Readers will long ago have noticed that I use old hokku — including verses just beyond what is technically the old “hokku” period — quite often. My purpose in doing so is not just to provide a collection of old verse, but rather to show through them how new verses may be written in English — new hokku.
Shiki wrote a verse about a shower and rain beating on the heads of carp. There are several ways we can present it in English — and several ways we can write other hokku using the same patterns in English.
We could say:
A sudden shower;
On the heads of the carp.
The alignment is a bit unusual with its short central line, but permitted in English.
We could also write it using the “repeated subject” method, which works very well in English. You will recall that the subject of the verse is named once, but also presented a second time using a pronoun — “he,” “she,” or “it.” Here’s how it works with Shiki’s verse:
A sudden shower —
It beats on the heads
Of the carp.
Either method will work, though the second, “repeated subject” method avoids the repetition of a noun (shower – rain) in the first example, which is often useful.
This verse, though late, is nonetheless “internally” in all respects a hokku, and a rather good one. This kind of objectivity is what we favor in hokku — no added thinking, no added commentary, not even a writer anywhere in sight. There is only the unexpected, sudden summer shower, and the rain beating on the heads of the carp risen to the surface of the water.
In spite of being a summer verse, it is a very cooling, yin, watery verse.
Kikaku, one of Bashō’s students, wrote a verse using the same setting much earlier:
A sudden shower;
A solitary woman
Blyth takes a slight bit of freedom with it, making it even more effective:
A summer shower;
A woman sits alone,
That gives us a somewhat different effect than the first, and shows us how small changes in a verse can alter the effect.