In Western poetry the “self” plays a very large role. In hokku, however, the self is not only minimized, but often does not appear at all. That is because in much of hokku the writer is the mirror of Nature. The self is like dust that obscures that mirror; the more of self, the less Nature can be clearly reflected.
In hokku the writer is to get the self out of the way so that Nature may speak. There are many other kinds of verse in which the writer can express the self in any way desired; but in hokku the self is generally an obstacle, not a help.
That is why in hokku we very seldom use the words “I,” “me,” and “my.” In fact they are commonly only used when not using them would be awkward or too vague.
When the self does appear in hokku, it is treated as we would treat anything else in Nature, the same way we write about a fox, or a dove, or a tree — objectively.
Because of this, the aesthetics of hokku frown on verses that bring the writer too much to the foreground, drawing the reader’s attention.
In this regard, R. H. Blyth very appropriately quotes Robert Frost’s A Tuft of Flowers:
A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared,
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.
The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,
Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
Contrast that with much of Western poetry, which intends to draw our attention to the writer — his or her thoughts, emotions, hopes, fears, desires, complaints, etc. etc. etc.
Knowing all this, we look at a hokku such as Chiyo-ni’s
The well bucket
Seized by a morning glory;
This is a very popular verse, but unfortunately it draws our attention to the writer’s sensitive aestheticism, so finely tuned that instead of disturbing the morning glory that has entwined the bucket, she will go to borrow water from a neighbor. This is not quite as precious as Oscar Wilde’s remark that he found it harder and harder every day to live up to his blue china, but the effect is perilously close.
And try as we might, that is the effect we get from the verse, because as Blyth points out, beyond that there is really nothing else — no genuine poetic connection between the green tendrils entwining the bucket and Chiyo-ni going next door to borrow a bucket of water. And overt aestheticism is not at home in hokku.
What we learn from all this is to avoid bringing the self to the foreground in hokku, but instead to either keep it out entirely or treat it objectively when it does appear. Our approach as writers should be like that of the mower — acting with no intent to draw one thought of the reader to us. That is in keeping with the principle of selflessness in hokku.
There is a senryu satirizing Chiyl-ni’s hokku:
Yokutoshi wa Chiyo idobata wo satte ue
The next year,
Chiyo planted farther
From the well.