Monday, March 05, 2007

applause, correcting, haiku

Pigeons rise in a small flock from a roof top. Their wings clap like a burst of applause.

I tend to do my daily sudoku with a pen. This makes me all the more careful not to make mistakes, and adds a little spice to the game. But if I do make a mistake there is correction device called Pritt, which rolls a thin film of quick-drying correcting material over the error. A cheat's last resort.

I have a little book of Haiku by Basho, one of the great Japanese masters of the form. Although haiku are generally written in lines of five, seven and five syllables (seventeen in all), because these are translations, and probably quite literal, they are presented in even briefer lines. eg
From the heart
of the sweet peony
a drunken bee.
I would not like to think that this absolves those who attempt haiku in English from the classical seventeen syllable form. Bit I do think that the staccato sound of the shorter lines does have a charm of its own probably closer to the Japanese sounds.

5 comments:

Lucy said...

Serendipity or synchronicity, I don't know, but I'm very pleased to have found you.
I have been putting together a post on Roscoff pink onions, and picked up yours on Google where these very onions are one of your three things.
This blog is beautiful, fresh and delightful. I'm also intrigued by 'Exploring', which I'll give more time to. Meanwhile, I have you bookmarked, and you're going into the pink onion post!

Plutarch said...

Thanks for visiting. The Roscoff onions in the supermarket brought back memories of a family holiday near Concarneau,about 30 years ago. In fields neigbouring the house, which we rented, were women in black picking and platting onions. As I write this, I can almost smell those onions and the dry, sun-baked soil.

Lucas said...

I agree with what you say about the staccato lines in the translation of Basho. By collapsing the syllables it seems to work better - 3 - 6 - 4.
Could this be a discovery to persue?

Dave said...

Actually, Japanese haiku are written all in one line. But in English-language poetry, arranging stuff into lines is what it's all about and a good idea, I think, for attempting to bring across the effect of something as brief and easy to miss the point of as a haiku. I agree that counting syllables in English is silly; it's the number of stressed syllables that matters in an English-language poem. To further confound matters, "haiku" is a modern Japanese invention by Masaoka Shiki, applied retroactively to earlier poets such as Basho, Buson and Issa, who actually specialized in multi-authored haikai no renga - linked verse sequences - and the 17-syllable verses with which they began, called hokku.

Stuff you always wanted to know, I'm sure, but not very much. Nice blog you have here! (I followed the link from box elder.)

Plutarch said...

Thanks for your comment, Dave. I am by no means an authority on haiku though I have long been interested in the tradition. The best recent account of the form that I know (The Classical Tradition of Haiku edited by Faubion Bowers) does indeed mention the single line haiku. I quote: "There is much discussion among scholars as to whether haiku should be transcribed in one vertical column, but when hand written on poem cards, they often appear in three columns, making visible the 5-7-5 syllabic impulse".

I confess to liking haiku written in English and to enjoying the 5-7-5 discipline even if it is in a different context. It seems to me that America has developed the English language haiku, though how well is open to question.

Bowers is interesting on the modern origins of haiku (and much else) and confirms what you say about renga and hokku: he says: "Basho himself never heard the word haiku". Although Basho, as you say, practiced the art of haikai, which he raised to a new level.

I am so pleased that you commented on this, and can't help wondering if you have know Japanese and/or have studied Japanese litterature.