Since the April flowers have come and gone, the May flowers have been coming out and blooming one after another here in Akita. The other day Thorfinn Tait from the UK happened to see some Enkianthus flowers, called 満天星 (dodantsutsuji) in Japanese. He took a picture of the flower, deeply moved by its beauty.
Just as its Kanji characters show, Enkianthus has innumerable flowers like the innumerable stars in the sky. The following haiku is about this flower:
Kirameki ya dodantsustsuji hoshi no goto
Enkianthus has blossoms
as if they were stars
In May, I took a stroll in the woods in Akita. There I heard bush warblers singing in fresh green and I saw skunk cabbages growing in the marsh.
I felt as if I were in a natural temple, suddenly created in the woods, because it seemed as if there were bush warblers chanting sutra in the matins area, with skunk cabbages practising zazen meditation.
This strange natural sight made me hit upon the following haiku:
Uguisu no midori no kyo ni mizubasho
chanting in verdure
skunk cabbages sit
By ALEXANDER DOLIN
Japanese tanka and haiku are already well known all over the world and don’t need any special recommendations. Thousands of Europeans and Americans have joined the club of haiku lovers, hundreds tried to compose tanka in their native language. Numerous collections of poetic translations from the old and new Japanese classics in English, French, German and Russian flooded the book market. The staggering success of traditional Japanese poetry in the West might seem a miracle if we look back at the beginning of the XX c. when tanka and haiku were barely known in Europe and many Japanese were ashamed of their “imperfect” poetic tools.
Since the late 19th c. in the West poets, critics and readers at large split into two opposite factions regarding the appraisal of classical Japanese poetry.
One group would always treat tanka and haiku as exotic decorative genres quite alien to the glorious traditions of European poetry. The members of this faction, even those who liked Japanese civilization, remained very skeptical as far as the possibilities of traditional Japanese verse were concerned. G.Sansom, the most renowned expert in Japanese history and culture, even called Japanese poetic language “an elegant but ungrateful tool”. This attitude, which had influenced European “Japonisme” in the Arts, has been always rather typical of some Western literati who tended to regard Japanese artifacts and poems at large just as beautiful and trendy toys.
However the larger part of critics and readers would accept the Japanese poetic tradition as a mystical revelation full of sublime beauty, supernatural wisdom and unbelievable eloquence – something like a supreme poetic truth and absolute perfection that is a gem in itself, even if its translation looked like an ugly rugged rock.
In 1689, 320 years ago, Matsuo Basho visited Kisakata, Akita on the narrow road to Oku. He composed his haiku:
Kisakata ya ame ni Seishi ga nebu no hana
Donald Keene translated this haiku into English,
Seishi sleeping in the rain,
Wet mimosa blossoms.
In 2004 I visited Kisakata and composed my own haiku:
circling stone tablet
Shofu no kihi ni tachitaru manatsu kana
This haiku appeared in the Asahi newspaper’s Asahi Haikuist Network by David McMurray in 2004, who noted that “Hidenori Hiruta in Akita wrote his haiku in celebration of the 360th anniversary of Matsuo Basho’s birth.”
Now, in May 2009, I have just written another haiku, inspired by this picture of a mimosa tree in Kisakata:
roaming over the Net
Netto jo Basho no yume ya nebu no hana
― Hidenori Hiruta (Akita)