The Dark Side of Life (In Nine Haikus)

It’s February, it’s cold, it’s dark, life is s**t for so many different reasons.

In other words:

It’s Time For Poetry

I could, of course, dig out something uplifting, like Odysseas Elytis painting an Aegean heaven. I usually do, at moments like this. But you know what, not tonight. After all, life is not all song and dance, and sometimes, just ever so often, you do have every reason to sit in a dark corner and howl. (Some of you might have a lot more reasons to sit and howl than others – rid yourself of the notion that life is fair.)


Not Cherry Blossoms or Moon Gazing

So tonight, seeing it’s February, it’s dark, it’s cold and life is s**t – how about a few downbeat haikus? Because if we’re going to be downbeat, we might as well do it in world class company. (It’s amazing how uplifting that can be, actually.)

The simple truth is that the human experience didn’t change all that much from the 15th century to the 21st, from Japan to Hungary [feel free to substitute your place of residence]. Contrary to popular belief, haikus are not all about cherry blossoms and moon gazing. No matter what your woe is, big or small, we can probably find a haiku to comfort you with…

Shall we try?

Sad Moment No. 1: Life Is Uncertain

Nothing in the cry
of cicadas suggests they
are about to die

(Matsuo Basho)

We could pontificate about this one, like pretentious philosophy professors in a first-years’ philosophy class at university. But we don’t want to kill poetry.

Instead, sit quietly for a moment and soak it up.

Sad Moment No. 2: Ill and Alone

With a runny nose
sitting alone at the Go board
a long cold night

(Buson)

Which one of us hasn’t been there (minus the Go board, possibly)? Very apt for a night in February.

Sad Moment No. 3: Growing Old

This dark autumn
old age settles down on me
like heavy clouds of birds

(Matsuo Basho)

The old pain of growing old. Only one pain is worse; that of never being able to grow old at all. While you’re feeling sorry for yourself as you approach middle age or retirement, spare a thought for those whom life takes far too young.

Sad Moment No. 4: Sweet Melancholy

Sweet springtime showers
and no words can express
how sad it all is

(Buson)

Sometimes you just have to wallow in a good dose of self-pity. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Sad Moment No. 5: When You Missed the Boat

The ferry departs
as the tardy man stands
in the first winter rain

(Buson)

Which one of us hasn’t, at some point in life, missed the boat – literally, or figuratively?

Sad Moment No. 6: The Past Hurts

A weathered skeleton
in windy fields of memory
piercing like a knife

(Matsuo Basho)

None of us can change the past. Whether you’ve done something wrong yourself or whether wrong has been done to you… it hurts. And the more painful your past is, the more likely it will come and haunt you. You can’t help entering its house of pain but you don’t have to stay there. Grit your teeth and pass through; don’t linger. You’ve still got the present, and if you’re lucky, the future too.

Sad Moment No. 7: When It All Gets a Bit Too Much

An evening cloudburst –
sparrows cling desperately
to trembling bushes

(Buson)

Hang on in there, friend sparrow. The storm will pass.

Sad Moment No. 8: Sadder than Sad

Quite heartbreaking, really.

In the winter river,
discarded, an old dog’s
carcass

(Shiki)

Sad Moment No. 9: Life is Futile

Summer grasses
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

(Matsuo Basho)

Power, riches, fame: it’s all vanity. When you leave this world, you’ll take nothing with you. The question is: What are you going to leave for your legacy?

A Few Poems by Odysseas Elytis (If You'd Like Something a Bit Sunnier)Aegean MelancholyOde to SantoriniOf the Aegean
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