It is snowing as I write this, so the cold weather has finally come.

One of my favorite winter verses, which works well in daoku (objective hokku) form, is this winter verse by Hashin:

No sky, no earth;
Only snow
Endlessly falling.

In a heavy snowstorm, there is no longer any visual distinction between the sky and the earth.  Everything is the same whiteness, and through that whiteness falls the white snow, seemingly without end.  It well expresses the feeling of winter.

As you can see, it can all be expressed in only eight words in English.  That is part of the poverty and simplicity of daoku.  By poverty we do not mean you have to be penniless, homeless, and on the streets.  We mean that you recognize life is not the accumulation of material things, and in writing daoku, it is not the use of lots of words.  It is reducing things to their minimum, using only what is necessary to express an experience without added commentary or frills or interpretation.  As is always said in daoku, “no thinking.”

So much of our lives is spent in the whirlwind of thoughts in our heads.  Thoughts are not us.  They are just things that happen, like leaves floating by in a stream.  So don’t get too attached to thoughts.  Spend more time in experience, without interpreting or judging it.  That will improve not only your hokku, but likely your life as well.



Tomorrow — December 21 — is the Winter Solstice, Great Yule — a major natural holiday from ancient times сelebrating the winter rebirth of the sun. It is the day when the sun stops lowering its daily arc across the sky, followed by its gradual rising again through spring and summer. From tomorrow on, the nights grow shorter and the days longer.  It is the time when we celebrate the beginning of the return of light and warmth, the rising of the yang (active, warm, bright) energies.  More ancient than Christmas, it is a celebration of Nature and our place in the universe, and an important part of the hokku/daoku year.

There are many ways to observe the Winter Solstice, from the simple to elaborate feasting and colorful rituals. However you please, I hope you will all take some time to rejoice in this significant midwinter festival.

Here is an old verse by Seibi:

Slowly, slowly
The sun rises over the pines;
The Winter Solstice.

Glad Yule!




Yesterday I talked about the appreciation of simple things in daoku (objective hokku).  Here is an example, a loose translation of a winter verse by Ransetsu:

This snowfall;
People waking up others
To see.


I have been fascinated by snow since I was a child, and each snowfall is always a special event.  Snow is not frequent in my part of the Pacific Northwest of the United States.  Some winters we may have none at all.  But when it happens, it still awakens some of the joy I felt in my childhood.  This old Japanese verse expresses the human desire to share an experience with someone else. It almost seems like a pleasure shared is a pleasure multiplied.

That human urge to share an experience is why people exchange daoku with others.  It is the same feeling expressed in this Robert Frost poem, “The Pasture”:

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
And that, of course, is the reason why I began this blog based around the reading and writing of hokku years ago:  to say to others, “You come too.”


People who come to hokku and its sub-category daoku by way of modern haiku often do not quite grasp its aesthetic.  They are not used to a verse form that makes a virtue out of such simplicity and ordinariness.

Daoku has inherited from its spiritual ancestry the notion of selflessness, which means that daoku is not about the “I,” the ego.  It is not about romance, or sex, or all the materialism of the modern world.  it is about very basic things, and it approaches them not on the level of intellect — not through analyzing and interpreting and commentary.  It just presents us with sensory events.  As I always repeat, daoku is about Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons.

Here is a winter verse by Buson that illustrates well the aesthetic of daoku:

The sound
Of the dog rolling over against the door;
Winter confinement.

Who in the history of Western poetry would have thought to write such a verse?  Who would have thought there is “poetry” in the sound of a dog bumping against a door in the isolation of winter?

That is the amazing thing about daoku.  It deals with the most basic elements of existence in this fleeting world, and it does it in the most selfless way.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

That is what daoku does.  it faces the essential facts of life, and finds depth and beauty in them.  To do that, as this verse reveals, does not mean we have to go live in the woods.  We confront the essential facts of life every day.  The problem is that we are so wrapped up in our plans and likes and dislikes and hopes and imagination and fantasy — so much into the daily up and down weather of our illusory selves — that we are often not aware of the basic facts of life — like the sound of a dog turning over in its sleep against the door.

That sound is the life that passes us by because we do not pay attention.  We live too much in our minds instead of in the world around us.  Daoku brings that world back to us through the senses — sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing.  Those are the most basic facts of our life.  They happen before we analyze an event, before we think about it, before we add any interpretation to it.

Buson’s verse was written in the context of the old Japanese winter, when the isolating cold and snow meant that people were confined indoors for long periods of time.  No radio, no Internet, no television, no video games.  There is nothing like confinement to reduce life to its basics.

Daoku is like the words of the Bahiya Sutta:

In the seen there is only the seen;
In the heard there only the heard….

Daoku does not add our commentaries or interpretations to events.  It simply presents us with the bare sensory facts of the event.  And here that is being shut indoors during the cold of winter, and in the silence and stillness, hearing the sound of the dog rolling over against the door.

It is not a symbol of anything.  It is not a metaphor for anything.  It has no meaning that we can speak, but nonetheless, we cannot help feeling a deep meaning in it.  And yet it is just the sound of a dog rolling over.

Daoku is noticing these simple, apparently meaningless, yet somehow profound events.  They are our lives.  If we miss them, we miss our lives, caught up as we are in the whirl of thoughts in our heads.  But ignore those thoughts, and suddenly the “dog sound” becomes full of unspoken significance.

Perhaps many of you can feel the sense of winter confinement because of the current worldwide pandemic.  My world has been reduced to about a two-mile radius.  There is home.  There are the visits to the nearby grocery stores.  There are visits to the library.  I spend almost all of my time entirely alone.  Being alone teaches you things, particularly about your “self.”

One of my greatest pleasures has become watching the birds visiting the feeders outside my kitchen window.  This morning there was a great event: the roofs were white with snow when I woke.  Now it is slowly melting in the morning rain.  Such things are the basics of life, and those basics are the subject matter of daoku.

Daoku is not about “me,” about the ego and its wants and aversions.  I often say that the basic aesthetics of daoku are poverty, simplicity, and selflessness.   In daoku we have the same attitude that Emily Dickinson expressed in her poem:

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

There is great freedom in being nobody.



In about three days, we will reach the Winter Solstice on December 21st.  It is the shortest day and longest night of the year.  In ancient thought, it was the time of the rebirth of the sun, because after that date, the days once more begin to grow longer and the daily arc of the sun moves higher and higher in the sky.

Bashō wrote:

Winter bleakness;
In a one-color world,
The sound of the wind.

In that verse, everything is white with snow and frost — a one-color world.
Perhaps you will think of that hokku when you listen to this austere wintry music.

First, this time by the noted kotoist Kimio Eto:

And then there is Miyata’s “Winter NIght,” played on shakuhachi: