on the temple bell
Probably, and justifiably, his most famous haiku, it took quite sometime before my dull, dull mind heard the bell ring and I realized how it literally resonates. Over the years, I've read many versions of this and this is the simplest and, in my opinion, the best.
Now Mr. Collins:
Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.
It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.
I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.
I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.
I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.
And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.
It's the one about the one-ton temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,
and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.
When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.
When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.
And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,
and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.
There are some things I like about this poem, other things not so much. The title, "Japan," for me is a bit of a conundrum, but perhaps, as is frequently the case with Collins, it's just a launching point. At first I was puzzled by his use of moth instead of butterfly, which robs it of an allusion to Chuang Tzu's famous work:
Most versions go with butterfly, but I did find one that used moth, specifically a moon-moth, so there you go. As usual, when confronted with a puzzle, I turn to Master Issa:
"I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. "
on the flower pot
does the butterfly, too
hear Buddha's promise?
Issa translated by David Lanoue