Today I would like to talk about morning glory hokku.
Why? Because I happened to pass a blooming morning glory vine this morning, as you can see from the above photo. Also, in old Japanese hokku, the morning glory was generally considered an autumn flower. They called it asagao, “morning face,” — asa = morning, gao = face.
The morning glory is particularly appropriate for autumn hokku because it is so ephemeral, so transient, with blossoms that appear in the morning and are gone by afternoon. That made a deep impression on the old hokku writers, because transience — the impermanence of things, was one of the main underlying aesthetic principles of old hokku, as it is of modern hokku. That came from watching Nature and life, and it came also from the fundamental principal of Buddhism that all things change and eventually pass away, and we cannot really keep anything, least of all our own lives.
Moritake, an early writer of hokku, wrote this:
Asagai ni kyō wa miyuran waga yo kana
Morning-glory as today wa may seem my life kana
Like the morning glory
It may seem today —
It is not very good as a hokku, but it makes an interesting point about the brevity of life.
Asagao no hana de fuitaru iori kana
Morning glory’s flowers by covered hut kana
By morning glory flowers —
That one always reminds me of my college years, when I too lived in a tiny cottage, its roof covered with blooming blue morning glories.
Chirizuka ni asagao sakinu kure no aki
Dust-heap on morning glory blooms end ‘s autumn
Out of the trash heap
A morning glory has bloomed;
Autumn, you will recall, is the season when we particularly feel the transience of life, because it is the time of year when things begin to wither and return to the root. It corresponds, in human life, to the early to mid “senior” years, and in the day it corresponds to evening. So the morning glory, enjoyed in the dawn but gone by evening, is very appropriate for early autumn hokku where I live.