Let’s look again at some good winter hokku:
The daikon puller;
He points the way
With a daikon.
That is one of the best of Issa’s hokku. A daikon is a very large, long, and white radish, much like a giant carrot in shape. Here, when Issa stops by a field and asks directions, the daikon puller holds out a daikon, using it as a pointer to show the way. It is like a part of his arm. Knowing this is a winter hokku, we can feel the cold air, and see the mud adhering to the long white daikon.
In Japan, daikon is a staple winter food. It is particularly good in winter cooking — such as in soups and stews — because it is beneficial for the lungs. One finds it appearing more and more in American markets.
Here is a verse by Rankō:
Day by day they break off
And float away.
That hokku is notable not only for its austere simplicity, but also for the attention — the awareness shown by the writer, who noticed the poetry in the breaking and floating away of the withered reeds — something many would pass by without a glance.
Again the snow
Begins to fall.
As the light of day begins to fail, flakes of snow begin to fall — first only a few, then increasingly more and more. We cannot help but sense there is some deep meaning in this because we feel it, but we are helpless to put it into words. It is a meaning of the senses and not of the superficial intellect.
Wordsworth similarly said,
To me the meanest [most common or insignificant] flower that blows [blooms] can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
In hokku what we find is a sense of significance rather than intellectual thoughts — that lie too deep for any words of explanation. It can only be felt, not explained. But the interesting thing is that when we read the words of the hokku, which are not words of explanation, but simply present the experience, that feeling of some deep, unspoken significance arises within us.
That is the amazing thing about hokku — the thing so many miss who look on it as “poetry.” But as I have often said, what we think of as poetry in the West is generally nothing at all like the hokku seen above.
Each of them is an experience of the senses, not of the “thinking” mind. Because of that, the impact of each hokku — as was just said — lies too deep for words; it is below the level of thought.
Further each of these hokku — these experiences of the senses — is set in a particular season — the season of winter, in this case, which deepens the sensory experience.
And also — this is extremely important — each of these hokku is completely objective. Each merely presents the experience in three lines of simple words. There is no explanation, there is no symbolism nor simile nor metaphor. When we read the hokku, we have a wordless experience, though it is transmitted through words.
It is this aspect of Japanese hokku — or modern hokku in English or other languages written in the same spirit — that I find most significant and important. There were other kinds of hokku in old Japan, but I see objective hokku as the most significant contribution of Japanese hokku to posterity — a legacy valuable enough and universal enough to be continued in our modern world through the writing of new objective hokku.
So if you want an identifying abbreviation for this kind of hokku, we can call it OH — Objective Hokku. In it there is no ego, no explanation; only the simple, sensory experience with a significance that lies too deep for words.