WHAT COMES FROM THE READER

There are some hokku difficult for young people to understand — difficult not because of complexity, but because one must go through certain experiences to fully appreciate them.  One of the most obvious of these is Buson’s verse:

Chichi haha no    koto nomi omou    aki no kure
Dad      Mom  ‘s    matter only think   autumn ‘s evening

Thinking only
About my mom and dad;
The autumn evening.

At first this seems a rather bland hokku, but a great deal depends upon the reader knowing how hokku work.

We know that a hokku is an expression of a season, in this case the season of autumn.  Autumn is the time of aging and withering and eventually dying.  That is the key to understanding this verse.

When Buson says that he is thinking only of his parents, he means it in the sense that they keep coming into his thoughts for some reason — that even when he tries to think of other things, the faces of his parents keep returning.

Why is that?  It is because in the autumn, one realizes both what one is losing and what one has lost.  Autumn is the time of growing yin, the time of things — of life — returning to the root.  It is the time of withering plants and falling leaves and the diminishing of warmth and light and the increasing of cold.  All of these things combine to bring Buson’s mother and father constantly to mind.

He does not tell us if they are aged — in which case one has the sorrow and concern of seeing their lives fading — or if they have passed away, in which case one has the grief that never really goes away, the bittersweet memories easily evoked by the season of autumn.

One can see that the last line,

The autumn evening

is very important.

So there is a world of feeling in this verse.  It is at the same time very personal and very universal.  Buson thinks of his parents, but when we read it, it becomes a hokku about our own parents, whether we are near to losing them or have lost them.

Dante says in the Divine Comedy that there is

Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice nella miseria….

That there is

“No greater sorrow than to recall a happy time in misery.”

Time is the thief that steals all things — our childhood, our youth,  and leaves us

Thinking only
About my mom and dad;
The autumn evening.

David


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