Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Poetic Musings: Czesław Miłosz's Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762–1826)

                                                                  Haiku is extra-literary -- Czesław Miłosz

Today's Poetic Musings is a poetic commentary on Issa's haiku, and it is written in the form of a free verse, titled "Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762–1826)," by 1980 Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz. This poem is the last one in The Separate Notebooks, and it contains within it three haiku by Issa. According to Nathan and Quinn, "Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762–1826) perhaps most elegantly plays out the polyphonic contention that dominates the book" (.p. 133), and it is known for the following lines:

To know and not to speak.
In that way one forgets.
What is pronounced strengthens itself.
What is not pronounced tends to nonexistence.
The tongue is sold out to the sense of touch.
Our human kind persists by warmth and softness:
my little rabbit, my little bear, my kitten.

These lines reminds me of  the following ones from Rilke's 9th Duino Elegy: 

Here is the time for telling. Here is its home.
Speak and make known: more and more
the things we could experience
are lost to us, replaced
by mindless doing.


Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762–1826) by Czesław Miłosz

                    A good world --
                    dew drops fall
                    by ones, by twos

A few strokes of ink and there it is.
Great stillness of white fog,
waking up in the mountains,
geese calling,
a well hoist creaking,
and the droplets forming on the eaves.

Or perhaps that other house.
The invisible ocean,
fog until noon
dripping in a heavy rain from the boughs of the redwoods,
sirens droning below on the bay.

Poetry can do that much and no more.
For we cannot really know the man who speaks,
what his bones and sinews are like,
the porosity of his skin,
how he feels inside.
And whether this is the village of Szlembark
above which we used to find salamanders,
garishly colored like the dresses of Teresa Roszkowska,
or another continent and different names.
Kotarbinski, Zawada, Erin, Melanie.
No people in this poem. As if it subsisted
by the very disappearance of places and people.

                   A cuckoo calls
                   for me, for the mountain,
                   for me, for the mountain

Sitting under his lean-to on a rocky ledge
listening to a waterfall hum in the gorge,
he had before him the folds of a wooded mountain
and the setting sun which touched it
and he thought: how is it that the voice of the cuckoo
always turns either here or there?
This could as well not be in the order of things.

                    In this world
                    we walk on the roof of Hell
                    gazing at flowers                                                                                

To know and not to speak.
In that way one forgets.
What is pronounced strengthens itself.
What is not pronounced tends to nonexistence.
The tongue is sold out to the sense of touch.
Our human kind persists by warmth and softness:
my little rabbit, my little bear, my kitten.

Anything but a shiver in the freezing dawn
and fear of oncoming day
and the overseer’s whip.
Anything but winter streets
and nobody on the whole earth
and the penalty of consciousness.
Anything but.


Updated, September 18

Below is excerpted from The Japanese Effect in Contemporary Irish Poetry by Irene De Angelis (p. 23)

Czesław Miłosz's poem "Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762–1826)" alludes to a haiku master whose style is very different from Basho's (1644–94), a 'rebel against all conventionality' (Henderson 1958:124), Issa expressed his feelings in a mode which was less detached than his predecessors ... Feeling isolated and longing for home, he wrote this haiku:

The place I was born
both to approach and to touch
a Rambler Rose thorn.

Miłosz expressed a similar feeing in a poem he wrote when he worked in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Berkeley. The lyric is autobiographical and it is divided into three parts, each of them inspired by a different Issa Haiku.


References:

Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, The Poet's Work: An Introduction to Czeslaw Milosz, Harvard University Press, 1991.

Irene De Angelis, The Japanese Effect in Contemporary Irish Poetry, Palgrave MacMillan, 2012.
 

1 comment:

  1. Poet and Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz once said that haiku is “extra-literary.” In part, he meant that haiku, more than other poetry, requires that the reader know something that lies outside the poem for it to rise to its full meaning...

    -- excerpted from On a First-Name Basis:Deepening Haiku with its “Fourth Line” by Michael Dylan Welch

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