WINTER BEGINS

Before dawn;
Winter begins
In a downpour of rain.

Yes, the Wheel of the Year has turned. Yesterday was Halloween — Samhain — the beginning of winter by the old hokku calendar.

Winter is the most austere season, a season of extremes and contrasts warmth and cold, light and dark, sound and silence. In the day it corresponds to evening and night; in human life it corresponds to old age and death.

Issa wrote this winter hokku:

身に添や前の主の寒さ迄
Mi ni sou ya mae no aruji no samusa made
Body in add ya before ‘s owner ‘s cold up-to

We may loosely translate it as:

Feeling it all —
Right up to the cold
Of the former owner.

If you have ever lived on little money in a cheap apartment or room on a cold winter night, you will understand that. You feel in your body the poverty of the previous owner and all that went with it — even the deep cold.

By the way, though I teach and advocate hokku and not modern haiku, there is a useful resource for writers of hokku now available on the Haiku Foundation site: digital versions of the major works of R. H. Blyth, which have now long been out of print. Blyth’s works remain to this day the best resource for those wanting to understand the spirit of old hokku. Blyth, as you know, used the term “haiku” — current in his day for what was really hokku. Nonetheless his explanation of the aesthetics and his interpretations of old hokku remain the most useful resource a student of modern hokku could have, so I encourage everyone who has not had the opportunity to read his four-volume Haiku set and his two-volume History of Haiku set to do so.

But two big cautions:
First, do not just read the verse translations in Blyth without carefully reading and pondering his extensive explanations. That error is what led to the departure of the modern haiku community from the spirit and aesthetics of old hokku, which most writers of modern haiku have either never understood or simply have rejected.

Second, Blyth’s purpose in writing was to reveal both the aesthetics and significance of the old Japanese hokku to those in the West. He did not initially anticipate a Western interest in writing them in English and other European languages, so he did not teach the mechanics and techniques of how to write hokku in English — and of course that is something dealt with here on my site. So if you combine the aesthetic principles learned from Blyth with the practical methods of writing hokku in English presented here on the Hokku site over the years, you will have a very good grounding in the principles and practice of modern hokku, as well as an understanding of the important differences between subjectivity and objectivity in writing.

Here is the link:

David

3 thoughts on “WINTER BEGINS

  1. Richard Straw

    Hi, David,

    Starting earlier this year, I’ve been slowly reading the PDF scans of R. H. Blyth’s books on The Haiku Foundation website. I’m also comparing them against copies of the originally printed hardbound versions of Blyth’s works that I own. Unfortunately, I’ve found a number of problems with the PDF scans (see below).

    So far, I’ve read all of Volumes 1 and 2 and the first 140 pages of Volume 3 in the four-volume set. I hope to continue reading until I finish the entire series, as well as his two-volume history series.

    In early April 2022, I alerted The Haiku Foundation about the scanning problems that I had found in Volume 1. They replied that they weren’t sure when they’ll have time to address the problem, but at least they now know there’s some work to be done. They also felt that the problem probably persists in the other volumes, which were scanned using the same scanner.

    Take care,

    Richard

    +++

    R. H. Blyth’s Haiku, Volume I, Eastern Culture

    1 Lower-left corner of page blurred or missing:

    Pages vi, 28, 78, 86, 88, 90, 100, 110, 114, 120, 138, 142, 148, 156, 164, 166, 178, 193

    2 Whole pages missing:

    Pages 74, 75, 84, 85, 116, 117, 146, 147

    3 Thumb at bottom of page:

    Pages 340, 393, “Appendices” (unnumbered page)

    4 Right side of page obscured:

    Page 409

    +++

    R. H. Blyth’s Haiku, Volume II, Spring

    1 Whole pages missing:

    Pages 296, 297, 338, 339

    2 Thumb at bottom of page:

    Many, many pages

    +++

    R. H. Blyth’s Haiku, Volume III, Summer-Autumn

    1 Text on protective onion-skin page over picture not scanned:

    Picture on page before title page

    2 Picture not scanned after onion-skin page containing caption:

    Pictures after pages 23, 48, 76, 102, 120

    3 Lower-left corner and/or side of page blurred or missing:

    Pages 36, 40, 50, 54, 66, 70, 76, 82, 86, 88, 114, 116

    4 Whole pages missing and not scanned:

    Page

    5 Thumb at bottom of page:

    Page

    6 Bottom-right corner of page obscured or missing:

    Page 83

    7 Whole page scanned crookedly:

    Outside cover, page vi

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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