Entry: RIVER FOG Sunday, July 01, 2007



Another autumn "fog" verse, this time by Taigi, one of the best of the old hokku writers:

River fog;
Urging the horse in --
The sound of water.

If one looks at how R. H. Blyth translated this verse, one can see both his intent and his brilliance:

The river mist;
Urging the horse into the water,
The sound of it.

Blyth's translations, while sometimes not what one might call literal, are nonetheless generally right on the mark in conveying the genuine "overall" meaning and spirit of a verse.

When Blyth began writing his series of books on hokku (which were unfortunately anachronistically labelled "haiku" -- the popular if inaccurate term in Japan in the 1930s-1960s), he did not intend to teach anyone how to write it.  His purpose was rather to look back into the old hokku of the past, and to convey to modern speakers of English the essence and significance of these verses through translations that would express their meaning directly, if not always literally.

Reading hokku had given Blyth great personal pleasure, and he wanted to convey something of that pleasure, and something of what had been lost over time, by presenting the old hokku to a "Western" audience.  Eventually, he also traced the history of hokku from its origins through its high points to its numerical burgeoning, but spiritual decline, after the revisions of Shiki largely replaced it with "haiku."  He considered it something wonderful from the past that had become, by his time,

"...an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely." (Shakespeare).

At the end he recognized that his earlier works had helped to kindle an interest in the verse form in English.  Unfortunately he did not live long enough to give proper guidance to those English speakers who were moved to try the verse in their own language.  That is why in his own works one finds only hints (but good ones!) and gentle criticism such as his remarks on the verses written by J. W. Hackett that were included near the end of Blyth's second volume of the History of Haiku:

"in these excellent verses, occasionally there is sensation only; more often there is too much ostensive, that is, overt thought." (bold type mine)

If only the readers of Blyth's works had paid attention to what he said and had not just flipped through the pages reading the verses!  Then the history of the verse form from his time onward might have been different.

I want to take a moment at the end of this posting to thank those who leave comments on this site.  It is always interesting to see remarks from others interested or involved in hokku.


Copyright 2007
David Coomler

   34 comments

Name cymore
July 6, 2007   04:56 PM PDT
 
I thank you every moment. Perhaps Blythe would too. The continuation of Hokku, the understanding possible for a student, the honor of learning from you...
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