BOBBITY, BOBBITY, BLYTH

R. H. Blyth once translated a verse by Meisetsu, a late writer (1847-1926) influenced by Shiki, (the fellow who began calling verses that were generally really hokku in form “haiku”):

Ryūboku ya  taburi-taburi to   haru no kawa

Translating it is a bit tricky, partly because the first word, ryūboku, means here “a piece of drifting wood”; then comes a description of the manner of its floating, and finally we have the wider setting, haru no kawa, “spring’s river” — the spring river.  Given all that we need to include, one can hardly do better than Blyth’s rendering:

A piece of wood,
Bobbity, bobbity, floating down
The spring river.

I would alter it slightly, keeping the slight intuitive leap required by the original, and more of its brevity:

A piece of wood
Floating bobbity, bobbity;
The spring river.

I have kept Blyth’s very fitting “bobbity, bobbity.”

What is striking about Blyth and this verse is that he intuitively understood the principle of Yang and Yin in hokku, though he never mentions it.  He says merely that what Meisetsu saw “is the piece of wood in its relation to spring, its restless tranquillity.”  Blyth adds that “In any other season it would have no meaning.”

That is precisely in keeping with hokku as I teach it.  The strength of this verse lies in the bobbing, active motion of the piece of wood on the ripples and dips of the spring river, a motion expressing Yang energy as it manifests in the liveliness of spring, which is the season of growing Yang.  That is precisely why the “restless tranquility” of the bobbing piece of wood would, as Blyth correctly stated, have no meaning in any other season.

By “no meaning” in any other season, Blyth meant that the bobbing energy of the floating peace of wood on the river is in harmony with the active energy of spring.  In summer, when the Yang energy is much steadier and stronger, it would not have the same meaning, in fact it would lose its harmony with the setting, and the same could be said for the declining Yang of autumn and the strong Yin of winter.

This is a very subtle point, and that Blyth grasped it without ever openly discussing the principle behind it shows his remarkably intuitive understanding of the aesthetics of hokku.

Those who are regular readers here will recall past discussions of the principle of harmony in hokku, as well as of the principle of Yin and Yang.  You may also have noted that this verse is a “standard,” hokku, meaning it has a setting, a subject, and an action.

A piece of wood
Floating bobbity, bobbity;
The spring river.

The setting is the wider environment in which something takes place.  Here it is “the spring river.”

The subject within that setting is what the poem is “about.”  Here it is
“a piece of wood.”

The action is movement or change.  Here it is “floating bobbity, bobbity.”

 

David

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