A DROWSY MIDSUMMER HOKKU

Tomorrow is that ancient holiday the Summer Solstice, Midsummer’s Day.

After weeks of rain and showers, the sun is finally shining and the clouds have thinned where I live — just in time for tomorrow.

Here is a restful old summer hokku by Isshū, appropriate for the warmer weather:

While hearing
The sound of wind in the pines —
A mid-day nap.

Or to make it less literal:

While listening
To the wind in the pines —
A mid-day nap.

I too feel I could fall asleep listening to that gentle sound.  It is not a new feeling.  Here is a very old Chinese painting by Li Tang (1050-1130) titled Wind in the Pines Amid Myriad Valleys:

Li_Tang_-_Wind_in_Pines_Among_a_Myriad_Valleys
(National Palace Museum, Taiwan)

David

5 thoughts on “A DROWSY MIDSUMMER HOKKU

  1. Lovely post.
    Just want to know the reason for adding caps at the start of each line.
    The Japanese language has no caps.
    Even all our 22 languages in India – don’t use caps.
    When the original is without caps, adding caps in the translation (I feel, I could be wrong) breaks the continuity in the poem.

    You have a beautiful post up for 20th June

    ——————————————

    REPLY:

    Hi, Kalaramesh —

    Thanks for your message.

    The Japanese and English writing systems are completely different. Japanese used (and uses) a mixture of Chinese characters and Japanese phonetic symbols. It would have been impossible to use “capital” or “lower case” letters, because they did not exist.

    If you feel it breaks the continuity, that is likely because you are accustomed to reading short verse that largely dispenses with capitalization and punctuation — but that is a quirk of modern haiku, not hokku.

    When writing hokku in English, we use the benefits of English and its language tradition — capitalization and punctuation. Japanese did not have punctuation either (it is now used to some extent in modern Japanese), but it had special words that served a similar function in hokku.

    The abandonment of capitalization and punctuation is something borrowed from experimental English (primarily American English) poetry of the early 20th century. It is a mistake to equate that with the Japanese writing system.

    The basic principle is that there is no point in trying to imitate Japanese hokku in their writing system or in their grammar, because both are not at all like English. What we want is the principle and spirit behind the old hokku. When writing in English, we use the forms of English, just as when writing in Hindi, one would use the forms and grammar of Hindi.

    I hope that helps a bit.

    David

  2. Thank you David, I can relate to that sweet peace-filled experience when, before I go to work in the afternoon, I step outside in my garden area to listen to the birds talk and wind blow and the frogs chirp. It makes summer so very special.

  3. James Zeigler

    Hello David:

    So entirely pleased to hear from you again.

    Thank you,
    James Zeigler PhB, BS, CPC Retired
    that tall, skinny, bald, old, and ugly wretch

  4. Very nice hokku! I prefer the less literal version and can see myself falling asleep listening to that sound. Thanks for your translations, David. I always enjoy reading your posts.

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