Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Carpe Diem Haiku Writing Techniques #6 Sabi and Wabi

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

It's almost Wednesday again and that's "Haiku Writing Techniques"- day. As you maybe know we are exploring haiku writing techniques and this week I love to look closer at, what is called "Sabi" and "Wabi". For this week's Haiku Writing Techniques I have dived into Jane Reichhold's "Bare Bones School of Haiku", which you can download as an e-book at our Haiku Kai.
In "Bare Bones School of Haiku" Jane explains the origin and writing of haiku and (as you have read it already) in one of her lessons in this book she explains "Sabi" and "Wabi". I love to share that part of "Bare Bones School of Haiku" here with you all.

The Technique of Sabi

I almost hesitate to bring up this idea as a technique because the word sabi has gotten so many meanings over the innumerable years it has been in Japan, and now that it comes to the English language it is undergoing even new mutations. 
As fascinated as Westerners have become with the word, the Japanese have maintained for centuries that no one can really, truly comprehend what sabi really is and thus, they change its definition according to their moods. Bill Higginson, in The Haiku Handbook, calls sabi – "(patina/loneliness) Beauty with a sense of loneliness in time, akin to, but deeper than, nostalgia." Suzuki maintains that sabi is "loneliness" or "solitude" but that it can also be "miserable", "insignificant", and "pitiable", "asymmetry" and "poverty". Donald Keene sees sabi as "an understatement hinting at great depths"
So you see, we are rather on our own with this! I have translated this as: sabi (SAH-BEE)- aged/loneliness - A quality of images used in poetry that expresses something aged or weathered with a hint of sadness because of being abandoned. A split-rail fence sagging with overgrown vines has sabi; a freshly painted picket fence does not." As a technique, one puts together images and verbs which create this desired atmosphere. Often in English this hallowed state is sought by using the word "old" and by writing of cemeteries and grandmas. These English tricks wear thin quickly.

rocky spring
lips taking a sip
from a stone mouth


coming home
by flower

The Technique of Wabi 

The twin brother to sabi who has as many personas can be defined as "(WAH-BEE)-poverty- Beauty judged to be the result of living simply. Frayed and faded Levis have the wabi that bleached designer jeans can never achieve." Thus one can argue that the above haiku samples are really more wabi than sabi – and suddenly one understands the big debate. However, I offer one more ku that I think is more wabi than sabi because it offers a scene of austere beauty and poignancy.

parting fog
on wind barren meadows
birth of a lamb

As I look at these two very different ideas sabi and wabi than to me both describe a kind of atmosphere that has to be seen (or read) in the haiku. But that atmosphere isn't easy to catch with a few words, maybe these two ideas are more in use for Tanka, because than you have two more lines to give words to the atmosphere of the moment which you love to catch in your poem. However as I look closer to wabi and the example Jane gives in this description of the jeans than a haiku which I wrote for one of our older prompts "blue" comes in mind immediately.

Sabi or Wabi?
wearing blue jeans
sign of happiness and freedom -
bleached with stones

bleached with stones
jeans almost falling apart
can't throw them away

But this can also be sabi, because all new designer jeans are ragged or ripped ... and they sell ... So for these "torn apart" jeans I think you can use both ideas sabi and wabi.
Well ... it's a little bit strange Haiku Writing Technique, but it will challenge you I think. The goal is to write new haiku with sabi and/or wabi. Have fun!

This episode is open for your submissions tonight at 7.00 PM (CET) and will remain open until February 13th at noon (CET). I will (try to) publish our next episode, poppies, later on. Than will go on with the exploration of impressionism in haiku idea as impression.


  1. I enjoyed this post very much. Thank you.

  2. much appreciated info on wabi sabi

    much love...

  3. That was very interesting, difficult, but interesting

  4. Much to think about --- definitely a technique to revisit -- and revisit --- and revisit ---!
    As much a rearrangement of thought as a writing technique. :)
    Thank you for creating this prompt --