HORSES AND HEAT WAVES

Those who read a posting here only now and then will learn little or nothing.  Those who read here regularly, with attention, will gain over time a good understanding of the basic principles of hokku.

For example, I recently discussed the two kinds of harmony in hokku, and I discussed the importance of Yin and Yang.

Let’s take a look at a verse by Kyoroku:

The sun shines
On white cotton cloth;
Cloud peaks above.

If you have been reading with diligence here, you will be saying to yourself, “Oh, that is harmony of similarity!  The sun is bright, the cotton cloth is white, and the clouds above are also white.  And you are likely to also add, “The sunlight is Yang, the white color of the cotton cloth is Yang, and the white of the clouds is also Yang!

That was an easy one, a rather obvious example.

But here is a hokku by Tohō:

Heat waves;
The sand of the cliff falls
Grain by grain.

Eventually one will realize that the heat waves are something temporary, transitory.  But paradoxically so is the sandy cliff, which is falling grain by grain.  So in spite of the vastly different time scale, this too is a hokku with harmony of similarity.

In a way, the latter verse is like the old saying,

The morning glory differs not at heart from the giant pine that lives for a thousand years.

In other words, both are transitory, passing — just on a different time scale.

Incidentally, readers of Blyth’s translations — particularly American readers — are likely to be misled by his translation of Tohō’s verse:

Summer colts;
The sand of the cliff
Falls grain by grain.

Americans are likely to see young horses frolicking about in sunshine near the sandy cliff.  But “summer colts” is a largely British term that means simply the undulating air near the ground on a warm day — or in plain “American,” heat waves.  The Japanese term — for those who are interested — is kagerō.

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