Monday, February 16, 2015

Dark Wings of Night: Kawahigashi Hekigodo and His New Trend Haiku

Kawahigashi Hekigodo (or Hekigoto) (Feb. 26, 1873 -- Feb.1, 1937) was born in Matsuyama city in Iyo province (present day Ehime prefecture) where Masaoka Shiki and his most influential disciple, Takahama Kyoshi, had lived as young boys. He became Kyosh's classmate at middle school and remained close to him throughout his life. Hekigodo was a well-traveled man with many talents. He visited Europe and North America in 1921, China and Mongolia in 1924, and wrote many travel sketches (Ueda, pp. 49, 61).

In the first few decades of the last century, Shiki's legacy was split into two factions: one led by Hekigodo, who "advocated haiku written in a free meter format," the other led by Kyoshi, who "defended the traditional diction of haiku with its fixed syllabic 5-7-5 pattern, season words, and fixed topical themes" (Cushman, p. 751). Hekigodo's main contribution to modern haiku was that "he extended, or tried to extend, the borders of haiku far beyond what had been thought possible or legitimate" (Ueda, p. 9). Basically speaking, he was restless and interested in artistic experiments. His two most controversial experiments were those on "haiku without a center of interest" and on "haiku in vers libre" (Ibid.).

In 1910, Hekigodo started to advocate his idea of haiku without a center of interest, which was based on his belief that "a poem should come as close as possible to its subject matter, which is part of life or nature" (Ibid.). In his view, creating a center of interest would "inevitably have to distort [the] subject matter for the sake of that interest" (Ibid.). He insisted, "To do away with a center of interest and to discard the process of poetizing reality would help the poet to approach things and phenomena in nature as close as he can, without being sidetracked by man-made rules."

It was a logical step, then, for Hekigodo to discard one of the most important "man-made" rules about writing haiku: the 5-7-5 syllable pattern. By 1915 he had come to oppose a fixed form for the haiku, and his vers libre haiku "no longer had the familiar haiku shape, but tended to run on to prosaic lengths. He himself preferred to call them 'short poems' (tanshi)" (Keene, p. 112). He wrote in 1917: "Any arbitrary attempt to mold a poem into  the 5-7-5 syllable pattern would damage the freshness of impression and kill the vitality of language." As for the value of using the season word, his attitude is affirmative; in his view, "every poetic sentiment was imbedded in a season of the year" (Ibid.).  His idea of shinkeiko haiku ( "new trend" haiku)1, then, was a short vers libre usually with a season word.

Selected Haiku:

a fasting man
craves for water at midnight:
a flash of lightening

clawing the void
lies the corpse of a crab:
mountains of cloud

in the faint light of dawn
a tree blossoming in white,
the field sprinkled with dew

mountain roses bloom:
factory girls
at the windows
of a tenement house

after the riot --
such a perfect
moonlit night

spring cold:
a cloud without roots
over the paddy field

Note:  Below is a relevant excerpt from Joseph K. Yamagiwa's Japanese Literature of the Shōwa Period : A Guide to Japanese Reference and Research Materials, p. 26:

According to Hekigoto, it was necessary to devote oneself to objective imagery, but, in contrast to Shiki's impressionism, which almost any poet could imitate, Hekigoto's was one which was "rich in subjective taste." Hence, the poet is to "look at nature through the window of his own senses and perceptions," and his purpose is to express " a taste higher than for nature alone." For the Shinkeiko movement, Hekigoto took the following for a motto: "a dynamic representation depending on an awakened individuality." The tendency in Hekigoto was to progress from reality to symbolism, from declarative to more suggestive statements. It was Osuga Otsuji who first used the term shinkeiko to describe the new style. This came in an article published in the January-February, 1908, issue of Akane and entitled "Haikukai no shinkeiko" (New Tendencies in the World of Haiku)


Donald Keene, Dawn to the West : Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984.
Joseph K. Yamagiwa, Japanese Literature of the Shōwa Period : A Guide to Japanese Reference and Research Materials, University of Michigan Press, 1959.
Makoto Ueda, Modern Japanese Haiku : An Anthology, University of Toronto Press, 1976.
Stephen Cushman (ed.),  The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition, Princeton University Press, 2012.

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