A DOLL IS NOT ALWAYS A DOLL

When a writer of hokku writes about himself or herself, he does so as one would if writing about something else — as one would write about a tree, or a hawk circling in the sky.

Baishitsu wrote:

te ni toreba   haya niko-niko to    uri-hina
Hand in taking  soon smiling to sale-doll

Picking it up
And already smiling;
The doll for sale.

This is one of those verses that gives a quite different picture in the West than in Japan.  The doll the writer is holding is nothing like a “Western” doll, not a baby for little girls to play with.  Instead it is a formally-dressed little adult who, along with other similar dolls, will be displayed on shelves or a special stand during the Japanese celebration called “Hina Matsuri,”  “The Doll Festival.”

Some of these old “dolls” — which are really handmade figures and not playthings — were genuine works of art, and a traditional Japanese looking at one would be flooded with memories of childhood and sisters and all such things.  The Hina Matsuri was a girls’ festival, and came in March; the boy’s festival, with which carp were associated, came in early May.

Note that nothing is said in the verse of all the applied associations, which is in keeping with how hokku works.  We do not tell the reader how or why to respond to a verse.  The reader just reads it and responds.

Of course in describing such a verse to English-language readers, we have to load it down with explanation, which is unfortunate but necessary.  Otherwise we would likely think it a verse written by a woman or possibly a somewhat feminine man.

Then too, without all this added explanation one would have no idea that this is a spring verse.  Of course if written in English, such a hokku would be marked with the season in which it was written.

In any case, the dates of both these festivals have now passed us by, and in only a short while we shall be making the transition from spring hokku to summer hokku.

David

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