AUTUMN BEGINS: DUST AND RAIN

Autumn begins;
Rain spatters the dust
On the stones.

We feel here the transition from the heat and dryness of summer ( seen in the dust on the stones) to the cool damp of autumn (the rain beginning to fall, turning the dust to mud).

It is a new hokku made from the same image used by the sometimes too wordy late 19th-mid 20th century Japanese writer Kyoshi.

Here is his original:

Ishi no ue no hokori ni furu ya aki no ame
Stone on ‘s dust on falling ya autumn’s rain.

One could translate it as:

On the dust
On the stones it falls —
Autumn rain.

 

David

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AUTUMN BEGINS: TAIGI’S EVENING RAIN

 

An autumn hokku by Taigi:

Autumn begins;
The evening shower has become
A night of rain.

We feel the change of the season in the change from a temporary shower to prolonged rain.  We also feel the autumn reflected in the growing darkness of evening to night.

Hatsu-aki ya yūdachi nagabiku yoru no ame
Beginning autumn ya evening shower prolonged night’s rain

 

David

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Sunrise

 

(Autumn)

Sunrise;
My very long shadow
Walking in front.

Sometimes the simplest things seem meaningful, like the lengthened shadow we see stretching ahead from our feet when walking westward on a morning in the beginning of autumn.

As you know, in hokku we generally avoid the use of  “I,” “me,” and “my.”  The reason for this is that hokku takes the focus away from the ego.  Unlike much modern verse, it is not all about the “I” and its likes, dislikes, and whims.  But there is also an additional reason.  If hokku become too personal  — too particular — that is, too particularly focused on one person’s life — then it is difficult for others to relate to such a verse.  But if the hokku event is a more general human experience, then many people can relate to it — can have the sensory experience presented in the verse.

That is why this verse — even though it uses the word “my” — is still not an “ego problem.”  It is a verse people in general can relate to.  It is an ordinary experience, but that a hokku can be made of it just reminds us that hokku are often about things we already know, but don’t know that we know.  So the “my very long shadow” easily becomes the shadow of whoever reads the verse.  That means it is possible to use “I,” “me,” or “my” in hokku without an undue focus on the self.  Even though we generally avoid them, if we understand the reasons behind that avoidance, we are free to use them when appropriate.

 

David

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GERANIUMS AND POVERTY

Today’s poem is by Wilfred Wilson Gibson (1878-1962), one of the “Georgian” poets — so

called after the reign of King George V of England, who took the throne in 1910.  Five volumes — anthologies — of the Georgian poets were published from 1912-1922, and this poem from Gibson’s book Fires (1912) was included in Georgian Poetry: 1911-12.  It does not require a great deal of explanation, but is interesting for its combination of sensory impressions and narrative.  Gibson was criticized for his choice of lowly subjects — “common” poor and working class people — though, as Geraldine P. Dilla wrote in the Sewanee Review (January, 1922), “…Mr. Gibson portrays the wrongs of society without proposing remedies.

GERANIUMS

Stuck in a bottle on the window-sill,
In the cold gaslight burning gaily red
Against the luminous blue of London night,
These flowers are mine: while somewhere out of sight
In some black-throated alley’s stench and heat,
Oblivious of the racket of the street,
A poor old weary woman lies in bed.

Broken with lust and drink, blear-eyed and ill,
Her battered bonnet nodding on her head,
From a dark arch she clutched my sleeve and said:
‘I’ve sold no bunch to-day, nor touched a bite …
Son, buy six-pennorth; and ‘t will mean a bed.’

So blazing gaily red
Against the luminous deeps
Of starless London night,
They burn for my delight:
While somewhere, snug in bed,
A worn old woman sleeps.

And yet to-morrow will these blooms be dead
With all their lively beauty; and to-morrow
May end the light lusts and the heavy sorrow
Of that old body with the nodding head.
The last oath muttered, the last pint drained deep,
She’ll sink, as Cleopatra sank, to sleep;
Nor need to barter blossoms for a bed.

The poet, while walking in London, was accosted by a bleary-eyed, sick looking, alcoholic old woman in a battered bonnet, who stepped out from the shadow of an arch and clutched his sleeve, desperate to sell him the bunch of geraniums she held out imploringly.  She tells him

“I’ve sold no bunch to-day, nor touched a bite …
Son, buy six-pennorth; and ‘t will mean a bed.”

She had not eaten that day because she had no money to buy food.  And if he were to buy six pennies worth, she would be able to pay for a bed, in some cheap flophouse, on which to rest that night.

So the poet buys the geraniums, places them in his window, and gazes at the blazing red flowers set against the darkness of the London night.  He is delighted by their color, but cannot separate the image from that of the poor old woman who sold them.  As he looks at them, he imagines how

In some black-throated alley’s stench and heat,
Oblivious of the racket of the street,
A poor old weary woman lies in bed.

It is the bed she bought for the night with the money he gave for the geraniums.

He thinks that beautiful and brilliant as the flowers are in the glare of the gaslight of his room, they will be dead the next day.  And again he sees in his mind the old woman, with her worn out, alcohol-damaged body, and thinks

“...to-morrow
May end the light lusts and the heavy sorrow
Of that old body with the nodding head.

He imagines her,

“The last oath muttered, the last pint drained deep,
She’ll sink, as Cleopatra sank, to sleep;
Nor need to barter blossoms for a bed.”

Having muttered her last colorful swear-words, having drunk her last pint of beer, he sees her sinking into the sleep of death, like Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt died when she held a poisonous asp to her breast.  It is an interesting and incongruous simile.  And with that passing, the old woman will no longer have need to sell flowers to buy a temporary bed.

It would have been easy for this poem to cross the thin line into maudlin and saccharine sentiment, but it is saved by the objective manner of presentation.

 

David

 

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It may be due to the Celtic side of my ancestry, but I have always been quite taken by “otherworldly” music — music that sounds somehow related to the mythic unseen world of the ancient British Isles.  Sometimes the connection is in the words of a song, sometimes only in the feeling the music creates.

Today I would like to share with you two such “otherworldly” songs.

If you saw the television series Merlin (Episode one), then you have already heard one of them.  It is the remarkable “Witch’s Aria,” sung in the tale by Lady Helen of Mora — or rather by the witch that has stolen her outward form.  In that guise, she sings a spell of dangerous enchantment over King Uther — Arthur’s father — and his court.  Here is that segment:

And here is the performer Mary “Bewitch”(“x out” the ad).  The blowing wind in the trees makes it quite visually effective , as though one sees the power of the rising spell.

The other “otherworldly” song I wish to share is an old favorite of mine.  It is by that rather unique 1960s group called The Incredible String Band.  Titled “The Circle is Unbroken,” it always made me think of people gathering for the mystic journey to the “Isles of the Blessed” — Tir-nan-og — the Undying Lands — so of course it gives one not only a Celtic but a rather Tolkienian feeling:

I only recently found that the melody is borrowed from a sad Irish Gaelic song –“Eanach Dhúin” (Anach Cuin).  Here is a beautiful “low whistle” rendering:

Here is the origin story of the sad lament, and an Irish Gaelic rendering (subtitled):

I hope you find some pleasure in these strangely beautiful songs.

 

David

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HOKKU AND A BIT BEYOND

The three-line hokku is a very useful format for expressing Nature.  But now and then, there are experiences that we may wish to extend slightly.


The following experience, for example, can be written in a longer or shorter form, with the difference here being only one word:

(Summer)

Morning:
Standing intently
In the sun-dappled stream —
The blue heron.

Or it could be simply:

(Summer)

Standing intently
In the sun-dappled stream —
The blue heron.

The second version is a hokku, the first is not, though both have much the same spirit.  The first just adds a specific time of day, which gives the verse a further layer or tone.  We can writer either way of course, depending on individual preference and which version we think best conveys the sensory experience without becoming too “wordy.”

 

David

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THE SUMMER BEAMING FORTH: JOHN CLARE’S “SONNET”

This morning I was reading through old summer poems in English — a rather disappointing experience, because most are so heavy-laden with personification that they fail to adequately express the season.  It is refreshing to turn from them to the clarity and directness of hokku that present the experience of summer to us directly.

Nonetheless, here and there one finds works of Western poetry that “stick to the subject,” without a burdensome overlay of of personification and metaphor — among them, John Clare’s pleasant “Sonnet.”  Its only ornamentation lies in the subjective use of “I love,” and “I like,” and in the use of simile:

I love to see the summer beaming forth
And white wool sack clouds sailing to the north
I love to see the wild flowers come again
And mare blobs stain with gold the meadow drain
And water lillies whiten on the floods
Where reed clumps rustle like a wind shook wood
Where from her hiding place the Moor Hen pushes
And seeks her flag nest floating in bull rushes
I like the willow leaning half way o’er
The clear deep lake to stand upon its shore
I love the hay grass when the flower head swings
To summer winds and insects happy wings
That sport about the meadow the bright day
And see bright beetles in the clear lake play

It expresses Clare’s joy in seeing the shining light of summer.  The scene he depicts seems to be set near the beginning of summer, which you will recall begins in May in the old calendar

He speaks of white clouds floating in the blue sky as “white wool sack clouds sailing to the north” — reminiscent of the later words of Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem “Hurrahing in Harvest”:

what lovely behaviour /Of silk-sack clouds!

Only Clare — being more rustic — likens to wool rather than silk.

He then turns his eyes from sky to earth:

I love to see the wild flowers come again
And mare blobs stain with gold the meadow drain

He joys in the warm-weather return of wild flowers, and looks to where golden flowers fill the ditch that drains water from the meadow.  They are “mare blobs” in common speech — Caltha palustris — the marsh marigold.

Clare tells us that

water lillies whiten on the floods
Where reed clumps rustle like a wind shook wood

By “floods” he means here simply “waters” (rivers, ponds, lakes); and on them the water lilies grow white.  Here is Nymphaea alba, the white water lily native to Britain:

There, where the water lilies bloom, the clumps of tall reeds rustle “like a wind shook wood” — that is, like trees shaken by the wind.

There too,

from her hiding place the Moor Hen pushes
And seeks her flag nest floating in bull rushes

The moor hen — Gallinula chloropus — pushes out of her hiding place among the reeds.

The nest the moor hen seeks is a “flag nest” that is, a nest made of the leaves of the common water flag, Iris pseudacorus:

The yellow water flag is also known as the “gladden,” which accounts for the “Gladden Fields”  the  marshlands were Isildur was slain in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and where the “One Ring” was lost in the river.

Clare likes to see

the willow leaning half way o’er
The clear deep lake to stand upon its shore.

And he loves

the hay grass when the flower head swings

To summer winds and insects happy wings
That sport about the meadow the bright day

“Hay grass” is the grass left to grow tall and luxuriant so that it may be cut with the scythe and stored in the barns as hay for beasts.  Clare likes to see the blossoms of wild flowers as they move to and fro in the tall grasses in the summer wind, and the insects flitting about in the sunshine.

And see bright beetles in the clear lake play

His gaze is drawn to the water beetles scuttling about in the bright water.

John Clare (1793-1864) was an English poet born of poor and illiterate country workers, and though he managed to get some of his work published and received a small annuity, it was never enough to support his family, so he also had to work as a farm laborer.  The many difficulties of life eventually became too much for him, and he began to have mental problems and delusions that caused him to be placed in an asylum.

John Clare, by William Hilton: 1820, National Portrait Gallery

We do not know why this poem by Clare is not punctuated.  It is known only from a copy transcribed by W. F. Knight, the steward at the asylum where John Clare spent over two decades of the latter part of his life.

 

David

 

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