|Art by Nanae Ito|
With a reading and poetry program last week and another reading and a poetry program this week, and the new issues in the oven getting ready to go out to contributors, I've fallen a bit behind. So, posted today is what I originally intended to put up on Friday and Issa's Sunday Service will return in its regular slot next week. Meanwhile, all 77 songs to date can be found here in list form and here in jukebox form.
Ah, Hallmark Editions books - small little hardcovers, with decorative dust jackets, that brought a world of sentiment alien to what is commonly thought of today when one says the word "Hallmark." The little volume at hand is 55 pages long with some 140 plus haiku, all by masters of the form and translated by one of the first and finest of all haiku translators, R. H. Blyth. There is a nifty intro that cites Wordsworth, one of Blyth's favorites - in fact, the intro may come from Blyth, there is no easy way to tell. The overall selection was edited by Dorothy Price, who did a very fine job, indeed.
All for the remarkable price new of $2.50 back in the year 1967 (and 40 years later you can get copies for only a dollar more, including shipping), this little book packs a formidable punch. The simply (in all senses of the word) stunning artwork is by Nanae Ito, in the traditional style. I've mentioned this collection before, but only in regard to a handful of Issa translations. I'd like to dip in a little more deeply now.
All 140 haiku were selected from Blyth's 4-volume masterwork, Haiku, from Hokuseido Press of Japan, unfortunately out of print and going for a pretty penny. The volumes are invaluable, no matter what you pay for them, and I don't often make rash statements when it comes to money. This may seem puzzling on the surface, but the poems aren't half the beauty; Blyth's commentary is unsurpassed. If you want to learn the origin of haiku, the spirit of haiku, the Way of Haiku, these volumes are your ticket there.
From Silent Flowers, I've marked some 30 poems for further review.
to that obedient ear within.
The first poem, from which the title derives, is unusual for a traditional haiku and all the more strong for that. Silence is perfectly balanced by the ear within; only the inner ear may truly hear silence. That the flowers themselves are given voice is lovely without being awkwardly anthropomorphic. There is more of an almost synesthesiac quality if anything, suggesting one is "hearing" a smell or an vision. Quite fine, since the philosophical implication is most important of all; the silent flowers, most often cherry blossoms in traditional haiku, are teaching us the ultimate lesson if we wish to hear.
Just simply alive,
Both of us, I
and the poppy.
There it is, folks - doesn't get plainer or simpler or truer or more beautiful than that. After you read a poem like this, time to shut the book and get back to life.
My eyes having seen all,
Came back to
That's not a typo - it is Isshō, not Issa, about whom I could find very little except that he was a poet of Kanazawa, who was warmly admired by Bashō. This particular poem might be taken in two ways: in the moment and in a deeper philosophical sense. In the moment, the poet returns to the chrysanthemums after literally looking about and seeing all. Figuratively, there is a kind of resonance - having seen all in life, I return to the chrysanthemums because they are most worth seeing and may tell us all we need to know, as with both Onitsura's and Issa's poems. It is said that Bashō was so moved by the poet's death at a young age, he wrote the following uncharacteristically emotional poem for him:
On the Death of Isshō
Oh, grave-mound, move!
My wailing is the autumn wind.
The scissors hesitate
Before the white chysanthemums,
This Buson poem I've talked about before, but I'm not sure if it was in the Blyth translation. All these renderings seem damn near perfect, but this one is truly amazing. The 1st line breaks at "hesitate" - which we do - the second ends with a comma - hesitating again - and the third, well, locks us firmly in that moment. We know what comes next and I'm not talking about a blossom head falling to the ground.
I'm almost overwhelmed with how resonant these short renderings are. There are two masters at work here at all times: poet and translator.
To pluck it is a pity,
To leave it is a pity,
Ah, this violet!
Caught perfectly in the balance, the violet - and the human. Each of these poems seems the final word - on all of poetry.
They spoke no word.
The visitor, the host,
And the white chrysanthemum.
Oh, wait, it would seem no final word, no word at all, is needed.
Striking the fly
I hit also
A flowering plant.
Do not the petals flutter down,
Just like that?
How could I have missed these two the first time I looked at Issa's work in this collection. How wrong to strike the fly is seen in the result: two dead things. And simple trust, what could be easier ... and harder?
The long night;
The sound of water
Says what I think
Here is a little mystery - what is the poet thinking, what is the water saying. When we hear water, it says a lot of things to us. What could it be, says the old person to the young person, what could it be?
This week's sample poem comes from the Lillie archive comes from issue #124, March 2002.
Rainy winds...An orphan sycamoreUses my grandmother's voice
on my hut's unlucky side
on my hut's unlucky side
PS Get 2 free issues Get 2 more free issues Lillie poem archive
Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 76 songs
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