The old book A Year of Japanese Epigrams attributes this autumn hokku to Bashō — though I have not been able to find it in collections of his verses.  In modern hokku terms it would be a daoku, that is, an objective hokku, but whether it was so originally, I cannot say.  Remember that sometimes old hokku were written with a double meaning.  I prefer to take it as objective, which makes it in my view a far better verse than a subjective interpretation would offer:

Morning wind;
Only one wild goose
In the white clouds.

Or we could revise it somewhat to improve the flow:

Morning wind;
Among the white clouds —
A lone wild goose.

Asa          kaze   ya  tada shira kumo  ni     kari          hitotsu
Morning wind   ya  only white clouds at wild-goose one

It gives us a feeling of solitude that one senses in many autumn hokku, when, as Nature begins to turn inward, so do humans.

It often seems to me as I translate, that when writing hokku, English generally gives us far more options for word choices and shades of meaning than the traditional Japanese “hokku” vocabulary.  Is that just a limited perception or reality?  It would be interesting to hear a  learned Japanese view on this.








As I often say, some old Japanese hokku were needlessly vague — something we want to avoid when writing new hokku.  There is, for example, this verse by Sora:

yomosugara akikaze kiku ya ura no yama
よ も すがら 秋  風    聞くや  裏    の    山
All night autumn wind hear ya behind ‘s mountain

As it is written in Japanese, one would read it as:

All night long
Listening to the wind;
The mountain behind.

That, however, fails in English to adequately make the link between the wind and the mountain/mountains (remember that in Japanese there is no written plural)

I would prefer this understanding, in daoku form:

All night long,
Listening to the wind
On the mountains behind.

That way we we know that the writer is listening all the night to the wind blowing through the trees on the mountains behind where he is lodging.

Historically, Sora was apparently kept awake by an illness when he wrote this, but a hokku should not be linked firmly to its original circumstances if it is to become our experience as well — as a hokku should.  There are many reasons for being awake all the night, with only the sound of the wind on the hills.




Here is my loose translation of an autumn hokku by Kikaku, in daoku form.

The autumn moon;
Across the floor —
The shadow of the pine.

Literally, in Japanese it is:

Meigetsu ya tatami no ue ni matsu no kage
   名   月    や     畳     の 上  に   松     の     影
Bright moon ya tatami ‘s on at pine ‘s shadow

The meigetsu is the bright or autumn moon — the harvest moon.
Tatami is the woven grass floor covering used in old Japan.

We could make it a big more rustic and rural Western:

The autumn moon.
Across the wooden floor —
The shadow of the pine.

It has a better flow to it, and a wooden floor is certainly more natural than linoleum.

We could also change it a bit more, without going too far from the original:

Autumn moonlight;
A pine shadow
Across the floor.

As you can see, I am not just translating old hokku to be translating them, but want to show you how to write hokku in English — in this case a daoku, or objective hokku.  If hokku is not to die out, there must be those who value it and continue to write it.



A hokku in daoku form by Shōha:


On the white wall,
Shadows of dragonflies
Flitting by.

         壁  に  蜻  蛉  過ぐる  日 影    かな
Shira-kabe ni tombō suguru hikage kana
White wall on dragonfly pass shadow kana

The shadows of the dragonflies and their translucent wings on the white wall in the autumn sun are fleeting, and their impermanence is in keeping with  the sense of autumn as a time when impermanence is much in evidence.

This hokku is a study in grey and white — the whiteness of the wall, and the faint grey shadows of the dragonflies — so it is very simple, but also effective.

This daoku (objective hokku) is a good example of the “setting/subject/action” form because they are so clearly separated here:

Setting:  On the white wall
Subject:  Shadows of dragonflies
Action:  Flitting by

The S/S/A form is a very good one for beginners in hokku because it enables them to arrange the significant elements of a hokku experience easily, and countless hokku can be written using it.  Because it is simple does not mean, however, that it is only for beginners.  It is a good tool for writers of hokku at any stage, from beginner to very advanced.

For those of  you who may come to hokku from other short verse traditions such as modern haiku, be sure to note the definite characteristics of the daoku form:

It consists of three lines.
The first letter of each line is capitalized.
There are two parts to the verse, one long and one short.
The two parts are separated by an appropriate punctuation mark.
The daoku ends with an appropriate punctuation mark.

Remember that unlike modern haiku, contemporary hokku in English has not only a definite form, but also definite aesthetic principles that the student of hokku must gradually learn and absorb.  Also unlike much of modern haiku, hokku keeps the strong connection with the seasons found in old hokku, so every verse has a seasonal heading in parentheses, as you see above.

Also, it is very important to remember that unlike much of modern haiku, contemporary hokku has as its subject matter Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons.

If you are unfamiliar with the term daoku, it simply means an objective hokku — one without any opinions or comments of the writer added, or as we commonly say, “no thinking.”  Daoku form means the standard form we use in writing contemporary hokku — the form shown above.





I have discussed today’s verse before (in 2017), but it is worth mentioning again in a little more detail.  It was written by Kyoshi, whose prolific verses on the whole tend to be rather bland, and who wrote in and beyond the time of Shiki.  He even took over as editor of the magazine — Hototogisu — that Shiki had formerly edited.  That means we are in the “haiku” period, even though like Shiki, Kyoshi kept season words and a more conservative kind of verse that was sometimes indistinguishable from hokku — which is why I am discussing a verse by him today as daoku (objective hokku) in English.  Here it is:

On the dust on the stones —
Autumn rain.

Ishi no ue no hokori ni furu ya aki no ame
石    の  上 の       埃  に  降るや   秋  の   雨
Stone ‘s on ‘s   dust   at  falling ya autumn ‘s rain

I think of this as one of those transitional verses written at the time when one season has begun merging into another, in this case summer has transitioned into autumn.  We still feel the lingering heat and dryness of summer in the dust on the stones, but the rain is the rain of autumn, and its drops spatter the dust on the stones into mud.  It is a very objective verse, and quite good because it not only lets us feel the seasonal change clearly, but it also has a strong appeal to the senses in its mixture of dryness (Yang) and wetness (Yin).  So we see it is a verse with harmony of contrast.

You may recall that harmony of contrast is a technique used in hokku through combining things felt to be opposite or contrary in a way that reveals an underlying harmony, as in this combination of dust and rain, dryness and wetness, that nonetheless create a very satisfying combination.

We could translate the verse very closely to Kyoshi, like this:

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

There is something a bit awkward about that, however, as we often find when we try to translate more literally.  So we could translate a bit more loosely, while still keeping the meaning:

The dust on the stones —
Autumn rain.

You may recall that I once made a slight variation on Kyoshi’s verse in this daoku:

Autumn begins;
Rain spatters the dust
On the stones.

R. H. Blyth spoke of the poet “dissolved in the object,” by which he meant the same as we say in hokku: that the writer must get out of the way so that Nature may speak.  That selflessness is the objectivity of daoku.  Today’s verse, therefore, well qualifies as daoku– objective hokku.