Friday, August 1, 2014

To the Lighthouse: Take “I, me, my, mine” out of the picture.?

First-time students of haiku often forget to become  the “absent traveler,” the poet who walks, watches, listens,  becomes still, and dissolves into his subject. It is tempting to be there in the poem, doing something...

Use juxtaposition to achieve surprise. Think: subject/ circumstance / action or non-action / jolt! Have the courage to let whatever thing or circumstance that  caused a moment of surprise stand by itself. Again, stay out of the poem, unless you are indispensable to the picture.

-- John Brandi, "Thoughts on Haiku and Sentimentality,"  South Asian Ensemble, Autumn 2012, pp. 79, 83


Below are two contrasting examples:

The sound of scissors
clipping roses --
a clear spell in May

Masaoka Shiki

In the haiku above, it doesn’t matter if Shiki, the narrator of the poem, or someone else is clipping rose; “what is important is the sound itself -- and its relation to the sharpness of the sky” (Brandi, p.80). The emotional overtone is implied in the juxtaposed image portrayed in L3, especially in Shiki’s well-chosen phrase, “clear spell.”  Through the effective use of the zoom-out technique, Shiki paints a clear picture; therefore, there is “[no] need to step in the way  of the reader’s capacity to interpret the picture by stating something personal and emotive” (Brandi, p.80). Shiki’s “half-finished” haiku is left to the reader to complete it in his/her heart and mind.


this cold night
I face my shadow …
a raven's call

Chen-ou Liu

In the haiku, it does matter who faces the shadow. In first reading, Ls 1-2 can be read as an objective description of a scene, and juxtaposed with the “cold night,” the auditory image in L3 conveys a deep sense of foreboding. In second reading, “my shadow” carries symbolic significance and adds psychological depth to the poem. Furthermore, an expanded theme – self-reflection understood in an existential sense -- emerges, and it is left to the reader to ponder further.


“Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it’s dark.” ~Zen Proverb

There was once a man who loved to complain and find fault with everyone and everything. Nothing pleased him, so he moved from one town to another, declaring as he left each place.

“Oh brother, moving from place to place does not serve you well. Wherever you go, there you will also find yourself. Your shadow is always with you.”

-- Julie Hoyle


Updated:

Below is a relevant excerpt from Daniel Gallimore's article, "Dew on the Grass: Translating the Masters," which was first published in World Haiku Review, 1:3, November 2001:

 ... a haiku written by Shiki in 1902, during the last summer of his life:

Bara wo kiru
Hasami no oto ya
Satsukibare

The sound of scissors
Clipping roses -
A clear spell in May

Knowing that Shiki was confined to his sickbed with tuberculosis, we realise the poignancy of this image of this dying man grabbing whatever opportunity he could to bring a little beauty into his life, but what I would like to consider here is how the image is constructed. Shiki’s poem does not, at first reading, seem a particularly musical or onomatopoeic poem. It is true that the succession of seven open a vowels give the poem a certain unity but apart from that there is nothing very meaningful to catch the eye or ear. Actually, there is, as the open, graceful bara (‘rose’) and the clear-cut kiru (‘cut’) are combined within one word in the final phrase, satsukibare. This is what cut roses and fine weather in May mean to each other at this moment in Shiki’s life: the sounds are almost identical to the picture so that when the two work together like this the logic works very fast indeed. ‘Death concentrates the mind wonderfully’, and it is not the clipping of scissors which is figured, as one might expect, but the beauty of those flowers; in other words, the sound values work in relation to the logic of the poem but are not subordinate.

The translator, Burton Watson, similarly evokes this feeling that the poet is more interested in the significance of the clipping than the ominous sound itself. The word ‘clipping’ is separated by enjambment from ‘scissors’ such that this terse sound – with all its freshness and its transience – belongs as much to the roses as to the scissors, especially as it alliterates with ‘clear’ in the final line. The alliteration also accounts for the logical development of Watson’s version; as with the source, we seem to see, hear and experience it all at once. This phenomenon is surely what was meant by Yasuda’s term ‘crystallisation’: ‘a crystallised haiku is held together by the organic, emotional force of the experience’.

2 comments:

  1. The last line in Shiki's haiku has several possible interpretations. It could have been a very rainy spring and suddenly the rain clears up. Shiki was also very sick and depending on when the haiku was written it could also mean that his illness cleared up temporarily. Excellent article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi! Harley King:

    Thanks for your close reading and for sharing your thought. I've learned something new.

    Shiki's haiku was written in the last summer of his life (1902) and was translated by Burton Watson ("Masaoka Shiki: Selected Poems by Shiki Masaoka," p. 86)

    Here is a relevant excerpt from Daniel Gallimore's article, "Dew on the Grass : Translating the Masters," which was first published in World Haiku review, 1:3, November 2001:

    Bara wo kiru
    Hasami no oto ya
    Satsukibare

    The sound of scissors
    Clipping roses -
    A clear spell in May

    Knowing that Shiki was confined to his sickbed with tuberculosis, we realise the poignancy of this image of this dying man grabbing whatever opportunity he could to bring a little beauty into his life, but what I would like to consider here is how the image is constructed. Shiki’s poem does not, at first reading, seem a particularly musical or onomatopoeic poem. It is true that the succession of seven open a vowels give the poem a certain unity but apart from that there is nothing very meaningful to catch the eye or ear. Actually, there is, as the open, graceful bara (‘rose’) and the clear-cut kiru (‘cut’) are combined within one word in the final phrase, satsukibare. This is what cut roses and fine weather in May mean to each other at this moment in Shiki’s life: the sounds are almost identical to the picture so that when the two work together like this the logic works very fast indeed. ‘Death concentrates the mind wonderfully’, and it is not the clipping of scissors which is figured, as one might expect, but the beauty of those flowers; in other words, the sound values work in relation to the logic of the poem but are not subordinate.

    The translator, Burton Watson, similarly evokes this feeling that the poet is more interested in the significance of the clipping than the ominous sound itself. The word ‘clipping’ is separated by enjambment from ‘scissors’ such that this terse sound – with all its freshness and its transience – belongs as much to the roses as to the scissors, especially as it alliterates with ‘clear’ in the final line. The alliteration also accounts for the logical development of Watson’s version; as with the source, we seem to see, hear and experience it all at once. This phenomenon is surely what was meant by Yasuda’s term ‘crystallisation’: ‘a crystallised haiku is held together by the organic, emotional force of the experience’.

    Chen-ou Liu

    ReplyDelete