Friday, February 7, 2014

Poetic Musings: Fallen Flower Haiku by Masaoka Shiki

On the first anniversary of the death of Shimizu

rakka e ni kaeredo hito no yukue kana

a fallen flower returns - yet a man's destination …


This haiku is a play on the celebrated Arakida Moritake haiku (an important influence for Ezra Pound), which itself refers to a scene in a Zeami Noh drama (a significant fact missed by Pound and Blyth, discussed by Hasegawa in his book, haiku no uchu, and others). The Moritake haiku is:

rakka eda ni kaeru to mireba chocho kana

A fallen leaf
Flew back to its branch!
No, it was a butterfly.
(Blyth translation)

Shiki, in his play on Moritake viz Zeami asks, whither the soul of his dearly loved friend? Having exited this world, is a human death but a single "fallen leaf," and, unlike the butterfly, without return? Shiki desperately grieves for his friend and has sworn to devote his life to Shimizu's remembrance...

(As an aside, Blyth quotes the Moritake haiku as an illustrative example of poor poetry, criticizing an "over-reaching" of intellect at the expense of "imagination." He writes (to paraphrase) that haiku should deal with facts, not fantasy or illusion.)

-- excerpted from Richard Gilbert, "A Brilliant Literature: Robert Wilson Interviews Professor Richard Gilbert, Part I," Simply Haiku, 6:4, Winter 2008

(As an aside, Blyth quotes the Moritake haiku as an illustrative example of poor poetry, criticizing an "over-reaching" of intellect at the expense of "imagination." He writes (to paraphrase) that haiku should deal with facts, not fantasy or illusion.)

This reveals that Blyth had no knowledge of one of Japanese poetic devices employed in Moritake's abovementioned haiku:

Read in the context of Japanese classic haiku, technically speaking, there is nothing new about Moritake’ s haiku. In it, he employed a centuries-old poetic device, “mitate” (taking one thing for another) 2 as shown in the following waka:

In my garden
plum blossoms fall –
or is it not rain
but snow, cast down
from the sky?

Otomo No Tabito (665 – 731)

(Addiss, p. 17)

However, this haiku gains more resonance if the reader is aware of the following Zen saying: “The fallen blossom cannot return to its branch.” It makes this saying anew in light of the transformative power of a butterfly. That’s one of the reasons that Moritake’ s haiku is considered “one of the most famous verses of all early haikai poets.” (Addiss, p. 62)

-- excerpted from To the Lighthouse: Haiku as a Form of Super-Position


Reference:

Addiss, Stephen, The Art of Haiku:Its History through Poems and Paintings by Japanese Masters, Shambhala, 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Pound's 'metro poem' was influenced by the celebrated Arakida Moritake haiku. Below is a relevant excerpt from his 1916 book, titled Gaudier-Brzeska:

    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."

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