It is always disappointing to see how the creators of modern haiku trivialize, dismiss, or ignore the writings of the very person from whom they could have learned the most, were they not so self-willed and self-absorbed — R. H. Blyth.

Blyth talks of how “things” are of critical importance, telling the reader that “It is in virtue of its lack of something that a thing has value,” and he backs this up with a quote from the Zenrinkushu — the forest of Zen sayings:

The tree manifests the bodily power of the wind;
The wave exhibits the spiritual nature of the moon

Blyth tells us in response, “If the tree were strong enough it would manifest nothing.  If the wave were rigid, the moon’s nature could not be expressed in it.”

Blyth is telling us here not just the significance of things, but also the requirements for writing about them — for writing hokku.  It is just the opposite of the modern haiku attitude.  One must be empty of “self nature.”

To explain further, Blyth quotes the German “mystic” Meister Eckhart:

Sollt ihr also ein Sohn sein, so müsst ihr ablegen and von euch scheiden alles, was eine Besonderheit an euch ausmacht.

If you would become a son, then you must put aside and separate from all that makes an individuality of you.”

In other words, Blyth is saying that the writer of hokku must “empty himself” of the desire to “express himself,” to “become a poet,” to “make a name for himself,” and it is only because of that emptiness — like the emptiness of a mirror undimmed by dust — that the writer can truly experience and express the “things” that are the primary matter of hokku.

This ability to discard self-will and the urge to be noticed is something the modern haiku community as a whole has never been willing to do nor even willing to consider as desirable or beneficial.

Blyth tells us, “In relation to every circumstance, we are to be like the servants at the Feast of Cana:  Whatever he saith unto you, do it.”

That is virtually an impossibility for the greater portion of writers of modern haiku, because they are too busy trying to be clever or witty or aesthetic or “known” — trying to be “poets” writing “poetry.”  But Blyth tells us to give all that up.  Simply empty yourself, become a servant to Nature, and “Whatever he saith unto you, do it.”

The “he” here is not this or that teacher, but rather Nature.  A writer of hokku does not say, “Now I am going to write a verse about my reaction to the war” or “I am going to compose a few lines on how I feel about my boyfriend/girlfriend leaving me.”  Instead, a writer of hokku becomes empty of self-will and self-nature, open to the promptings of Nature expressed in thing-events, just as Blyth has said:

The tree manifests the bodily power of the wind;
The wave exhibits the spiritual nature of the moon.

Thus the writer of hokku manifests flowers blooming in spring, a hawk circling high in the blue sky of summer, a golden yellow leaf falling in autumn, the winter wind blowing in through cracks in the wall.  He or she does this to the extent that he or she is empty of self-will, empty of self-nature, empty of what Eckhart called Besonderheit — individuality — what we in hokku call the “self.”

Blyth does not beat around the bush.  He tells us quite plainly, “A poet sees things as they are in proportion as he is selfless.”

But that is precisely contrary to the attitude of modern haiku, which, like much of modern poetry, wants not to “put aside” the self, but rather to express it and make it more obvious.  That is exactly why modern haiku denigrates Blyth even while generally misunderstanding him.  Note that Blyth does not say a self-willed poet does not “see” things, but that he “does not see things as they are.”  That is because he — or she — is too busy covering them over with “thinking,” with personal desires and wishes and intellectual abstractions and whittering commentary — the very kinds of things that constitute what most people think of as “poetry.”

The way of a hokku writer, however, is precisely that which Blyth describes:

The flowers say ‘Bloom!’ and we bloom in them.  The wind blows and we sway in the leaves.”

In our school of hokku we express the same by saying that the writer must get the self out of the way so that Nature may speak.  The mind of the writer should be like a quiet pond in which the moon may be reflected.  This “mirror-mind” of the writer of hokku can exist only when one puts aside self-will and self-absorption. One must give up the obsession with the products of the “thinking” mind, and it is by doing so that one allows things to have their own inherent value — not as something added to them by the “poet,” as one might paint roses red — but as they are in themselves when the mind of the writer is emptied and still.


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