LIGHT AND SHADOW

A loose translation of a spring hokku by Kikaku:

Dim in the shadows
Of the pines —
The moonlit night.

Oboro to wa  matsu no kurosa ni tsuki yo kana

It has somewhat the feeling of the last lines of Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”:

Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

David

CHOMPING

A winter hokku by Kiūkoku:

The horse
Chomping and chomping straw;
A snowy night.

The loud chomping noises only emphasize the stillness of the night of snow, so we can say this is a hokku with harmony of contrast — two very different things put together that nonetheless come out as harmonious instead of discordant.

Best wishes to everyone on this New Year’s Eve for a far better and happier coming year than the last has been.

David

LISTENING TO THE WIND

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.

David

 

AN ICY NIGHT

I have discussed this winter hokku by Bashō previously, but I would like to go over it again because it is such a strong verse.  It can be translated in a number of similar ways.  Here is one:

A water jar breaks;
Awakened from sleep
On an icy night.

Or we could be more loose and direct, and say:

Jolted awake;
A water jar broke
In the icy night.

Either  way, the point of the verse is the cracking of the water jug broken by the water expanding in it as it froze.  And the sudden splitting of the jug in the darkness is so loud that it woke the writer — making him one with the splitting jug, its sound, and the icy night.  Everything is unified.  It gives the reader a very strong sensory perception, which often makes for good hokku.

It is a very wintery hokku and expresses the season well, and in fact is one of those hokku actually given a title (yes, sometimes it was done).  Bashō called it in Chinese characters 寒 夜, meaning “Cold Night.”

David