Friday, March 25, 2016

Carpe Diem #947 grass pillow

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

March is running towards its end and we have just a few days to go. This month we are exploring the haiku writing techniques which are used by one of the greatest haiku poets ever, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). In a way I see him as my sensei, because through his haiku I fell in love with this beautiful tiny poetry form from the far east. Let's go and explorer another haiku writing technique used by Basho.

The haiku writing technique we have today isn't an easy one to understand. Maybe you can remember our first series of CD-HWT at the beginning of last year. One of the haiku writing techniques I tried to explain was "sabi" ... and that's the haiku writing technique which we are going to explore here (again.). This is the haiku by Basho (in a beautiful translation by Jane Reichhold) which will be used to explain this "sabi".

dreaming rice cakes
fastened to folded ferns
a grass pillow

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

As Jane says about this haiku writing technique: "It is questionable whether this is actually a writing technique, but the concept is so vital to Asian poetry that it needs to be included".

Sabi refers to the passing of time, which creates a feeling of sadness, longing and melancholy. It's about transient imagery, how things convey how they've lived - their age, their knowledge. Sabi by itself refers to the natural progression of time, and carries with it an understanding that all things will grow old and become less conventionally beautiful. However, things described as "sabi" carry their age with dignity and grace. At the heart of being "sabi" is the idea of authenticity.


An example of a haiku in which "sabi" is used:

rocky spring
lips taking a sip
from a stone mouth

© Jane Reichhold

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.


I recall that I wrote a haiku in which I used "sabi" (and its "twin" "wabi"). I have "re-done" this haiku to which I am referring here to a tanka, which I love to share here:

wearing blue jeans
sign of happiness and freedom -
bleached with stones
jeans almost falling apart
can't throw them away

© Chèvrefeuille

Using this technique, the writer puts together images and verbs that create the desired atmosphere.

This episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until March 28th at noon (CET). I will (try to) publish our new episode, brush, later on. Have fun!

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