I was reading haikus last night. A haiku – for those of you who don’t know – is a traditional, non-rhyming Japanese poem of 17 syllables, arranged in three lines of 5-7-5 syllables respectively.
The greatest – the first, the last and the only, some would say – haiku poet was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) but we’re not going to enter into a thorough discussion of his qualities right now because:
a) it’s getting on for midnight and I’ve got to go to work tomorrow, and
b) nobody’s first introduction to a poet or a style of poetry should be spoiled by literary criticism.
(You’ll just have to subscribe and wait until I revisit the topic.)
I love haikus because I love my poems evocative, ephemeral and emotive. The best haikus are capable of combining those three qualities within measly seventeen syllables.
(We’ll take this step by step.)
With plum blossom scent,
this sudden sun emerges
along a mountain trail
Wrapping dumplings in
bamboo leaves, with one finger
she tidies her hair
A weathered skeleton
in windy fields of memory
piercing like a knife
All Together Now
Seas slowly darken
and the wild duck’s plaintive cry
grows faintly white
All four haikus are by Matsuo Basho as translated by Sam Hamill.
You might also like: ⇒ Matsuo Basho on Classical Japanese Database: some of his poetry in the original, in Latin transcript & English translation ⇒ Matsuo Basho: Frog Haiku - in 32 different English translations in the Bureau of Public Secrets