Kitō wrote this winter hokku:
As I stand still,
The snow falls even faster;
The evening road.
In the original no “I” is mentioned, but it is inherent. In English we must write it in order for the verse to make sense and be understood. So even though in hokku we ordinarily avoid using the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” it is important to remember that this is a caution, not an absolute rule, and that it is perfectly permissible to use “I,” “me,” and “my” when not doing so is awkward. And this is one of those cases.
There is something left deliberately vague in this verse. Does the snow really fall faster when the writer stops in the road, or does it just seem to fall faster because he is paying attention? This is a question we must not ask, because we are just to remain with the impression the hokku gives us, and not go off into intellectualization, into “thinking.”
A similar situation arises in the hokku by Issa mentioned in my last posting:
Obligingly move aside;
The snowy road.
If we go beyond what is happening in the verse and begin to think about why the dogs move aside, and the “status” implications of the verse, and begin to apply it to other analogous situations such as the mistreatment and persecution of the Dalits in India by those who (mistakenly) assume they are somehow better — or think about any other such kind of “status” conflict — then we have gone astray. In hokku we just stick with the sensory impression and do not go off into thinking. Otherwise we have the same problem we have with metaphor and simile in hokku (which we do not use): it divides the mind between two different things. So use other kinds of poetry and writing to deal with social injustice and with “thinking” matters. Keep hokku free of all that, and just remain with the sensation — meaning the sensory experience — of the verse, without going on to intellectualize it.
Chora wrote a hokku similar in feeling to that of Kitō;
The windy snow;
It blows all about me
While I stand.
That is a very effective verse because of its strong sensation. It is also another good example of when to use “I” in writing. In this case the “I” is necessary to avoid confusion, and it also does not matter here because the reader becomes the “I”. So using it here does not create a separation between reader and writer. In a good hokku, the reader should become one with the experience, and should not feel the writer as a separate person.
There is an interesting verse by Kyokusui:
Shouting at the horse,
The voice too
Becomes the winter storm.
Notice that we are not told if the one shouting is the writer or another person, because it is unimportant in this case. There is the same effect whether it is the writer or a person watched by the writer, because the focus is on the shouting voice and the winter storm that suddenly are perceived as one thing. The shout and the blowing wind merge and unify.