by John Hertz: National Poetry Month in the United States.
Between the clouds, shining;
It’s vegetable springtime,
For a thousand years the highest form of Japanese literature was a 31-syllable poem, in five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. Originally it was called waka, “Japanese poem”; in those days Chinese poems – by Japanese – were regarded even more highly, like the use of Greek in the Roman Empire, or the use of Latin in England until at least the 18th Century. Eventually this form was called tanka, “short poem”.
That wasn’t short enough, so the Japanese dropped two lines, leaving the form we know as haiku (from a word meaning “unorthodox”) – even harder to write.
Anyone can string together 5-7-5 syllables. But haiku is to be a poem.
It should present a moment. It should show the meeting of the inner or subjective world, and the outer or objective world, to appear at the end of the first or second lines. Oh, and it should say or point to what season the moment is in.
Richard Wright (1908-1960) toward the end of his life wrote haiku.
In the falling snow
A laughing boy holds out his palms
Until they are white.
R. Wright, Haiku no. 31 (Y. Hakutani & R. Tener eds., rev. 2011)
One of the greatest haiku masters was Buson (1716-1784).
The evening breezes –
The water splashes against
A blue heron’s shins
(in Japanese yûkaze ya / mizu aosagi no / hagi o utsu; the notation û is for a long vowel, which some would write uu; tr. by the great Donald Keene 1922-2019, who called this haiku by Buson a tour de force; F. Bowers ed., The Classic Tradition of Haiku p. 54, 1996)
Hoping you are the same.
Bashô, The Narrow Road to Oku (1702; D. Keene tr. 1996)