“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”
This quote by William Wordsworth clearly transpires the true purpose of poetry. It is to know the flow of your thoughts & feelings and arrive at the source which inspires your abstractions to take a beautiful form.
Different cultures of the world have produced sublime poetries. But what can be called as the gift of Japan to the world is Haiku. It is a form of poetry which consists of three lines. What makes it interesting is the pattern of the poetry. The first line is composed of 5 moras which are the Japanese equivalent of syllables. The middle line is made up of 7 moras and the last out of 5. Moras are not exactly identical to syllables but can be used in the English version of the poetry, so a Haiku follows a 5-7-5 syllable pattern.
The central theme of Haiku is establishing a connection with the natural world; Sequences of events are narrated in the 5-7-5 pattern, which makes the readers picture the scene by letting lose their imagination in just a breath. A haiku is meant to focus on a very tiny moment in time and as the poet narrates the events of that moment, the reader instantly pictures the simplicity and the beauty behind those lines.
Over the centuries, there have been some great Haiku poets, one of the first being Matsuo Basho. Basho initially composed verses of 5-7-5 moras, which were called as hokku (later renamed haiku). Later another poet would add a verse of 7-7 pattern to Matsuo’s works. His work reflects the simplicity, which was inspired by nature. Basho’s phases of life are reflected in his Haikus. In his later years, which he spent travelling in Japan, the verses produced were less introspective as he began to greatly observe the world around him.
One of his most remembered and popular verse was written in 1686
“An ancient pond
A frog jumps in
The splash of water”
Kobayashi Issa was another greatly appreciated Haiku poet along with Basho. Some of the verses which were written by Issa depict the morose and melancholic phases of his life, like the time when he lost girl child. The verse reads
“This Dewdrop world
Is a dewdrop world
And yet, and yet”
Issa’s? Haikus are also inspired by some of the small insects and animals which include mosquitoes, flies, snails, toads, frogs, flees, fireflies, cats and bats. A fascinating element of Issa’s work were the sketches accompanying his Haikus.
Yosa Buson was a poet painter who was greatly influenced by Chinese poetry. His work reflects his personality as a painter. Buson’s work has also been inspired by the travels of Basho. His work is known to be closer to human affairs and have hidden stories.
“The old man
bent like a sickle”
Masaoko Shiki was one of the contemporary Haiku poets of the late 1800s, whose style of writing was greatly influenced by his illness. Shiki was suffering from tuberculosis. His poems highlight the contemporary life and were accompanied by sketches.
Far way, through
Leaves of dense autumnal tints”
“I propose that the ‘Western Haiku’ simply say a lot in three short lines in any Western language. Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture . . .” – Jack Kerouac.
Jack Kerouac, known for one his most popular books “On the Road”, was also a Haiku poet. His collection of Haiku adds up to more than 700 poems, which have been published in “The Book of Haikus”. Kerouac broke free from the traditional 5-7-5 rule of Haiku verses and produced verses which were longer in length. Some of his Haikus even have two lines.
“Walking down the road with dog
A crushed leaf”
“In my medicine cabinet
The winter fly
Has died of old age”
Many of the verses produced by Kerouac also reflect his interest towards Buddhism.
Richard Write was another Haiku poet who produced verses which were comforts to his illness. The Haiku gave him an inspiration during the time of his illness, when at any moment; the inevitable death could greet him. Many of the Haikus were written by Write while he was bed ridden. Through the medium of Haiku, Write’s perception about the Earth and nature changed. Initially he associated them with malaise. Then it changed to?
“I am nobody
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away”
Robert Hass is an American poet who is also known for translating and commenting on the different Haikus by the four grand masters of Haiku in his book, “The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa”. Did he write poems of his own? Why is it important to include him in the list of Haiku poets.
“Climb Mount Fuji,
but slowly, slowly” – Basho
Sanchez’s poems reflect her emotions behind the verses. The verses make the readers experience contradictory emotions at the same time. Her other poems have also been described to be metaphorical.
“You came warrior
clear your music
kissing our spines”
Lee Gurga is one of the most famous American Haiku poets today. His style has been described as self-aware. His haikus are a combination of philosophy with poetry. In an interview, he mentioned that Haiku reflects one’s self, the life that one has been living and how it affects them.
My parents visit
The son in prison”
Jane Hirshfield is among the prominent modern day Haiku translator poets who has shared her optimism for American Haiku. According to her, Haikus “bring body, mind, spirit, language, the infinite beings and weathers” together. Her book “The Heart of Haiku” talks immensely about this form of poetry and also about the life of one of the masters of Haiku, Basho.