Hokku is very good at evoking subtle psychological states through events in Nature.  An example is this summer verse by Kikaku (1661-1707) — a daoku (objective hokku) in English:

Yūdachi ni hitori soto miru onna kana
夕立       に ひとり 外   見る    女    かな
Summer-shower at alone outside looks woman kana

The summer shower;
A woman alone,
Gazing outside.

It evokes that delicate feeling of solitary sadness that the Japanese call sabishii, and it is done without the writer adding any of his own thinking or commentary.  As Blyth says, this hokku “requires us to be as thought-less as the rain.”  That is a real insight into the nature of daoku — objective hokku:  that thought-less-ness — that complete absence of thinking — which makes such verses so pure and satisfying.

It is remarkably simple:  a sudden summer shower, and a woman inside — all alone — looking steadily out into the falling rain.  It is so brief in content that Kikaku ended it with that all-purpose and nearly meaningless padding word — kana — that we find so often ending the verses of Shiki.  Of course in English-language daoku, we do not have to fill out a standard number of phonetic units, so we are free of needless padding in composing.

If we remove the grammatically-necessary articles “the” and “a,” that leaves us with these few elements:

Summer shower
Woman alone
Gazing outside

But of course the articles are required for normal English, and in hokku we should use normal English.

Again in this verse, we may apply the “setting/subject/action” model, like this:

Setting:  A summer shower
Subject:  A woman alone
Action:  Gazing outside

It is really quite remarkable how very little is required for a good hokku — but selecting the right elements is all-important.  In this hokku we feel the harmony between the summer shower and the woman alone gazing out into it.  Hokku should always have this sense of harmony among its elements.  It should not be random things thrown together with no relation among them.  This close harmony between the woman and the rain illustrates what is meant when we say that hokku has as its subject matter Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature.

In spite of being over three hundred years old, it is a verse that could have been written yesterday, and has lost none of its effectiveness.



One thought on “A WOMAN ALONE

  1. Could Kikaku have written this verse about a man? Would the effect have been the same?

    The effect would be different. Rain and stillness are both yin, and the feminine is also yin. Of course some women are relatively more yang than others, and some men more yin. I think in Kikaku’s time — with the greater distinctions between male and female — the effect would have been even stronger than in ours.


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