Moving, trying to craft a massive budget at work, settling into a new place: all these things and more have sucked me entirely out of writing for at least the past month, and to a certain degree, out of reading as well. But one of the benefits of having one’s life taken over by demanding practicalities and a chaotic schedule while diving into haiku in a more-informed-than-in-the-past fashion has meant that I’m taking those poetic particles bit by slow, slow bit, letting a few sink in at a time and simmer until they’ve had their say in my brain.
I can’t remember when I learned about haiku; I was fortunate enough to have teachers convinced of small children’s need to learn about and experiment with different forms of poetry, even if said children had barely made it into a stage of comfort with two-syllable words. But, much as was the case with Greek drama and even Shakespeare, I think I had to put a few decades behind me before I could take the form seriously, as something more than pleasant or clever, and able to be whipped out by anyone with a pretty good vocabulary and a healthy wit. And now, especially when any time available for reading is seriously strained, paying attention to every well-crafted syllable is making me value this poetic form in a way I’d failed to do in the past.
Check out these few samples of Bashō:
Many nights on the road
and not dead yet–
the end of autumn.
but somehow the chrysanthemum
A cicada shell;
it sang itself
all that’s left
of warriors’ dreams.*
And then, too, I’ve given an initial peek into waka. Here’s one from Yosano Akiko:
You have come at last,
And so I let go the dragonflies
Which I have held captive
In my five fingers
This autumn evening.
Of the numberless steps
Up to my heart,
He climbed perhaps
Only two or three.**
But going back to the theme that opened this digression from apparently more pressing things, I’m unable to spend any real time talking about what it is I love about these verses– but will note in quick passing that the chrysanthemum piece seems somehow to link in feeling with an essay over at the Center for Humans and Nature on the plight of the monarch. The general existential state of the species? Ailing, and badly so. But at the moment, somehow, a few blossoms still survive to help them out. Maybe, once I have my head on straight again, I’ll find a succinct poetic way to express what should pain us all about this situation– and better yet, lead to some action.
Until then, I’ll read when, and as much as, I can, and hope to God I’m seeing the light at the end of this stupidly jam-packed tunnel.
*Robert Haas, editor, The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa (New York: ecco, 1994), 16, 20, 27, 39
** Donald Keene, editor, Modern Japanese Literature: From 1868 to Present Day (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1960), 207.