Friday, February 4, 2011

A Pluperfect Moon: A Little Treasury of Haiku, Part II

Note: Following last week's post, here is Part II on The Little Treasury of Haiku. As I write this note, it is looking like there will be a part 3 ... perhaps after a brief pause, eh? Meanwhile, let's plunge right in, shall we?

Master Buson seems to be waiting ... patiently.


Now the swinging bridge
Is quieted with creepers . . .
Like our tendrilled life

Another beautiful little Bashō poem; to more contemporary sensibilities, certainly the "Like" is unnecessary. We are all in the business of throwing everything overboard that is unnecessary, correct?  The traditional contrasting of diverse elements here reveals metaphor, which usually goes unstated or even is totally avoided in haiku.

The image is strong, though, particularly for modern man. When was the last time anyone thought about a rope bridge being muted by vegetation? And so our lives, you say?

And so our lives, indeed.

Watching, I wonder
What poet could put down his quill . . .
A pluperfect moon!

Now here is a conundrum wrapped up in a riddle. There will be no easy retrieving when pulling the string of the balloon of that pluperfect moon. What is the translator after here, is it analogous to something Onitsura wrote - is he speaking of the past and present moments simultaneously or some syntactical implication that is simply beyond my comprehension here?

This is the deep end of the haiku pool and now I'm thinking I shouldn't have been so flip about Master Suzuki in part I of this post.

White chrysanthemum . . .
Before the perfect flower
Scissors hesitate

This is another wonderful poem in a fine translation. However, when compared to R. H. Blyth, as noted in a previous post, we see the difference between fine and great:

The scissors hesitate
Before the white chysanthemums,
A moment.

Using just one more word than Beilenson, Blyth captures the same action and the action which immediately follows (or happens). In the former, the flower is not cut; in the later it is.

Did Beilenson fumble or Blyth interpolate? I have no idea, once again I am shamed before Dr. Suzuki.

But I do love that I have both of these to compare, propelling me ever closer to Master Buson.

Fireworks ended
And spectators gone away . . .
Ah, how vast and dark!

Now here is a Shiki poem I can cozy up to. There is more than the art and the emptiness - though emptiness there is. The emptiness in this poem reverberates in a way I often find lacking in Shiki.

My volume had a glorious typo in this one: "firewords" for "fireworks."

Deepen, drop, and die
Many-hued chrysanthemum . . .
One black earth for all

The use by Beilenson of heavy alliteration - du, du, du - is most effective in this dark poem by Ryushi. Even if you read the d sounds lightly, it could be each petal detaching and falling off, one by one. Take your pick, the endgame is the same.

Plume of pampas grass
Trembling in every wind . . .
Hush, my lonely heart

Trembling is the word which links the two elements of this ku. Lonely is the word that breaks ours.

Winter rain deepens
Lichened letters on the grave . . .
And my old sadness.

Nature not only mirrors the poet's old grief, it deepens it literally, in the way water highlights etched letters on stone. This simple, natural act calls all back to mind, because old really is the most important word here. The grief, it is thought, had begun to fade like the letters but upon seeing the faded letters again, the pain too comes to the fore, and is as wrenching as ever. A perfect, if grief-laden, haiku moment.

From my tiny roof
Smooth . . . soft . . . still-white snow
Melts in melody

I like what this poem seems to be about, though I'm not so sure of the translation. The last line feels a bit forced, and not as clear as it could be. Still, a lovely winter subject, embodying a lovely, universal feeling.

Under my tree-roof
Slanting lines of April rain
Separate to drops

Another type of roof, another fine weather poem; this time the poet, with an artist's eye, closely observes water's mercurial qualities. The picture is perfect; there is a sense that everything is exactly so.

Riverbank plum tree . . .
Do your reflected blossoms 
Really float away?

Buson the painter is sketching something with words that even he, perhaps, could not capture with a painter's brush. What is real, the poet seems to be asking himself, as he questions the plum tree, what is not?

The seashore temple . . .
Incoming rollers flow in time
To the holy flute

Another beauty by Buson, this time auditory instead of visual (though it is that, too, just not primarily). Because the temple is so near the sea, we glean that the sea is a source of all things i.e. music. The beat and rhythm of the rollers is the primal sound, the sound which cannot be said, the aum/om sound of all things, the sound all music is based on. The flute is holy, the temple is holy, the sea is holy.

Holy, holy, holy, holy . . .

Finally, for this post

Moonlight stillness
Lights the petals falling . . . falling . . .
On the silenced lute

Stillness and silence and falling, falling. There is an ominous quality to Shiki's poem. It could simply be that all are asleep, hence the stillness and the silence, and yet the falling makes one wonder at that very silence and stillness.

Let's leave the mystery be, until part III, either next week or soon thereafter.


This week's issue from the archives is Lilliput Review, #135, from January 2004.

in the snow
perfect yellow ensō
Ed Baker

pissing a perfect
a cold night
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Ed Baker said...

of course everyboddhi should have in their library
any edition of D.T. Suzuki's

mine is nustling up against my 1942 edition of
The Wisdom of China and India
edited by Lin Yutang

neat poems & phunny..

just about 1/2 hour ago

I peed off of my back deck
into the icy-snow
to see the stream freeze

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

My copies of these two classics seem to be across the room from one another ... and I call myself a librarian.