NEW BRIDGES AND SPONGING RELATIVES: HUMAN QUIRKS AND SENRYU

You will recall that in addition to hokku, there is another and visually very similar kind of verse called senryu.

How does one tell a senryu from a hokku?  First, senryu does not have a seasonal setting. Second, while hokku deals with Nature and the place of humans as a part of Nature, senryu deals instead with the quirks of human psychology, usually in a satirical way that highlights human foolishness.  I often say that senryu is the “evil twin” of hokku.

Here is an example:

The new bridge opens;
Timidly they dirty it
With their footsteps.

To understand this, one must know that it was written in the pre-automobile era of wooden bridges, not the concrete and asphalt kind we know today.  So the point of the senryu is that it is opening day for a newly-constructed bridge.  The wooden bridge is all fresh and clean and newly-finished wood.  The first people to cross it do so hesitantly, timidly, because they sense there is something not quite right in dirtying the new bridge.  The foolishness of this lies in the fact that bridges are made for walking.

Many of us feel the same odd sense that there is something not quite right in violating what is fresh and new.  For example, I know of someone whose old slippers were completely worn out, but when new ones were delivered, he hesitated to wear them “because they are new.”  It is the story of the wooden bridge all over again.

The point to remember in this is that while hokku deals in subtle states of mind created by experiencing events in Nature, in the context of a particular season, senryu is really only interested in poking fun at the quirks of human psychology.

That is very evident in another old senryu about someone who relies on another for food and shelter:

It is uncomfortable to eat,
And painful not to eat;
The dependent.

There were and are countless family (and some non-family) situations in which this happens.  The brother who has no job and lives in the house of his sister and brother-in-law, for example, feels this when all are sitting around the dinner table.   He is not comfortable in putting all the food he would like to eat on his own plate, and yet when he does not do so, he suffers at the sense of lack.

Writing senryu requires a different kind of mindset than that for writing hokku.  One cannot help feeling that there is always something a little “mean” about the writer of senryu.  Nonetheless, in reading them we frequently recognize the psychological peculiarites of ourselves and our friends, of humans in general.

David

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