MUNCHING YOUR WAY TO HOKKU

Here is a winter hokku by Kyūkoku.  I have altered Blyth’s translation of the last line, but have kept his rendering of the first two lines, which one could hardly better:

Crunch, Crunch —
The horse munching straw;
A snowy evening.

That is hardly something one would find in English poetry, but English poetry is not hokku, and approaches things from a very different perspective.

In hokku, we look for an event to happen in our minds when we read a verse — and not in the “thinking” part of our minds, but rather in the sensing.  That is why I so often emphasize sensation in hokku — the experiencing of things through tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, or smelling.

In Kyūkoku’s hokku, we are first given the loud crunching sounds of a horse munching straw.  They are made all the more effective by Blyth’s use of the words “crunch” — “crunch” — “munching” — which make us actually hear the horse chewing (and see how much more effective “crunch” and “munching” are than “chewing” here).  That accounts for why this verse is actually better in English than in Japanese.

Kyūkoku began with the sounds, then moved to the horse itself, and then opened up the wider setting — a snowy evening.  There is also the striking contrast between the loudness of the horse and the softness of the snowy evening.

By placing the horse crunching straw against the snowy evening, he has not only given us the season, but he has also introduced the sensations of cold and silence.  That gives a sense of stillness, in which the munching of the horse becomes even more magnified.  So in this hokku we have sound and sight, and in the cold we have the sense of touch.  All in all, this is a very simple hokku with lots of sensation.

Someone who sees this verse and recognizes its merits is likely to be able to understand the reasons for the aesthetics of hokku and appreciate them.  If all one sees is a chewing horse and some snow, then the outlook is not promising.

 

 

 

David

2 thoughts on “MUNCHING YOUR WAY TO HOKKU

  1. Brilliant interpretation of a deceptively simple piece. It was helpful to read what you said about the way it telescopes outward from the sound to the horse to the setting, as well as all the subtle contrasts. I can not only hear it vividly but also visualize the steamy breath of the warm animal in the cold air. Thank you, as always, for gently guiding us through these hokku.

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