Now back to spring….
Rofu wrote an interesting verse set in the spring:
Ashiato wo kani no ayashimu shiohi kana
Foot-step wo crab ‘s suspicion ebb-tide kana
If one wants a good, brief look at how very different Japanese hokku looked from English language hokku, this a good example. Essentially and very literally, what this verse says is:
At the footstep, crab’s suspicion, ebb tide.
One would not suspect that of being anything remotely resembling verse, were it not for the fact that the original has the standard 5-7-5 phonetic units measure characteristic of Japanese verse, which relies in its traditional manifestations on combinations of lines of five or seven units.
In English, however, we must present it a bit differently:
Is suspicious of the footprint;
“Footprint” in the original, is ashi-ato, literally “foot-trace.” We have already encountered the word ato in my discussion of Bashō’s “Summer grasses” hokku, where it referred to what remained behind. Here what remains is an ashiato, a footprint.
The crab, scuttling along the sand at low tide, comes to this vast depression — something out of the ordinary, and therefore suspicious. He pauses in uncertainty.
The whole point of this verse is that the reader becomes one with the suspicious crab. We feel his hesitation and uncertainty on coming across the strange imprint in the sand.
We are accustomed to having animals and other creatures anthropomorphized, made to look and behave like humans. Here the reader has the opportunity to go the other way — to see things from the crab point of view.
Verses about the ebb tide are traditionally spring verses in Japan. The two best of such verses are this one and the one we have already seen, Chiyo-ni’s
Everything picked up
The difference in Japanese is that the latter verse uses the term shiohi gata — “the ebb tide beach” in the original, while the former uses just shiohi — “ebb tide.”
Aesthetically Chiyo-ni’s verse is another of those studies in contrasts. We have the weakening energy of the receding tide (Yin) yet within that environment, we find things that appear lifeless (Yin) are indeed very much alive (Yang), as they wiggle and move in the hand.