Is is unfortunate that Onitsura had no students to carry on his approach to hokku, which was really quite good. But Bashō was the one with all the followers, so he is the one remembered, though Onitsura was writing in the same period and is along with Bashō a co-patriarch of our kind of hokku. Onitsura’s verses often have a kind of spare and aesthetic elegance, like this:
Akebono ya mugi no hazue no haru no shimo
Dawn ya barley ‘s leaf-tip ‘s spring ‘s frost
On the tips of the barley leaves,
That is Onitsura’s austere way of sharing with us the period of seasonal transition when the last traces of the cold winter must give way to spring.
I keep repeating the principle of reflection in hokku, because it is so important to hokku aesthetics. Remember that hokku use different techniques; they sometimes combine things that are similar, at other times things that are different. In this hokku we have a mixture.
“Dawn” reflects the time of year, which is spring. Spring is the beginning of the year just as dawn is the beginning of day. So in this verse we see spring reflected in the dawn, and dawn reflected in the spring. Both have a feeling of freshness and youth and newness. But we also find the contrast between the “growing yang” dawn (reflected in “spring”) and the cold yin frost on the leaf of the barley. This shows us directly the interplay between the forces of Yin and Yang in Nature. Early spring is a time when those two forces seem to contend for dominance, but being a spring verse, we know which will win, because spring means growing yang and diminishing yin, just as dawn means the same.
So again, we see in this verse both the principle of reflection and the principle of contrast. Someone who understands reflection will not mistake it for metaphor in hokku, something done all too often by Western writers and readers of modern haiku who have never learned the aesthetic principles and techniques of hokku.
Regular readers here know that I often caution novices about Issa. Some of his verses are good, others too personal and reflective of the psychological wounds of his childhood. Westerners usually flock to his “cute” verses like flies to honey, and have to be taught to appreciate those that are deeper in order to overcome that defect.
In any case, here is a spring hokku by him:
Yuki tokete mura ip-pai no kodomo kana
Snow melted village one-cup ‘s children kana
Snow having melted,
The village is filled
The Japanese original says the village is ip-pai with children. Ip-pai means literally one cup, but here we are to take it in its secondary sense of something filled to the brim, or even filled to overflowing, like a cup of tea.
Henderson actually gives a quite good translation into English by saying the village is “overflowing” with children.
In any case, what we are to understand is that the snow has just melted (yin becoming yang) and this event is reflected in the fact that suddenly the village seems full of active children (also yang replacing yin). To say the melting snow that fills the village with running pools and puddles also fills it with running children is perhaps to explain too much, but really that is the sense we are to get from it.
So again we see the movement from the yin of winter to the growing yang of early spring presented through use of certain elements that have these qualities. And just as spring is the beginning of the year, children are the beginning of life. But always keep in mind that in hokku this is reflection (we can be more formal and call it “internal reflection”), not metaphor.
Issa also wrote another hokku of very early spring, touched with his characteristic quirky “psychological” approach:
Korekiri to miete dossari haru no yuki
That’s-it to looked very-much spring ‘s snow
To be all of it!
The big spring snowfall.
Korekiri (kore-giri) means “that’s all,” “that’s it.” Dossari means a “great deal” of something, a “big amount.”
This is Issa’s brand of humor. In this verse we are right on the edge of ending winter and beginning spring, though obviously just across the spring boundary of the lunar calendar. And there has been a sudden, huge snowfall. Seeing that, Issa says, “Well that looks like all of it now!” meaning that the winter has ended in one last big snowfall that used up all remaining in the season, and spring begins.
Issa’s last hokku is light-hearted and humorous and child-like in reflecting the winter-spring transition, but Onitsura’s is more perceptive and deep. Each has its place in hokku. Yet if one goes no deeper than Issa’s approach, one will miss a lot.