THE SEMICOLON IN DAOKU

Aesthetically, there are several things that distinguish daoku from modern haiku, and one is punctuation.  While haiku often makes do with merely a hyphen or no punctuation at all, daoku makes full use of the benefits of various punctuation marks.  The two parts of daoku are separated by an appropriate punctuation mark, the daoku ends with a punctuation mark, and there may be additional punctuation within the verse.

The purpose of this is to guide the reader through the verse in a smooth and effective manner.

In 1494 the humanist book publisher in Venice — Aldus Manutius — created a new and very useful punctuation mark.  He wanted something between the brevity of a comma (,) and the stronger pause of the colon (:).  So he combined both into the semicolon (;).

The simplicity of this is striking.  Many people today are confused by the so-called rules of punctuation — all of which were devised later and sometimes disagree.  But the basic purpose and principle is quite simple, and easily seen in contemporary hokku and its sub-category, daoku.  The comma, the semicolon, the colon, and the period are all variations in length and feeling of pause.

The comma is a brief pause:

I stopped, and then I continued on.

The semicolon is a longer pause:

I stopped; and then I continued on.

The colon is an even longer and stronger pause:

I stopped: and then I continued on.

And the period is the strongest and longest pause:

I stopped.  And then I continued on.

It is just that simple.

In daoku the most frequently used punctuation mark is the semicolon.  Its purpose is to provide a meditative pause between the longer and shorter parts of the verse, as in this example by Gyodai:

(Autumn)

The autumn hills;
Here and there,
Smoke rising.

As presented here, we first encounter the autumn hills, and pause momentarily to see and experience them in our minds.  And then looking here and looking there, we see the little columns of smoke rising.

Again the purpose of punctuation is to guide the reader, and it has a strong effect on how the verse is experienced; so punctuation is very important in both contemporary hokku in general and daoku (objective hokku) in particular.

David

One thought on “THE SEMICOLON IN DAOKU

  1. I like the daoku by Gyodai. I foresee a sad time in history, when our governments ban the burning of wood in our stoves at home. I know that this produces greenhouse gases, but there is a nostalgia that I feel about woodburning stoves out in the country in winter. To me, if we have to do this, then it’s too late. Thank you for continuing to teach hokku in your posts, David. I hope the writing of hokku (nature) increases as natural habitat diminishes. Maybe hokku will contribute to our future reverence for nature, as we lose it.

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