We have just passed the Autumnal Equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Now we move toward the dark of the year that becomes most pronounced in winter, as the days grow ever shorter and the nights longer.

Shiki wrote a very interesting verse that we can translate as a daoku in English.  Remember that a daoku is an objective hokku — a hokku without any commentary or ornamentation or “thinking” from the writer.  Here it is:


A dog sleeping
At the door of the empty house;
Falling willow leaves.

It is a wonderful expression of autumn.  We feel the quietness of the season and the diminishing of Yang (active) energy in the sleep of the dog, in the emptiness of the vacant house, and in the falling of the yellow willow leaves.  There is a sense of peaceful drowsiness in it that is very much in keeping with the waning energy and golden light of autumn.

It is important to note that when we read a daoku, we experience it in our minds.  This daoku by Shiki is a very visual verse, so we see the dog and the house and the leaves in our minds.  But how we see them is determined by the arrangement of the elements in the verse.

In the version above, we first see the sleeping dog; then we see he is lying at the door of an empty house; and then we experience the wider context — the falling willow leaves.

If we change the arrangement, we experience the daoku somewhat differently, as you will see easily if you read these versions with a quiet and receptive mind:

At the door of an empty house
A dog is sleeping;
Falling willow leaves.

In that, we first see the door and the empty house.  Then we see the sleeping dog, and finally we note the falling willow leaves.

Falling willow leaves;
At the door of an empty house
A dog is sleeping.

Here we first see the wider context:  the falling willow leaves.  Then we see the door and the empty house, and finally the dog sleeping there.

As you can see, there are several ways to arrange the elements in a daoku, and how they are arranged determines how the reader will experience those elements sequentially — and there is a subtle difference of feeling in the difference of sequence.

We can also make other little changes, for example:

A dog asleep
At the door of the vacant house
Falling willow leaves.

“Vacant,” however, is not quite as good a choice here as “empty,” because empty is felt as a stronger word.

This autumn daoku has a very deep sense of poverty and transience, both of which are very important aesthetically.  By poverty here is meant the appreciation of the very simple and basic elements of life — something like what is now in the West known as “minimalism,” only far more profound than mere interior decoration. The daoku is a very minimal form of verse, which is why such things as choice of words and sequential arrangement of elements are very important.



  1. I can see how daoku is to hokku as zen buddhism is to buddhism. Both daoku and zen are stripped down to their most basic form, daoku being a form of expression and zen a form of philosophy of life. Both contain an extraordinary sense of poverty, in daoku’s expression and zen’s way of life. Both reveal the transience of life, attempting to teach us that nothing lasts forever and that everything evolves. Zen appreciates how living things are born, develop, die, decompose, and its elements are absorbed into other living things. With daoku we express in simplest ways our observations of nature during the different seasons. I remember the day you coined the term “daoku,” and I have attempted to write daoku ever since. Are you a Zen Buddhist monk, David? You at least appreciate their way of life.

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