It has rained on and off — and very heavily when on — here for many days now. Most of the colorful autumn leaves have fallen.
Here is a verse by Kaen from the old book A Year of Japanese Epigrams, but in my loose translation. You will notice that it has a dash of “thinking,” so in our system it is a shinku (hokku with a bit of thinking added) rather than a daoku (completely objective hokku):
The pattering of rain
On fallen leaves.
Hara-hara to oto shite sabishi ame ochiba
Falling to sound making lonely rain fallen-leaves
It of course reminds us of a similar well-known verse by Gyōdai that qualifies as daoku, being completely objective: It is one of the simplest and best old hokku:
Ochiba ochikasanarite ame ame wo utsu
Falling-leaves fall-pile up rain rain wo beats
And pile up;
Rain beats on rain.
R. H. Blyth translated it in a particularly appealing way, because of the consonance (repetition) of the letter “l”:
Lie on one another;
The rain beats on the rain.
When we compare Kaen’s verse with that of Gyōdai, we can easily see it is the addition of “loneliness” that makes it a shinku instead of a daoku. That “loneliness” is the adding of the writer’s personal interpretation of the sound of the rain pattering on the fallen leaves. Gyōdai, however, simply presents us with the leaves falling and piling up and the rain beating on the rain, and we feel what is openly stated in Kaen’s verse without the need to say it. It is the old maxim we heard so often in school — “Show, don’t tell.”
There is no single English word that exactly corresponds to sabishi. It combines elements of being alone and solitary with a kind of profound, wistful, existential sadness. It does not have so much of the implications of “deprived of human company” that we sense in the English word “loneliness.”