THE PILGRIM’S CHILD

Shiki (the “founder” of haiku as different from hokku) wrote a verse that is really a hokku in structure and effect:

A butterfly;
The pilgrim’s child
Lags behind.

Like old hokku, this demands an intuitive leap by the reader.  One must instantly recognize why these particular elements have been combined.

The parent is one of those pious Buddhist ladies who is off on a walking pilgrimage with others from shrine to shrine, and she has brought her child on her journey.  But along the path there is a butterfly, and the child lags behind, absorbed in its appearance and its fluttering.

Given the flexibility of the Japanese language,  we can make the butterflies many, and we can even multiply the number of children.  Number is not specified in the original.  But in English we have to choose, because English is a more precise language.

It is pleasant to think of the child among a group of spring butterflies, but it is also pleasant to think of it being held by the presence of only one.

If all writers of modern haiku had followed the example of such a verse, modern haiku would not be in its present chaotic state.  But of course then they would really be writing hokku.

David

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