In a previous posting, I told you that hokku are not symbols for anything, are not metaphors. Instead, hokku make use of layers of associations. They do not say one thing is another (metaphor), nor do they say one thing is like another (simile). This is a matter difficult for some people to understand, because they are so accustomed to simile and metaphor in Western verse that they see it where it does not exist.
There is an interesting yet very simple summer hokku written by Chine-jo (the –jo suffix tells us the writer is a woman).
Easily it glows —
Easily it goes out;
We could say that this verse has a double meaning, because it was written as Chine-jo’s death verse — but that is not entirely accurate. The verse is not a metaphor for Chine-jo’s death, but rather it uses the old principle that in hokku, one small thing can hold the meaning of something much larger. For example, we say that in hokku one leaf is all of Autumn. In this verse, the firefly’s glow going easily out expresses all such things in Nature, the fact that if the ego is not struggling against Nature, everything becomes “easy” in life and death, because the individual will dissolves into Nature’s will, as it is put in Canto III of Dante’s Paradiso,
Anzi è formale ad esto beato esse
tenersi dentro a la divina voglia,
per ch’una fansi nostre voglie stesse;
Rather it is necessary to this blessed existence
To keep one’s self within the Divine will,
So that our wills may be one…
E ’n la sua volontate è nostra pace:
And in His will is our peace.
That is the mind of Chine-jo, whose will has become one with the firefly, with Nature, so that
Easily it glows,
Easily it goes out;
We will often find hokku that have their own meaning, to be read as referring to nothing beyond themselves, yet they are applied to events in life that are expressed through them. We find them — as here — in death verses, in verses written for greetings and partings and other such occasions, which is why we call such hokku “occasion” hokku.
It is very important when writing occasion hokku that we do not cross the line into making them meaningful only when applied to the event, in which case they would be metaphors. The must be fully strong within and as themselves — like this verse of Chine-jo — and yet fully expressive of the occasion for which they are written — as we find in this verse.