HOKKU AND WAR

Some people think that verse must concern itself with such things as violence and war, if that is what is happening in the world — and it usually is.


Hokku, however, has a higher purpose than importing into itself the chaos and fragmentation of modern society; hokku is and should remain contemplative verse, and that is impossible if it deals with subjects that disturb the mind.  Leave such things to other kinds of verse.  In hokku we know quite well enough that society has made a mess of things.  Our purpose is not to dwell on that, but to transcend it.

There is of course nothing wrong in writing “protest” or “social commentary” verse in other forms.  The attitude of hokku, however, is that if people really want to change the world, they should first change themselves — should work on ending the internal violence that manifests externally as war.  Aldous Huxley once said that

Good Being results in the most appropriate kind of good doing.”

And we should remember the Quaker statement:

This is the true ground of opposition to war, namely that a Christian is to live a life that does away with the occasion for war.

We may substitute “writer of hokku” for “Christian” and have the essence of the matter.

Hokku is not all things to all men.  Its purpose is not the lamenting of human follies and social injustice.  The purpose of hokku is to re-unite the inner and the outer, the subject and the object, the writer and Nature.  It is a way of returning us to Nature and to our true nature.

I often use Thoreau’s words:

I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

And that is what we must constantly be aware of in hokku –- that to really change society deeply and fundamentally, we first must change ourselves. Otherwise we become, as Carl Gustav Jung warned, merely superficially respectable and socially responsible while dark things lie seething in the  hidden unconscious that may eventually manifest themselves in daylight, so that we know not

“…what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.”

And so we continue the old tradition in hokku of avoiding subjects that disturb the mind, among them violence and war.  It exists for a reason, and a very good one.

David


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