haiku master’s juxtaposing two or three separate images to create a new meaning parallels his crashing two or three conflicting shots with each other to produce a new filmic essence. The juxtaposition of contrasting images in haiku (or the collision of conflicting shots in cinema) may single out, highlight, and purify a particular quality. Take Basho’s ever-famous frog haiku for example:

an old pond...
a frog leaps in,
the sound of water

His juxtaposition of two contrasting images of "an old pond" and " a frog leaping into the pond" makes a larger meditative, lonely silence “heard” through the opposition of the water sound. 37 More importantly, juxtaposed images of some haiku engage the reader in more than one sense, as can be seen in the following ones by Basho:

Their fragrance
Is whiter than peach blossoms
The daffodils

Over the even sea
The wild ducks' cry
Is faintly white

It is whiter
Than the rocks of Ishiyama
The autumn wind

Onions lie
Washed in white
How chilly it is 38

A color is employed to suggest the quality of scent, a crying sound, a tactile sensation, or a temperature. 39 As in the case of the Kabuki theatre, Eisenstein argues that the montage effect of haiku results in the experience of synaesthesia or multisensory experience. 40 This characteristic helps him to develop the key principles of audiovisual montage and color-sound montage. 41


Mark Morris,"Buson and Shiki: Part One," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Dec., 1984), pp. 381-425

Haruo Shirane, Traces of Dreams Traces of Dreams Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, 1998

Koji Kawamoto, The Poetics of the Haiku, of The Poetics of Japanese Verse:Imagery, Structure, Meter, 1991

Chen-ou Liu, "Haiku as Ideogrammatic Montage:A Linguistic-Cinematic Perspective," Haiku Reality, #5


  1. In the haiku below:

    news of your death
    when I open my eyes
    green leaves

    The cutting technique Angie Werren employed here belongs to Type II. For more information, see "Butterfly Dream: Death News Haiku by Angie Werren."

    In the next "To the Lighthouse," I'll present Basho's and Buson's remarks on the use of cutting, more haiku examples, and my detailed comments.

  2. You've given me a wealth of reading material, Chen-ou - pray that I can understand and utilize some of it. Thanks!