This is a variation on an autumn hokku by Sōgi:
And streaks of rain:
The autumn window.
This is a variation on an autumn hokku by Sōgi:
And streaks of rain:
The autumn window.
Even in the rain,
A hummingbird busily visiting
Many people overthink hokku. Once one understands the aesthetics, it becomes quite simple.
Here is a summer hokku:
A summer shower;
All over the river —
It has no hidden message. It expresses the season in a natural event, without any commentary or interpretation, and without any “self” of a writer appearing. A shower has begun, and everywhere on the surface of the water are the widening circles caused by each raindrop as it touches the surface.
It is a simple experience of the senses, not of the intellect.
If we use our old “setting/subject/action” pattern, we can look at it this way:
Setting: A summer shower
Action: Widening all over the river
Now you can see that these elements are not arranged precisely in order in the hokku, but they are there nonetheless. The setting/subject/action pattern is just a helpful tool in composing, not a rigid group of boxes into which each element must be forced in a strict order.
All one needs to write hokku is to realize that it is not a conventional “poem.” It is an experience of the senses that is felt to be meaningful, involving Nature or the place of humans as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons, and devoid of ego and added commentary. Hokku uses ordinary words and ordinary things, but in these we should feel a sense of significance that is beyond explanation.
Of course hokku has its own aesthetic of simplicity and selflessness, and always in the background we feel that universal characteristic of existence — impermanence, the transience of things. In this hokku we see it in the circles that appear, widen, and vanish on the surface of the river.
Here is my loose rendering of a hokku by Issa:
The autumn mountains;
On one after another
That offers a good example of how the common pattern — setting/subject/action — varies.
In this verse, the setting is the autumn mountains.
The subject is evening.
The action is … falls on one after another. But of course it is not written that way. Instead “on one after another” is the second line, and the verb “falls” comes right after the subject “evening” in the third line.
So the setting, subject, and action do not have to be in a rigidly divided sequence. Hokku is not that restrictive. And of course the setting/subject/action pattern is just a tool — an aid to writing hokku — but it is a very good and useful tool.
August is one of the hot months where I live — hotter now than it used to be. Nonetheless, according to the old agricultural calendar, August 1 — variously called Harvest Home, Lammas, or Lughnasa — marks the beginning of Autumn. This was the time — in the old days — when grain was harvested, and the village celebrations of the harvest — the bringing in of the grain — were called Harvest Home.
To me, one of the symbols of this hot time of year is the tiger lily, which used to have the scientific name Lilium tigrinum, but now that is often replaced by Lilium lancifolium. It is blooming here and there in my garden.
One of the most pleasant things about the tiger lily — aside from its attractiveness — is that one can easily multiply it by collecting and planting the little black bulbils — miniature bulbs — that grow in the leaf axils. It takes a couple of years for them to mature into blooming-size plants, but if one does this, more and more flowering tiger lilies will be seen blooming in the garden at this season.
Tiger lilies were said to have been brought to Britain from Canton — in the south of China — in 1804, and was noted in America some twenty years later. So it has been here a long time, and is considered one of the “old-fashioned” garden flowers. There were native lilies some call tiger lilies growing in the United States before the Asian kind was introduced — like the Lilium columbianum I knew as a boy, but they are not quite the same, and do not produce the bulbils.
Hot as it may be compared to the rest of the year, August nonetheless gives one a feeling of something waning — of impermanence — and that is logical, because the days are growing ever shorter. Morning comes later, and night earlier, and that will only increase as the season progresses. I always like — as Harvest Home comes — to repeat that in her bittersweet children’s book Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt writes:
“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn.”
That well expresses the feeling of the beginning of August.
For those who live in the temperate Northern Hemisphere and write hokku, now is the time to begin changing from the “summer” classification to the “autumn” classification.
In the Dutch movie De vierde man (The Fourth Man) is the memorable line, “When you are warned, you must listen.”
Today’s news: record high temperatures in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. 108 degree temperatures in Paris, France. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon basin has reached more than three football fields per minute of forest destroyed, getting closer to the point at which the forests of the basin can no longer recover, with major environmental consequences.
There is now more carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — in the world’s atmosphere than there has been for the past 3 million years. And it is said that every day the heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the equivalent of 400,000 Hiroshima bombs.
That is only a hint of the seriousness of the problem facing us. There have been so many warning signs of disaster to come — so many canaries in the coal mine — that as one person put it, we are already up to our knees in dead canaries. And it is only going to get worse.
As Greta Thunberg says, “We are right now in the beginning of a climate and ecological crisis, and we need to call it what it is: an emergency.”
If humans continue to do nothing significant about it — and world governments continue either to ignore it or pay the problem only lip service, or even create laws or regulations that make the problem even worse — then we can kiss the planet as we know it — and likely the human race itself — goodbye.
As for this country — the United States — there is the Impeachment Power that says the President may be impeached and removed from office for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” What could be worse than not only refusing to do anything about climate change, but even taking actions that will only make it worse and speed it up — and we know the consequences will be suffering, death, and misery for huge numbers of people, not only in this country but around the world. What crime could be higher? And why is no one in authority saying this?
A summer hokku by Shōhaku:
A chestnut leaf sinks
Through the clear water.
That is a good example of the simplicity and purity of hokku.
When we read it, we feel the silence. And in that silence, we observe a chestnut leaf sinking down through the clear water.
Now to many people, I suppose, this must seem quite a pointless verse. “What does it mean?” they ask. The answer is that it does not mean anything. It is just the perception of the quietness, and in that quietness, of the leaf sinking in the water.
We could analyze it according to Yin and Yang: quiet is yin, sinking is yin, and water is yin. So it is a very “yin” verse. But we need not do that, because we already intuitively feel these relationships without the need of labeling or speaking them.
But beyond all this, the hokku is a “word recording” of an experience that takes place in the mind when we read it. In that experience there is an observer, but no thought. There is no analysis or judging of the experience — there is only being and experiencing it.
I often emphasize the importance of selflessness in hokku — the absence of any emphasis on “I,” “me,” and “my.” This is in great contrast to much modern poetry, even brief poetry, which often places the “I” at center stage.
In hokku, however, the more the “I” disappears, the more we get to the essence of what to me is the deeper significance of hokku. In Shōhaku’s verse, there is no “I” at all — nothing that has a form and a name. There is only perception.
In so much of modern life, the “I” with its whims and wants is all important. In hokku, however, it is just the opposite. But how to go behind this superficial “I” to something deeper? One has to realize the difference between perception and thinking. Our consciousness is like the clear sky. Thoughts are like clouds passing through the sky. Sensory experience — such as seeing and hearing — does not require thought. It just happens. Then thought intervenes and begins to try to interpret or comment or judge and compare. But if we get that far, we have gone beyond the stage of the hokku experience, which is perception without the added thinking.