Thursday, February 08, 2007

Snow, finishing a long book, haiku

You know that it has snowed overnight because of the quality of the light coming through the shutters in the early morning, and the unusual hush in the street.

I reach the end at last of Perez Galdos' Fortunata and Jacinta, not the most gripping of novels, and surely one of the worst constructed. The two women in the title are the mistress and the wife of the central character, in whom you begin to be interested, only to find him discarded by the author half way through the book. If it does give a picture of Madrid at the end of the 19th Century, it is not one that suggests that it is inhabited by very interesting people. There is pleasure only some of the humour, in having persisted to the end, and knowing that you don't have to read it again.

The best account of haiku which I know and which also seems to me to be an excellent anthology, The Classic Tradition of Haiku. It has the merit of spelling out phonetically in Latin characters the 17 syllables of the original Japanese. So that if the same number of syllables (essential to true haiku) do not always surface in the translation, you still get the form of the original. The book is edited by Faubion Bowers. The haiku form has always seemed to me to be well suited to the English language. In his introduction Bowers demonstrates this when quoting the English poet James Kirkup, who sets out to provide a model and a definition:
Haiku should be just
small stones dropping down a well
with a small splash.
The book is published by the American publisher Dover Publications Inc, Dover Thrift Editions. I can't recommend it enough.

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