GOING TEN STEPS

Shiki wrote a very simple but effective autumn verse, though it does not look like much literally translated:

Mon wo dete  juppo ni  aki no umi hiroshi
Gate wo going-out  ten-steps at autumn sea wide

We have to put it in English and loosen it up a bit to see its significance:

Going ten steps
Beyond the gate;
The vast autumn sea.

We could phrase it like this:

Going ten steps
Out the gate;
The vast autumn sea.

Or we could write it like this:

Just ten steps
Beyond the gate;
The vast autumn sea

We could also translate it as:

Just ten steps
Beyond the door —
The vast autumn sea.

“Vast” — which is also the word Blyth chose in his version — is preferable in English to the less effective “wide.”

The point of the verse lies in the sudden expansion of the visual horizon:  as one goes out the gate/door, there before us lies the vast sea of autumn.  It is a very strong use of the “small to large” technique in writing, in which one first sees the small element (the gate/door), and then the large element (the sea).

We saw a similar expansion from small to large in Issa’s autumn hokku:

How beautiful!
Through the hole in the shōji —
The River of Heaven.

First we experience the (small) hole in the paper door, then through it we move to the (large) vastness of the Milky Way — the “River of Heaven.”

It is noteworthy that one could set Shiki’s verse in any season, but each would have its own feeling:

The spring sea;
The summer sea;
The autumn sea;
The winter sea;

That is because we experience things as a whole.  Much of modern life tries to abstract things from their environment, but that is wrong.  We do not just see the moon.  We see the spring moon, or the summer moon, or the autumn moon, or the winter moon, each with its own feeling and significance.  In hokku we return to this connection between humans, Nature, and the seasons — seeing things in a more “wholistic” and connected way — which is really the way they are.  Things do not exist as abstractions, but only in relation to other things such as season, weather, etc.  In Shiki’s verse, we are not separate from the autumn, and the autumn is not separate from the sea.

Learning — or rather re-learning this relationship of all things — is fundamental to the successful writing of hokku.

 

David

 

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