Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,
I love to introduce a new feature to you. Not a new challenging feature ... it's more a kind of background feature in which I will share articles about our beloved haiku and look closer to the shared articles, maybe I write a few articles myself. 'Just Read' is as it says ... just for reading and sharing knowledge to become a 'better' haiku poet. These articles are coming from haiku-magazines all over the planet and from the Internet ...
For this first episode I have a nice article about the 'crow'-haiku by Basho. It's written by Stephen Wolfe and I have tried to make it an excerpt.
TOWARD BASHO'S ZEN POETICS:
The History and Significance of Basho's Autumn Crow Haiku - Stephen WOLFE
In 1689, five years before his death, Basho wrote this final version of
this seminal haiku, which, according to many literary critics, ushered in modern haiku replete with
its subtle yet profound power. It represented a
revolutionary change from the shallow, pun-ridden, clumsy haiku of the Danrin School that held sway at the time. In the words of R. H. Blyth, this 'crow' haiku by Basho was the watershed in "the setting up of his own, indeed, the
creation of what we now call 'haiku.’
As an indication of the importance this haiku held for Basho in terms of
artistic expression and poetic aesthetics, this final version passed down to posterity was honed
through at least two previous incarnations. The original version of 1680 contained an even
longer ten-syllable second part:
The eventual change in the end of the second part from the kireji (cutting
word) ya in the original version to keri in the
final version tends to infuse the crow's action with a weightier sense of conclusion. Donald Keene points out that the significance of even
this initial version was immediately perceived and described as "one of the three verses of
our style" when it was included in a collection published in 1681.
The final version with its use of keri, in addition to slightly reducing the cumbersome
ten-syllable overload of the second part and adding a sense of finality to the crow's
action, adds another dissonant "k" sound to the already present kare,
karasu, aki and kure
to suggest the latent cacophonous cawing of the crow behind the silent, immobile veneer of this
haiku. One feels that the crow could at any moment swoop down from its solitary tableau, like
a figure breaking loose from the restraining stillness of Keats' Grecian Urn, to butcher a
helpless duckling or a still blind kitten with its sword-sharp beak. One is reminded of the way Bruce Lee
(whose son Brandon, in a bizarre stroke of irony, was killed in the filming of the movie 'The
Crow") would suddenly erupt from a yin meditative state to violent yang action to the accompaniment
of his own, piercing
shrieks. The words of this haiku denote a surface reality of silence and
stillness while connoting a lurking, reactive opposite. Basho's care in perfecting his crow haiku suggests that he was striving
for a breakthrough nuanced innovation that he hoped would chart a new direction for haiku.
Judging by the commentary of innumerable Japanese poets, scholars, and Zen
practitioners who saw in this haiku a whole gamut of Japanese aesthetic principles and expression, Basho was
successful. At this juncture a brief sampling of the critical acclaim lavished on this haiku
by leading literary authorities will serve to suggest its overwhelming importance in
defining a poetic genre that would eventually become synonymous internationally with the terse
profundity of the Japanese sensibility.
Typical of the hyperbolic commentary engendered by this poem is the
eminent haiku poet and scholar Miyamori Asataro's (1869-1952) conclusion that 'This is an
epoch-making verse which took the first step in the movement elevating the haikai to serious,
pure literature." Ota Mizuho (1876-1955), tanka poet and classical scholar, insisted that Basho
"was trying to produce a model verse for haikai of the future" and simultaneously sustaining
"an aesthetic of 'loneliness' handed down from the medieval waka tradition.”
Shimada Seiho (1882-1944), haiku poet and Waseda University professor,
asserted that it was this crow haiku that illustrated a basic tenet of Basho's poetic direction
which Basho described when he proclaimed: "Poetry of other schools is like colored painting.
Poetry of my school should be written as if it were black-ink painting." In a similar manner, Handa Ryohei (1887-1945), tanka poet and Basho scholar, describes this haiku as a prime example of the
Japanese aesthetic notion of shibumi, "the
kind of poem which emerges when the subject is stripped of all its glitter and reduced to its bare skeleton." It is the above
qualities that R. H. Blyth was
responding to when he maintained that this haiku is a masterpiece because "The
loneliness of autumn is thus intensified by the deathly immobility and colourlessness of the
Basho scholar and editor Yamamoto Kenkichi (1907-88) postulates that
'The aesthetic which the poet discovered in writing this hokku can be said to be a revival of the
principles of hie ['cold, icy beauty'], yase ['consumptive beauty, spare and slender'] and karabi ['the
austere, monochrome beauty suggested by the image of a dried flower'u] ." In short, this haiku has been credited with manifesting a plethora of key Japanese poetic principles and practices.
A significant part of Basho's motivation for seeking a new way of haiku
was his disgust with the contrived tricks and superficial artifice of the Danrin haiku of
his time. He asserted that the poet and object of the poem should merge with no room for poetic gimmicks or
stunts, "neither calculated unexpectedness nor posed picturesqueness." Basho's poetic creed called for the poet to express "unadorned nature" and "the complete identity
of the poet with the scene he has intuited." This quality is intimated in his famous artistic
decree, "Learn of the pine from the pine; of the bamboo from the bamboo."
"Without Wandering Thoughts"
He also expressed this notion when he urged his disciples, "In
writing do not let a hair's breath separate yourself from the subject. Speak your mind directly; go to it
without wandering thoughts." Higginson articulately sums up the poetic goal the
crow haiku attained, and why, from its inception, Basho's influence on haiku was to be so profound: ... both the language of the poem and the mind of the poet should be transparent to the reader, who, on reading the poem, should see directly into the inner
life of the object as the poet did. This is the ideal of Basho-School haiku, an ideal almost all
haiku poets since have striven to attain.
The origin of this haiku has become indelibly associated with a
legendary bit of Japanese literary folklore, the veracity of which has been debated over the centuries
since Basho's death. Whether or not the story is apocryphal, it indicates the importance placed on
this haiku in the annals of haikai history. Sakurai Rito
(1681-1755), a haiku poet and scholar associated with Basho's disciples, most notably Ransatsu, gave the following account of the
meeting of Basho with two other influential haiku poets circa 1680: As a leader -of the Danrin school Basho had been having a hard time, when Kigin,
feeling sympathetic, came for a visit and had a talk with him and Sodo over a
cup of tea. The three masters discussed possible ways to soften the excesses of the Danrin style,
and in the end Basho was urged to take leadership in the matter. Thereupon he wrote the
crow poem, saying it might point in a new direction.
The subject of this haiku is one that frequently appeared in Chinese paintings
and poetry. One notable example, among many, of this theme in Chinese poetry is
found in the opening lines of "Autumn Thoughts" by the Yuan Dynasty
poet Ma Chih-yuan:
"Withered vine/old tree/evening crow." This image was also found in the controlled sabi of Japanese waka, especially those of Saigyo whose influence on Basho
was enormous. However, Basho's poem effortlessly establishes, once again to draw on the words
of R. H. Blyth, a "perfection of unity" between "the expressed objective
and the unexpressed subjective." The overall effect is to create a sublime monochrome mood of tangible,
transcendent loneliness. Perhaps the quality that most significantly sets this haiku apart from
previous haiku and its Chinese poetic precursors, is what Henderson aptly describes as
"the principle of internal comparison." The disparate
elements in the haiku mutually reinforce and deepen the brooding overall mood. The barren branch, the blackness of the crow (akin in
symbolic richness perhaps to Melville's "whiteness of the whale"), and the deepening autumn
dusk, forge a shadowland operative on the plane of seasonal reality, and also serve as a glass
darkly through which is revealed an unrelenting sabi netherland. What Henderson refers to as this principle of internal comparison might
very well be the organic cohesiveness that Basho described as karumi when he wrote, "In my
view a good poem is one in which the form of the verse, and the joining of its two parts, seem
light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed." Basho urges the artist to remain, in Joycean fashion,
aloofly paring his fingernails removed from the crafting of any intrusive artifice. Poets,
scholars, artists and Zen masters alike have seen in the bare "suchness" of this haiku a
spectrum of metaphoric significance intimating a sublime darkside hovering beyond, again to use
a Melville phrase, "the
pasteboard mask of reality."
Poet of Eternal Aloneness
Zen Master Suzuki Daisetz, for example, describes Basho as "a poet
of Eternal Aloneness" and insists "there is a great Beyond in the lonely raven perching on
the dead branch of a tree. All things come out of an unknown abyss of mystery, and through every one of
them we can have a peep into the abyss." Suzuki goes on to describe how Basho's spirit of
Eternal Aloneness pulsating in this haiku encompasses "the chaste enjoyment of life
and Nature, it is the longing for sabi and wabi, and not the
pursuit of material comfort or of sensation."
What might seem gloomy as the subject of poetry, here radiates a beatific aloneness reflecting
the creative principle of the universe.
Basho's "feeling for Zen wanted to express itself in a type of poetry
altogether in the spirit of wu-shih, nothing special." At the time the 'crow' verse was written Basho was
consciously looking for the poetic beauty to be found in things not themselves particularly
beautiful." Basho, through his poetic alchemy, could extract the special and the beautiful from
subjects that seemingly, to those unable to tap into what Suzuki calls "the cosmic
consciousness," lacked these attributes.
Donald Keene points out that around the time this haiku was composed,
Basho was studying with the Zen Master Butcho and suggests that 'The flash of inspiration that
enabled Basho to detect in the quite ordinary sight of a crow alighted on a branch something of
universal significance is of course akin to the spirit of Zen."
The crow that Basho immortalized in this haiku has taken on a mythic
quality in much the same manner as John Keats' nightingale and Edgar Allan
Influence on Modern Haiku
This haiku has exerted another kind of influence on modern Japanese
haiku: Its relatively
unrestrained form has inspired haiku poets to be more flexible in their
approach to form. The nine-syllable second part has been seen by many modem haiku poets as an
indication of Basho's artistic liberation from a strict 5-7-5 haiku form. In the introduction
to On Love and Barley: Haikuof Basho, Lucien Styrk asserts that this haiku was proof that
Basho "dared ignore the timehonored elements of the form, including the
syllabic limitation." Styrk goes on to postulate that a new school of poetry
was deeply and directly influenced by Basho's experiments with form: So rare in the history of haiku was such license that three hundred
years on, a new haiku school, the Soun, or free-verse, school, justified its abandonment of
syllabic orthodoxy on the grounds that Japan's greatest poet had not been
constrained by such rules.
This "crow"-haiku had a considerable influence on modern American
To conclude this excerpt I will share the translation of this haiku by Basho which I love the most:
on a withered bough
basho (Tr. R. H. Blyth)
I hope you did like this article. It's just an excerpt and if you want to read the whole article, please let me know, than I will email you.
I couldn't retrieve a address or something to ask permission for using this article by Stephen Wolfe. So the copyright of this article stays at Stephen Wolfe. If there is a problem than please let me know.