We just looked at a verse for the time when spring is nearing its end:
From a cloudburst;
Today, by contrast, we shall look at a verse on the other side of the seasonal divide:
Yet no rain falls;
In the first verse we still feel the gentleness and abundance of spring, when the forces of Yang are growing, but softened by the Yin of the rain. But in high summer we come to the time when Yang predominates, and it manifests as heat and dryness. That second verse is by Kōkyō, and he gives us a sense of the harshness of Yang when unmitigated by Yin, just as in midwinter we feel the harshness of the cold Yin unmitigated by the warmth of Yang.
Both heat and cold are extremes, and though they make for unpleasantness and discomfort, they also give us effective hokku because these extremes of heat and cold create strong sensations — sensory experiences — and sensory experience is the basis of hokku.
When using old hokku — which are really Japanese verses — in learning how to write modern hokku, we should generally forget completely that they are Japanese. Instead we should apply them to the country where we live.
That is why when I read Kōkyō’s
Yet no rain falls;
I always think of an American farmer looking upward at the hard blue sky in which a few wisps of whitish cloud appear, only to pass over and dissolve without a single drop of rain falling onto the parched soil. And yes, I know it is a bit old-fashioned, but I always have the feeling of a windmill in the background, completely silent and still in the oppressive heat of a day without even the hint of a breeze. That latter element by itself could be used in a summer hokku:
Silent and unmoving;
In such a verse we feel the heat in the stillness of the windmill, which, we could say, “reflects” the intense sensation of heat through its unmoving silence. That is how hokku works; we combine things that work in harmony to express the season through sensory experience.
I hope readers here — at least long-time readers — are beginning to see how essentially simple hokku is. If we abandon all the intellection, all our notions of what “poetry” should be, and just go for the basics of season and sensation — an experience of Nature and the place of humans within Nature — then we will be going in the right direction for hokku. Anything else will take us away from hokku.
It is worth mentioning that the principles of hokku, unlike those of modern haiku, can be clearly expressed and taught. And when one gets away from those principles, one is no longer writing hokku even if one happens to use the outward form of hokku for such a verse. That clarity and simplicity in our understanding of hokku and its aesthetics and principles and techniques explains why we in hokku do not have the constant bickering and “intellectual” argument one finds among writers of other kinds of short verse. We know what the aesthetics of hokku are, we know what the form is, we know how a hokku is written and what a hokku is to be written “about” — so that leaves nothing for pointless quibbles and mind games.
Why, then, is such abstract bickering endemic on modern haiku sites? It is essentially because those in modern haiku view what they write as “poetry” and themselves as “poets” in the Western sense; they write so many different kinds of verse, all called haiku, that the modern haiku community as a whole has no overall unifying aesthetic or purpose. And that underlying uncertainty and dissension becomes obvious in discussions on modern haiku by those within it.
That is another major difference between hokku and modern haiku. I cannot help pondering this difference whenever I see the wordy, abstract quarreling that takes place on modern haiku sites. It always makes me happy for the peace of hokku.