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Personal Choice 8


The art of haiku dates from 14th-century Japan and evolved during the Tokugawa period from an earlier kind of linked-verse known as renga and used by Zen Buddhist monks. It began as a literary game or had a comic style of verse that was simple to write. But in the late 1600's, Matsuo Basho (1644 - 94) changed haiku into a serious form of highly refined and conscious art. His haiku, written according to strict rules, presented aspects of nature and contained a reference to a season of the year. Under the influence of Zen Buddhism, Basho’s haiku contained a mystical quality in which simple everyday images took on a universal quality. His poems merely suggested ideas and feelings, and so the reader must use imagination to interpret them. The haiku, taken into English from a Japanese form, is one of the shortest types of lyric poetry. In Japanese, the haiku consists of 17 syllables arranged in three lines. Yosa Buson (1716 - 83?) and Kobayashi Issa (1763 - 1827) were influential in the further development of haiku in the 18th-century as was Masuoka Shiki (1867 - 1902) in the 19th-century.

Now the swinging bridge

Is quieted with creepers . . .

Like our tendrilled life.


For deliciousness

Try fording this rivulet

Sandals in one hand.


Snow having melted

The whole village is brimful

Of happy children.


Night; and once again

The while I wait for you, cold wind

Turns into rain.


Matsua Basho

Haiku has always been for me the cut and polished unique and priceless jewels of all poetry. The form is exquisite and almost impossible to master. The proposition that is made in the first two lines owes its perfection to that third line of resolution. Buson’s haiku above is a superb example. I have always returned to the form when my own work either loses its way or becomes tired and stale. They are a wonderful writing exercise in concentration and for deciding when only the right word will do. I have written many, many haiku. Coming across a ruined cottage during a walk one afternoon penned this one:

Chimney chokes with grass

old fireside talk - a pear tree

fruits hard on silence.


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