Here is my loose translation of an autumn hokku by Kikaku, in daoku form.

The autumn moon;
Across the floor —
The shadow of the pine.

Literally, in Japanese it is:

Meigetsu ya tatami no ue ni matsu no kage
   名   月    や     畳     の 上  に   松     の     影
Bright moon ya tatami ‘s on at pine ‘s shadow

The meigetsu is the bright or autumn moon — the harvest moon.
Tatami is the woven grass floor covering used in old Japan.

We could make it a big more rustic and rural Western:

The autumn moon.
Across the wooden floor —
The shadow of the pine.

It has a better flow to it, and a wooden floor is certainly more natural than linoleum.

We could also change it a bit more, without going too far from the original:

Autumn moonlight;
A pine shadow
Across the floor.

As you can see, I am not just translating old hokku to be translating them, but want to show you how to write hokku in English — in this case a daoku, or objective hokku.  If hokku is not to die out, there must be those who value it and continue to write it.


5 thoughts on “PINE SHADOW

  1. clivebennett796

    Hi David,

    I’m trying my hand at writing hokku having had some success with modern three-line haiku and monoku, so have been following your blog with interest.

    Could not this be further refined …

    Harvest moon;
    Across the floor —
    Shadow of the pine.

    This leaves it entirely up to the reader to imagine the type of floor it could even be outside, on the patio, or even in the forest itself. Ah I see perhaps that’s the point to ‘wooden’ it brings it indoors – it gives a setting – more in-line with the original. However surely that looses some objectivity?



    Omission of articles, which are standard in good English, is a characteristic of the haiku movement of the last half of the 20th century and beyond. Hokku does not use “Tarzan” English (“Book good”) as haiku often does. If you were to insert the missing articles in lines one and three, your version would would be fine.

    The omission of articles in haiku was based partly on a misunderstanding. The Japanese language does not have articles or plurals — but we write in normal English.

    Objectivity in hokku means the absence of the opinions and commentary and intellectualization of the writer. That means if it were a wooden floor, that would simply be a fact, not non-objectivity, just as in the original, the tatami floor is a fact. One could follow the Japanese a bit closer in line two and just say,

    The Harvest moon;
    On the floor —
    The shadow of the pine.


  2. Gabriel Rosenstock

    The autumn moon.
    Across the wooden floor —
    The shadow of the pine.

    If I may be allowed to say: ‘the’ [X 4] is excessive.
    More pleasing to the eye and ear, may I suggest. might be:

    autumn moon . ..
    across the wooden floor

    It would likely be excessive in modern haiku, which often omits articles partially or entirely. Hokku, however, is written in normal English, with standard use of articles.


  3. There are such small differences between the 1st and 2nd verses and yet the impact of the 2nd verse is so much greater.
    Linoleum? I haven’t heard that word for so many years!

  4. Gabriel Rosenstock

    I still insist that a three-line hokku (or haiku for that matter) with four instances of the definite article is excessive and insults both the eye and the ear. Modern translators of haiku are not to blame for their predilection for avoiding the definite article, David.. Arthur Waley published this translation of Wu-ti in 1919.

    Autumn wind rises: white clouds fly.
    Grass and trees wither: geese go south.
    Orchids all in bloom: chrysanthemums smell sweet.
    I think of my lovely lady: I never can forget.

    Would it be better had he written:

    The Autumn wind rises: the white clouds fly.
    The grass and the trees wither: the geese go south.
    The orchids all in bloom: the chrysanthemums smell sweet. etc.

    Absolutely not! It would be a painful litany. Waley knew exactly what he was doing, a consummate
    translator. Why not leave it to your readers to vote on this?

    Hokku is not like haiku; it is not a matter of each person deciding how to write as one wishes about anything one wishes in whatever form one wishes. That is a basic difference between hokku and modern haiku. In hokku all the basic questions of form and subject matter are settled, leaving one to concentrate on content. There have been many decades of argument over form and content in the modern haiku community, and it still remains an unsettled matter of personal whim. That is why “haiku” today is a vague umbrella term covering many disparate kinds of brief verse. In hokku there is nothing to argue about — no controversy.

    As for your example, Chinese poetry is quite different in form from hokku, so there was no requirement or reason for Waley to add articles where they were unnecessary for the purpose. Just because we do one thing in writing hokku does not mean we apply it to all forms of poetry or in all cases of translating poetry.

    “Voting” on how to write is a modern haiku thing, leading to much contention, not a hokku thing. Those who do not like the form and content of hokku will write haiku or some other verse form that meets their individual preferences. And those who do not like a particular translation will go on to one they do like.


  5. Thought I would look up how hokku is getting on as we have just put our clocks back in the UK. I enjoyed this hokku. I can see there has been some controversay, but the image is a powerful and memorable one! Best wishes, Michael

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