ARRANGING A HOKKU: SHIKI’S GATE

I often say that in spite of his reputation as the “founder” of haiku, Shiki really wrote hokku, though he tended toward verses that were like sketches in words.  Perhaps you have come across Blyth’s translation of one of his verses:

Only the gate
Of the abbey is left,
On the winter moor.

We would not write hokku that way in English (we should not write hokku as run-on sentences, and the comma at the end of the second line is hardly necessary).  But again as I often say, Blyth did not begin his series of books to tell people how to write hokku in English, but rather to convey the meaning and spirit.  And in that he did quite a good job on the whole, though when I read his translation of this verse, I tend to picture a ruined stone English abbey gate, rather than what Shiki had in mind — which would have been a massive, roofed wooden gate in decayed condition.

What Shiki actually wrote was this:

Mon bakari nokoru fuyu no no garan kana
Gate alone   remains winter field’s  monastery kana

A garan is a temple or monastery.

Every hokku we write is an exercise in arranging elements.  In Shiki’s verse we have the gate, the monastery, and the winter fields.  And as already mentioned, Blyth’s arrangement — while conveying the meaning — is not a good model for writing.  To put it into good hokku form, we could arrange it like this:

Only the gate
Of the monastery remains;
The winter fields.

That does a very good job not only of conveying the meaning, but of putting it into correct English-language hokku form.  It is not hard to see that it is just a variation on the Setting/Subject/Action pattern:

The setting is:  The winter fields.
The subject is:  the gate / Of the monastery.
And the action is:  Only…remains.

We could make that clear by putting it into this alternate arrangement:

The gate of the monastery (setting)
Alone remains; (action)
The winter fields. (subject)

That, however, is not as pleasing an arrangement as beginning with Only the gate….

When composing hokku, it is a good idea to try arranging the elements in different ways.  The goal of this is to not only convey the meaning well, but to convey it in a euphonious — a “good-sounding” phrasing.

Here is the hokku again, in full English-language form:

(Winter)

Only the gate
Of the monastery remains;
The winter fields.

It is worth looking at the Yin-Yang implications of that (if you don’t remember the significance of Yin and Yang in hokku, look in the archives).  You will recall that in the year, winter is the most yin time.  And that corresponds to very old age and death.

So in Shiki’s hokku, we have the winter fields, which are dead, and we have the monastery of which only the gate remains, again “dead.”  So Shiki has used harmony of similarity here — the putting of similar things together, with the character of one reflected in the other.

Now a blog note:  Perhaps you have noticed that the font in this and the previous posting is larger than usual.    For some the larger font is easier to read, particularly on small screens.  But if you find it gives you problems, please let me know.

David

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPRING CONTRAST, SPRING SIMILARITY

Here is a variation on a hokku by Buson:

The heavy doors
Of a temple gate close;
The spring evening.

What is behind appreciation of this verse?

First, it is set in the season of spring, which is a time of new beginnings, freshness, and growth. But in contrast to this, we see the heavy, old wooden doors of a temple creaking shut. The weight of the doors is in contrast to the physical lightness of spring. The age of the doors, which being temple doors means they are quite old, is also in contrast with the newness of spring. Further, the time of the hokku is evening, when light (Yang) gradually gives way to darkness (Yin).

Now we know that spring, in the cycle of Yin and Yang, is increasing Yang. Evening, on the other hand, is increasing Yin. The weight of the doors is a downward, passive pressure, another Yin impression.

Obviously this verse uses harmony of contrast, a common hokku technique. The point of the verse is the combination of spring, the time of beginnings, with the closing of the great doors and the coming of evening, both “ending” events. So in this one brief verse we have Yin contrasted with Yang, beginnings contrasted with endings, and that is what gives the verse its effect.

In it we feel that even in the freshness of spring, there is already the sense of impermanence and things aging and ending.

That is how to understand hokku. A hokku, you will recall, expresses a season through an event happening in that season. And in this hokku we feel the sense of transience that is so essential a part of both life and of hokku.

Here is another variation on the same verse:

The heavy doors
Of the temple gate close;
Spring is ending.

In spite of the setting still being spring, the effect now is predominantly a harmony of similarity: the closing of the great doors (at the end of the day), and the ending of spring. Now the weight of the great doors reflects our feelings of reluctance, our sense of time’s inexorable passing, at the departing of spring.

All of that in three short lines, eleven words, fourteen syllables.

We could rephrase the second variation, like this:

Spring ending;
The heavy doors
Of the temple gate close.

That way it flows a bit more smoothly.

David

YIN AMID YANG: BUSON’S MISTY GRASSES

Here is a spring hokku by Buson. Whenever I read it, it reminds me of 19th-century American paintings of the rural countryside as it was in those quieter, greener days:

The grasses are misty,
The water silent;
Evening …

It gives a very good impression of the stillness of evening.

Though this is a spring hokku, it uses the hokku technique of “harmony of contrast,” because while spring is a time of increasing Yang energy (active, growing, warm), evening by contrast is an increasing Yin time of day (passive, receding, cool). Such a hokku expresses that even in the time of year when Yang is growing, Yin is nonetheless present, giving us a subtle feeling of aging, of transience amid the freshness, warmth, and new growth of spring. The mist, the water, and the silence are all Yin, as is the fading of the light of day. That predominance of Yin elements amid the growing Yang of spring is what makes this hokku effective in its very quiet way.

I always like to remind everyone that no knowledge of Japanese is needed to write hokku in English. I only add the Japanese version here because I have one particular faithful reader who always writes me a note if I do not include it.

The word translated here as “grasses” is kusa, which is somewhat more inclusive and general than the Engish, comprising not only grass but also other short plants below the level of shrubs. Higure is the time of sunset, of twilight.

Here is the transliterated Japanese with a literal translation:

Kusa kasumi mizu ni koe naki higure kana
Grasses mist water at voice is-not evening kana

David

GLAD YULE!

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice — Wintersonnenwende — Great Yule.

Ian Capper [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Ian Capper [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

With that long-celebrated day, the sun will then begin to rise higher in its arc across the sky, the days will slowly but surely grow longer, and light and warmth will return to the world.

In the hokku Wheel of the Year, the Winter Solstice is at the very bottom — the most Yin time. But on that day a spark of Yang becomes apparent in the darkness and cold of Yin, and will begin to grow. All since Midsummer’s day, Yin has grown to dominance in the year; but now Yang will grow and grow until it becomes dominant. We will now be on the rising turn of the Wheel of the Year instead of its falling.

Here are a few lines from an old carol appropriate to Great Yule, the Winter Solstice:

TO DRIVE THE COLD WINTER AWAY

All hail to the days that merit more praise
Than all the rest of the year,
And welcome the nights that double delights
As well for the poor as the peer!
Good fortune attend each merry man’s friend,
That doth but the best that he may;
Forgetting old wrongs, with carols and songs,
To drive the cold winter away.

Let Misery pack, with a whip at his back,
To the deep Tantalian flood;
In Lethe profound let envy be drown’d,
That pines at another man’s good;
Let Sorrow’s expense be banded from hence,
All payments have greater delay,
We’ll spend the long nights in cheerful delights
To drive the cold winter away.

‘Tis ill for a mind to anger inclined
To think of small injuries now;
If wrath be to seek do not lend her thy cheek
Nor let her inhabit thy brow.
Cross out of thy books malevolent looks,
Both beauty and youth’s decay,
And wholly consort with mirth and with sport
To drive the cold winter away.

This time of the year is spent in good cheer,
And neighbours together do meet
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire,
Each other in love to greet;
Old grudges forgot are put in the pot,
All sorrows aside they lay;
The old and the young doth carol this song
To drive the cold winter away.

David

COMMENTS

Ash commented on GLAD YULE!

This is a wonderful carol & really lifts my spirits just as the Yang rises & grows. Where is this carol from? What are its origins?

*
David replied:

The text dates at least to the early 17th century.
The tune is 17th century.

You will find some free MP3 renderings of the tune here (some with words):
http://mp3skull.com/mp3/drive_cold_winter_away.html

You will find more verses and information on its history here:
http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/drive_the_cold_winter_away.htm

It is a very pleasant song when sung in a lively and happy fashion, and it should be much better known.
*

WINTER BEGINS: THE SEASON

Winter begins;
The hilltop trees
Vanish in fog.

Yes, according to the Hokku calendar and the old European agricultural calendar, now that we have passed Halloween, winter has begun. It certainly seems like it where I am, because the skies are dim and grey, clouds are low, and now and then a cold rain falls.

Winter, in the Hokku Year, is the time when one turns inward, a time for introspection. That is so because in Nature, winter is the time when people were (and still are, to some extent) often secluded because of bad weather, cold and snow.

It is a time when contrasts become very obvious — the warmth of an indoor fire when frost laces the windowpanes with icy ferns, a warm cup of something on a cold morning, stars shining in the long, dark nights.

Winter becomes the bleakest time in the year, spare and austere, and so it is the time when small comforts are most highly appreciated — good food and helpful friends and warm blankets.

In the daily cycle, winter corresponds to the middle of the night;
In human life, winter corresponds to very old age and death, because it is the time when we see the plants advanced in withering or standing dead and dry in the frosty fields. It is the time when the sap of life has fallen in the trees, when life and energy have left leaves and branches and return to the root.

So that is winter, a time of turning inward, of returning to the root. In writing hokku, it is a good time to notice opposites, warmth versus cold, light versus darkness, sounds versus silence, motion versus stillness, because such things are very much in keeping with the nature of the season. It is also a good time to write about solitude.

Winter brings the further lowering of the arc of the sun across the sky, a continued weakening of the Yang energies in Nature until they reach their lowest point. And then in midwinter a spark of Yang appears, the Wheel of the Year continues to turn, the arc of the sun slowly ascends again, and the cycle begins anew.

David

INCREASING YIN: THE LIGHT GOES OUT

lightdark

I often mention that Shiki, who is generally considered (inaccurately) the founder of the modern haiku movement, just continued to write hokku, for the most part, though he called them “haiku.”

Not only were his verses hokku in form, they also continued the seasonal connection (which most writers of modern haiku have abandoned entirely) and, whether Shiki himself realized it or not, they often continued the aesthetic approach of hokku, so were hokku for all practical purposes, whatever he wished to call them.

Here is a good example, which in form and content is really nothing other than an autumn hokku:

The light in the next room
Goes out too;
The cold of night.

If you read my previous postings on the Hokku Wheel of the Year and the importance of Yin and Yang in hokku, you will easily grasp the significance of this verse.

It is set in autumn, the time when Yang energy (light, warmth, movement) is fading and Yin energy (dark, cold, stillness) is increasing. It is late night. the writer extinguishes his own lamp, and then, after some time in silence, he sees the faint glow from the light in the next room go out too.

This verse expresses very well the fading of Yang energy, as first one light goes out — adding to the darkness — and then the light in the other room also goes out, making the darkness complete. And in that darkness one suddenly perceives deeply the chill of the autumn night, not yet as piercing as that of winter, but affecting in its expression that light and warmth are fading from the world. This increasing of darkness and cold parallels the waning of Yang and the increasing dominance of Yin in the season of autumn. So we could say quite honestly that this little verse manifests the character of deepening autumn very well.

It is all such deeper connections that have been forgotten and lost in the modern haiku movement, which on the whole has a completely different spirit and aesthetic than the practice of hokku. It already began to be lost in the time of Shiki, but we still find it in this verse.

As I have mentioned before, I have one reader who chides me if I do not add the originals for Japanese hokku I translate here, so for him and any others who may wish it, here is Shiki’s verse in a literal translation (in Western lineation) and in transliteration.

Next’s room’s
Light also extinguished
Night-cold kana

Tsugi no ma no/ tomoshi mo kiete/ yosamu kana
Next ‘s room ‘s/ lamp also extinguished/ night-cold kana

We are getting closer to the next major calendar point in the hokku year, which is Halloween/Samhain; it marks the end of autumn by the old calendar, and the beginning of winter, the season when Yang forces are weakest and Yin forces dominant. Shiki’s verse of increasing darkess and cold makes a good lead-in to that.

David

AUTUMN: RETURNING TO THE ROOT

The autumn equinox has passed. That means the days are growing shorter, the nights longer.

In my recent discussion of the hokku Wheel of the Year, I emphasized how very important the seasons are to hokku. It is a new concept for many people — writing in keeping with the seasons — but it is nonetheless a very old practice.

Hokku, you will recall, are about Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature, set in the changing seasons. In autumn, autumn hokku are written. To do that, one has to understand the character of autumn — what it is like, and how it manifests in Nature.

As are all seasons, autumn is a stage in the interplay of the two forces, Yin and Yang. In autumn Yang is decreasing and Yin increasing, and that is particularly obvious after the autumn equinox has passed. Withering and dying are Yin, and in autumn we see plants and leaves begin to wither and die. Cold is Yin, and in autumn we feel the air growing ever cooler as the sun declines lower and lower in its arc across the sky. Darkness is Yin, and in autumn darkness (night) grows while light (the day) wanes. Things that retreat or fall are Yin, and in autumn the sap retreats from twigs and branches in trees and leaves begin to fall; in annual plants the energy has gone into the seeds, and in many perennial plants the life energy leaves the withering, visible part of the plant and retreats to the root.

So in autumn, the general feeling is of withdrawal, of “returning to the root.” It is a preparation for the quiet and chilly days of winter, the beginning of a natural turning inward.

It may interest you, in this regard, to know the basics of the traditional Five Elements associated with seasonal change. Summer was a “fire” season, as you might guess from its very Yang character. As Yang began to weaken in late summer, the element changed to earth. Now that autumn is here, the predominant element is metal. And when winter comes, the element will be water, to be followed in spring by the wood element. These are significant because all relate to processes in the human body and its cycles of energy. For example, now is a good time to begin adding lots of “black” foods to your diet. Why? Because foods black in color relate to and strengthen the “water” element in your body, and after the “metal” season of autumn comes the “water” season of winter, so eating black foods now helps you to prepare your system for winter; that is good for your kidneys and your basic energy, which are also “water” element-related. There is much more to say about this and the relationship between the seasons and health, but this aspect is not so important to writing hokku, except in so far as it helps to keep you even more attuned to the seasons and their changes. So I will not talk more about it now, but encourage those interested to learn at least the simple basics of the traditional Five Elements Theory. You will find many web sites that give charts showing the interrelationships of the seasons, the five elements, appropriate helpful seasonal foods, and the cycle of the body.

Of course hokku written in autumn should be in keeping with and expressing the character of the season. Buson wrote this autumn hokku:


Going out the gate,
I too become a traveller;
The autumn evening.

Autumn is often thought of as a time of travel, of migration. That is because it is the time when migratory birds take the long journey to where they will spend the winter, and animals move from their summer haunts to places where they will winter. So that feeling of “changing homes,” of being a rootless traveller, is very in keeping with the atmosphere of autumn. So Buson says that just by walking out his gate in autumn, he too becomes a part of this feeling of “migration,” and now you understand better why this is a hokku appropriate to the season.

It is appropriate too that the hokku is set in the evening, when the light is waning and darkness coming on, because of course increasing darkness is increasing Yin, and autumn itself is a time of increasing Yin. So this verse uses two things associated with autumn — travel and the waning of the day. You will recall that in hokku correspondences, Autumn relates to the time from late afternoon to early evening, and in human life to the time past middle age through the onset of old age. So we can see that Buson’s verse uses “harmony of similarity,” the putting together in a hokku of things that reflect one another by having a similar character. In this verse both travel and the coming of evening relate to autumn.

To get a better grasp of this relationship between hokku and the seasons, you might wish to again visit the recent posting on the Hokku Wheel of the Year, which you will find here:

https://hokku.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/a-review-of-hokku-basics-the-wheel-of-the-year-and-its-significance/

David

REVIEW OF HOKKU BASICS: HARMONY OF CONTRAST

In recent review postings I discussed internal reflection in hokku — how similar things interact within a verse — and I discussed the technique of harmony of similarity. You will recall that harmony of similarity is the combining of things with similar characteristics, for example an assemblage of things that are aging or old, or things that are Yin in nature or things that are Yang in nature.

When we combine things with similar characteristics (such as the billowing sail on a boat and billowing clouds) or energies (such as an old woman and autumn — both increasing Yin), that creates a very harmonious feeling.

Today we will add to that another technique, harmony of contrast.

Harmony of contrast is the use of elements that are felt to be contrasting or opposite in their characteristics (such as an old woman looking at apple blossoms in spring) or energies (such as stepping into a cool stream — Yin — on a hot day — Yang).

As you might imagine, the combining of contrasting things can be particularly effective in the two seasons when energies reach their maximum — Yang in summer and Yin in winter. But it can also be used in the two seasons when Yang is increasing as Yin declines (spring) and when Yang is declining and Yin is increasing (autumn).

The moon is a silent, passive and tranquil element. The pecking of a bird, by contrast, is active and jerky. Though we feel these things to be contrasting in character, we can combine them, as did Zuiryu in this hokku (I translate a bit loosely here):

Autumn

A water bird
Pecking and breaking it —
The moon on the water.

Here is an example of a hokku using contrary actions, this time by Ryuho:

Autumn

Scooping up
and spilling the moon;
The washbasin.

Of course it is the moon seen at night in the water of the basin.

One can also mix contrasting and similar things; for example, here is a hokku by the woman Sogetsu-ni:

Autumn

After the dance,
The wind in the pines,
The crying of insects.

We see harmony of contrast between the boisterous music and activity of the dance (now ended) and the peaceful, quiet sounds of the wind in the pines and the crying insects. But there is also similarity between the “natural” sound of the wind and that of the insect cries.

Here is a slight variation on an old hokku by Issa in which we again see harmony of similarity:

Autumn

Withered pampas grass;
Wisps of my hair
Quiver with it.

There is a mild similarity between hair and the feathery plumes of pampas grass trembling in the (implied) wind, but if we think of the writer as OLD, the effect becomes even stronger — the grey, long and unkempt wisps of an old man’s hair trembling in the same autumn wind that blows the white, withered pampas grass. But if the hair trembling in the autumn wind is that of a YOUNG man, then the feeling of the verse becomes quite different, not nearly so harmonious with the season.

In using harmony of contrast, you can even use something that is there combined with something that is not, as in this verse by Fugyoku:

Autumn

The bright moon;
No dark place
To dump the ashes
.

The reason it works is that the absence of something can often be just as strong, or sometimes even stronger, than something that is present. Imagine, for example, seeing the empty and silent rocker in which a beloved grandmother used to sit. That is a very meaningful absence.

What these techniques teach us, aside from being frequently useful in composition, is to pay great attention to the interrelationships among the elements you put into a hokku. You should always remember that a good hokku is not just an assemblage of random elements. It is not just picking anything you see and writing about it in three lines. It is noticing events in which we FEEL the relationship among the elements and their relationship with the season, whether that relationship is one of similarity or contrast, or even a mixture of the two. That is what gives a hokku depth and significance.

Keep in mind too, that the feeling of an element changes with the season. Spring rain is very different in feeling from summer rain; and autumn rain has its own feeling, as does winter rain, which is quite different than spring rain. That is why we should keep in mind that underlying the obvious subject of a hokku is also the more encompassing subject — the season in which the verse is written.

All hokku, you will remember, should be written in the appropriate season. We do not write winter hokku in summer or fall hokku in spring. And we ordinarily also read hokku in the appropriate season. We do not read summer hokku in winter or spring hokku in autumn. This practice keeps us in harmony with the seasons, and avoids creating the sense of inappropriateness we feel when seeing artificially grown spring flowers in an autumn bouquet, or when dried autumn plants and seed pods are used in a spring bouquet.

David

REVIEW OF HOKKU BASICS: INTERNAL REFLECTION AND HARMONY OF SIMILARITY

In the previous posting I discussed the Hokku Wheel of the Year, the hokku calendar that is in essence remarkably close to the old calendar not only of the hokku writers of old Japan but also that of the old Chinese poets, with only slight variation, though of course the names of the chief seasonal points differ.

Having read that posting, you will have noticed that we can also describe the seasons in the following way, as they relate to the two opposite but complementary forces of the universe — Yin and Yang:

Spring: Yang grows as Yin declines.

Summer: Yang grows until it reaches its maximum at Midsummer’s Day, then gradually declines as Yin begins to increase.

Autumn/Fall: Yang declines even more as Yin continues to increase.

Winter: Yin increases until it reaches its maximum at Yule, the Winter Solstice, then gradually declines as Yang begins to increase.

For practical purposes then, we can describe the seasons like this, according to their predominant energy:

Spring: Growing Yang
Summer: Maximum Yang
Autumn: Increasing Yin
Winter: Maximum Yin

You will recall that Yang is the energy of warmth and activity; Yin is the energy of cold and passivity. So we think of spring and summer as being increasingly warm and filled with activity in Nature, while we think of autumn and winter as being increasingly cold and a time of growing inactivity in Nature.

Hokku is about Nature and the place of humans within and as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons. Every hokku is set in a particular season, because that season not only connects us with the natural world, but it also provides the environment — the context — in which a hokku event happens. That means the seasons are an integral part of hokku.

In old Japanese hokku the seasonal connection was made in each verse by using a season word that by accepted convention indicated a particular season. Anyone wanting to write or understand hokku had to learn those season words in order to know (except when obvious) the season in which each verse was set. Over time the number of such words greatly increased, until near the end of the old hokku period, it required years for one to learn the season words and how to use them properly, a growing complexity that was not really in keeping with the natural simplicity of hokku.

The old season words were also based on a particular and rather limited climatic region of Japan, as well as upon plants, animals, birds and fish within that particular region. Can you imagine how complex and difficult it would be if we expanded that region worldwide and included not only all climatic regions but all natural life?

That is why in modern English-language hokku, we take away the complexity and return to the simplicity favored in hokku, by using only four seasonal markers — the four seasons. Every hokku, when written, should be marked with the season in which it is written. That way, when it is shared with others the season goes with the hokku. And if a group of such hokku are gathered into a collection or anthology, all the verses can be easily classified under their respective seasons. This takes a huge burden away from learning hokku today while still keeping the essential connection to the seasons.

So now you know a lot about the seasons and the cyclic changes in Yang and Yin energy through the year.

That brings us to the important matter of internal reflection.

As you saw in the previous posting, the changes in the seasons correspond also to these changes in time and in human life. We say they are “reflected” in these other things. For example, here are some general reflections:

Spring: Beginnings (Growing Yang)
In human life: birth, childhood, youth;
In the day: dawn and morning;
In plant life: sprouting, growing, blossoming.

Summer: Maturing (Yang reaches its maximum)
In human life: adulthood, middle age;
In the day: mid-day, noon;
In plant life: maturing, fruiting.

Autumn: Aging (Yang weakens as Yin increases)
In human life: “Getting old,” roughly the years from 40 onward;
In the day: late afternoon to dusk
In plant life: plants “gone to seed,” leaves withering and falling.

Winter: Endings (Yin reaches its maximum)
In human life: Very old age and death
In the day: after sunset to deep night.

These are just some of the most obvious correspondences/reflections.

So how do such reflections manifest in hokku? By putting together things that are the same in character. This is called harmony of similarity.

Here is a very obvious example of putting things together that reflect one another:

An old man walking in the autumn amid falling leaves.

As you can easily see, everything in this verse has the character of weakening Yang and increasing Yin. The year is old (autumn), the man is old, and the leaves are old. That is why this combination gives us a feeling of harmony, the feeling that these things just “go together.” That is harmony of similarity, and it is achieved by using, in this case, things that reflect the nature of autumn, Yin things.

Similarly, look at this assemblage:

A child picking snowdrops amid the melting snow.

That is very obviously a collection of “beginnings” The child is young (beginning life), the snowdrops have just sprouted into bloom and are “new,” and the melting snow shows us the increasing of the Yang (warm) energy. So it automatically makes us feel the sense of newness and fresh beginnings of the early spring.

Now, keeping in mind the list of Yin-Yang correspondences that you saw in the previous message, take a look at this hokku by Bashō, which I give here in English-language hokku form:

Autumn

On the withered branch
A crow has perched:
The autumn evening.

You should easily be able to see the internal reflections. Just in case you have overlooked one of the elements, I will remind you that bright things are Yang, dark things are Yin. Do you see now how each element in the verse reflects the others?

Here is how it works:

Heading: The seasonal marker “Autumn” (It is not really needed to indicate the season in this verse, but it is in many others, so we always include it for ease of classification)

First line:
On the withered branch
A withered branch is an old branch, so that gives us the sense of age, which is Yin.

Second line:
A crow has perched:
The crow is, of course, black; and darkness is a Yin element. Also, the crow has settled into inactivity, which is also Yin.

Third line:
The autumn evening.
Autumn is the time of increasing Yin; evening is also a Yin time in the day.

So everything in this verse is Yin, everything has to do with aging, and there is a correspondence between the darkness of the crow and the gathering darkness of evening, as well as the reflection of the withering of nature in autumn with the withered branch on which the crow has perched.

It is very important to see that these corresponding elements reflect one another. The Yin we see in one, we also see manifested in some way in the others. Do not mistake this for symbolism. Each element is fully itself, while also being fully in harmony with the others and with the autumn season.

Let’s look at another verse, this time by Issa. Here is R. H. Blyth’s translation. I have added the seasonal marker:

Autumn

Visiting the graves;
The old dog
Leads the way.

The seasonal marker is essential to understanding here, because otherwise we might think it to be Memorial Day, a spring holiday. But knowing it is an autumn verse makes all the difference because of internal reflection:

First line:
Visiting the graves;
Graves, of course, we associate with the passage of life and with and death, and both aging and death are Yin elements.

Second and third lines:

The old dog
Leads the way.

It makes all the difference that the dog is old. His age is in harmony with the season (Autumn – increasing Yin), and with the graves (death = maximum Yin). So both are Yin subjects, set in a season of increasing yin, a season of withering and dying. We can see the dog, showing his age in the slow pace of his walk, taking the lead on a path he has gone down many times.

Just for contrast, let’s look at what would happen if we changed the Yin dog to something freshly Yang:

Visiting the graves;
The awkward toddler
Leads the way.

That gives us a completely different feeling, and that feeling is not quite right. It lacks the harmony of Issa’s verse, though there is a place for using contrasting elements, as we shall find.

Now you know about internal reflection in hokku as well as harmony of similarity. In the next posting I will discuss a different (but related) technique, harmony of contrast. It too is based upon Yin and Yang, but it creates a different, yet still harmonious effect by using “opposite” elements.

By the way, if all of this seems a little difficult, it is only because it is likely new to you. Once you are accustomed to this way of thinking you will easily and naturally see such correspondences. But to do this well, you must know about Yin and Yang, so if those are not clear in your mind, just review the previous posting with its list of characterics of Yin and Yang.

David

A REVIEW OF HOKKU BASICS: THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

If you want to really understand hokku you will need to know its aesthetics, the principles upon which its practice is based. The chief underlying principle is that everything in the universe is connected. Humans are not separate, but are a part of Nature. That is why we can say that hokku is about Nature and humans as a part of Nature.

Nature implies the seasons and their changes. That is why learning the Hokku Wheel of the Year is a part of the basics of hokku aesthetics.

The Wheel of the Year is the “natural” calendar. Here is a simple image of the Hokku Wheel of the Year as found in English-language hokku. Some of you may have seen the similar Wheel used by modern “pagan” groups. If so, you will immediately note a significant difference. In the hokku Wheel of the Year, Midsummer’s Day is at the top, and the Winter Solstice is at the bottom. There is a very good reason for that, as you will see as we continue.

So here is the Hokku Wheel of the Year:

As you see, it has four main points, which beginning in the spring are:

1. The Spring Equinox (Vernal Equinox)
2. The Summer Solstice (Midsummer’s Day)
3. The Autumn Equinox (Autumnal Equinox)
4. The Winter Solstice (Yule)

Between these four main points come the “cross-quarter” days:

1. Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1, which begins the season of spring
2. May Day (Beltain/Bealtaine), May 1, which begins the season of summer
3. Lammas or Harvest Home (Lughnasa) August 1, which begins the season of autumn
4. Halloween (Samhain), October 31-November 1, which begins the season of winter

You will also note on the Hokku Wheel that in the spring, the Yang aspect of Nature is increasing. This increase really begins in midwinter, just after the Winter Solstice, but it begins to be noticeable near the time of Candlemas and after.

Yang increases until Midsummer’s Day, at which time it begins its decline, though its effects, like those of midwinter, are usually not noticed in Nature until about a month later.

As Yang declines in late summer, its opposite Yin gradually increases. So in autumn we have increasing Yin, and in spring we have decreasing Yin.

THE YIN AND YANG OF THE SEASONS

The principles of Yin and Yang and their interactions and transformations give us the seasons of the year. You will recall that Yin is cold, Yang warm. Yin is passive, Yang active. Yin recedes, Yang advances. Yin is wet, Yang is dry. Yin is still, Yang moving. Yin is silence, Yang is sound. Yin sinks, Yang rises.

Remembering also that when Yin or Yang reaches its farthest point — its maximum — it begins to change into its opposite, we are now ready to look at the real calendar — the seasons according to Yin and Yang.

Midwinter is ultimate Yin. At this point Yin reaches its maximum and begins to change into its opposite. Yang first begins to grow within it. So Midwinter is a pivotal point, the lowest on the turning wheel of the year.

Its opposite is Midsummer, when Yang reaches its maximum and then begins to change into its opposite. Yin begins to grow within it. So Midsummer also is a pivotal point — the very height of summer, when it then begins its long decline into winter.

The Spring Equinox — a time when day and night are of equal length — is nonetheless a time of growing Yang, because it comes after Midwinter. Yang continues to grow until Midsummer, when it then begins to change into its opposite.

The Autumn Equinox — again a time when day and night are of equal length — is nonetheless a time of decreasing Yang and growing Yin, because it comes after Midsummer. Yin continues to increase until Midwinter, when the cycle begins again.

We see, then, that the seasons are in constant change and movement as Yin and Yang interact with one another. As Yang increases, Yin declines. When Yang reaches its ultimate, Yin begins to increase within it, and Yang declines. This is a perpetual cycle, the turning Wheel of the Year. We can look at the seasons like this:

Winter: Yin
Spring: Growing Yang
Summer: Yang
Autumn /Fall: Growing Yin

So we see there are two Yang seasons — spring and summer — and two Yin seasons — autumn and winter.

I often talk about Yin and Yang in hokku.  In fact I talk about them so much that another name for the kind of hokku I teach might be “Yin-Yang” hokku.  That is how important it is — so important that one cannot fully understand hokku without it.

In old Asia and in hokku, it was something people grew up with.  It was even the principle upon which old traditional Asian medicine and philosophy were based.  But it has to be actually taught to Western students, because they generally are not familiar with it.

I will try to make it brief, so this posting will condense a lot of information that the student should absorb and then observe in daily life and in the reading and practice of hokku.

You have probably seen the old Yin-Yang Chinese symbol.  It is an easy, shorthand way to remember how Yin and Yang work:

The traditional Taijitu, Yin and Yang symbol, ...

Yin and Yang are the two opposite, yet complementary forces comprising all things in the universe.  They are found in every aspect of Nature, so you can understand why they are so important in hokku.  Even though Yin and Yang are opposites, they interact with one another in an ever-changing relationship and harmony.  So we should think of the universe as not being just divided into two — Yin and Yang.  In fact, it is not divided at all, as we see from the circle of the symbol, and Yin and Yang mix together and change together.  When Yang increases, Yin decreases; when Yin increases, Yang decreases.

What exactly are Yin and Yang in practical terms?  This is very ancient knowledge.

Yang is bright, Yin is dark;
Yang is warm, Yin is cool;
Yang is rising, Yin is sinking;
Yang is expanding, Yin is shrinking;
Yang is growing, Yin is withering;
Yang is dry, Yin is moist;
Yang is high, Yin is low;
Yang is motion, Yin is stillness;
Yang is activity, Yin is rest;
Yang is strength, Yin is weakness;
Yang is male, Yin is female;
Yang is full, Yin is empty;
Yang is sharp, Yin is smooth;
Yang is hard, Yin is soft;
Yang is flavorful, Yin is bland;
Yang is active, Yin is passive;
Yang advances, Yin recedes;
Yang multiplies, Yin dwindles;

That should give you some idea of Yin and Yang seen as absolutes, though they are not really absolutes.  Yang contains within it a tiny seed of Yin; Yin contains within it a tiny seed of Yang.  You see that in the Yin-Yang symbol on this page:  the light Yang side contains a tiny spot of dark Yin; the dark Yin side contains a tiny spot of light Yang.  When Yang increases and reaches its ultimate, it changes to Yin;  when Yin increases and reaches its ultimate, it changes to Yang.

As already mentioned, everything in the universe is — at any moment — in some stage of the ever-changing interplay of Yin and Yang.

In hokku this is significant not only because it is how the universe works, but also because of the principle of internal reflection. In hokku the nature or character of one thing is often reflected in the nature or character of another.  In addition, in hokku there are two kinds of harmony:  there is harmony of similarity, and harmony of contrast.  Both of these important aspects of hokku relate to Yin and Yang.

We already know that time and the seasons are essential to hokku.  Here is how Yin and Yang manifest in time:

Let’s start with deepest winter:  

Winter is cold, so from the list above, we know that winter is very Yin.  And we recall that when Yin reaches its ultimate, it changes into Yang.  That is exactly what happens.  In the cold Yin of deep winter, a tiny seed of Yang begins to grow.  We call that “increasing Yang” or “growing Yang.”  It grows and spring begins.  So spring is increasing Yang.  Yang continues to increase, and spring grows warmer, ice and snow melt, things sprout, blossoms appear, trees leaf out — all these are signs of growing Yang.  Yang continues to grow, and we have already seen that when Yang increases, Yin decreases.  That is what is happening in spring.  Finally, Yang grows to such a point that things dry out, the weather begins to get very warm, and we find ourselves in summer, which, being the opposite of Yin winter, is a Yang season.  The Yang of summer increases gradually until it reaches its height, and then — as we might expect — it begins to change into Yin.  A seed of Yin starts to grow within it.  Now the year, instead of growing as in spring, is declining.  Yin continues to increase as Yang decreases, and we come to autumn, a time when the increase of Yin is very obvious as things begin to wither; the trees drop their leaves, annual plants die, and the energy of perennial plants sinks from the leaves into the root.  We know that in spring, for example in sugar maples, sap rises — Yang.  But in autumn it falls — Yin.

Yin increases as Yang decreases, things grow colder, things increasingly die, and finally we are in winter again, the Yin season.  Then the whole cycle begins anew.

This same principle applies to human life, and here again we touch on the hokku principle of internal reflection:

Birth and infancy are early spring; growth, childhood, and adolescence match the increasing Yang of spring.  Adulthood is summer; when one is fully adult, the aging process begins.  One grows gradually older — the autumn of life.  And as Yang decreases in the human body and Yin increases, we grow even older and weaker, we lose our hair, we loose teeth and muscle, and finally Yin reaches its ultimate and we die — deep winter.

The same thing applies to each day:

The middle of night is deep Yin.  Dawn nears and Yang increases.  We see that in the light, and in the morning chorus of the birds.  Then the sun rises higher in the sky and Yang increases even more, as Yin decreases.  Finally, at midday, the sun reaches its highest point, and the seed of Yin begins to grow within it.  The sun begins its afternoon decline and Yang declines as Yin grows.  Then we reach late afternoon, dusk, and finally the Yin darkness of night comes again.

So, just to repeat, in only these three things there are these correspondences, very useful for internal reflection:

Birth-youth = spring = morning;
Adulthood-nearing middle age =summer = noon;
Past middle age-growing old = autumn = afternoon;
Very old-death = winter = night;

We see Yin and Yang in the landscape and in landscape painting.  Mountains rise up and are high, so they are Yang; valleys are low and receptive, so they are Yin.  And of course we see Yin also in the falling of waterfalls from a high place to a low place.  And we see Yin in rivers, lakes and pools.

In fact so all-pervasive is the Yin-Yang process in Nature that one cannot really understand fully how hokku work without it.  In some verses it is very obvious, in others less obvious, but it is always there, whether seen or not.

We can see it subtly in this pleasant verse by Onitsura:

Dawn;
On the tip of the barley leaf,
Spring frost.

Now you know how to read that verse in terms of Yin and Yang:

Dawn is early in the process of growing Yang;
A barley leaf is young and green, so it too is growing Yang;
Spring frost is Yin, which shows us that in this process Yang (seen in the dawn and the green blade) is increasing, yet Yin (what remains of winter) has not yet disappeared.

To this we add our poetic hokku intuition, by means of which we automatically intuit what is not actually written in the poem — that the Yang dawn and rising sun will soon melt the Yin frost, and it will evaporate and vanish — Yang overcoming Yin.  So this poem shows us a stage in the interaction of Yin and Yang that takes place in early spring, and in doing so, it manifests the character of the season and of that particular period in the season, which of course is very “hokku.”

You can see from all of that what a very excellent spring poem this hokku of Onitsura is.  And if you did not have your new understanding of Yin and Yang, you would not see that at all.  That is why the Yin-Yang principle is so essential to hokku as I teach it — because not only was it essential to old hokku, but it also is essential to understanding the interplay of these forces in everything that exists — in every time and place and life.

If you have “been around the block,” as the saying goes — if you are familiar with books written on all kinds of short verse that are descended in one way or another from the hokku,  and familiar with journals and internet sites, you will realize suddenly that I am the only person teaching this relationship of Yin and Yang in old and modern hokku.  You will not find this teaching of how it relates to hokku in practice anywhere else.  Why?  Because other kinds of brief modern verse — modern haiku in particular — have largely abandoned the aesthetic principles and standards of the old hokku.  Most never knew them to begin with.  I am sure that one of these days someone will see what I have written on this subject and will begin presenting it on some modern haiku site as a novelty, but for us in the actual practice of hokku it is not just a novelty; it is essential knowledge.

I hope you can see from what I have written here how much more there is to the hokku than superficially meets the eye, how one must have an understanding of its aesthetics in order to really “get” how hokku works and why it works, and how to apply these principles in practice.

Once one knows about and begins to understand the Yin-Yang principle, one sees it everywhere — because it is everywhere, from deep in our bodies to the farthest galaxies, and in every aspect of life and time.   That is why it is essential knowledge to the serious student of hokku.

I should add that for the old writers of hokku, Yin and Yang were not a recipe for writing. They did not consciously think, “Now I must write a poem incorporating Yin and Yang in order to get a certain effect.”  Yin and Yang were just a part of their cultural and aesthetic background, so they did not have to consciously consider their interactions in writing, for the most part.  For us in the West, however, the interactions of Yin and Yang are not a part of our cultural background — at least not since a very long time — so the best way to deal with Yin and Yang is to learn the basic interactions I have given here; then practice recognizing the Yin – Yang processes in Nature and the seasons, as well as in old hokku.  That way Yin and Yang will gradually become part of your hokku practice — your personal background — but not in any forced and rigid way.

Keep in mind that the Wheel of the Year shown here is based upon the practice of English-language hokku in the temperate Northern Hemisphere. Modifications are necessary for the Southern Hemisphere, and for regions that may not have four distinct seasons; some places, for example, may have only a rainy season and a dry season. Hokku develops out of its natural surroundings and climate, so we do not artificially fit Nature in one place to an incompatible calendar that expresses quite a different region.

Remember also that the Wheel of the Year presented here is, we could say, the “astronomical” calendar, with the four main points related to the position of the sun as it arcs across the sky. The seasons as they are perceived in the changes of the natural environment, however, arrive and depart at different times in different places. Winter will come earlier and spring later in more northerly climates and in the high mountains, while winter will arrive later and leave more quickly in more southerly regions and in the lowlands. So in addition to the Hokku Wheel of the Year calendar, we should also pay attention to the natural changes of the seasons in whatever region we may be living.

I mentioned the technique of internal reflection. In my next posting on this subject, I will discuss how internal reflection manifests in autumn or “fall” hokku.

David

THE EFFECT OF YIN AND YANG

Summer heat;
The drip — drip of water
In the shadows.

stonebasin

This verse illustrates a fundamental technique used in many hokku — harmony of contrast. It is simple. One just combines things that are opposite in nature — heat is yang, shadows and water are yin. Using it, one can effectively convey many experiences. The technique is a good way to bring out the character of the heat, and also that of shade and of water.

David

CANDLEMAS: SPRING BEGINS

Tomorrow is Candlemas — Imbolc — the old beginning of spring. Yesterday was the lunar New Year, celebrated in Asia, which is also the traditional beginning of spring. So we can see, as I have said before, that if one follows the old European seasonal calendar, with its quarter and cross-quarter days, one is, with only slight variation, following the same calendar as the old hokku writers of Japan.

Here is a hokku for the beginning of spring, written by Gyôdai:

Snowmelt;
A crow cawing
In the cloudy hills.

The Wheel of the Year has turned, and whether or not there are signs of spring where you are, the Yin forces of Nature have begun to diminish, and the Yang forces are growing. Where I live, snowdrops have already sprouted their short green leaves above the earth and have put forth their drooping, snow-white blossoms. The days are growing longer, the nights ever shorter.

In today’s hokku, we see the increase of Yang and decrease of Yin in the melting of the snow. And by a happy chance, in the repetition of the same initial consonant in “crow,” “cawing,” and “cloudy” we also hear the cawing of the crow.

David

GLAD YULE!

In two days — December 21st — comes Great Yule, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  It is the bottom of the Wheel of the Year, the point at which the forces of Yang are at their weakest and Yin at its strongest, through the effects of that will not be felt for about another month.

wsolstitiajpg

It is also the time, as our ancestors knew, when the arc of the sun across the sky is at its lowest point, closest to the earth.  They saw this as the time when, as things in the universe looked to be at their most gloomy, the sun was then reborn, and so its arc across the sky would begin rising higher and higher, the days would begin growing longer, and warmth and light would gradually return to the world.  No wonder it was seen as an important time to celebrate and “make merry.”

Later, of course, the Christian Church took advantage of this, and began celebrating what it decided to be the feast of the birth of Jesus close to the time of the Solstice.  That is not surprising, because the day of the rebirth of the “Unconquered Sun” was an important celebration in Rome at the beginning of that millennium, and Church officials “co-opted” it to take advantage of that, with their notion that Jesus was the “Sun of Righteousness,” and that he, as a god, was born at that time too.  Of course no one really knew when Jesus was born (or even for sure if the Jesus as depicted variously in the New Testament even was ever a definite historical figure), but at that time all was politics and propaganda. Even churches began to be  erected with an East-West alignment.

You have probably heard the old Gregorian chant once used as a lead-in to the Christmas season, now often sung as a carol at Christmas,  O Come O Come Emmanuel, referring to Jesus.  One verse of it (in Latin) is:

Veni, veni, O Oriens;
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.

Come, come, O Rising Sun
Shine on us in your coming,
Dispel the clouds of night,
And drive away night’s shadows.

With no change at all, that verse would make a good Yule song.

Yule, then, is a time to rejoice in the knowledge that the cold and privations of winter will not last forever, because the sun and light will return, and we will no longer see the old and harsh face of Mother Nature, but shall see her once more as the beautiful young maiden of springtime.

Yule brings us light and hope and rejoicing at the time of greatest darkness in the world.

Glad Yule, everyone!

David

MOVING TOWARD HALLOWEEN

Autumn’s end;
The west wind fills
With falling leaves.

Soon we shall be at the end of October, and with it comes Halloween, with its more ancient name Samhain, pronounced SAH-win.

longleafbrWe all know about the traditional association of Halloween with ghosts and spirits and supernatural creatures of all kinds, but did you ever wonder why that association exists?

Halloween — as Samhain — begins, appropriately enough, at the disappearance of the sun on the evening of October 31st, and it extends through the next day of the Old Calendar, the day later called All Hallows.  It marks the end of autumn and the beginning of winter.

Now as you know from all the talk of Yin and Yang here, the forces of Yang — of light and warmth — decline through autumn, as the Yin element grows and reaches its maximum point in midwinter, at the time of the winter solstice.  Samhain lies halfway between the Autumn Equinox, when the daylight hours have declined until they are the same length as those of night, and Midwinter’s Day, the Winter Solstice.

So in terms of Yin and Yang, we can think of Halloween — of Samhain — as the doorway to the most Yin time of year, the time ruled by cold and the time when the days are shorter and the nights — the darkness — longer and felt most deeply.

Now you may recall as well that the so-called “spirit world” is Yin, in contrast to that of the living, which is Yang.  So traditionally, Samhain is the time when the doorway between the worlds of the living and the dead is said to open, thus its association with ghosts and the supernatural.  We can think of it as the doorway also to the most Yin time of the year, the time when Yin darkness and cold predominate instead of the Yang light and warmth of summer.

Because the old calendar of the West is so very close to the old hokku calendar of the East, Halloween also marks the end of the time of reading and writing autumn hokku and the beginning of the period for reading and writing winter hokku.

At the beginning of this posting is a hokku about the autumn wind and falling leaves.  In old hokku, falling leaves were an autumn subject, while fallen leaves were a topic for winter.  In the place where I live, Nature seems to be very much on schedule in that regard, because the leaves have been falling heavily for several days now, and it will not be long before the hardwood trees are quite bare, heralding the poverty and simplicity of winter, the time when the energies of life retreat to the root, the time of silence and solitude, the time of turning inward instead of outward.

I hope everyone has a very happy Halloween, and a good beginning to the inwardness of the winter season.

David

DON’T LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE: LEARNING HOKKU BY PLAYING WITH MODELS

Many people think of Masaoka Shiki as a writer of haiku, but much of what Shiki wrote was simply hokku under a different and now very misleading name.

Because they were generally still hokku in form and content, Shiki’s verses were not at all like much of the modern haiku one finds on the Internet.  They even retained the season words that were essential to traditional Japanese hokku.

Shiki, however, was very influenced by the concept of Western “open air” painting — making a quick sketch out in the fields or forests  — that had become so popular in the Europe and America in the 19th century.  That accounts for why Shiki’s verses often are like illustrations, like woodcut scenes from Nature and life in general.

Shiki was very good at writing such “block print” verses, which are pleasant in their own way, even though they may lack the depth of earlier hokku.

Here is one of my favorite autumn verses by Shiki:

Aki ie no              to ni neru inu ga              yanagi chiru
Empty house ‘s   door at sleeping dog ga   willows fall/scatter

A dog asleep
At the door of the empty house;
Falling willow leaves.

Autumn is the time when the active energy — Yang — of life diminishes.  It is the time when the great dying in Nature begins, when the energy of life begins returning to the root in preparation for winter.

If we look at Shiki’s verse, that decline of active energy is present in its three elements:

1.  In the sleeping (inactive) dog;
2.  In the emptiness of the house;
3.  In the falling of the willow leaves.

So we can see that this verse is very much in keeping with the character of autumn.  But keep in mind that none of these things are symbols or metaphors.  We just feel these connections because of the layers of associations such things have for us.

There is a kind of overall loneliness in the verse, which again is in harmony with autumn.  Where have the people gone who once lived in the house?  Was the sleeping dog abandoned when they left, or is he a wandering stray who has found a place to sleep where no one will chase him away?  We are not told what the past was, which makes us just focus on what is before us, yet leaving us with the underlying feeling of something left unspoken.

In Nature, autumn is the waning of the year;
In human life, autumn is our years of growing old after middle age.
In the daily cycle, autumn is the late afternoon and early evening.

I always see this verse of Shiki as happening n the golden light of a late autumn afternoon, with everything quiet and drowsy, and the yellow willow leaves slowly scattering through the air.  This is the peaceful pause before the cold and hardness of winter.

But in learning hokku we do not let sleeping dogs lie.  Instead we take an old hokku and we play with it, trying different options and possibilities and substitutions.  That is a very good way to learn how to write new hokku.

For example, we could make this change:

A cat asleep
On the porch of the empty house;
Autumn rain.

Or

A broken doll
In the window of the empty house;
The autumn evening.

There are many, many possibilities, and of course much of what we come up with in this practice exercise may not be as good as the original model, but that does not matter.  The point is that we are learning how to form hokku, and also learning to see what is effective and what is not.  Now and then we may hit upon something that works very well.  And of course, very importantly, we are seeing how changing the elements in a hokku also changes the relationship among them, and how by doing so we alter the whole effect of the verse.

Shiki wrote another autumn “empty house” verse that is not nearly as good:

Asagao no chi wo haiwataru   aki ya kana
Morning-glory ‘s earth wo rambling  empty house kana

A morning glory
Rambling over the ground;
The empty house.

One reason this verse is less interesting is that it tells us everything.  What you see is what you get.  There is no sense of anything deeper, of anything left unspoken.

In the “sleeping dog” verse, by contrast, we feel that there is much we are not told.  Where did the dog come from?  What will become of him?  And because of the dog, we wonder what happened to the people who lived there that caused them to abandon the house.  Not knowing all of that gives the verse a kind of latent energy.  But we do not feel nearly so invested in the “morning glory” verse.  It is just an untended garden plant wandering across the unkempt ground around a vacant house in autumn.  In that sense, it is far more “just a picture” than the “sleeping dog” verse.  There is no significant latent energy in it.

That missing sense of unspoken depth makes all the difference between a hokku that is just “flat” and a hokku that holds our interest.  Shiki often fell into the kind of verse that is just a lifeless photograph, but in the “sleeping dog” verse, he succeeded in writing something that affects us more deeply.  That underlying feeling of something left unsaid, combined with the overall harmony and unity of the verse, helps to express quite well the character of autumn.

 

David

THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR: SUMMER’S END

Hassam

Every year I like to post this article again, with slight variation, to mark that time when one senses the change in the air that marks the beginning of summer’s wane into autumn. It is a time when one palpably feels that suddenly the energies of the season have weakened, that the active Yang energy of summer has begun to give way to the growing Yin energies that will take us first into autumn, then winter. It happens at different times in different places. I never know ahead of time on what day it will come, but I certainly felt it recently. The Wheel of the Year has turned; the decline into Fall has begun.

In her bittersweet children’s book Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt writes:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn.

It is the way of Yin and Yang — whenever one reaches its maximum, it begins to turn into its opposite. And that is where we are now in the turning wheel of the year. The hot and bright summer having reached its peak — “the top of the live-long year” — the days have now begun, almost imperceptibly, their decline into autumn — the time of growing Yin.

This is when the hokku of Kyoroku comes to mind,

August;
First on the ears of millet —
The autumn wind.

We stand looking out on a field of millet still in the quiet midst of August. Suddenly a cool wind, almost a mere hint of wind, stirs the heavy seed heads that bend in a gentle wave. And we suddenly realize that it is the wind of autumn, and summer is ending.

What a world of significance in that verse!

That is the subtlety of hokku. We express all of Nature in a single, small thing-event. And in expressing Nature, we express our own nature as well.

You will find that I repeat certain things again and again, and one of those things is the importance of harmony and unity in a hokku. In this verse the maturity of the summer matches the maturity of the ears of millet, and suddenly we see a manifestation of this aging — the first sign of decline, the first coolness of the wind that speaks of autumn.

When I say the wind “speaks of autumn,” I mean that in hokku, when the writer gets out of the way, removing the ego from the verse, Nature is able to speak, sometimes in the wind, or the water, or the rain, or any number of things.

Returning to harmony, here is a hokku I wrote some time ago:

The tall tree
Cut up in a heap;
Summer’s end.

When you read it, see it — feel it. Can you sense the harmony of elements, the ending of summer, the formerly tall and green and growing tree all cut up into a drying heap of wood? Can you feel the change in it, the transience that is inseparable from existence?

That transience is an essential element of hokku. It is what makes Babbitt’s book so filled with that mixture of near sadness and almost lonely wistfulness that the Japanese called sabishisa. It is the knowledge that nothing in life is permanent, that everything changes, that nothing abides, that all of existence is in constant movement and transformation from one state to another, endlessly being born, growing, dying, changing. It manifests in the withering of a leaf and in the eons of evolution that have carried life through ceaseless transformations, as Loren Eiseley reminds us in his book The Immense Journey:

The truth is that we are all potential fossils still carrying within our bodies the crudities of former existences, the marks of a world in which living creatures flow with little more consistency than clouds from age to age.”

We find the same feeling in Marcel Pagnol’s comments that sum up the ending of his childhood in Le Château de ma Mère My Mother’s Castle:

Le temps passe, et il fait tourner la roue de la vie comme l’eau celle des moulins.

Time passes, and it turns the wheel of life as water does that of a mill.

And he finished with these words:

Telle est la vie des hommes. Quelques joies, très vite effacées par d’inoubliables chagrins. Il n’est pas nécessaire de le dire aux enfants.

Such is the life of man — a few joys, very quickly erased by unforgettable sorrows. It is not necessary to tell that to the children.

So now we must prepare ourselves, as summer moves toward an end, for the arrival of autumn, a season filled with the sense of things passing and aging and changing, and thus filled with the spirit of hokku.

David

THE TIME OF HARVEST IN THE HOKKU YEAR

In our busy modern world, particularly if we live in a heavily urbanized area, it is good to pause from time to time and reflect on where we are in the Wheel of the Year — the cycle of the seasons.

Astronomically, Midsummer’s Day is precisely that — the middle of summer, when the longest day of the year occurs.  We might think that is the most Yang time of the year, but  actually the real effects of these astronomical events are not felt until about a month later.  Remember that.

Strangely enough, this year near the end of July I began to get a very peculiar but obvious and persistent feeling of a “weakening” in the air, as though the high point of summer had already been passed.  I even mentioned it to a friend who said she had sensed the very same thing.  So for some reason — at least where I am —  the transition time when Yang reaches its maximum and a tiny bit of Yang begins to grow within it seemed this year to be very evident.  harvesters

If we look at the old Hokku Calendar as it manifests in the European-American tradition, we have just passed Lammas on August 1, also called Lugnasadh (pronounced “LOO-nuh-suh”).   In “farm speech” it is called Harvest Home, and it marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.  So it is very appropriate that the feeling of the presence of Yin energy  has already been in the air.

In the old days, Harvest Home was an important country festival celebrating the bringing in of the wheat from the fields, which provided bread, “the staff of life.”  It was the first of three harvest festivals.   The second, now commonly just called the “Harvest Festival” comes near the Autumn Equinox, and the third comes on Samhain, November 1st, the day after Halloween.

In the British Isles it was common in post-pagan times to celebrate the second harvest festival about a week after the Autumn Equinox (September 21/22), on the day called Michaelmas (pronounced MIK-uhl-muhs), which was the feast day of the Christian angel Michael, but it had pre-Christian significance.  The Autumn Equinox is the last day when the length of night and day are equal.  Then the darkness (Yin) begins to overwhelm the light (Yang) as the days grow shorter.  Given that Michael was a powerful symbol of the victory of light over darkness, it was no doubt a common hope that celebrating it on Michael’s day would help ordinary folk through the dark days of winter.

The celebration of the Harvest Festival close to the Autumn Equinox accounts for why the full moon closest to that equinox is called the Harvest Moon.

Well, all of this may or may not be interesting to you, but my point in mentioning it is that the Yang energies in Nature have begun to wane and the Yin energies are increasing.  That will continue and become ever more obvious as we move through August and into September, October, November, and December.  We will feel the changes in the air and in our bodies, and if we follow the old ways, we will adjust our behavior and our food accordingly.

Why our food and behavior?  Because in the time of year when Yin energies increase, our bodily energy, instead of moving outward in exuberance and activity (Yang), begins to move inward (Yin).  So traditionally, we gradually bring what we do and what we eat into correspondence with that inward tendency.  There is a whole system of dealing with the interaction of food and the seasons, which is best exemplified today in Chinese medical theory.  I won’t go into all of that now, but you have probably noticed that people who live close to Nature change their diet somewhat depending on the season and on what is naturally available.  It is good to keep that correspondence in mind as the Yang energies in Nature continue to wane with the season.

You will recall that I told you to remember that the effects of events in the astronomical calendar — the main four points on the old Hokku Calendar –tend to be felt a month later.  We can apply that to the differences in general between the old Hokku Calendar and the modern calendar.  Doing that, we would expect the common notion of the end of summer in our modern calendar to take place about a month after its Lammas or “Harvest Home” ending in the old calendar.  And that is just what happens.   We tend to commonly think of summer as ending with September 1st (or on Labor Day shortly after), a month after Harvest Home.  Of course technically, in the modern calendar, the end of summer is placed on the Autumn Equinox ( September 21/22).

David

THE YIN AND YANG OF SUMMER

sstream

If you have been reading this site for some time, you will already know how important an understanding of Yin and Yang are to the practice of hokku.  And you will know that speaking very broadly, Yin is cold and passive, while Yang is warm and active.

We are now entering the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means we are entering the most Yang season of the year.

We must remember, however, that Yin and Yang are relative terms.  So even though summer is, overall the “Yangest” of months (well, that word seems to work in English) nonetheless it too has its stages; and here they are:

Early summer is increasing Yang and decreasing Yin, so we may say that it is a “Yin” time of summer, but note that “decreasing Yin.”

The height of summer is the most Yang time, but as you will recall, when Yang reaches its maximum, it begins to turn into its opposite; so just when summer Yang gets to its highest point, that bit of Yin begins to grow in it, which takes us to late summer.

Late summer is decreasing Yang and increasing Yin, which you can see is just the opposite of spring.  So to summarize (should I say “summerize” in this case?), for convenience we can divide summer into three parts:

Early summer is growing/increasing Yang, the height of summer is maximum Yang, and late summer is decreasing Yang.

Those descriptions should call to mind the “set phrases” for the three phases of a season in hokku — “begins,” “deepens,” and “departs” (or their equivalents), that may be used for the setting of a hokku,  for example:

Summer begins;
Summer deepens;
Summer departs;

Now, having gotten through that background, we can take a look at what all this means in practical terms for hokku.

It applies to the two kinds of harmony in hokku — harmony of similarity and harmony of contrast.  Harmony of similarity means using elements in a hokku that are similar in some way.  Harmony of contrast means using elements that we tend to think of as “opposites” in some way.

To make that plain, a hot cup of tea and a hot summer day are “similar,” so if we put them both in a hokku, we have harmony of similarity.

A cold block of ice and a hot summer day are contrasts/opposites, so if we put them together we have harmony of contrast.

You may be wondering why we speak of opposite or contrasting things put together in a hokku as  still having harmony — why aren’t they inharmonious?  It is because we tend to feel that such opposites naturally go together, therefore harmony.

Now a very important part of Yin and Yang is that each calls forth its opposite.  What does that mean?  It is easy to understand once I tell you about it, and you are already aware of it, though you may have never thought of it in these terms.  It is simply that living things react to strong Yang in a Yin way, and they react to strong Yin in a Yang way.

That is why, on a hot summer day (Yang), you want to jump in a lake or river (Yin); similarly, on a cold winter’s night (Yin) you want a blazing fire on the hearth and a warm blanket (Yang).  It also explains why people in very sunny climates (Yang) tend to develop darker skin (Yin) as protection, and why people in very cloudy climates (Yin) tend to develop lighter skin (Yang), such as is found in Ireland, for example.  Of course that is something that happens over thousands of years, but it happens nonetheless.

So now you know what is behind this summer hokku by Taigi:

A midday nap;
The hand with the fan
Stops moving.

It is the middle of a hot summer day, and that calls forth a Yin reaction, which in this case is to take a nap — to become inactive.  And we see that through the gradual slowing and eventual motionlessness in sleep of the hand that was fanning the drowsy subject of the verse.  It is a Yin reaction to a Yang environment.

We see a similar, though less obvious example, in a summer hokku by Buson (I translate loosely here):

What joy!
Striding through a stream,
Sandals in hand.

Now that would lose its significance if we did not know it as a summer hokku, because it is the contrast between the warmth of the day and the coolness of the stream on his bare feet that gives the writer such delight.

So now you have a basic understanding of the Yin and Yang of summer, and how it applies to hokku.  Of course there is more to be said on that subject, but for now I will just close with the last words from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Snow Queen:

Der sad de begge To Voxne og dog Børn, Børn i Hjertet, og det var Sommer, den varme, velsignede Sommer.

“There sat the two of them, grown up yet still children, children at heart, and it was summer, the warm, blessed summer.”

David

THE HOT AFTERNOON: IMPROVING HOKKU FOR UNITY AND HARMONY

We are moving (depending on where you are), from spring to summer.  In my region we have already had some very warm days, and so it is a good idea, in my postings about hokku, to now use the “summer” setting.

As readers know, the kind of hokku I teach is based on the best of old Japanese hokku, but for practical teaching purposes I sometimes modify them to fit an American environment (and you can do the same for your environment, wherever that may be, whether Australia or Austria or Finland or India or some other locale).

Shiki once wrote a spring verse:

The spring day;
Not a person stirring
In the village.

I would like to change it, however, to make it a more effective hokku by setting it in the season of summer, rewriting it like this:

(Summer)

The hot afternoon;
Not a soul stirring
In the neighborhood.

I hope you feel the improvement made by that change.  But do you know why it is better?

Let’s look again at Shiki’s “spring” version:

The spring day;
Not a person stirring
In the village.

If you are a regular reader here, you will recall that a hokku should manifest the character of a particular season through something happening in it.  The problem with Shiki’s verse is that it is inharmonious.  It first presents us with spring — the time of growing Yang — that is, of freshness, of increasing energy and growth.  But then Shiki tells us that not a person is stirring in the village.  That is contrary to the character of spring, which is increasing activity after the quiet of winter.  That is why Shiki’s verse does not feel right, even though he may actually have seen such a scene.

But remember, a hokku does not show us just any event, but rather an event that manifests the character of the season, and thereby makes us feel its significance.

That is why the change of season is a big improvement.  Let’s look again at the revised version:

The hot afternoon;
Not a soul stirring
In the neighborhood.

First it presents us with the heat of the afternoon — a strong physical sensation.  Then it gives us that heat (Yang) reflected in its opposite — inactivity (Yin).

Summer hokku are generally of two main kinds — harmony of similarity and harmony of opposites.  Harmony of similarity is the putting of two similar things together, like heat (Yang) and movement (Yang).  Harmony of opposites is putting together two things which, though opposite, are nonetheless perceived to be harmonious together.  Think of a warm fire (Yang) in winter (Yin), or dipping your hand into a cool stream (Yin) in the heat of summer (Yang).  Even though they manifest opposites, we naturally feel they go together.

So the revised verse uses harmony of opposites:

The hot afternoon;
Not a soul is stirring
In the neighborhood.

The inactivity of the neighborhood residents is very much in keeping with the heat of the afternoon.  We can say it “negatively reflects” the heat of the afternoon by showing us its opposite, just as drinking a hot cup of herbal tea when it is snowing outside also shows us a harmony of opposites, with one “negatively reflecting” the other (cold outside, heat in the cup of tea).

If you are familiar with R. H. Blyth’s work, you will note that I have borrowed his alliterative combination “soul stirring,” instead of Shiki’s less effective “person.”

Once you begin to understand how and why harmony and unity in hokku are important and why they work, you can easily put them to use in improving your own practice of hokku.

David

BOBBITY, BOBBITY, BLYTH

R. H. Blyth once translated a verse by Meisetsu, a late writer (1847-1926) influenced by Shiki, (the fellow who began calling verses that were generally really hokku in form “haiku”):

Ryūboku ya  taburi-taburi to   haru no kawa

Translating it is a bit tricky, partly because the first word, ryūboku, means here “a piece of drifting wood”; then comes a description of the manner of its floating, and finally we have the wider setting, haru no kawa, “spring’s river” — the spring river.  Given all that we need to include, one can hardly do better than Blyth’s rendering:

A piece of wood,
Bobbity, bobbity, floating down
The spring river.

I would alter it slightly, keeping the slight intuitive leap required by the original, and more of its brevity:

A piece of wood
Floating bobbity, bobbity;
The spring river.

I have kept Blyth’s very fitting “bobbity, bobbity.”

What is striking about Blyth and this verse is that he intuitively understood the principle of Yang and Yin in hokku, though he never mentions it.  He says merely that what Meisetsu saw “is the piece of wood in its relation to spring, its restless tranquillity.”  Blyth adds that “In any other season it would have no meaning.”

That is precisely in keeping with hokku as I teach it.  The strength of this verse lies in the bobbing, active motion of the piece of wood on the ripples and dips of the spring river, a motion expressing Yang energy as it manifests in the liveliness of spring, which is the season of growing Yang.  That is precisely why the “restless tranquility” of the bobbing piece of wood would, as Blyth correctly stated, have no meaning in any other season.

By “no meaning” in any other season, Blyth meant that the bobbing energy of the floating peace of wood on the river is in harmony with the active energy of spring.  In summer, when the Yang energy is much steadier and stronger, it would not have the same meaning, in fact it would lose its harmony with the setting, and the same could be said for the declining Yang of autumn and the strong Yin of winter.

This is a very subtle point, and that Blyth grasped it without ever openly discussing the principle behind it shows his remarkably intuitive understanding of the aesthetics of hokku.

Those who are regular readers here will recall past discussions of the principle of harmony in hokku, as well as of the principle of Yin and Yang.  You may also have noted that this verse is a “standard,” hokku, meaning it has a setting, a subject, and an action.

A piece of wood
Floating bobbity, bobbity;
The spring river.

The setting is the wider environment in which something takes place.  Here it is “the spring river.”

The subject within that setting is what the poem is “about.”  Here it is
“a piece of wood.”

The action is movement or change.  Here it is “floating bobbity, bobbity.”

 

David

TAIGI AND THE FALLEN BLOSSOMS

Today’s hokku is a spring hokku by Taigi.  To get the meaning of it in English I will take some liberties, then explain the original:

Everything swept up
Is cherry blossom;
The evening temple. 

The original says “Dust/rubbish all cherry-blossom; temple’s evening.”  But if we say, as  Blyth does…

The temple evening;
The dust is all
Cherry blossoms.

…then that sounds odd to American ears, because we do not use “dust” to mean also “rubbish,” as the British do.  They have their “dustbin,” but we have our  “garbage can.”  Blyth, of course, is using “dust” here in the British sense, to mean [in this case] all the debris fallen to the ground – twigs, dead leaves, etc.  But when we say “dust” in America, we tend to think only of tiny particles of dry dirt, etc — that fall out of the air or that blow up from the earth.  That is why Blyth’s “dust” is not the best translation in American English.  But “rubbish” or “garbage” is too severe.  That is why in my version, I have used the overall meaning of the hokku rather than a literal translation of its words.

As for the hokku itself, in spite of being a spring hokku (the time of increasing yang), it has an overall feeling of yin — of age and decay.  The setting is the grounds of a temple at evening, and of course evening is a yin time of day.  Fallen cherry blossoms are also yin — they are dead, returning to the soil.  So in this hokku, paradoxically, we have both harmony of similarity (yin evening, yin blossoms) and harmony of contrast (spring, withered blossoms).

It is a hokku of impermanence.  Only a short while earlier people had flocked to the temple grounds to see the beauty of the blossoms.  Now they are just “yard debris” to be swept up and disposed of.  But nonetheless, we get the feeling that the fallen blossoms are a “richer dust” than the usual sweepings.

We could even translate the verse like this:

The temple evening;
All the sweepings
Are cherry blossom. 

 

David

LE PRIMAVERA COMENCIA: SPRING BEGINS

Creder lo o non, le primavera ha comenciate.  Hodie es Candlemas, anque nominate Imbolc.  Le celo es azure e le sol brilla.

Fire-bearers circle figures of The Green Man f...

Onitsura scribeva:

Le alba;
Al puncto del folio de hordeo —
Gelo primaveral. 

Iste es un hokku del comenciamento de primavera.  Le frigido hibernal non ha evanescite in toto, ma remane in le matino.  Ma ora le energia yin se reduce, e le energia yang cresce.  Nos vide le energia yang in le alba e in le folio verde de hordeo, e nos vide le energia diminuende de yin in le gelo al puncto del folio, que tosto va disparer quando le sol ascende.

Iste hokku de Onitsura monstra ben como hokku exprime le natura de un saison del anno — aqui le primavera.

Nos vide tamben que le hokku es dividate in due partes:  un parte longe e un parte curte.  E le hokku tene un scena — le alba, un subjecto — le gelo, e un action — le remaner del gelo al puncto del folio de hordeo.

In le photo on vide le Homo Verde (le primavera — le energia yang del saison) qui lucta con Jack Frost (le gelo del hiberno — le energia yin).  Iste es un celebration anglese de Imbolc — del comenciamento del primavera.

David

Believe it or not, spring has begun.  Today is Candlemas, also called Imbolc.  The sky is blue, and the sun is shining.

Onitsura wrote:

Dawn;
On the tip of the barley leaf —
Spring frost. 

This is a hokku of the beginning of spring.  The cold of winter has not vanished completely, but remains in the morning.  But now the yin energy diminishes and the yang energy increases.  We see the yang energy in the dawn, and in the green leaf of the barley, and we see the decreasing energy of yin in the frost on the tip of the leaf, which soon shall disappear when the sun rises.

This hokku of Onitsura shows well how hokku expresses the nature of a season of the year — here, the spring.

We see also that the hokku is divided into two partes:  a long part and a short part.  And the hokku has a setting — the dawn, a subject — the frost — and an action — the remaining of the frost on the tip of the barly.

In the photo one can see the Green Man (the spring — the yang energy of the season) fighting with Jack Frost (the frost of winter — the yin energy).  This is an English celebration of Imbolc — of the beginning of spring.

David


THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR

Every year I like to post this article again to mark that time when one feels the change in the air that marks the beginning of summer’s wane into autumn.  It is a day when one palpably feels that suddenly the energies of the season have weakened, that the active Yang energy of summer has begun to give way to the growing Yin energies that will take us first into Autumn, then Winter.  It happens at different times in different places.  I never know ahead of time on what day in August it will come here, but I certainly felt it this morning.  The Wheel of the Year has turned; the decline into Fall has begun.

In her bittersweet children’s book Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt writes:

 

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn.”

It is the way of Yin and Yang — whenever one reaches its maximum, it begins to turn into its opposite.  And that is where we are now in the turning wheel of the year.  The hot and bright summer having reached its peak — “the top of the live-long year” — the days have now begun, almost imperceptibly, their decline into autumn — the time of growing Yin.

This is when the hokku of Kyoroku comes to mind,

August;
First on the ears of millet —
The autumn wind.

We stand looking out on a field of millet still in the quiet midst of August.  Suddenly a cool wind, almost a mere hint of wind, stirs the heavy seed heads that bend in a gentle wave.  And we suddenly realize that it is the wind of autumn, and summer is ending.

What a world of significance in that verse!

That is the subtlety of  hokku.  We express all of Nature in a single, small thing-event.  And in expressing Nature, we express our own nature as well.

You will find that I repeat certain things again and again, and one of those things is the importance of harmony and unity in a hokku.  In this verse the maturity of the summer matches the maturity of the ears of millet, and suddenly we see a manifestation of this aging — the first sign of decline, the first coolness of the wind that speaks of autumn.

When I say the wind “speaks of autumn,” I mean that in hokku, when the writer gets out of the way, removing the ego from the verse, Nature is able to speak, sometimes in the wind, or the water, or the rain, or any number of things.

Returning to harmony, here is a hokku I wrote:

The tall tree
Cut up in a heap;
Summer’s end.

When you read it, see it, feel it.  Can you sense the harmony of elements, the ending of summer, the formerly tall and green and growing tree all cut up into a drying heap of wood?  Can you feel the change in it, the transience that is inseparable from existence?

That transience is an essential element of hokku.  It is what makes Babbitt’s book so filled with that mixture of near sadness and almost lonely wistfulness that the Japanese called sabishisa. It is the knowledge that nothing in life is permanent, everything changes, nothing abides, that all of existence is in constant movement and transformation from one state to another, endlessly being born, growing, dying, changing.  It manifests in the withering of a leaf and in the eons of evolution that have carried life through ceaseless transformations, as Loren Eiseley reminds us in his book The Immense Journey:

The truth is that we are all potential fossils still carrying within our bodies the crudities of former existences, the marks of a world in which living creatures flow with little more consistency than clouds from age to age.”

We find the same feeling in Marcel Pagnol’s comments that sum up the ending of his childhood in Le Château de ma MèreMy Mother’s Castle:

Le temps passe, et il fait tourner la roue de la vie comme l’eau celle des moulins.”

Time passes, and it turns the wheel of life as water does that of a mill.”

And he finished with these words:

Telle est la vie des hommes.  Quelques joies, très vite effacées par d’inoubliables chagrins.  Il n’est pas nécessaire de le dire aux enfants.”

Such is the life of man — a few joys, very quickly erased by unforgettable sorrows.  It is not necessary to tell that to the children.”

So now we must prepare ourselves, as summer is coming to an end, for the arrival of autumn, a season filled with the sense of things passing and aging and changing, and thus filled with the spirit of hokku.

 

David

 

 

IT’S ABOUT TIME: THE HOKKU YEAR

The seasons are very important to hokku.  But when we look a bit closer, we find we have both formal and natural calendars:

The old traditional European calendar — now a formal calendar — was divided into four seasons, each with a festival at its beginning, its middle, and its end.  The end point also marks the beginning of the next season.  I give it here using traditional English and Irish names.  The notation “The first week” indicates that the day on which it begins had some variation in old usage.

Spring:

Begins with Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1st.  1st week of February.
Midpoint:  Spring Equinox, March 20/21.
End:  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 — the Summer Solstice, June 20/21.
End:  The evening before Lammas (Harvest Home — Lughnasa pr. LOO-nuh-suh), August 1.  1st week of August.

Autumn:

Begins with Lammas (Harvest Home — Lughnasa), August 1.  1st week of August.
Midpoint:  Autumn Equinox, September 21/22.
End: the evening before  Samhain pr. SOW-uhn), November 1, marked by Halloween on October 31st.  1st week in November.

Winter:

Begins with Samhain, November 1st.  The 1st week in November is marked by Bonfire Day.
Midpoint:  The Winter Solstice  Midwinter’s Day — Great Yule, December 21/22.
End:  The evening before Candlemas (Imbolc), February 1st.  The 1st week in February.

We can simplify the traditional calendar for the purposes of hokku:

Spring:

Spring begins:  Around February 1st.
Spring deepens:  Around March 20/21.
Spring ends Around May 1st.

Summer begins:  Around May 1st.
Summer deepens:  Around June 20/21.
Summer ends:  Around August 1st.

Autumn / Fall begins:  Around August 1st.
Autumn / Fall deepens:  Around September 21/22.
Autumn / Fall ends:  Around November 1st.

Winter begins:  Around November 1st.
Winter deepens:  Around December 21 /22.
Winter ends:  Around February 1st.

Now you may be thinking that makes no sense.  Spring, where you are, may begin in May!  The preceding calendars are “formal” — the first astronomical and the second meteorological.   But in hokku, with its lack of artificiality, we may be flexible and informal.  The seasons are not the same in all places.  Winter comes earlier in mountain regions than in lowlands, and spring comes later.

The so-called “meteorological calendar” recognizes, for example, that though the time of maximum sunlight comes at Midsummer, nonetheless its effects are not felt until some four weeks later.  That shifts the seasons, loosely speaking, by about a month.  We then have a calendar like this:

Spring:
Begins:  March
Midpoint: April
Ends:  May

Summer:
Begins:  June

Midpoint:  July
Ends:  August

Autumn / Fall:
Begins:  September
Midpoint:  October
Ends:  November

Winter:

Begins:  December
Midpoint:  January
Ends:  February

Given these different approaches to the seasons, which is the writer of hokku to follow?

The answer is simple.  Use the traditional formal calendar for times and seasons and celebrations, and with that, use a “natural” and flexible calendar that  reflects the seasonal changes of Nature where you are.  We all know that spring does not really begin punctually on February 1st or March 1st or at the Spring Equinox in the natural world.  If you first see sprouts and buds poking through the earth some time in February, that is when your spring begins.  If it happens in March, that is when your spring begins.  Go with the natural climate and weather where you are, which may be very different from the natural calendar of other people living in other regions.  Some very warm parts of the world may have only two main seasons, a dry season and a rainy season.  One is their “summer,” the other their “winter.”

I live in a temperate and moderate climate much like that of the British Isles, so it is no problem for me to follow the old traditional calendar, with Spring beginning with its first signs in February — though in some years, February can be a very cold month.

The traditional calendar provides a pleasant way to maintain a connection with our ancestors and their seasonal times and celebrations, but we should pay close attention to the “natural” calendar where we live as well.   So we can celebrate the important old “Quarter Days” — the Winter Solstice (Great Yule), the Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice (Midsummer’s Day), the Autumn Equinox — and we can also celebrate the old “Cross-Quarter Days” — Candlemas, May Day, Lammas, and Samhain (marked by Halloween the night before).  But in addition, we always keep a close eye on what is actually happening in Nature, and on when it is happening.  That is our real guide to the seasons in hokku.

So here, without attached dates, is the “natural” calendar of hokku, which you apply to each year and region a bit differently.  But the order remains the same:

SPRING:
Spring begins
Spring deepens
Spring departs

SUMMER:
Summer begins
Summer deepens
Summer departs

AUTUMN / FALL:
Autumn begins
Autumn deepens
Autumn departs

WINTER:
Winter begins
Winter deepens
Winter departs

See how very simple it is?  When you see the signs of spring beginning in Nature, that is when it begins for your hokku.  When you see it advancing, that is when spring deepens in your hokku.  And when you begin to see the changes that signify its ending and the transition to another season near, that is when spring is departing in your hokku.  Just apply this principle to each season.

THE YIN AND YANG OF THE SEASONS

The principles of Yin and Yang and their interactions and transformations give us the seasons of the year.  You will recall that Yin is cold, Yang warm.  Yin is passive, Yang active.  Yin recedes, Yang advances.  Yin is wet, Yang is dry.  Yin is still, Yang moving.  Yin is silence, Yang is sound.  Yin sinks, Yang rises.

Remembering also that when Yin or Yang reaches its farthest point — its maximum — it begins to change into its opposite, we are now ready to look at the real calendar — the seasons according to Yin and Yang.

Midwinter is ultimate Yin.  At this point Yin reaches its maximum and begins to change into its opposite.  Yang first begins to grow within it.  So Midwinter is a pivotal point, the lowest on the turning wheel of the year.

Its opposite is Midsummer, when Yang reaches its maximum and then begins to change into its opposite.  Yin begins to grow within it.  So Midsummer also is a pivotal point — the very height of summer, when it then begins its long decline into winter.

The Spring Equinox — a time when day and night are of equal length — is nonetheless a time of growing Yang, because it comes after Midwinter.  Yang continues to grow until Midsummer, when it then begins to change into its opposite.

The Autumn Equinox — again a time when day and night are of equal length — is nonetheless a time of decreasing Yang and growing Yin, because it comes after Midsummer.  Yin continues to increase until Midwinter, when the cycle begins again.

We see, then, that the seasons are in constant change and movement as Yin and Yang interact with one another.  As Yang increases, Yin declines.  When Yang reaches its ultimate, Yin begins to increase within it, and Yang declines.  This is a perpetual cycle, the turning Wheel of the Year.  We can look at the seasons like this:

Winter: Yin
Spring:  Growing Yang
Summer:  Yang
Autumn /Fall: Growing Yin

So we see there are two Yang seasons — spring and summer — and two Yin seasons — autumn and winter.

All of this has profound significance in hokku.  Hokku is the verse of the seasons, so whatever the apparent subject of a verse, the real subject is the season in which the verse is written.

That means every hokku should manifest and express the qualities of the season.  That is why in spring we may talk about budding flowers, in summer about the heat, in autumn about falling leaves, and in winter about snow.  These are just some very obvious examples of seasonal manifestations.  The seasons actually manifest themselves in hokku in a multitude of ways, which is why the possibilities for hokku are endless.

David