THE HOT AFTERNOON: IMPROVING HOKKU FOR UNITY AND HARMONY

We are moving (depending on where you are), from spring to summer.  In my region we have already had some very warm days, and so it is a good idea, in my postings about hokku, to now use the “summer” setting.

As readers know, the kind of hokku I teach is based on the best of old Japanese hokku, but for practical teaching purposes I sometimes modify them to fit an American environment (and you can do the same for your environment, wherever that may be, whether Australia or Austria or Finland or India or some other locale).

Shiki once wrote a spring verse:

The spring day;
Not a person stirring
In the village.

I would like to change it, however, to make it a more effective hokku by setting it in the season of summer, rewriting it like this:

(Summer)

The hot afternoon;
Not a soul stirring
In the neighborhood.

I hope you feel the improvement made by that change.  But do you know why it is better?

Let’s look again at Shiki’s “spring” version:

The spring day;
Not a person stirring
In the village.

If you are a regular reader here, you will recall that a hokku should manifest the character of a particular season through something happening in it.  The problem with Shiki’s verse is that it is inharmonious.  It first presents us with spring — the time of growing Yang — that is, of freshness, of increasing energy and growth.  But then Shiki tells us that not a person is stirring in the village.  That is contrary to the character of spring, which is increasing activity after the quiet of winter.  That is why Shiki’s verse does not feel right, even though he may actually have seen such a scene.

But remember, a hokku does not show us just any event, but rather an event that manifests the character of the season, and thereby makes us feel its significance.

That is why the change of season is a big improvement.  Let’s look again at the revised version:

The hot afternoon;
Not a soul stirring
In the neighborhood.

First it presents us with the heat of the afternoon — a strong physical sensation.  Then it gives us that heat (Yang) reflected in its opposite — inactivity (Yin).

Summer hokku are generally of two main kinds — harmony of similarity and harmony of opposites.  Harmony of similarity is the putting of two similar things together, like heat (Yang) and movement (Yang).  Harmony of opposites is putting together two things which, though opposite, are nonetheless perceived to be harmonious together.  Think of a warm fire (Yang) in winter (Yin), or dipping your hand into a cool stream (Yin) in the heat of summer (Yang).  Even though they manifest opposites, we naturally feel they go together.

So the revised verse uses harmony of opposites:

The hot afternoon;
Not a soul is stirring
In the neighborhood.

The inactivity of the neighborhood residents is very much in keeping with the heat of the afternoon.  We can say it “negatively reflects” the heat of the afternoon by showing us its opposite, just as drinking a hot cup of herbal tea when it is snowing outside also shows us a harmony of opposites, with one “negatively reflecting” the other (cold outside, heat in the cup of tea).

If you are familiar with R. H. Blyth’s work, you will note that I have borrowed his alliterative combination “soul stirring,” instead of Shiki’s less effective “person.”

Once you begin to understand how and why harmony and unity in hokku are important and why they work, you can easily put them to use in improving your own practice of hokku.

David

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s