Entry: DEPTH Friday, June 22, 2007



Shiki, who brought into popular use the term "haiku" for his revision of the older hokku near the beginning of the 20th century, did not really understand hokku, which is why he thought it should be a kind of sketch from Nature -- at least, unlike many modern writers of haiku, he retained the connection to Nature!

His lack of understanding led to many verses which, while not displeasing, lack depth.  Shiki's "haiku" was essentially a little picture in words, and we see that here:

A horse
Tied to a low tree;
The summer fields.

Contrast that with a verse of Buson, not at all a sketch or illustration, but rather a sensory experience:

Happiness!
Crossing the summer river,
Sandals in hand.


The coolness of the water in the warm air, the smoothness of pebbles and stones and sand underfoot, the contrast of warmth and cool wetness, all this -- and happiness!  That is Buson's sensory experience, and how much more strongly it affects us than Shiki's little picture drawn in words of a horse, a tree, a field.

It is unfortunate that so many emulated Shiki and carried his revisionism even farther, so that hokku nearly disappeared in the enthusiasm for change and the urge to write "haiku" without understanding what was being lost in discarding the hokku. 

Those of us who prefer the hokku are today in the minority, and that is just a part of the nearly universal tendency to abandon anything that takes time and effort to learn.  But just as Buson's verse is deeper than that of Shiki, hokku is generally deeper than the modern haiku.


Copyright 2007
David Coomler

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