Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dark Wings of Night: Ezra Pound's View of Hokku/Haiku

All poetic language is the language of exploration. Since the beginning of bad writing, writers have used images as ornaments. The point of Imagisme is that it does not use images as ornaments. The image is itself the speech. The image is the word beyond formulated language.

I once saw a small child go to an electric light switch as say, "Mamma, can I open the light?" She was using the age-old language of exploration, the language of art. It was a sort of metaphor, but she was not using it as ornamentation.

One is tired of ornamentations, they are all a trick, and any sharp person can learn them.

The Japanese have had the sense of exploration. They have understood the beauty of this sort of knowing. A Chinaman said long ago that if a man can’t say what he has to say in twelve lines he had better keep quiet. The Japanese have evolved the still shorter form of the hokku.

    "The fallen blossom flies back to its branch:

        A butterfly."

That is the substance of a very well-known hokku. Victor Plarr tells me that once, when he was walking over snow with a Japanese naval officer, they came to a place where a cat had crossed the path, and the officer said," Stop, I am making a poem." Which poem was, roughly, as follows: --

    "The footsteps of the cat upon the snow:

        (are like) plum-blossoms."

The words "are like" would not occur in the original, but I add them for clarity.

The "one image poem" is a form of super-position, that is to say, it is one idea set on top of another. I found it useful in getting out of the impasse in which I had been left by my metro emotion. I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work "of second intensity." Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hokku-like sentence: --

    "The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

        Petals, on a wet, black bough."

I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. I a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.

-- excerpted from Ezra Pound's A Memoir of Gaudier-Brzeska, 1916, pp. 88-9.

Note: For more information about Pound's "metro poem," see To the Lighthouse: Haikuesque Reading of Ezra Pound’s “Metro Poem,” and Poetic Musings: Ezra Pound’s "Metro Poem" as a Yugen Haiku . And for more information about Pound's conception of  super-position, see To the Lighthouse: Haiku as a Form of Super-Position

1 comment:

  1. For anyone who is interested in getting a glimpse into the different readings of Pound’s metro poem, MAPS offers a helpful webpage entitled “On In a Station of the Metro," which can be accessed at