Haiku and the Japanese Garden by Michael Dylan Welch



On May 18,2010, I received a comment on haiku by Roberta Beary for Int’l Haiku Spring Festival from Michael Dylan Welch as follows.


Nice to see these translations of Roberta’s poems from the book!




Since then we have been exchanging e-mails.


First of all, I would like to introduce Michael to you.


Michael Dylan Welch is passionate about poetry, especially haiku, which he has been writing since 1976 and teaching since about 1990. He has won first place in numerous poetry contests, and has had his haiku, senryu, tanka, and longer poetry published in more than a dozen languages in hundreds of journals and anthologies, including two Norton anthologies. He edited the quarterly haiku journal

Now I post his essay ‘Haiku and the Japanese Garden’ with my translations.

When I told him to take it up in our website, he sent me an e-mail on June 9, saying as follows.

Thank you — I would love to have you present that essay and your translations. You might also be interested to know that I recorded that essay on audio, with koto and shakuhachi music by Elizabeth and John Falconer, for the Seattle Japanese Garden audio tour. The track is available for online listening or download. If you go to http://www.seattle.gov/parks/parkspaces/japanesegarden.htm and scroll down to Audio Tour, there are links there to iTunes and RSS. Click either one to get a list of all the audio tracks. My recording of “Haiku and the Japanese Garden” is the second-last track (track 11). If your site also linked to this, that would be great. You can also click the “Audio Tour Liner Notes” link to get a description of all the tracks and the credits for the recordings. Thank you again!

And do let me know if I can answer any questions you might have as you do your translations.


Haiku and the Japanese Garden First published on the Haiku Garden Poetry Readings site in 2004, and also recorded for the Seattle Japanese Garden audio tour in 2009.There’s something poetic about a garden. Sometimes any garden will do, but a Japanese garden seems especially poetic. As you walk around such a garden in the flow of the year’s season’s, you may notice a fallen camellia blossom, a blade of grass set to swaying by a passing dragonfly, a drying oak leaf clinging to a mushroom, or frost sparkling on a bright red berry. These details inspire poetry the world over. In Japan, they often inspire a special genre of poetry known as haiku.  

               mountain morning— 

              all over the red berry bush 

              snow in tiny heaps 

Haiku seeks to capture these details, these brief moments of keen perception and intuition, recording them so that the poet and reader—or listener—might share and celebrate their universal authenticity.

              clicking off the late movie . . . 

              the couch cushion 



Haiku is a poetry of nature, but it is also a poetry of human nature. Haiku gives readers feelings, and shows human existence amid nature. Not all haiku are about beauty, but they are always about what is real. We have an emotional reaction to the poem’s image, sense perception, and seasonal reference. On reading a good haiku, we are mentally and emotionally moved to experience what the poet experienced, yet we do so without being told what to feel. We simply see it, touch it, taste it, hear it, and smell it through the words—and thus feel it. We leap into intuitively feeling and understanding what the poet deliberately left out of the poem so we could figure it out for ourselves. This is the magic of haiku, and the Japanese garden is an ideal place to make the most of this magic.

             winter wind— 

             kite string tangled 

             in the garden trellis

At a Japanese garden, you can walk around and notice the ponds, the bushes, the flowers, the fish, the birds. Or you can learn their names, notice their details, notice their seasonal changes. Bashō, the great Japanese haiku master, said to “learn of the pine tree from the pine tree, and of the bamboo from the bamboo.” He meant to ground yourself in the authentic, to be in the present, and to see the thing itself deeply and freshly, rather than your interpretation of the thing, and not to be distracted by what is going on other than where you are and what you are doing at the present moment. By writing haiku about what you sense in the garden, you can make the garden a more vibrant place, and by learning haiku that others have written and sharing them with others in the garden, you can also enrich the experience.

             tulip festival— 

             the colours of all the cars 

             in the parking lot

So what is haiku? It is a brief poem capturing a moment of deep perception of nature or human nature, using the techniques of pause or juxtaposition (kire in Japanese) and seasonal reference (kigo). The juxtaposition of two parts of the poem creates tension that the reader can resolve by figuring out their relationship. A seasonal reference grounds the poem not only in very real and present time but in the grand sweep of each season’s metaphorical associations, as well as to other poems that use the same seasonal foundation. You can compose haiku well by writing about things themselves rather than your reactions to those things.

              an old woolen sweater 

             taken yarn by yarn

             from the snowbank


Haiku is often misunderstood as a “form” of poetry, being merely anything that can be written in a pattern of 5-7-5 syllables in three lines. That pattern applies to traditional haiku in Japanese (although they count sounds, not strictly syllables), and is not used by the great majority of dedicated haiku poets writing in English. Also, the genre is too often tarnished by “joke” haiku that claim the name of haiku but nearly none of its highly developed aesthetics. Though haiku in English has been mistaught in schools as a “5-7-5-syllable” poem, such a focus on form, and an incorrect form for English at that, minimizes the much more significant characteristics of the two-part juxtapositional structure and the seasonal reference.

              morning chill—

             the bag of marbles

             shifts on the shelf


Haiku are typically rooted in objective description (avoiding metaphor, simile, and other rhetorical or subjective devices, including judgment and analysis), and always try to leave something out (often the feeling one experiences) so that it might be implied. It is thus much harder to write than its deliberately simple language would imply. As French philosopher Roland Barthes once observed, “haiku has this rather fantasmagorical property: that we always suppose we ourselves can write such things easily.”

              home for Christmas:

             my childhood desk drawer


In English, haiku objectively suggests a moment of here-and-now realization (an “aha” moment) about nature or human nature, or human nature in the context of nature, usually presented in three lines using no set syllable pattern. Haiku typically avoid using a title, rhyme, or other devices that call attention to the words themselves (or to the poet’s cleverness) rather than what the words signify. American haiku pioneer James W. Hackett gave good advice on this topic: “A haiku,” he said, “is like a finger pointing at the moon, and if the finger is bejeweled, one no longer sees the moon.” Indeed, haiku are not meant to be obscure or private, and should, as Jack Kerouac once wrote, be as simple as porridge.

              warm winter evening—

             the chairs askew

             after the poetry reading


Not only can a Japanese garden inspire poetry, but so can the rest of the world. Haiku is a means of sense awareness, of mindfulness, a poetic window to the suchness of the full range of existence. You can take haiku sensibilities cultivated in the Japanese garden and apply them to the rest of the everyday world, making the ordinary extraordinary as you write haiku and see the world with wider eyes.















私たちは詩のイメージ、意味の認識、そして季節への言及に対して感情的な反応をしめす。すぐれた俳句を読む時、私たちは詩人が経験したことを経験してみたい気持ちに精神的にそして感情的にもなります。しかし、私たちはどんなことを感じるべきか言われなくてもそのようにしているのである。私たちは言葉を通じてただ単に見、触り、味わい、聞きそして匂いをかぐのである ― そしてこのように感じるのである。私たちが自分一人で理解できるように詩人が詩の言外に入念に残したことを直感的に跳び込むように感じ取り、理解するのである。これが俳句の魔術であり、日本の庭園はこの魔術を最大限に活用する理想の場である。

冬の風 ―













朝冷え ―












温かな冬の晩 ―




The Japanese Garden Celebrates 50 Years!
Sunday, June 6th 2010

This three-and-a-half acre formal garden, located within the Washington Park Arboretum, was designed and constructed under the supervision of world-renowned Japanese garden designer Juki Iida in 1960. Since then it has won the hearts of locals who appreciate its artfully-placed trees, shrubs, flowers, stones, lanterns, ponds, paths and bridges that create a harmonious balance of northwest and Japanese garden design.


HOURS – 2010 Season

Feb 16 – Mar 21 – Tues-Sun – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mar 23 – May 2 – Tues-Sun – 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
May 3 – Aug 15 – Mon-Sun – 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Aug 16 – Sep 20 – Mon-Sun – 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sep 21 – Oct 17 – Tues-Sun – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Oct 19 – Oct 31 – Tues-Sun – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Nov 2 – Nov 14 – Tues-Sun – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

* Garden closing times are subject to weather, available light, and impacts of daylight savings time.

* Admission rates and Garden activities vary according with our events schedule.


I sincerely hope that you will visit Seattle Japanese Garden, and that you will enjoy audio tour by Michael, and write haiku. 

The next posting ‘Haiku by Narayanan Raghunathan’  appears on June 19.

― Hidenori  Hiruta

2 Responses to “Haiku and the Japanese Garden by Michael Dylan Welch”

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