FROM BELOW THE BRIDGE

Issa, whom we do not often use as a model, wrote this summer hokku:

From below
The bridge I creep across —
A cuckoo!

Though Issa says merely “bridge,” we can tell from his timid creeping across it that it is a hanging bridge over a canyon or ravine.  As he fearfully, hesitantly crosses, suddenly from far below he hears the “ho-to-to” cry of the bird the Japanese call the hototogisu, a kind of cuckoo.

Some writers think that Issa may simply have seen the bird below, but that would cause the hokku to lose its effect.  The whole point of it is the startling, unexpected sudden cry from below that emphasizes the feeling of the height and precariousness of crossing the little hanging bridge.

David

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