THE SPRING HOKKU CALENDAR

Because the practice of hokku is so intimately connected with the seasons, I like to regularly remind readers where we are in the “old” hokku calendar in its traditional Western version, the Wheel of the Year, which very closely approximates the old hokku calendar of Japan in its times.  We are in the spring phase:

Spring:

Begins with Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1st. 1st week of February.
Midpoint: Spring Equinox — Even-night — March 20/21.
Ends the evening before May Day (Bealtaine pr. BYAL-tuh-nuh), 1st week of May.

Summer:

Begins with May Day (Bealtaine), 1st week of May.
Midpoint: Midsummer’s Day — Sunstede/Sunstead, the Summer Solstice, June 20/21.
End: The evening before Lammas (Harvest Home — Lughnasa pr. LOO-nuh-suh), August 1. 1st week of August.

As you see, we are coming up on the midpoint of spring, the Spring Equinox. Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors (and they may be our ancestors either biologically or linguistically or both) called the Spring Solstice Emniht, pronounced “EM-nicht,” with the “ch” like the “ch” in German ich.  It is a short form of Efn-niht, “Even-night”; that time of the year when the hours of day and night are equal.

Emniht in spring — Even-night — is one of the four “Quarter Days.” Think of the year as a great wheel with four spokes dividing it into four quarters. The two vertical spokes are: Midsummer’s Day- Sunstead (the Summer Solstice) attached at the top of the wheel, and opposite it, on the bottom of the wheel, is the Winter Solstice, Yule.  Then there are two crosswise spokes: that at mid-right is the Spring Solstice, the spring Even-night, that on the mid-left is the Autumn Solstice.

A sun cross-like symbol with six or eight arms...

So we are coming up on the spring Even-night — the Spring Solstice. The next great quarter day after that will be the Summer Solstice, which the Anglo-Saxons called Sunstede — Sunstead — that time when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, stands there in its place (stede/stead), and then begins to decline again in its arc across the sky.

Halfway between the “Quarter Day” spokes on the great wheel of the year are the “Cross-Quarter Day” spokes. the next one we will encounter will be May Day, Bealtaine as our Celtic ancestors called it ( pr. BYAL-tuh-nuh), sometimes written as “Beltane.”

In simple hokku usage, we can think of these spring quarter and cross-quarter points loosely in these terms:

Spring:

Begins with Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1st: 1st week of February = “Spring begins.”

Midpoint: Spring Equinox, — Even-night: March 20/21 = “Spring deepens.”

Ends with the evening before May Day (Bealtaine): 1st week of May. – “Spring departs.”

I very much enjoy keeping these old traditions and old names and their variations, but if you prefer a simpler version, then you may stick to the looser hokku periods shown in bold type above, keeping in mind that they refer to general periods of days rather than to the more precise names and dates of the old “Wheel of the Year” calendar. It is good, however, to be at least familiar with the old calendar, even if you prefer the simpler approach in practice.

David

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IT’S STILL THE SAME OLD STORY

Yesterday I discussed three “Western” calendar systems relevant to hokku — the traditional calendar, the meteorological calendar, and the “natural” calendar.  The first is astronomical, and depends on the relationship between the sun and the earth; the second shows us the times of the actual affects of the solar-earth relationship; and the third is based on observation of what is happening in Nature and when it is happening — the sprouting of things, their growth and maturing, their withering, their dying.

After reading that article, some of you may have found the astronomical traditional calendar interesting, but perhaps you thought it a bit irrelevant to hokku.  But it is not.  Let’s take a look for a moment at the calendar actually used by those who originally wrote hokku in old Japan, and simultaneously I shall show you how it relates to our old and traditional Western calendar with its “quarter days” and “cross-quarter” days.

On comparing our old traditional calendar with the old calendar of Japanese hokku, we find something very interesting.  They go together very well, like this:

SPRING:
Our calendar begins with  Candlemas on February 1/2; speaking more generally, spring begins the 1st week of February.
In the Japan of old hokku writers, spring similarly begins on February 4th, and these are its divisions:

Risshun, (立春): February 4 — Spring begins;
Usui (雨水): February 19—Rain water;
Keichitsu(啓蟄): March 5—Insects awake;

The spring Midpoint in our traditional calendar is the Spring Equinox:  March 21 /22.  In the Japanese hokku calendar it was similarly:
Shunbun (春分): March 20— the Spring Equinox, the middle of spring;
Seimei (清明): April 5—Clear and bright;
Kokuu (穀雨): April 20—Grain rain;

Our traditional spring Ends on the evening before May 1st; then comes May 1st, which is May Day (Bealtaine) and the first day of our summer:

SUMMER 
begins for us on:  May Day, May 1st, 1st week in May.  Similarly, for old Japanese hokku writers, summer began thus:

Rikka (立夏): May 5—Summer begins;
Shōman (小満): May 21—Grain sprouts;
Bōshu (芒種): June 6—Grain in ear;

Our summer Midpoint happens on  Midsummer’s Day — the Summer Solstice, June 20 /21.
The old Japanese hokku Midpoint happened on:

Geshi (夏至): June 21—Summer Solstice, the middle of summer.
Shōsho (小暑): July 7—Small heat;
Taisho (大暑): July 23—Great heat;

The End of our summer happens on the Evening before Lammas; then comes Lammas — Harvest Home — Lughnasa, August 1st, 1st week in August.  On Lammas our autumn begins.

AUTUMN/FALL
For us it begins with Lammas — Harvest Home (Lughnasa), August 1st.  1st week in August.
Similarly, for old Japanese hokku writers it took place thus:

Risshū (立秋): August 7—Autumn begins;
Shosho (処暑): August 23—Heat finishes;
Hakuro (白露): September 7—White dew;

Our Midpoint is the Autumn Equinox, September 21/22.
The old Japanese hokku Midpoint was:

Shūbun (秋分): September 23— the Autumn Equinox, the middle of autumn.
Kanro (寒露): October 8—Cold dew;
Sōkō (霜降): October 23—Frost descends;

Our autumn has its End at the Evening before Samhain, November 1st.  1st week in November.  Then on Samhain our winter begins.

WINTER:
Our winter begins with Samhain, November 1st, the 1st week in November.
Similarly, for old Japanese hokku writers, winter began thus:

Rittō (立冬): November 7—Winter begins.
Shōsetsu (小雪): November 22—Small snow;
Taisetsu (大雪): December 7—Great snow;

Our winter Midpoint is Midwinter’s Day — the Winter Solstice — Great Yule, December 21 / 22.
Similarly, the old Japanese Midpoint was:

Tōji (冬至): December, the Winter Solstice — the middle of winter.
Shōkan (小寒): January 5 — Small Cold—also called 寒の入り (Kan no iri) The Entrance of the Cold’
Daikan (大寒): January 20—Great Cold;

Our winter had its End on the evening before Candlemas, February 1st, 1st week in February.
Similarly, as we have seen, for the old Japanese hokku writers, winter ended on February 3rd.

And here for us the cycle begins again with Candlemas (Imbolc) February 1st.
For the old writers of Japanese hokku, it began again similarly with Risshun (Beginning of Spring) on February 4th.

Now, what does all this mean to us today?  It means simply that if we follow the old and traditional Western calendar, we shall essentially and with only slight variation be following the same old calendar by which hokku was written in Japan.  And incidentally, that old Japanese calendar was actually borrowed from the Chinese, so the Japanese hokku calendar was the same as the Calendar used by Chinese poets.

So when we use the old and traditional Western calendar, we are, with little variation, following the same general calendar as the ancient poets of China and Japan.  The names vary from place to place, but the times are essentially nearly the same.

David