Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2002/04/29

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Subject: Re: [Leica] Haiku
From: Guy Bennett <>
Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 10:14:23 -0800
References: <>


Ok, I'll bite.

Haiku is a brief, fragment-like poetic form from Japan consisting of 17
syllables. In English, these are broken up into 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5
syllables each. I believe the form itself comes from the renga, which is a
type of "linking poetry" formed of alternating stanzas of 5/7/5 syllables
and 7/7 syllables, usually composed in groups presided over by a "referee,"
because the rules are so numerous and so complex.

The "feel" of haiku seems to come from the the renga, in which each stanza
must contain a complete thought in and of itself, yet be open enough to be
complete by the stanza that follows. That stanza too must complete the
preceding one, make a statement of its own, yet be open enough to be
completed by the stanza that follows, and so on. The renga is a beautiful
form that evolves tremendously from one stanza to the next. The most
well-known book of renga is "The Monkey's Raincoat," written by the most
famous haiku poet, Basho, and his colleagues Boncho, Fumikuni, Kyorai, and
Yasui. It's available in a fine English translation by Lenore Mayhew.

So, some folk find haiku disconcerting, because it doesn't correspond to
what they've been trained to look for when it comes to reading for meaning.
The fact that haiku is written outside of Japan in languages from around
the world would suggest that these folk are in the minority, as haiku has
long become an internationally recognized poetic form, like the sonnet.
There is a tradition of English-language haiku, and you should be able to
find anthologies in any good bookstore. As for Japanese haiku in
translation, you might begin with R.H. Blythe's anthologies, simply titled
"Haiku" (there are 4 volumes). They are jointly published by the Hokuseido
Press in Tokyo, and the Heian Internation in South San Francisco.

Basho's most famous haiku is probably the following:

The old pond
a frog jumps in
sound of water splashing

Another of his more well-known haiku is:

Year after year
on the monkey's face
a monkey's mask

Check out the Blythe translations, if you're interested. He not only
presents a wide body of work, his commentary is also very helpful in that
it reveals what lies behind the haiku tradition and how some of what haiku
has to say corresponds to the work and thought of many western poets.

Happy reading.

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