It may seem odd to some readers that I have begun to write of Spring, but where I live that is what is happening.
Spring begins with the very weakest of Yang energies that melt snow and ice and sprout forth from the ground and from the enclosed buds of bare trees. It is the change from the still and silent to the fluid and audible, as we can sense in this spring verse by Onitsura:
The waters of spring —
And seen there.
Everything seems suddenly to be thawing, melting, and in motion trickles run out of the forest, across paths and into streams, little rivulets pool up an hollows and flow onward.
It may also seem odd to some readers that I include examples of verses by Shiki — the originator of the “haiku,” but as I have said many times before, much of what Shiki wrote was still hokku in all but the name he chose to give it. He kept the connection with Nature and with the seasons. I sometimes say that his verses tend to be “illustrations,” but that is very much in keeping with his theory of verse, which resulted in two-dimensional “paper” hokku at its worst, and pleasant if not deep verses at its best. So we need not disdain what is good in Shiki simply because of what the world and his successors did to his “haiku,” which were generally just hokku.
The lake ice —
It is melted
By the ripples.
The little ripples of water created by wind and current lap against the constantly thinning edges of the remaining ice on the lake. This is a verse of very early spring, and do not forget that both in Japan and in the ancient Western calendar of the British Isles, spring begins in early February. So here we are seeing the gradual effect of the “yang” motion of the warming, moving water against the “yin” solidity and cold of the ice.
The snow —
Melted on one shoulder
Of the Great Buddha.
This is often the effect of sun and shadow. Where the light strikes, the statue will warm and the snow will melt. But it will linger on the shadow side — the Yin side, just as snow lingers in the Yin shadows of the forest floor, beneath trees with branches free of snow.
I hope it will be obvious to readers how very important the two elements of the universe — Yin and Yang — are in hokku. Through hokku we see these two contrary forces in all stages of interaction. But now, being at the very beginning of spring, Yin still predominates, though it must give way gradually to growing Yang.
Keep in mind all the internal harmonies of hokku involving Yin and Yang. Beginning spring is Yang first manifesting, such as we see in the gestation to birth of a child. In the day it is the time between midnight and the first paling of the horizon sky before sunrise. In plants it is the first sign of the swelling and opening of buds, the very first shoots that appear above ground. One could go on an on, but we have already seen in the verses used as examples here that it is also seen in the melting of the ice at the spring thaw, and the beginning of the “Yang” flow of the waters.
Of course ordinarily we think of water as a Yin element, and it generally is; but remember that Yang and Yin are always relative, always changing in reaction to one another, so even cold as it is, the flowing water of spring is more Yang than the very Yin state and solidity of ice and snow.