The seasons are very important to hokku. But when we look a bit closer, we find we have both formal and natural calendars:
The old traditional European calendar — now a formal calendar — was divided into four seasons, each with a festival at its beginning, its middle, and its end. The end point also marks the beginning of the next season. I give it here using traditional English and Irish names. The notation “The first week” indicates that the day on which it begins had some variation in old usage.
Begins with Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1st. 1st week of February.
Midpoint: Spring Equinox, March 20/21.
End: the evening before May Day (Bealtaine pr. BYAL-tuh-nuh). 1st week of May.
Begins with May Day (Bealtaine). 1st week of May.
Midpoint: Midsummer’s Day — the Summer Solstice, June 20/21.
End: The evening before Lammas (Harvest Home — Lughnasa pr. LOO-nuh-suh), August 1. 1st week of August.
Begins with Lammas (Harvest Home — Lughnasa), August 1. 1st week of August.
Midpoint: Autumn Equinox, September 21/22.
End: the evening before Samhain pr. SOW-uhn), November 1, marked by Halloween on October 31st. 1st week in November.
Begins with Samhain, November 1st. The 1st week in November is marked by Bonfire Day.
Midpoint: The Winter Solstice Midwinter’s Day — Great Yule, December 21/22.
End: The evening before Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1st. The 1st week in February.
We can simplify the traditional calendar for the purposes of hokku:
Spring begins: Around February 1st.
Spring deepens: Around March 20/21.
Spring ends Around May 1st.
Summer begins: Around May 1st.
Summer deepens: Around June 20/21.
Summer ends: Around August 1st.
Autumn / Fall begins: Around August 1st.
Autumn / Fall deepens: Around September 21/22.
Autumn / Fall ends: Around November 1st.
Winter begins: Around November 1st.
Winter deepens: Around December 21 /22.
Winter ends: Around February 1st.
Now you may be thinking that makes no sense. Spring, where you are, may begin in May! The preceding calendars are “formal” — the first astronomical and the second meteorological. But in hokku, with its lack of artificiality, we may be flexible and informal. The seasons are not the same in all places. Winter comes earlier in mountain regions than in lowlands, and spring comes later.
The so-called “meteorological calendar” recognizes, for example, that though the time of maximum sunlight comes at Midsummer, nonetheless its effects are not felt until some four weeks later. That shifts the seasons, loosely speaking, by about a month. We then have a calendar like this:
Autumn / Fall:
Given these different approaches to the seasons, which is the writer of hokku to follow?
The answer is simple. Use the traditional formal calendar for times and seasons and celebrations, and with that, use a “natural” and flexible calendar that reflects the seasonal changes of Nature where you are. We all know that spring does not really begin punctually on February 1st or March 1st or at the Spring Equinox in the natural world. If you first see sprouts and buds poking through the earth some time in February, that is when your spring begins. If it happens in March, that is when your spring begins. Go with the natural climate and weather where you are, which may be very different from the natural calendar of other people living in other regions. Some very warm parts of the world may have only two main seasons, a dry season and a rainy season. One is their “summer,” the other their “winter.”
I live in a temperate and moderate climate much like that of the British Isles, so it is no problem for me to follow the old traditional calendar, with Spring beginning with its first signs in February — though in some years, February can be a very cold month.
The traditional calendar provides a pleasant way to maintain a connection with our ancestors and their seasonal times and celebrations, but we should pay close attention to the “natural” calendar where we live as well. So we can celebrate the important old “Quarter Days” — the Winter Solstice (Great Yule), the Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice (Midsummer’s Day), the Autumn Equinox — and we can also celebrate the old “Cross-Quarter Days” — Candlemas, May Day, Lammas, and Samhain (marked by Halloween the night before). But in addition, we always keep a close eye on what is actually happening in Nature, and on when it is happening. That is our real guide to the seasons in hokku.
So here, without attached dates, is the “natural” calendar of hokku, which you apply to each year and region a bit differently. But the order remains the same:
AUTUMN / FALL:
See how very simple it is? When you see the signs of spring beginning in Nature, that is when it begins for your hokku. When you see it advancing, that is when spring deepens in your hokku. And when you begin to see the changes that signify its ending and the transition to another season near, that is when spring is departing in your hokku. Just apply this principle to each season.
THE YIN AND YANG OF THE SEASONS
The principles of Yin and Yang and their interactions and transformations give us the seasons of the year. You will recall that Yin is cold, Yang warm. Yin is passive, Yang active. Yin recedes, Yang advances. Yin is wet, Yang is dry. Yin is still, Yang moving. Yin is silence, Yang is sound. Yin sinks, Yang rises.
Remembering also that when Yin or Yang reaches its farthest point — its maximum — it begins to change into its opposite, we are now ready to look at the real calendar — the seasons according to Yin and Yang.
Midwinter is ultimate Yin. At this point Yin reaches its maximum and begins to change into its opposite. Yang first begins to grow within it. So Midwinter is a pivotal point, the lowest on the turning wheel of the year.
Its opposite is Midsummer, when Yang reaches its maximum and then begins to change into its opposite. Yin begins to grow within it. So Midsummer also is a pivotal point — the very height of summer, when it then begins its long decline into winter.
The Spring Equinox — a time when day and night are of equal length — is nonetheless a time of growing Yang, because it comes after Midwinter. Yang continues to grow until Midsummer, when it then begins to change into its opposite.
The Autumn Equinox — again a time when day and night are of equal length — is nonetheless a time of decreasing Yang and growing Yin, because it comes after Midsummer. Yin continues to increase until Midwinter, when the cycle begins again.
We see, then, that the seasons are in constant change and movement as Yin and Yang interact with one another. As Yang increases, Yin declines. When Yang reaches its ultimate, Yin begins to increase within it, and Yang declines. This is a perpetual cycle, the turning Wheel of the Year. We can look at the seasons like this:
Spring: Growing Yang
Autumn /Fall: Growing Yin
So we see there are two Yang seasons — spring and summer — and two Yin seasons — autumn and winter.
All of this has profound significance in hokku. Hokku is the verse of the seasons, so whatever the apparent subject of a verse, the real subject is the season in which the verse is written.
That means every hokku should manifest and express the qualities of the season. That is why in spring we may talk about budding flowers, in summer about the heat, in autumn about falling leaves, and in winter about snow. These are just some very obvious examples of seasonal manifestations. The seasons actually manifest themselves in hokku in a multitude of ways, which is why the possibilities for hokku are endless.