ALAS, THAT SPRING SHOULD VANISH WITH THE ROSE

Issa wrote a hokku for the end of spring:

Sough, sough —
Spring departs;
The grass of the fields.

If you do not like the respectable old word sough for the rustling, sighing sound of the wind through the grasses, you might prefer something else that is onomatopoeic:

Sssss, sssss —
Spring departs;
The grass in the fields.

But actually, for me the first one is problematic because few people know the meaning or pronunciation of “sough” these days.  And the “Sssss” of the second one might be just meaningless and confusing to readers untrained in hokku, who are not likely to intuit that it is the sound of the (unmentioned) wind in the grasses.

So I will go with a translation more obvious and easily grasped, yet very effective:

Departing spring;
The wind bends the grasses
Of the fields

Issa watches the high grasses in the fields, bending and sighing in waves as a gentle wind rustles across them, and he realizes that spring is ending.

Edward FitzGerald, in his reinterpretation of Omar Khayyam, saw the end of spring and expressed openly what is only latent in Issa:

Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

It is a lamentation of the passing of spring, and with it, of the passing of youth, the springtime of our lives.  The days of our youth are a tale in a book with fragrantly-scented pages, but that brief story ends, that book closes, never to be opened again.  That, of course, is metaphor.

fadros

To emphasize that finality, he gives another metaphor for the passing of something sweet, for the passing of springtime and youth:  the nightingale that sang so beautifully, yet briefly, in the branches — where did it come from?  And where has it gone? Why does he lament that spring vanishes with the rose? Because until relatively recent times, the roses of the Middle East and of Europe bloomed in the spring, and then were gone. When they went, so did spring. Our modern “ever-blooming” roses are the result of the introduction of previously unknown kinds and of hybridization into Europe and America.

We see some of the techniques of hokku in this, though used in a far more obvious way.  We see the reflection of spring in the time of youth, and we find a very strong sense of transience, of the brevity of life as it passes. But hokku would never present these things in so obvious a manner.  Instead, hokku just shows us something happening in Nature, and in that happening, as in Issa’s hokku, we feel everything expressed about that time of year, that time of life.

And of course with spring having passed, this means we are now in the season of summer hokku.

David

DEPARTING SPRING

Warm rain
From a cloudburst;
Departing spring.

Beginning with the premise that a hokku is a sensory experience of Nature and the place of humans within Nature, set in the context of the season, we can see that every hokku is really a verse about a season, whether written at the beginning, the middle, or the end of a season.  So though we do not use “titles” as such in hokku, nonetheless every hokku really has one of four “titles”:  Spring, Summer, Autumn (or Fall) and Winter.

We already know that a hokku is a sensory experience.  But how do we extract that experience from everything else that is happening at the time?  It is not difficult.  We look for the essentials of the experience.  In the hokku above, for example, there is the cloudburst, there is the warm rain, and there is the time of year — spring nearing its end.  That is all we require.

The interesting thing is that when we put these elements together, they have a sense of significance far beyond what each would have individually.  Let’s look again:

Warm rain
From a cloudburst;
Departing spring.

Everything here is in harmony.  The rain is a part of spring, but its warmth tells us that spring is soon to give way to heat of summer, when the warmth will increase and the rain will diminish or be absent.  So each element by itself, or even two of the elements together, is not sufficient to give us the whole picture.  It takes the combination of all to be effective.

We must, however, know when to stop.  We could add more of what is happening at the time, but in this case more would be less — the weight of detail would become too much, and would detract from the simplicity and directness of the experience.  That is why hokku are very brief.  Hokku, essentially, are just the fewest words necessary to convey a “whole” experience without detracting from that whole or adding unnecessary elements to it.

If one ponders this and puts it into application in writing verses, one will readily advance in writing hokku.  A hokku is not just a verse that happens to be brief.  There is a reason.  Nor is it just a verse that happens to be divided into two parts.  There is also a reason for that.  Make it shorter, make it longer, and it loses both ways.

David