Saturday, October 12, 2013

Carpe Diem Goes Back to It's Roots #2

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Halfway last September I started a new feature titled "Carpe Diem Goes Back to It's Roots" and the goal of that feature is to write haiku in the classical way. I love to share a new episode of that feature today. What does it mean "goes back to it's roots"? Well ... that the haiku has to be written in the classical way and that means:

1. Describe a moment as short as the sound of a pebble thrown into water; so present tense;
2. 5-7-5 syllables;
3. Use a kigo (or seasonword);
4. Use a kireji (or cuttingword);
5. Soemtimes a deeper spiritual or Zen-Buddhistic meaning;
6. First and third line are interchangeable and last but not least
7. No Self, avoid personal or possessive pronouns (I, me, my); it's an experience not how the poet feels about it.

As you can read at point 4, one of the rules is to use kireji (cuttungword). For this episode of "Carpe Diem Goes Back to It's Roots" I love to tell something more about kireji (cuttingword).

Kireji (lt. "cutting word") is the expression for a special category of words used in certain types of Japanese traditional poetry as is haiku. It's regarded as a requirement in classical haiku.
In English there is no exact equivalent of kireji and therefore it's difficult to define it's function. It is said to supply structural support to the haiku. When placed at the end of a haiku, it provides a dignified ending, concluding the haiku with a heightened sense of closure. Used in the middle of the haiku, it briefly cuts the stream of thought, indicating that the haiku consists of two thoughts hald independent of each other. In such a position, it indicates a pause, both rhythmically and grammatically, and may tend an emotional flavour to the phrase preceding it.

The most common Kireji used in classical haiku are:

ka : emphasis; when at end of a phrase, it indicates a question.
kana : emphasis; usually can be found at a poem's end, indicates wonder.
- keri : exclamatory verbal suffix, past perfect.
- ramu or - ran : verbal suffix indicating probability.
- shi : adjectival suffix; usually used to end a clause.
- tsu : verbal suffix; present perfect.
ya : emphasis the preceding word or words cutting a poem into two parts, it implies an equation, while inviting the reader to explore their interrelationship.

How to use Kireji?

Haiku consist of 17 japanese syllables or onji, in three metrical phrase of 5, 7 and 5 onji respectively. A kireji is typicall positioned at the end of one of these three phrases.
When it's placed at the end of the final phrase (the end of the haiku), the kireji draws the reader back to the beginning, initiating a circular pattern. A large number of haiku, including many of those by Basho (1644-1694, founder of the "modern" haiku), and with either - keri, an exclamatory auxiliary verb, ot the exclamatory particle kana , both of which initiate such a circular pattern.

For example this spring haiku by Basho:

harusame no koshita ni tsutau shizuku kana

spring rain
conveyed under the trees
in drops

(Tr.: R.H. Blyth)

As you can see the first line "spring rain" is coming back in somewhat the same way in the third line "in drops", which makes this haiku circular.

Spring Rain

Another haiku by Basho in which you can see that same circular pattern is:

nan no ki no hana towa shirazu nioi kana

from what flowering tree
I know not, -
but ah, the fragrance !

(Tr.: R.H.Blyth)

Placed elsewhere in the haiku, a kireji performs the paradoxical function of both cutting and joining; it not only cuts the haiku in two parts, but also establishes a correspondence between the two images it separartes, implying that the latter represents the poetic essence (or hon'i) of the former, creating two centres and often generating an implicit comparison, equation, or contrast between the two separate elements.

For example, this haiku written by Chora (1729-1780), a contemporary of Yosa Buson (1716-1783):

yamadera ya tare mo mairanu nehanzoo

a mountain temple;
no one comes to pray
at the Nirvana Picture

(Tr.: R.H. Blyth)

In this haiku you can see that the 'ya', (dividing kireji), at the end of the first phrase, divides the haiku in two parts.

Mountain Temple

Another example of this kireji which cuts the haiku in two parts. A haiku by Buson:

hina-mise no hi wo hiku koro ya haru no ame

as they were putting out
the lights of the doll shops,
the spring rain

(Tr.: R.H. Blyth)

In this haiku you can also see the place of the 'ya' it's placed behind the second phrase and so it divides the haiku in two separated parts, which by the way join eachother also.

Kireji in English?

In English we have no direct equivalent of kireji. Mid-verse kireji have been described as sounded rather than written punctuation. In English haiku kireji may be represented by punctuation (typically by a dash (-) or an ellipsis), an exclamatory particle (such as "how ..."), or simply left unmarked. For example, a semi-colon (;) cuts a sentence into parts, with equal emphasis on both parts.

An example of the use of a semi-colon in a haiku written by myself, your host:

first light
over the beach;
fishermen sailing home

(c) Chèvrefeuille, your host

A dash (-) emphasized and adds to what follows, another example written by myself:

colored mountains
at sundown - memories
of long gone days

(c) Chèvrefeuille, your host

For closure a haiku with an unmarked kireji at the end of the second phrase:

after the storm
the leaves lay down at last
autumn evening

(c) Chèvrefeuille, your host

Colored Mountain(s)

Kireji ... a classical must do in haiku, so the task of this "Carpe Diem Goes Back to It's Roots" - episode is to write a haiku in the classical way with the use of the rules above and specific attention to the kireji. Not an easy task I think, but I think that it challenges us all to look closer at the haiku we write.
So "break a leg", have fun and share your classical haiku (with the 'must do' kireji) with our Haiku Kai.

Of course I have to try it myself, if else ... I can not ask it you all (smiles).

"look at that granddad !"
the little boy yells excited -
dew drops on cobweb

Another one:

broken sunflower
seeds spread all around his stem;
bringing joy next year

"Broken" Sunflower

Choose your own theme and share your classical haiku with us all here at our Haiku Kai. Have fun, be inspired and be like a classical haiku-poet.
This episode of "Carpe Diem Goes Back to It's Roots" will stay on 'til November 15th 11.59 AM (CET) and I will (try) to post a new episode of "Goes Back to It's Roots" later on that day.
!! This episode of Carpe Diem Goes Back to It's Roots is now open for your submissions !!


  1. What an absolutely amazing write-up Kristjaan! I'm speechless to be honest. Your haiku as examples were smooth...smooth....really classical.

  2. What a challenge.. this was just an awesome article.. you really challenge us with your great classical haiku.. so difficult.

  3. so grateful for all the knowledge you (try to) impart to us.....I learn every day from you and this community....Your classical haiku examples are stunning.....