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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A verse by Kit˘:

An old man
Hoeing the field,
His hat askew.

The young are often careful about their attire because of how they want to be perceived by others.  Even if they look scruffy and unkempt, they are purposely scruffy and unkempt, working to achieve "the look."  The old, on the other hand, are more casual, not caring any longer what others think, and knowing how worthless, in general, are the views of men.

In the original, the headgear is not exactly a hat as we know it, but here it makes a good transition of the verse into our culture.

The writer is very focused on the old guy, with field and sky as the setting.



Copyright 2007
David Coomler

Posted at 02:30 pm by hokku

Monday, April 23, 2007


Shiki, who marks the fork in the road where haiku began to separate from hokku, nonetheless wrote many verses that still qualify as hokku. 

One is:

On the sandy beach,
The long spring day.

It is rather awkward visually in English, however, with its short middle line.  It would be better as:

On the sandy beach,
A long line of footprints;
The spring day.

That gives us the feeling of the vastness of space at the beach combined with a sense of time and length in the line of footprints, and that influences how we experience the spring day.

Remember that hokku is nothing like poetry as we usually think of it.  The poetry of hokku is the sensory experience -- the seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling or touching that is conveyed to us through the verse, and that experience, that poetry, takes place not on the page, but in the mind of the reader, who experiences the sandy beach, the long line of footprints, the spring day.



Copyright 2007
David Coomler













Posted at 01:29 pm by hokku


A verse by Kit˘:

The forgotten tide in the hollows
Of the rocks.

Blyth, However, translated it better:

In the hollows of the rocks,
The forgotten tide.

It is better for several reasons.  It follows the order of the original -- seaweed, rock hollows, forgotten tide -- and the original order is better in this case because it follows the verse from "large to small," one of the techniques of experiencing a hokku.

After the tide goes out, the rocky shoreline covered with growing seaweed is exposed.  Walking across this area, we see hollows in the rock, and in those hollows we notice that water remains -- the tide that has now departed.  So this verse starts with the seaweed seen at a distance, then moves the focus closer to see the hollows in the rocks, and then we see the water -- the forgotten tide -- in the hollows.   That movement from "large to small" is more satisfying than the mixture we find in the first translation.  More satisfying in this case, we must note, because what is best varies from experience to experience.  Sometimes we move from "small to large," sometimes from "large to small," and sometimes we mix the order.

"Forgotten" is Kit˘'s way of reminding us that what we see is the result of the past, and through it we feel the unity of the tidepools and the sea.


Copyright 2006
David Coomler 

Posted at 09:50 am by hokku


As readers have noticed, you may now make comments on individual articles or ask questions by clicking on the "MAKE A COMMENT" link. 

Those of you who are students of hokku are welcome to use this to ask questions about your practice, about what is posted here, or about hokku in general, in addition to making any comments you might have.  Alternatively, you may also click on the "CONTACT ME" link and ask your questions privately.  There is, of course, no charge for studying hokku with me.

Some readers may not be students of hokku, but may enjoy reading the articles and verses nonetheless; I am also happy to hear from you, so feel free to comment when the mood strikes.

If your question or comment is about one of the older articles on the site, it is generally best to use the link on a more recent article, so it will be more easily called to my attention -- even though your question or comment refers to the older article.




Posted at 09:23 am by hokku

Sunday, April 22, 2007


A verse by Sh˘ha:

Spring rain;
The dripping of the willow,
The plum petals.

This verse expresses the nature of spring -- the rain that falls in drops from the willow tree, the petals that fall from the plum tree.  In this verse, everything is in motion, everything is changing, everything is transient.

Something is required of the reader in the last line, however,  the realization that the petals of the plum are falling like the drops from the willow.  That is why "petals" is used here rather than "blossoms," which would tell us that the blossoms are still firmly on the branches.  In the original the word used actually was "dust," referring to the fallen and falling petals rather than the blossoms, but "petals" conveys the meaning to the perceptive reader.  If we wanted to expand it for clarity, it would become

Spring rain;
The dripping of the willow,
The falling of plum petals.

If we were to follow the originally even more closely, it would read:

Spring rain;
The drops of the willow,
The petals of the plum.

Or we could say:

Spring rain;
Drops from the willow,
Petals from the plum.

That translation conveys Sh˘ha's meaning very well, but note that good punctuation is essential to understanding it.  Someone who writes haiku, with its lack of care in punctuation, might think mistakenly that the meaning of the first two lines is:

Spring rain drops from the willow

But that is not it, and that is why careful attention to punctuation in both writing and reading hokku is so important.

Copyright 2007

Posted at 09:59 am by hokku

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Nothing lasts, and already the plum blossoms are beginning to fall.

Buson wrote:


As each petal falls,

The branches of the plum

Grow older.


While they are blooming the branches look fresh and young.  But as the petals begin to fall, we see the twisted, black branches beneath; and the more the petals fall, the older the branches seem to become, and of course the passing of the blossoms adds to that effect as this brief moment of spring, like all things, passes.




Posted at 01:30 pm by hokku

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Each blossom --

One blossom's warmth

On the plum tree.


That hokku, loosely translated from Ransetsu, expresses how the plum is a kind of measure of the coming of spring.  Each opening blossom shows us the increasing  warmth of the early season.

Chora wrote:

How fragrant!

The unseen plum tree

Next door.







Posted at 08:22 am by hokku

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Hokku differs from most other kinds of verse not only in its form and brevity, but also in its seasonality -- when we write, we write only about the present season; and when we read hokku, we read them in season. This brings us more in harmony with Nature. Instead of being in the past, or anticipating the future, we live in what is happening in the present -- at least to the extent that our personal development permits.

Spring is a time of beginnings. It is the increasing yang of activity, growth, and warmth after the chilling yin, passiveness and silence of winter. We see this beginning in a verse of Issa:

At every door,
Spring begins with the mud
On the shoes.

The original actually says "at every gate" and it uses "geta," which are high wooden sandals, but I have "put it into American" so that it becomes an American verse.

The ice is past, the snow thaws and water flows. Where earlier the ground was hard with frost, now it is soft and oozes with the water of spring. We see this on the mud on the shoes left on each porch, outside the door of every house -- big shoes and the little shoes of children.

This mud on the shoes is the beginning of spring -- water and soil, all that is needed for life and new growth.


Posted at 03:08 pm by hokku


Only the sound
Of white camellias falling;
The moonlit night.

It is important to know that these are white camellias, as colorless and pale as moonlight. There is something remarkably pure about this recurring, gentle "plop" of falling blossoms in the night, the only sound to be heard from time to time in the deep silence.

It reminds us of Andrew Marvell's The Garden, only instead of

"Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade

Rank˘'s hokku reduces all things to whiteness amid shadows -- a white sound of white camellias in white moonlight.

David Coomler

Copyright 2007

Posted at 03:06 pm by hokku


Yaha wrote:

When the garden
Had been swept clean,
A camellia fell.

 This verse shows us that that there is something artificial about all our sweeping and cleaning, something ultimately pointless, yet we continue to sweep and clean, we continue to live our lives and do our duties. Yet the verse also shows us that the work really is not complete until the camellia falls, until Nature puts the finishing touches on our sweeping -- at least for the moment -- and then it all begins again.

David Coomler

Copyright 2007

Posted at 03:04 pm by hokku

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