ON THE OLD DOOR

I repeatedly remind readers that hokku is very simple.  Here is a good example — a verse by Shōha:

Furuki to ni    kage utsuriyuku   tsubame kana
Old  door on   shadow changing swallow kana

In essence, this is saying

On the old door,
A changing shadow —
The swallow.

But we could make it better in English like this:

On the old door,
A constantly-changing shadow —
The swallow.

Or even better,

On the old door,
A flitting shadow —
The swallow.

Or we could say,

On the old door,
A shadow flits to and fro —
The swallow.

In the West this is likely to be a weathered barn door, and the constantly-changing shadow is that of a barn swallow flitting to and fro with remarkable speed and agility.  The focus, however, is not on the swallow; it is on the old door and the shadow that flits across its surface repeatedly.

On this we see both the sense of time and age that is appropriate to hokku and the sense of transience in the constantly-changing shadow.  It is the combination of these two elements — the fresh and active and the old and passive — that gives this hokku its interest.  Regular readers here will recognize this as just another manifestation of the principles of Yin (passive) and Yang (active) that we find so often in hokku, used in so many ways.

David

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