I read Annotranslate not just because Jim is our son, but because I am really interested in
Japanese and the things he discusses here.
However, I simply can’t remember Japanese words. They look as weird to me on the page as Russian did when I started learning it fifty-three years ago!
The only Japanese words I am at home with are ones like karumi (‘lightness’), yūgen
(‘mysterious depth’), kigo (‘season-word’), sabi (‘patinated loneliness’), or ma (‘dreaming
room’). That’s because I have been on the haiku journey for fifty years (I wrote my first
haiku in Russia in 1970) and have assimilated these concepts along the way.
In Annotranslate I’m fascinated by the microseasons. Japanese haiku frequently contain a ‘season-word’. The microseasons Jim shows us demonstrate that most ‘season-words’ in
haiku are way over our Western heads but they enable Japanese readers to place the time of year to within four days.
Within the microseasons so far, I’m particularly fond of #16, ‘First reeds sprout’ (20-24
April) and #17, ‘Last frost, rice seedlings grow’ (25-29 April). This is because they stress
growth. Many haiku express aware (‘fleeting beauty’), or are downright bleak, but it seems to me that the Japanese are equally good at the force of life. After all the drama in Basho’s and the other poets’ renga called ‘The Kite’s Feathers’, Fumikuni ends with:
Just a few leaves left
& the medlar buds again
(Version by Bill Wyatt)
Through the medlar’s old leaves
New buds begin to shoot.
(Version by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite)
The big question, of course, is whether you can write haiku at all without a deep
knowledge of the haiku tradition in its original language. The poet Doris Moromisato even believes that ‘to create a haiku one must be a Zen Buddhist and have a Zen world-view, otherwise it would be betraying the haiku’.
I don’t agree, even though I know that many of my haiku are (unconsciously) influenced by Zen. I believe a person receiving something from a foreign culture has to be free to run with it where s/he likes in their own culture. But I admit this can go ‘wrong’…
Staring at the bright green heads thrusting up through dry, broken stalks of Honesty
(Lunaria annua) in my mother’s garden on a February day, I was moved to write something similar to Fumikuni. What came out was:
dry sticks of honesty junked on this year’s young shoots
This is not a good haiku! ‘Dry sticks’ suggests old people, ‘honesty’ is an English pun,
‘junked’ suggests ‘trashed’, and ‘young’ suggests by whom. It’s ‘symbolical’ – even, horrors, ‘allegorical’ – and haiku should never be that. This ‘haiku’ is a ‘closed text’ in the
good old Western fashion, where haiku should be ‘open texts’ that are completed by the
reader. Not surprisingly, this one-liner has never been accepted for publication. The most one can say is that it’s a parody of a haiku.
On the subject of Honesty, however, you can of course pick the long dry stalks with their
silky ‘moon’ seed pods before they disintegrate in the garden, and decorate the house with them. Perhaps this other haiku is both more Zen and more Japanese:
‘That’s it!’ mother says.
Tweaking dry honesty pods
in a Meiji vase.
I can’t wait to view the remaining microseasons in Jim’s treatment, because each time he
makes the combination of image and brief text practically a ‘haiku moment’.
Regular annotranslate entries will return after July 7th when I have taken my JLPT exam! (Jim)
Image credits: Honesty in Flower (provided by author), Dry Honesty Pods (unknown).