THE RECEPTIVE MIND

A very loose rendering of a verse by Kitō put into daoku form:

(Autumn)

Midnight;
With dew-wet eyelashes,
Gazing at the moon.

Notice how the focus is taken off a “me” and placed only on the dew-wet eyelashes, the moon, and the night. When you read this, you should feel the drops of dew on your eyelashes too.  That is how hokku conveys an experience of the senses in simple words, from writer to reader.  The reader becomes the experiencer.  The words are just the “seeds of poetry” that burst into bloom in the mind of the reader.  That is why it is best not to think of daoku as poetry — but more as just an experience of Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons.  The poetry happens in the receptive mind, and it happens quickly.

EVEN CROWS GET HOT

“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”

It is about 103 degrees Fahrenheit here (39.4 Celsius), and I got a notice from my neighborhood library that some items I had requested were in.  So yes, I went out in the noonday sun to pick them up.  I walked the four miles there and back, and when I got home my shirt was dripping wet.  But at least I experienced a daoku on the way:

Lingering heat;
A crow stands motionless
In the shade of the cedar.

Yes, some of the characteristics of summer daoku apply to the beginning of autumn as well, when there can still be days of lingering strong heat.  You will recall that heat/sun is Yang, and shade is Yin — so there is harmony of contrast in this; and of course the black color of the crow is Yin as well.

David

DAOKU AND “TECHNOLOGY”

Daoku has deliberate limits on its subject matter, and one of those boundaries excludes what we loosely call “technology.”

As a result of the Industrial Revolution and the consequent great expansion in use of technology and consumption of fossil fuels, humans entered an Age of Illusion in which the misperception became common that Nature was little more than a vast repository of resources to be gathered and used however humans saw fit.  Humans saw themselves more and more as separate from — and in general superior to — Nature.

rnhasui.

Daoku — and a life in keeping with daoku — reverses this trend.  One cannot write daoku without the realization that Nature gave birth to humans, and thus humans are a part of, not apart from, Nature.  That is the only realistic and healthy attitude.

It is also an antidote to the wrong thinking so prevalent in the world today — that the world was made for humans, that all of Nature “belongs” to humans to do with as they will.  And it is only by realizing how intimately connected with Nature we are that just possibly, humans might yet have a slim chance of averting the coming final environmental catastrophe brought on by decades of ignorance, arrogance, selfishness and greed.

So it is not simply a matter of aesthetics that daoku avoids technology and never abandons Nature and the place of humans as a part of Nature as its inherent subject matter.  It is also a tiny counterbalance to the immensity of wrong thinking and wrong action that has brought us to the perilous condition of world climate today.  By avoiding putting “technology” in our verse, we have to pay greater attention to Nature and how we relate to it, and if anything might save humans from destroying themselves, it would be that realization of our inseparability from the same Nature that humans have so raped, battered and abused.  In harming Nature we harm ourselves.

It is worth mentioning that even Shiki, who ultimately caused much trouble by his somewhat short-sighted, revisionist creation of the new “haiku” as an offshoot of hokku near the end of the 19th century, did not go as far in abandoning Nature as many in the modern haiku community have done.

What we call “technology” in hokku, Shiki called “artifacts of civilization,” and he wrote that most of them are “unpoetic” and thus difficult to use in poetry.  He said that those who supposed that his admonition to “write about new things” meant to write verse about such things as “trains and railways” were mistaken, but that if one does write about them, “one has no choice but to mention something poetic as well.”  If a verse contains an element of technology, Shiki felt, one had to counterbalance it — “make it more attractive” as he put it, by including such other elements as violets blooming by the railroad tracks or poppies dropping their petals after a train had passed (see Dawn to the West, Donald Keene, 1984, pg. 51).

Shiki’s admonition, though it seems overtly based more on his ideas of what was “beautiful” in verse than on anything more profound, nonetheless resembles somewhat the principle in daoku that even though technology is generally avoided, if rarely some aspect of it not too inharmonious with hokku is included, the “technological” element should not predominate, but should always be secondary to Nature.

Daoku may be the ONLY objective verse form in existence today that strictly limits its subject matter to the intimate connection between Nature and humans as a part of, not apart from, Nature.  For that alone it should be valued in these times when so many have lost touch with Nature, and human life and civilization hang, as Jung said, by a thread.

THE TWO HARMONIES: SIMILARITY AND CONTRAST

In the previous posting I discussed the Daoku Wheel of the Year, the daoku calendar that is in essence remarkably close to the old calendar not only of the hokku writers of old Japan but also that of the old Chinese poets, with only slight variation, though of course the names of the chief seasonal points differ.

Having read that posting, you will have noticed that we can also describe the seasons in the following way, as they relate to the two opposite but complementary forces of the universe — Yin and Yang:

Spring: Yang grows as Yin declines.

Summer: Yang grows until it reaches its maximum at Midsummer’s Day, then gradually declines as Yin begins to increase.

Autumn/Fall: Yang declines even more as Yin continues to increase.

Winter: Yin increases until it reaches its maximum at Yule, the Winter Solstice, then gradually declines as Yang begins to increase.

For practical purposes then, we can describe the seasons like this, according to their predominant energy:

Spring: Growing Yang
Summer: Maximum Yang
Autumn: Increasing Yin
Winter: Maximum Yin

You will recall that Yang is the energy of warmth and activity; Yin is the energy of cold and passivity. So we think of spring and summer as being increasingly warm and filled with activity in Nature, while we think of autumn and winter as being increasingly cold and a time of growing inactivity in Nature.

Daoku is about Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons. Every verse is set in a particular season, because that season not only connects us with the natural world, but it also provides the environment — the context — in which a daoku event happens. That means the seasons are an integral part of daoku.

In old Japanese hokku the seasonal connection was made in each verse by using a season word that — by accepted convention — indicated a particular season. Anyone wanting to write or understand hokku had to learn those season words in order to know (except when obvious) the season in which each verse was set. Over time the number of such words greatly increased, until near the end of the old hokku period near the beginning of the 20th century, it required years for one to learn the season words and how to use them properly, a growing complexity that was not really in keeping with natural simplicity.

The old season words were also based on a particular and rather limited climatic region of Japan, as well as upon plants, animals, birds and fish within that particular region. Can you imagine how complex and difficult it would be if we expanded that region worldwide and included not only all climatic regions but all natural life?

That is why in modern English-language daoku, we take away the complexity and return to simplicity by using only four seasonal markers — the four seasons. Every daoku, when written, should be marked with the season in which it is written. That way, when it is shared with others the season goes with the daoku. And if a group of such verses are gathered into a collection or anthology, all the verses can be easily classified under their respective seasons. This takes a huge burden away from learning daoku while still keeping the essential connection to the seasons.

So now you know a lot about the seasons and the cyclic changes in Yang and Yin energy through the year.

That brings us to the important matter of internal reflection.

As you saw in the previous posting, the changes in the seasons correspond also to these changes in time and in human life. We say they are “reflected” in these other things. For example, here are some general reflections:

Spring: Beginnings (Growing Yang)
In human life: birth, childhood, youth
In the day: dawn and morning
In plant life: sprouting, growing, blossoming

Summer: Maturing (Yang reaches its maximum)
In human life: adulthood, middle age
In the day: mid-day, noon
In plant life: maturing, fruiting

Autumn: Aging (Yang weakens as Yin increases)
In human life: “Getting old,” roughly the years from 40 onward
In the day: late afternoon to dusk
In plant life: plants “gone to seed,” leaves withering and falling

Winter: Endings (Yin reaches its maximum)
In human life: Very old age and death
In the day: after sunset to deep night
In plant life: death and dormancy.

These are just some of the most obvious correspondences/reflections.

So how do such reflections manifest in daoku? By putting together things that are the same in character. This is called harmony of similarity.

Here is a very obvious example of putting things together that reflect one another:

An old man walking in the autumn amid falling leaves.

As you can easily see, everything in this verse has the character of weakening Yang and increasing Yin. The year is old (autumn), the man is old, and the leaves are old. That is why this combination gives us a feeling of harmony, the feeling that these things just “go together.” That is harmony of similarity, and it is achieved by using, in this case, things that reflect the nature of autumn, Yin things.

Similarly, look at this assemblage:

A child picking snowdrops amid the melting snow.

That is very obviously a collection of “beginnings” The child is young (beginning life), the snowdrops have just sprouted into bloom and are “new,” and the melting snow shows us the increasing of the Yang (warm) energy. So it automatically makes us feel the sense of newness and fresh beginnings of the early spring.

Now, keeping in mind the list of Yin-Yang correspondences that you saw in the previous message, take a look at this verse by Bashō:

(Autumn)

On the withered branch,
A crow has perched:
The autumn evening.

You should easily be able to see the internal reflections. Just in case you have overlooked one of the elements, I will remind you that bright things are Yang, dark things are Yin. Do you see now how each element in the verse reflects the others?

Here is how it works:

Heading: The seasonal marker “Autumn” (It is not really needed to indicate the season in this verse, but it is in many others, so we always include it for ease of classification)

First line:
On the withered branch
A withered branch is an old branch, so that gives us the sense of age, which is Yin.

Second line:
A crow has perched:
The crow is, of course, black; and darkness is a Yin element. Also, the crow has settled into inactivity, which is also Yin.

Third line:
The autumn evening.
Autumn is the time of increasing Yin; evening is also a Yin time in the day.

So everything in this verse is Yin, everything has to do with aging, and there is a correspondence between the darkness of the crow and the gathering darkness of evening, as well as the reflection of the withering of nature in autumn with the withered branch on which the crow has perched.

It is very important to see that these corresponding elements reflect one another. The Yin we see in one, we also see manifested in some way in the others. Do not mistake this for symbolism. Each element is fully itself, while also being fully in harmony with the others and with the autumn season.

Let’s look at another verse, this time by Issa. Here is R. H. Blyth’s translation. I have added the seasonal marker:

(Autumn)

Visiting the graves;
The old dog
Leads the way.

The seasonal marker is essential to understanding here, because otherwise we might think it to be Memorial Day, a spring holiday. But knowing it is an autumn verse makes all the difference because of internal reflection:

First line:
Visiting the graves;
Graves, of course, we associate with the passage of life and with and death, and both aging and death are Yin elements.

Second and third lines:

The old dog
Leads the way.

It makes all the difference that the dog is old. His age is in harmony with the season (Autumn – increasing Yin), and with the graves (death = maximum Yin). So both are Yin subjects, set in a season of increasing yin, a season of withering and dying. We can see the dog, showing his age in the slow pace of his walk, taking the lead on a path he has gone down many times.

Just for contrast, let’s look at what would happen if we changed the Yin dog to something freshly Yang:

Visiting the graves;
The awkward toddler
Leads the way.

That gives us a completely different feeling. It lacks the obvious harmony of Issa’s verse, though there is a place for using contrasting elements, as we shall find.

Now you know about internal reflection in daoku as well as harmony of similarity.  Now we come to a different (but related) technique, harmony of contrast. It too is based upon Yin and Yang, but it creates a different, yet still harmonious effect by using “opposite” elements.

Again if all of this seems a little difficult, it is only because it is likely new to you. Once you are accustomed to this way of thinking you will easily and naturally see such correspondences. But to do this well, you must know about Yin and Yang, so if those are not clear in your mind, just review the previous posting with its list of characteristics of Yin and Yang.

You will recall that harmony of similarity is the combining of things with similar characteristics, for example an assemblage of things that are aging or old, or things that are Yin in nature or things that are Yang in nature.

When we combine things with similar characteristics (such as the billowing sail on a boat and billowing clouds) or energies (such as an old woman and autumn — both increasing Yin), that creates a very harmonious feeling.

Harmony of contrast is the use of elements that are felt to be contrasting or opposite in their characteristics (such as an old woman looking at apple blossoms in spring) or energies (such as stepping into a cool stream (Yin) — on a hot day (Yang).

As you might imagine, the combining of contrasting things can be particularly effective in the two seasons when energies reach their maximum — Yang in summer and Yin in winter. But it can also be used in the two seasons when Yang is increasing as Yin declines (spring) and when Yang is declining and Yin is increasing (autumn).

The moon is felt to be a silent, passive and tranquil element. The pecking of a bird, by contrast, is active and jerky. Though we feel these things to be contrasting in character, we can combine them, as did Zuiryu in this verse (I translate a bit loosely here):

(Autumn)

A water bird
Pecking and breaking it —
The moon on the water.

Here is an example of a verse using contrary actions, this time by Ryuho:

(Autumn)

Scooping up
and spilling the moon;
The washbasin.

Of course it is the moon seen at night in the water of the basin.

One can also mix contrasting and similar things; for example, here is a verse by the woman Sogetsu-ni:

(Autumn)

After the dance,
The wind in the pines,
The crying of insects.

We see harmony of contrast between the boisterous music and activity of the dance (now ended) and the peaceful, quiet sounds of the wind in the pines and the crying insects. But there is also similarity between the “natural” sound of the wind and that of the insect cries.

Here is a slight variation on an old verse by Issa in which we again see harmony of similarity:

(Autumn)

Withered pampas grass;
Wisps of my hair
Quiver with it.

There is a mild similarity between hair and the feathery plumes of pampas grass trembling in the (implied) wind, but if we think of the writer as OLD, the effect becomes even stronger — the grey, long and unkempt wisps of an old man’s hair trembling in the same autumn wind that blows the white, withered pampas grass. But if the hair trembling in the autumn wind is that of a YOUNG man, then the feeling of the verse becomes quite different, not nearly so harmonious with the season.

In using harmony of contrast, you can even use something that is there combined with something that is not, as in this verse by Fugyoku:

(Autumn)

The bright moon;
No dark place
To dump the ashes
.

The reason it works is that the absence of something can often be just as strong, or sometimes even stronger, than something that is present. Imagine, for example, seeing the empty and silent rocker in which a beloved grandmother used to sit. That is a very meaningful absence.

Long ago I wrote a somewhat similar verse:

(Autumn)

No moon;
Everywhere in the forest —
Deer eyes.

For those of you who do not know, on a dark night any light carried reflects off the eyes of deer, and all one sees are ghostly eyes in the darkness.

What these techniques teach us, aside from being frequently useful in composition, is to pay great attention to the interrelationships among the elements you put into a daoku. You should always remember that a good verse is not just an assemblage of random elements. It is not just picking anything you see and writing about it in three lines. It is noticing events in which we FEEL the relationship among the elements and their relationship with the season, whether that relationship is one of similarity or contrast, or even a mixture of the two. That is what gives a daoku depth and significance.

Keep in mind too, that the feeling of an element changes with the season. Spring rain is very different in feeling from summer rain; and autumn rain has its own feeling, as does winter rain, which is quite different than spring rain. That is why we should keep in mind that underlying the obvious subject of a daoku is also the more encompassing subject — the season in which the verse is written.

All daoku, you will remember, should be written in the appropriate season. We do not write winter daoku in summer or fall daoku in spring. And we ordinarily also read daoku in the appropriate season. We do not read summer daoku in winter or spring daoku in autumn. This practice keeps us in harmony with the seasons, and avoids creating the sense of inappropriateness we feel when seeing artificially grown spring flowers in an autumn bouquet, or when dried autumn plants and seed pods are used in a spring bouquet.  The exception to that is — as here — when we are studying daoku and its principles.  Then we may use examples out of season.

David

THE DAOKU WHEEL OF THE YEAR

If you want to write daoku you will need to know its aesthetics, the principles upon which its practice is based. The chief underlying principle is that everything in the universe is connected. Humans are not separate, but are a part of Nature. That is why we can say that hokku is about Nature and humans as a part of Nature.

If you look in the news of climate change, you will quickly see the disastrous consequences when humans ignore the basic fact that humans are a part of — not apart from — Nature.

Nature implies the seasons and their changes. That is why learning the Daoku Wheel of the Year (which also applies to hokku, given that daoku is a category of hokku)  is an important part of daoku aesthetics.

The Wheel of the Year is the “natural” calendar. Here is a simple image of the Daoku Wheel of the Year as found in English-language daoku. You will note that Midsummer’s Day is at the top, and the Winter Solstice is at the bottom. There is a very good reason for that, as you will see as we continue.

So here is the Daoku Wheel of the Year:

As you see, it has four main points, which beginning in the spring are:

1. The Spring Equinox (Vernal Equinox)
2. The Summer Solstice (Midsummer’s Day)
3. The Autumn Equinox (Autumnal Equinox)
4. The Winter Solstice (Yule)

Between these four main points come the “cross-quarter” days:

1. Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1, which begins the season of spring
2. May Day (Beltain/Bealtaine), May 1, which begins the season of summer
3. Lammas or Harvest Home (Lughnasa) August 1, which begins the season of autumn
4. Halloween (Samhain), October 31-November 1, which begins the season of winter

You will also note on the Daoku Wheel that in the spring, the Yang aspect of Nature is increasing. This increase really begins in midwinter, just after the Winter Solstice, but it begins to be noticeable near the time of Candlemas and after.

Yang increases until Midsummer’s Day, at which time it begins its decline, though its effects, like those of midwinter, are usually not noticed in Nature until about a month later.

As Yang declines in late summer, its opposite Yin gradually increases. So in autumn we have increasing Yin, and in spring we have decreasing Yin.

THE YIN AND YANG OF THE SEASONS

The principles of Yin and Yang and their interactions and transformations give us the seasons of the year. You will recall that Yin is cold, Yang warm. Yin is passive, Yang active. Yin recedes, Yang advances. Yin is wet, Yang is dry. Yin is still, Yang moving. Yin is silence, Yang is sound. Yin sinks, Yang rises.

Remembering also that when Yin or Yang reaches its farthest point — its maximum — it begins to change into its opposite, we are now ready to look at the real calendar — the seasons according to Yin and Yang.

Midwinter is ultimate Yin. At this point Yin reaches its maximum and begins to change into its opposite. Yang first begins to grow within it. So Midwinter is a pivotal point, the lowest on the turning wheel of the year.

Its opposite is Midsummer, when Yang reaches its maximum and then begins to change into its opposite. Yin begins to grow within it. So Midsummer also is a pivotal point — the very height of summer, when it then begins its long decline into winter.

The Spring Equinox — a time when day and night are of equal length — is nonetheless a time of growing Yang, because it comes after Midwinter. Yang continues to grow until Midsummer, when it then begins to change into its opposite.

The Autumn Equinox — again a time when day and night are of equal length — is nonetheless a time of decreasing Yang and growing Yin, because it comes after Midsummer. Yin continues to increase until Midwinter, when the cycle begins again.

We see, then, that the seasons are in constant change and movement as Yin and Yang interact with one another. As Yang increases, Yin declines. When Yang reaches its ultimate, Yin begins to increase within it, and Yang declines. This is a perpetual cycle, the turning Wheel of the Year. We can look at the seasons like this:

Winter: Yin
Spring: Growing Yang
Summer: Yang
Autumn /Fall: Growing Yin

So we see there are two Yang seasons — spring and summer — and two Yin seasons — autumn and winter.

YIN AND YANG IN DAOKU

Yesterday I mentioned the importance of Yin and Yang in daoku.  They are so important that one cannot fully understand daoku without knowing of Yin and Yang.

Yin is pronounced like “tin.”  Yang is pronounced like “song.”

This posting condenses a lot of information that the student of daoku should absorb and then observe in daily life and in the reading and practice of daoku.

You have probably seen the old Yin-Yang Chinese symbol.  It is an easy, shorthand way to remember how Yin and Yang work:

300px-yin_yang-1-svg

Yin and Yang are the two opposite yet complementary forces comprising all things in the universe.  They are found in every aspect of Nature, so you can understand why they are so important in daoku.  Even though Yin and Yang are opposites, they interact with one another in an ever-changing relationship and harmony.  So we should think of the universe as not being just divided into two — Yin and Yang.  In fact, it is not divided at all, as we see from the circle of the symbol, and Yin and Yang mix together and change together.  When Yang increases, Yin decreases; when Yin increases, Yang decreases.

What exactly are Yin and Yang in practical terms?  Here are some characteristics of each:

Yang is bright, Yin is dark;
Yang is warm, Yin is cool;
Yang is rising, Yin is sinking/falling;
Yang is expanding, Yin is shrinking;
Yang is growing, Yin is withering;
Yang is dry, Yin is moist;
Yang is high, Yin is low;
Yang is motion, Yin is stillness;
Yang is activity, Yin is rest;
Yang is strength, Yin is weakness;
Yang is male, Yin is female;
Yang is full, Yin is empty;
Yang is sharp, Yin is smooth;
Yang is hard, Yin is soft;
Yang is flavorful, Yin is bland;
Yang is active, Yin is passive;
Yang advances, Yin recedes;
Yang multiplies, Yin dwindles;

That should give you some idea of Yin and Yang seen as absolutes, though they are not really absolutes.  Yang contains within it a tiny seed of Yin; Yin contains within it a tiny seed of Yang.  You see that in the Yin-Yang symbol on this page:  the light Yang side contains a tiny spot of dark Yin; the dark Yin side contains a tiny spot of light Yang.  When Yang increases and reaches its ultimate, it changes to Yin;  when Yin increases and reaches its ultimate, it changes to Yang.

Everything in the universe is — at any moment — in the ever-changing interplay of Yin and Yang.

This is significant not only because it is how the universe works, but also because of the important technique used in daoku called internal reflection.  Internal reflection in daoku means that the nature or character of one thing is often reflected in the nature or character of another.  In addition, in daoku there are two kinds of harmony:  there is harmony of similarity, and harmony of contrast/difference.  Both of these important aspects of daoku relate to Yin and Yang.

We already know that time and the seasons are essential to daoku.  Here is how Yin and Yang manifest in time:

Let’s start with deepest winter.  Winter is cold, so from the list above, we know that winter is very Yin.  And we recall that when Yin reaches its ultimate, it changes into Yang.  That is exactly what happens.  In the cold Yin of deep winter, a tiny seed of Yang begins to grow.  We call that “increasing Yang” or “growing Yang.”  It grows and spring begins.  So spring is increasing Yang.  Yang continues to increase, and spring grows warmer, ice and snow melt, things sprout, blossoms appear, trees leaf out — all these are signs of growing Yang.  Yang continues to grow, and we have already seen that when Yang increases, Yin decreases.  That is what is happening in spring.  Finally, Yang grows to such a point that things dry out, the weather begins to get very warm, and we find ourselves in summer, which, being the opposite of Yin winter, is a Yang season.  The Yang of summer increases gradually until it reaches its height, and then — as we might expect — it begins to change into Yin.  A seed of Yin starts to grow within it.  Now the year, instead of growing as in spring, is declining.  Yin continues to increase as Yang decreases, and we come to autumn, a time when the increase of Yin is very obvious as things begin to wither; the trees drop their leaves, annual plants die, and the energy of perennial plants sinks from the leaves into the root.  We know that in spring, for example in sugar maples, sap rises — Yang.  But in autumn it falls — Yin.

Yin increases as Yang decreases, things grow colder, things increasingly die, and finally we are in winter again, the Yin season.  Then the whole cycle begins anew.

This same principle applies to human life, and here again we touch on the technique of internal reflection:

Birth and infancy are early spring; growth, childhood, and adolescence match the increasing Yang of spring.  Adulthood is summer; when one is fully adult, the aging process begins.  One grows gradually older — the autumn of life.  And as Yang decreases in the human body and Yin increases, we grow even older and weaker, we lose our hair, we loose teeth and muscle, and finally Yin reaches its ultimate, and we die — deep winter.

The same thing applies to each day:

The middle of night is deep Yin.  Dawn nears and Yang increases.  We see that in the light, and in the morning chorus and activity of the birds.  Then the sun rises higher in the sky and Yang increases even more, as Yin decreases.  Finally, at midday, the sun reaches its highest point, and the seed of Yin begins to grow within it.  The sun begins its afternoon decline and Yang declines as Yin grows.  Then we reach late afternoon, dusk, and finally the Yin darkness of night comes again.

So, just to repeat, in only these three things there are these correspondences, very useful for internal reflection:

Birth-youth = spring = morning;
Adulthood-nearing middle age =summer = noon;
Past middle age-growing old = autumn = afternoon;
Very old-death = winter = night;

We see Yin and Yang in a landscape painting.  Mountains rise up and are high, so they are Yang; valleys are low and receptive, so they are Yin.  And of course we see Yin also in the falling of waterfalls from a high place to a low place.  And we see Yin in rivers, lakes and pools.

In fact so all-pervasive is the Yin-Yang process in Nature that one cannot really understand fully how daoku works without it.  In some verses it is very obvious, in others less obvious, but it is always there, whether seen or not.

We can see it subtly in this pleasant verse by Onitsura:

(Spring)

Dawn;
On the tips of the barley leaves,
Spring frost.

Now you know how to read that verse in terms of Yin and Yang:
Dawn is early in the process of growing Yang;
A barley leaf is young and green, so it too is growing Yang;
Spring frost is Yin, which shows us that in this process Yang (seen in the dawn and the green blade) is increasing, yet Yin (what remains of winter) has not yet disappeared.
To this we add our daoku intuition, by means of which we automatically intuit what is not actually written in the poem — that the Yang dawn and rising sun will soon melt the Yin frost, and it will evaporate and vanish — Yang overcoming Yin.  So this poem shows us a stage in the interaction of Yin and Yang that takes place in early spring, and in doing so, it manifests the character of the season and of that particular period and morning in the season.

You can see from all that what a very excellent spring verse by Onitsura this is.  And if you did not have your new understanding of Yin and Yang, you would not see that at all.  That is why the Yin-Yang principle is so essential to daoku — because not only was it essential to old Japanese hokku, but it also is essential to understanding the interplay of these forces in everything that exists — in every time and place and life.

The teaching of Yin and Yang is a part of learning daoku.  In that it differs from all other kinds of short verse such as modern haiku.  Modern haiku has largely abandoned the aesthetic principles and standards of the old hokku, while daoku has kept the essence.  Perhaps one of these days someone will see what I have written on this subject and will begin presenting it on some modern haiku site as a novelty, but for us in the practice of daoku it is not just a novelty; it is essential knowledge.

I hope you can see from what I have written here how much more there is to daoku than superficially meets the eye.  One must have an understanding of its aesthetics in order to really “get” how it works and why it works, and how to apply these principles in practice.

Once you know about and begin to understand the Yin-Yang principle, you will see it everywhere — because it is everywhere, from deep in our bodies to the farthest galaxies, and in every aspect of life and time.   That is why it is essential knowledge to the serious student of daoku.

The best way to deal with Yin and Yang is to learn the basic interactions I have given here; then practice recognizing the Yin – Yang processes in Nature and the seasons, as well as in daoku.  That way Yin and Yang will gradually become part of your writing practice — but not in a forced or rigid way.

Keep in mind that Yin and Yang are not absolutes; they are always working in relation to one another, always causing changing states and effects in their endless interactions.

David

DAOKU AESTHETICS

A main area in which daoku differs from modern haiku is the matter of aesthetics.  There are no universally-accepted aesthetic principles in modern haiku.  Everything depends on individual whim.  Daoku, however, has very definite principles and aesthetics that are essential to developing as a daoku writer.

aupa

one may have a verse in the outward daoku form, with everything in it correct, and still not have a daoku.  That is because to be a real daoku, a verse must have the content — the aesthetics — of daoku.

By aesthetics I mean the overall atmosphere.  Do not think that every aspect of daoku aesthetics must be seen or included in every verse.  It is more subtle than that.

We can think of daoku aesthetics as its “taste” or the “fragrance.”  It is the overall feeling one gets on reading a single daoku or a collection.  In some it may be fainter, in others stronger, but however faint or strong, it should always be there.

The most obvious characteristics of the overall daoku aesthetic are these:

1.  Poverty
2.  Simplicity
3.  Transience

Poverty applies both to the outward form and to the aesthetics of daoku content.  It means  a sense of spareness and ordinariness rather than a sense of luxury and the exotic.  Think of it like the simple — yet “plain” — beauty of Shaker furniture, or of the Walden of Thoreau, or of a Quaker meeting.  It means a sense of appreciation of the few things one has instead of a sense of unappreciated abundance.

We see poverty, for example, in Onitsura’s verse:

(Summer)

In the broken pot,
A water plantain —
Slenderly blooming. 

The water plantain is a very ordinary and “plain”  plant, not showy at all, or expensive.   Here we see it not in a costly or elaborate pot, but in an ordinary clay pot or crock, and that crock is even broken.  So the poverty of this hokku is easy to see.

Poverty overlaps and relates to the next aesthetic characteristic of daoku — simplicity.  We also see simplicity in Onitsura’s verse.  The daoku form itself exhibits simplicity.  By simplicity we mean that a verse does not have a flavor of complexity or elaborateness.  It is not hard to “get,” and it is very ordinary in its words, which are not fancy or unusual or requiring a special education to understand.  Daoku should not seem sophisticated.  We should not think of a city dweller going to plays and art galleries and parties; instead we should think of a farmer or of a hermit in the woods, or of a dweller in a simple house with a garden in a small town.

Added and related to that, daoku should have a sense of naturalness rather than artificiality or contrivance.  A verse should seem natural and unforced in its writing.  It should not give the appearance of being the result of much thought and manipulation.

We see simplicity in this verse by Buson:

(Spring)

Bags of seeds
Getting soaked;
Spring rain.

Do you notice that there is an underlying sense in that verse of “something happening”?  We see the rough cloth bags bulging with seeds getting soaked by the rain, but there is also a sense of latency; by that we mean a sense of something that is not said, but is still there nonetheless.  In this verse it is the underlying knowing that the soaked seeds are going to start swelling and sprouting in and through the holes in the weave of the cloth bag.  That gives this verse the feeling of a kind of potential power that is not actually mentioned in words.  What is that power?  It is the sense of the growing Yang energy of spring.  I will talk about the importance of Yin and Yang in daoku soon. Keep in mind that we usually have that feeling of something left unsaid in daoku.

I mentioned naturalness in relation to simplicity.  Part of that is a sense of selflessness.  It means the writer should not “stand out.”  Daoku is not about ego or self. That is why we minimalize the use of “I,” “me,” and “my.”  We usually avoid them unless they are necessary for clarity.

A third and very important characteristic of daoku is a sense of transience.  Behind all of our practice there should be — sometimes fainter, sometimes stronger — the sense of evanescence, the sense that everything in this world is temporary, whether it be a blooming flower or a leaf on a tree or our lives.  There is nothing which we can hold on to always, because everything in life, everything in the universe, comes only to go.  It arises and then passes away.

That gives daoku another characteristic, which is a quality that is almost loneliness, but not quite — something with a feeling of solitude mixed into it.  It is almost sadness but again, not quite.  It is that feeling that arises in us when we realize that everything around us — our possessions, our friends, our surroundings — are transient and temporary.  That  too is very important in the aesthetics of daoku, the background feeling or flavor or subtle fragrance that is always behind our practice.  Imagine that you have been away for 30 years from the little town where you grew up; when you go back, you see that the small shops you remember are not there, certain buildings and houses are entirely gone, and you do not recognize the people in your old neighborhood.  Things are just different; it is no longer the place you remember.  That is the kind of feeling transience gives rise to.

Transience is obvious in Hyakuchi’s verse:

(Spring)

The sold cow
Leaving the village;
The haze. 

Associated with transience is a sense of time passing.  That is why in daoku, things that are old or worn or weathered or broken are valued; they show the passage of time.  The transience in daoku is also why every verse is set within a particular season, whether it is mentioned in the verse or used as its classification.  The seasons come and the seasons go, and what happens within the seasons is constantly changing.

There is of course much more to the aesthetics of daoku, but these characteristics are the basics, and every writer of daoku should know them.  Remember that they are not blatantly obvious in every verse, but again are like the overall background taste or fragrance that permeates and pervades our practice of writing.  If your verses have that subtle feeling, then that is what fills the correct form with what is really daoku and not some other kind of short verse.

Daoku leave us with the feeling that, even though they are very simple and ordinary, there is something significant in them that we cannot quite put our finger on, something deeper that is never said or explained in words.

Of course, of primary importance in daoku aesthetics is the overall subject matter, which we summarize as “Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature.”

Many people read through these aesthetics, but they do not sink in; they do not really absorb them, and consequently fail in writing.  Even though they seem and are very simple and ordinary, do not think they are unimportant.  To write daoku, you must realize what they mean in your life, and whether and to what extent your life reflects them.

David

IS DAOKU OLD OR NEW?

 

Autumn begins;
The evening shower
Has become a night of rain.

That verse — loosely translated here — was originally written in the 18th century by Taigi.  It expresses the transition from the season of summer to that of autumn.

Some may wonder if daoku is an old or a new verse form.  The answer is that it is both.

It is old in that it is based on the best aesthetics of the old Japanese hokku that began to be seriously practiced in the latter half of the 17th century. 

It is new in that it is commonly written in English, though of course it may be written in other contemporary languages as well. 

It is also new in that it uses capitalization (which did not exist in old Japanese) and punctuation (which takes the place of the old “cutting words” used in Japanese hokku).

Daoku is new in that it replaces the old “season words” that made learning hokku so complex with a simple seasonal heading for each shared verse in parentheses —  like this: (Autumn).

And it is new in that it is based on real experiences of the five senses.  Many old Japanese hokku were written from the imagination, though they appear to be real experiences.  When those old hokku are used as models for learning daoku, they are treated as real experiences.

Some may wonder how daoku differs from that other widely-known form of contemporary short verse, the haiku.

Daoku differs from contemporary haiku in that daoku has a definite form and definite subject matter, and keeps the old connection with the seasons.  It also differs from most haiku written today in that daoku capitalizes the first letter of each line and uses punctuation both within and at the end of each daoku, while haiku often omits both, or may use only a perfunctory hyphen.

Daoku also differs from much contemporary haiku in that it is an objective, selfless, contemplative form of verse — not a verse for “self-expression.”  Daoku allows Nature to speak through the writer, rather than the writer giving personal opinions about or reflections on Nature.

In practice, daoku can be treated as a completely modern form of short verse in English and other contemporary languages, though of course its roots go back directly to the best aesthetics of the old hokku.  Because of that, it is generally far closer to the old hokku than modern haiku, which has taken quite a different direction in most cases.  It is so close that old objective hokku may be used in translation as models for learning daoku.  In the transition from the old Japanese hokku to the English language, daoku removed a great deal of unnecessary cultural baggage, which makes it a more universal form of verse.

That frees daoku to be completely of the place and language in which it is written.

And by the way, “daoku” is both the singular and the plural.  So we can say, “This daoku is….” or “Those daoku are ….”

DAOKU BASICS

Autumn begins;
The slow drip of rain
From every leaf
.

Daoku are experiences of Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons.

Daoku expresses real experiences of one or more of the five senses. Not fantasy. Not imagination.

Daoku is written in three brief lines.

It has two parts, one longer, one shorter.

The shorter part may come at the beginning or the end.

The two parts are separated by appropriate punctuation that gives us a brief meditative pause before moving from the first part to the second. The punctuation mark used determines how the reader moves through the verse.

Each line begins with a capital letter.

Each daoku ends with an appropriate punctuation mark.

Daoku, unlike many other kinds of verse, is not “self-expression.” Instead, it expresses Nature and humans as a part of Nature.

When the writer gets out of the way, Nature can speak.

Daoku is a very selfless kind of poetry. It avoids the words “I,” “me” and “my” unless they are necessary to the context.

Daoku uses simple words, and is about ordinary things.

Because it is Nature-based, daoku avoids modern technology; there are no daoku about cell phones or televisions, etc.

Every daoku is set in a particular season and is to be read in that season. The exception is for study and teaching purposes, when hokku of any season may be used.

Daoku differs from modern haiku in that it has definite subject matter and a definite form and aesthetic.

Daoku expresses experiences in which we feel an indefinable significance.

Daoku are not assemblages of random things, but have a sense of unity and harmony.

When shared or anthologized, each daoku is headed by its season in parentheses. That keeps the seasonal context with each verse.

The basics of daoku are easily and quickly described. The aesthetics of hokku take longer, and are absorbed through the reading and contemplating of many daoku, so that one may grasp the spirit behind them as one develops personally.



SUMMER ENDS — AUTUMN BEGINS

Today — August 1st — is the very old holiday of Lammas, also known as Harvest Home.

By the old agricultural calendar, which is also the Hokku Calendar and consequently the Daoku Calendar — given that daoku is the objective category of contemporary hokku — Harvest Home is the beginning of autumn.

Because daoku is the verse of Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons, autumn is very significant. It is the time of things aging and withering. After the abundance of spring and summer, autumn is the decline of growth in Nature — the weakening of the vital forces. In terms of Yang and Yin — the active and passive, warm and cool, bright and dark elements of Nature — autumn is declining Yang and growing Yin.

In the day, autumn corresponds to mid-afternoon to twilight;
In human life, autumn corresponds to the stage of life past middle age — the time of “growing old.” It is in general the early to late “senior citizen” years.

The chief characteristic of autumn is impermanence — seeing that things age and wither, whether in Nature or in human life. In autumn that becomes very obvious in the flowers going to seed and withering, in the falling of the leaves, in the growing shortness of the day and increasing darkness, and in the increasing cooling of the air.

Because we are a part of Nature, when we see all this, we feel our own impermanence. It is like Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall.” He tells the girl Margaret, who is sad over the golden grove loosing its leaves,

It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Impermanence — the transiency of things — is built into Nature, and we, being a part of Nature, are also impermanent. We see our aging in the withering of the flowers, in the falling of the leaves.

In most of Western verse we would find this expressed in a very subjective way in poetry. Poets write about their thoughts and feelings concerning autumn and its significance. In daoku that is not done.

Daoku is the objective side of hokku. It simply presents an experience and lets the reader experience it too, without the writer adding any thoughts or commentary or interpretation. In doing so, we get the feeling directly, without the writer standing between the reader and the experience.

In teaching daoku, I generally use very old hokku as models. So when I use such a verse (translated, of course), for the sake of convenience I will just speak of the verse as a daoku — an objective hokku.

Here is how Kyoroku showed the change of season:

August;
First on the ears of millet —
The autumn wind.

We stand looking out on a field of millet still in the quiet of August.  Suddenly a cool wind, almost a mere hint of wind, stirs the heavy seed heads that bend in a gentle wave.  And we suddenly realize that it is the wind of autumn, and summer is ending.

What a world of significance in that verse!

That is the subtlety of  daoku.  We express all of Nature at that moment in a single, small thing-event.  And in expressing Nature, we express our own nature as well.

You will find that I repeat certain things again and again, and one of those things is the importance of harmony and unity in a daoku.  In this verse the maturity of the summer matches the maturity of the ears of millet, and suddenly we see a manifestation of this aging — the first sign of decline, the first coolness of the wind that speaks of autumn.

When I say the wind “speaks of autumn,” I mean that in daoku, when the writer gets out of the way, removing the ego from the verse, Nature is able to speak, sometimes in the wind, or the water, or the rain, or any number of things. Notice that in Kyoroku’s verse, there are no added thoughts, no comments, and no ego. We experience what Kyoroku experienced, though through our own mental store of images and sensory impressions.

Here is a daoku I wrote at summer’s end a few years ago:

The tall tree
Cut up in a heap;
Summer’s end.

As you read it, do you sense the harmony of elements, the ending of summer, the formerly tall and green and growing tree all cut up into a drying heap of wood?  Can you feel the change in it, the transience that is inseparable from existence?

That transience is an essential element of daoku. I recently mentioned this quote from Natalie Babbitt’s bittersweet children’s book Tuck Everlasting:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn.”

That sense of impermanence — of transience –is what makes Babbitt’s book so filled with that mixture of near sadness and almost lonely wistfulness that the Japanese called sabishisa. It is the knowledge that nothing in life is permanent, everything changes, nothing abides, that all of existence is in constant movement and transformation from one state to another, endlessly being born, growing, dying, changing.  It manifests in the withering of a leaf and in the eons of evolution that have carried life through ceaseless transformations, as Loren Eiseley reminds us in his book The Immense Journey:

The truth is that we are all potential fossils still carrying within our bodies the crudities of former existences, the marks of a world in which living creatures flow with little more consistency than clouds from age to age.”

We find the same feeling in Marcel Pagnol’s comments that sum up the ending of his childhood in Le Château de ma MèreMy Mother’s Castle:

Le temps passe, et il fait tourner la roue de la vie comme l’eau celle des moulins.”

Time passes, and it turns the wheel of life as water does that of a mill.”

And he finished with these words:

Telle est la vie des hommes.  Quelques joies, très vite effacées par d’inoubliables chagrins.  Il n’est pas nécessaire de le dire aux enfants.”

Such is the life of man — a few joys, very quickly erased by unforgettable sorrows.  It is not necessary to tell that to the children.”

So now we must prepare ourselves, as summer is coming to an end, for the arrival of autumn, a season filled with the sense of things passing and aging and changing, and thus filled with the spirit of daoku.

A number of new readers have joined this site recently, so in discussing daoku this autumn, I will begin at the beginning with such basics as form and content, and then we will proceed deeper into the aesthetics of daoku as a brief, objective verse form. For many long-time readers here it will be a review — but this time with the emphasis specifically on daoku. And of course there will be other topics in postings to come.