Essentials for understanding: the Japanese Haiku
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Essentials for understanding: the Japanese Haiku



Chapter 1: AN APPROACH TO HAIKU

The very definition of haiku will cover not only its formal characteristic, but will also embody something so rich in beauty or tranquility or joy, which Basho (A classic Japanese poet.) noted: “From the ancient times, those with a feeling for refinement… find joy in knowing the truth and the insight of things.”

Remembering that the enjoyment that comes from haiku comes intuitively and immediately, rather than through logical reasoning:

On a withered bough
A crow alone is perching;
Autumn evening now.


We feel instinctively that the air is clear in Basho’s haiku; the sky hangs gently above the horizon like a cobalt mirror. There, against the tranquil background of the autumn; blue sky turning almost into deep black-purple, we can see the tall tree standing, distinct and still, above the gathering gloom of the autumn twilight, and a black crow perching alone on one of the withered branches. Loneliness is there, and the mystic power which holds us closely with an acute feeling akin to melancholic sadness, tinged with acceptance.

The three object mentioned--- the withered bough, a crow, autumn evening--- have the same feeling; we are moved by and impressed with this common emotion existing among those three, and only through them can we feel that emotion flowing.

Chapter 2: BASIC PRINCIPLES

A haiku can be a thing of joy to any reader for the same reasons that a sonnet can, although the techniques may seem so different.

This discussion will have two purposes: first, to organize and unify basic aesthetic theory in regard to haiku; and second, to demonstrate that haiku, far from being esoteric and purely Japanese form, incomprehensible to the West perhaps, however, it share the common ground with all the arts in an important, and significant manner.

1. Aesthetic Attitude

Let us suppose that a poet is looking at a rye field one sunny afternoon with two other friends, one a farmer who owns the field and the other an entomologist. The farmer is explaining how lovely and rich his field is and how many bushels of rye it produces every year. While they were talking, a red dragonfly passes before them, and immediately the entomologist notices it. Perhaps he classifies it as an idle mental exercise, and may even remark on its beauty out loud to his friends. The poet, standing beside them also saw the dragonfly and notices it; as it light on a blade of rye, as do the other two. He is immediately become interested in the dragonfly--- in its color, form, and quality.

This is occurrence was shared by three men. The farmer, in seeing the dragonfly, may have agreed with his friend the entomologist about its beauty, but it does not affect him. He is probably thinking of something else; perhaps he feels very proud of the rich rye field he owns. The value he placed on his field is directly referable; to what the price of the grain will bring him in the market place. His attitude might be called commercial.

The entomologist’s attitude is scientific. As soon as he sees the red dragonfly, he ceases seeing it directly, and sees it only as a part of his system of categories. If he had not recognized it, he would most likely have observed its characteristics by counting the number of its wings, legs and so on, in reference to his entomological knowledge, and tried to arrive at some sort of conclusion. As Allen Tate has concisely put it, the scientific statement is “about a thing, a person, an experience, which relates it to something else, not for the purpose of giving us intensive knowledge of the thing, person, or experience, in itself as a whole; but simply to give us, in varying degrees depending upon the exactness of the science under which it is viewed, the half-knowledge that limits us; to the control of its extensive relations.”

In contrast to these two attitudes, the poet’s is neither commercial nor scientific. His attention is directed not to his knowledge about the dragonfly, nor to the value of the rye field. He is interested in the object for its own sake. Furthermore, he is not aware even of how beautiful the object is or of how he is affected by it. An attitude such as this is aesthetic. I shall call it a haiku attitude.

This haiku attitude is a readiness for an experience for its own sake. The value of the experience does not lie outside the object as the value as the value of the rye field lies outside of the object for the farmer; for the scientist, the value of the dragonfly lies in the object, but not only as the object can be classified, generalized about, and relaxed. Nor does the aesthetic value lie in observer’s emotion about the object or in the emotion aroused in him by the object, as when the scientist casually remarked on its beauty. A poet, when he is being a poet, cannot make such statement. That is to say, he cannot interject anything of his personal or egoistic needs between himself and the experience; and it is interesting to note that Japanese critics and poets are most insistent upon the importance of this point.

As Otsuji, a noted poet and one of the greatest haiku theorist, puts it: “[We can enter the world of creation] when we are completely sincere and humble before nature, yet free and fearless; when we are never separated from nature; when we do not introduce idle fancy or fall into cogitation.” One aspect of sincerity and humility he calls for is the poet’s willingness to surrender cherished intellectual concept before the reality of this experience: “It is unnecessary to believe in some ideology or personal philosophy in order to compose haiku, since they contain ideas, there is a danger that the poet will compose haiku through logic, where pure feeling should be the motive.”

Basho notes that the poet must also surrender personal vanities and attitudes: “The verse of some poets tries to speak with charm but, on the contrary, is completely without it; the quality of charm is not to speak of charm…. Again the verse of some is over-ambitious and loses its sincerity.”

“[In the aesthetic attitude] what we call feeling is not human feelings like joy, sadness, anger, etc.”

For, Reiner Maria Rilke has said, “Verses are not as people imagine, simply feelings; they are experiences.”


When a person is interested and involved in the object for its own sake, then, a haiku attitude is formed. It is therefore said that a haiku attitude is a state of readiness for the experience which can be aesthetic. Without such an attitude it is impossible to have an aesthetic experience. However, the relationship between the attitude and the experience is not causative; when a person with a haiku attitude looks at an object, he does not necessarily have an aesthetic experience. Therefore I call it a state of readiness: of receptivity.

2. Aesthetic Experience

I have stated that a haiku attitude and an aesthetic experience are inseparable and co-exist, but a haiku attitude does not necessarily cause an experience to be aesthetic. Here the question arises as to the nature of the aesthetic experience, which has been characterized above as being among other things, single minded. By this, I meant: that during such an experience the observer has no awareness of himself as separate from what he sees or hears, from what he is experiencing. As he contemplates and experiences, he becomes submerged in the object, there comes in Coleridge’s phrase “a coalescence of subject and object” into one. As Otsuji has said, then “consciousness is completely unified” and “the poet’s nature and environment are one.”

John Dewey has called this state the “common pattern of experience: The outline of the common pattern [of experience] is set by the fact that every experience is the result of interaction between a live creature and some aspect of the world in which he lives.”

Otsuji has expressed almost the identical thought, indicating that the immediate experience is the aesthetic experience: “At the instant when our mental activity almost merges into an unconscious state--- i.e., the relationship between the subject and object is forgotten--- we can experience the most aesthetic moment. This is, what is implied when it is said, that one goes into the heart of created things and becomes one with nature.”

The “form of direct experience” is the realization of what the object is, in its unity and oneness, in and for itself.

3. Haiku Moment

Aesthetic contemplation is contemplation of an object and the object’s quality which the artist, in virtue of his funded experience, can experience. When an aesthetic contemplation is completed and the quality of the object is fully realized, the artist having felt the perception as the totality, this I call an aesthetic moment. At this moment, and indeed just prior to it: as we sense that it is about to come into being, “one’s feeling already has reached an enlightened, Nirvana-like harmony,” timeless since “the poet’s nature and environment are unified,” as Otsuji has said. This moment is common to all art. It is characteristic of the completion of the reading of, let us say, a full-length novel or as the hearing of a long symphony which does not end its effects immediately.

A haiku moment is a kind of aesthetic moment--- a moment in which the words which created the experience and the experience itself can become one.


Chapter 3: HAIKU NATURE

1. Form and Content

We may take it that the artist’s chief concern is to form, to create, to set before himself; an insight.

At this particular stage of the aesthetic process, he himself would not be able to say what he saw. He is perhaps aware only of what Bradley has called “a vague imaginative mass”: “Pure poetry is not the decoration of a preconceived and clearly defined matter; it springs from the creative impulse of a vague imaginative mass pressing for the development and definition.” The poet must yet strive to discover for himself what did he see, to formulate it, to create a form which will be his insight. Unless he does so, he may know he had an experience, but he will not know what it was.

[The poem] is a unity in which you can no more separate a substance and a form than you can separate living blood and the life in the blood. This unity… has various “aspects” or “sides”… if you can try to examine one; you also find it is the other. Call them substance and form, if you please, but these are not reciprocally exclusive…. They are one thing from different point of view, and in that sense identical.

Demands for special kind of content--- ideological, moral, doctrine, modern etc--- are generally based on the assumption that content is separable from form, and that indeed art itself is only a prettifying of some practical point of view to make it acceptable to the masses or to explain some aspect of the world of confusion in which we are said to live.

If we begin by thinking that it is ought to “explain” the human predicament, we shall quickly see that; it does not, and we shall end up thinking that therefore it has no meaning at all…. But poetry is at once more modest and, in the great poets, more profound. It is the art of apprehending and concentrating our experience in the mysterious limitations of form.

Let us deal briefly with the question of what constitutes failures in form--- briefly, since the primary reason for a failure in form is succinctly stated by Otsuji:

If one does not grasp something--- something which does not merely touch us through our senses but contracts the life within and has the dynamic form of nature--- no matter how cunningly we form our words, they will give only a hollow sound. Those who compose haiku without grasping anything are merely exercising their ingenuity. The ingenious become only selectors of words and cannot create new experiences from themselves.

The failure to have experience genuinely can manifest itself in many ways; the intrusion of the poet’s own emotion rather than an emotion arising from the experience; his desire to ride his pet intellectual hobbyhorse; an all too human vanity in wishing to be thought charming or profound; following a suffering to grasp the world of real insight.

2. Haiku Experience and Length

I know that when one happens to see a beautiful sunset or lovely flowers, for instance, he is often so delighted that he merely stands still. This state of mind might be called “ah-ness” for the observer could only give one breath-long exclamation of delight: “Ah!” The object has seized him and he is aware only of the shapes, the color, the shadows, the intermingling. In a brief moment he sees a pattern, a significance he had not seen before in, let us say, a rye field and a crimson dragonfly.

A crimson dragonfly,
As it lights, sways together
With a leaf of rye.


There is no time or place explicitly for reflection, for judgments, or for the observer’s feelings. There is only the speaking, impassioned object with its “extraordinary powers to set up echoes in the readers mind.” For Otsuji this is the most aesthetic moment, a true haiku moment:

At the instant when our mental activity almost merges into an unconscious state (i.e., when the relationship between the subject and the object is forgotten) we can experience the most aesthetic moment. This is, what is implied when it is said that one goes into the heart of created things and becomes one with nature.

To render such moment is the intent of all haiku, and the discipline of the form. It is dramatic, for it is the soul of drama presentation rather than a discussion. The images must be full packed with meaning, and made all significant, as the experience is in aesthetic contemplation. This, then, is the kind of experience that occurs frequently and that; the poet wishes to render, in all its immediacy.

Haiku then is a vehicle for rendering a clearly realized image just as the image appears at the moment of aesthetic realization, with its insight and meaning, with its power to seize and obliterate our consciousness of ourselves. Or rather, when a poet wishes to render such an experience, the haiku form seems supremely fitted for it, not because he writes or he wishes to write a haiku, but because of the nature of the experience.

To a reader that moment of inspiration or state of “ah-ness” comes from reading the haiku, as each word in it is experienced. During a breath’s length he reads tensions are harmoniously maintained in the rhythmic continuity to elevate his soul, and as he pauses at the end of the verse, a sense of beautiful completion arises, giving a feeling of perfect finality, no less exquisite than the state of “ah-ness” that the poet first conceived. In this way, a haiku re-creates the true image of beauty in the mind of the reader, as it was experienced by the poet. Thus the length of line may be expressed by the number of syllables that can be uttered in a breath during the state of “ah-ness.”

Now let us read in one breath lines from famous poets:

Under yonder beech-tree single on the greensward,
Couched with her arms behind her golden hair…

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
So proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Once when the snow of the year was beginning to fall,
We stopped by the mountain pasture to say, “Whose colt?”


These lines are a little long to be read at a breath. Next, let us try the following:

More precious was the light in your eyes than the roses in the world.

It was many and many a year ago
In kingdom of the sea

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.


These can easily be read in the span of one breath. Thus we find that the longest lines in English to be read at one breath contain between sixteen and eighteen syllables. This is true not only in English, but also in the other languages. For instance the songs written in the antique tongue employed by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey and by Virgil in the Aeneid are in dactylic hexameter. And in Evangeline, where the classic meter was imitated by Longfellow, the meter consists of five dactyls and a final trochee, varying the number of syllables from sixteen to eighteen. Therefore, we can say that the number of syllable that can be uttered in a breath makes the natural length of haiku. This is why it is written in seventeen syllables, matching the length of the experience.

3. Three Elements

As has been maintained, in haiku the poet usually attempts to present a speaking object, around which and in which he has had an experience; and this in a breath-length’s space. There are certain basic attributes of an object which serve to identify it and locate it amid the constant barrage of impressions which impinge on consciousness. Objects, that is to say, are located in time and space. Let us take an actual experience had by a poet.

Basho, let us say, was passing through a field one autumn evening and a crow on a branch caught his attention. Similar scenes had doubtlessly been seen by many people before him, but he is the one who made it a memorable event by forming his experience of it in the following haiku:

(a) 1:1:2:1 On a withered bough
(b) 1:1:2:1:2 A crow alone is perching;
(c) 2:2:1 Autumn evening now.

For him, the bough, a crow, and the evening are essential elements, without which the aesthetic experience cannot be formed. This is not to maintain that haiku can be broken into three disparate sections, for, as Otsuji warns us, “in discussing the method of expression, those who consider it by dividing the haiku into many parts are wrong.” For it is the relationship between these three elements which together creates the experience, and which appear one in each of the three lines of the haiku, that is the basic to haiku experience. They are:

Where On the withered bough
What A crow alone is perching;
When Autumn evening now.

The “where, what, and when” they are the properties which constitute that experience, the necessities to make that experience meaningful and alive. Without them the experience cannot be fully realized, nor can a haiku moment be created completely.

4. Relationship of the Three Elements

Although the three elements of object, time, and place are necessary for haiku, it is the relationship among them; unified as a whole that matters the most. A poet must see how the three elements exist, as one, and as a part of a whole, without which they do not become an experience but merely in relation to each other. In this case they were simply placed side by side or “gathered together.” As Basho says:

“Haiku should not be composed, as you do by gathering together two or three things. We should have all the three elements of haiku like a sheet of hammered gold!”

If we examine a well realized haiku, we will see that the three elements are so unified that they are immovable, therefore, no substitute is possible. There is an air of inevitability within, which Otsuji called a “Nirvana-like sense.”

The construction of these lines cannot be arbitrarily imposed by the poet; he cannot determine that he will end a line here and turn into the next line there. Rather, the aesthetic realization, forming itself in the group of words, pausing, going on, will determine the place for a turning, on its own and through the inner necessity of expressing itself. I do not mean to suggest here that the realization is some sort of magical power and regulator. Of course, while it has life, it does so because the poet experienced it. It is the poet’s own realization of the object that will control the forming of the lines and determine the points of termination, as well as, the beginning; which is the flow.

In Basho’s crow haiku, the turning occurs where the rhythmic flow within each element is formed; one line deals completely with one element. Let us name this type a “one-for-one” haiku. It is perhaps the simplest type of turning within a haiku and emphasizes the calm tranquility which is its tone. The impossibility of turning otherwise than Basho does can be tested by actually terminating the flow of the rhythm differently. For example:

On a withered bough, a crow alone
Is perching;
Autumn evening now.


The effect of the second line is to place too great emphasis on what the crow is doing, whereas it is the stillness of the crow that is harmonious with the mood of the poem, not its activity.

Let us take another example, to show how turning is determined by the inner necessity of a material quite different than Basho’s:

Brushing the leaves, fell
A white camellia blossom
Into the dark well.


In this haiku, one might ask why the turning takes place at the word “fell,” rather than the word “leaves.” Should it be written as follows?

Brushing the leave,
Fell a white camellia blossom
Into the dark well.


The poet might argue that the first version is better in order to obtain the traditional five syllables for the first line of the haiku, as well as to have a rhyme with the third line. However, a moment’s consideration will show that the “turning” should occur as in the first version, not for the mechanical reason suggested above, but rather for those arising from the material itself. This may be sought in the inner nature of the rhythmic flow within the element of “when,” which consist of the moment suggested in “brushing” and “fell.” The time element is the motif and heart of this experience. At first reading, the rhythm of the line seems very abrupt and harsh to the listening ear, as the two accented words come at the end of the line, but this apparent discord is appropriate to the action so characteristic of the camellia--- the surprising abruptness with which it falls. If we place the word “fell” at the beginning of the second line, this characteristic action, the soul of the haiku, cannot be fully created, and the essence of turning which is vital to poetry loses its significance. Let us try another version:

Brushing the leaves
A white camellia blossom fell
Into the dark well.


Aside from the lack of an element of surprise, I feel this version is quite flaccid and rather, soft. Further, the two action words which support and complement each other--- “brushing” and “fell”--- are weakened here, by their separation. For the leaves were brushed as the flower fell; the two action were simultaneous, but the version above does not suggest this. Again, it is this moment of the simultaneous action that is the heart of this haiku and that makes the falling camellia unique. Here is the fourth possibility:

Brushing the leaves
A white camellia blossom
Fell into the dark well.


The tone here on the last line, with its doggerel-like rhyme that seems to emphasize the “fell” action, again separated from its vivifying complement, makes the poem prosaic. There is nothing to distinguish this flower’s falling in particular from every other blossom which fell. The significant moment has not been captured.

5. Five-Seven-Five

In the haiku quoted already, it is noted that the turning occurs where it should by its own necessity, often coinciding with the completion of the rhythmic flow within each element. In other haiku, there is often an over-lapping, so that one element often occupies one line and continues into the sound, as in the plum-blossom haiku. In both types, the turning usually happens at the fifth and the twelfth syllable. This does not mean that the turning must take place in a 5-7-5 pattern in every haiku. And yet, when it does; it is because the material itself dictates the necessity for it, the resulting poem has a quality of balance and symmetry, of a well unified whole. It seems that the 5-7-5 pattern itself is a sense of harmony and balance, due to the kind of relationship that exist in length alone among the three lines. To take the first line of five syllables and the second line of seven syllables, it can be seen that one half of the first part goes into the second part approximately three times. This proportion of two to three is almost like the proportion of the golden section, which represents in art the desire for aesthetic balance. Lightner Withner, among many others, has described it as thus:

It seems to be true that the development of taste leads to a preference of proportion to symmetry…. But the cause of this is not the demand for equality of ratios, but a demand merely for greater variety. Symmetrical figures are divided into parts monotonously alike; proportional figures have their parts unlike. The amount of unlikeness or variety that is pleasing will depend upon the general character of the object, and upon the individual’s grade of intelligence and aesthetic taste. The ratio of the “proportion” is not fixed as is that of symmetry. It only serves as a very rough approximation, that the ratio of 3:5 can be said to represent the most pleasing mean between a too great inequality or variety, and a too great equality or sameness.

The harmonious effect of such a proportion seems eminently suited to the kind of experience that is dealt within haiku, while the concluding lines of five syllables, balancing as it does with the first line, adding the symmetry.

Let us consider the effect of an arrangement of 5-5-7 or 7-5-5 syllables, both of which patterns still adhere to the length of seventeen syllables as found in most haiku. While it is true that the ideal proportion of two to three is preserved, the sense of balance between the two five syllable lines is lost by their juxtaposition. Rather, either of the two patterns seems to suggest a stanza in a poem of several stanzas, and not the closed, self-sufficient pattern of contrast and identity that is the 5-7-5 order.

What kind of experience is in haiku, which seems to correspond to the formal, balanced pattern of 5-7-5 then? I feel that above all; a haiku experience, as any genuine experience, is an organization of perception; in itself, an experience or an insight, in Coleridge’s classic phrase, “order out of chaos.”

We are filled with “ah-ness,” with a sense that, indeed, this is the way it truly is, with the perfection of finality. For the art of haiku, as Aso has said, “is that of beauty arising from Harmony.” It is not “the art of passion; it is an art that attempts to grasp the intimations of things or the atmosphere arising from the tension of emotion rather than the emotion; itself. Consequently it is an art of synthesis rather than of analysis; of intimation, rather than realism.” Indeed, Otsuji advises that the haiku poet would do well to abandon the haiku, if he wishes to deal with materials which better dealt with in other forms: “A part of the field which haiku covered in the past should be surrendered as prose develops. At the same time there’s no obstacle that we can find to a haiku poet’s becoming a novelist or a dramatist.”

Chapter 4: CRYSTALLIZATION

The process of crystallization not only creates an organization among words, but its function also lies in selecting objects of a size and color; that will embody the intuition. Even on such seemingly small detail does form depend, for Louis Danz has said, “Form is that kind of organization to which nothing can be added and from which nothing can be taken.” And I would add: “in which no substitutions can be made.” For example, let us consider the following change in the crow haiku:

On a withered bough
A crane alone is perching;
Autumn evening now.


How noticeable is the changed effect, the loss of the gem-like crystallization. The aesthetic value of the crane in and for itself is no less than that of a crow; as Otsuji remarked: “I do not recognize the contention that natural object are either superior or inferior to each other.” However, the aesthetic significance of that value and meaning cannot be truly translated and brought out on a withered bough in an autumn evening, for the elements do not harmonize with each other in a single mood. For example, the intense whiteness of the crane in this subdued haiku of blacks and grays and fading light receives emphasis, but the reason for such emphasis in terms of the total perception is not clear. The proportion between the size of the crane and its bough is such that the object seems too large for its stand. On the other hand, substitution of “sparrow” for the “crow” immediately shows how too small an object is undesirable as well. The same may be said of the other elements, as can be seen in the following:

On a willows bough
A crow alone is perching;
Summer evening now,


It is needless to say that there is no color or mood harmony in this changed version, created with the green of the willow, the blackness of the crow, and the shape and voluptuousness of the summer evening and its light. Certainly a completely different haiku compared to the original, nevertheless it does not create its own mood for the objects do not adhere to each other with that absolute oneness of the original. What Basho experienced was the quality of the mystic profound alone-ness and the mood that comes with it. He created color and mood harmony without describing what it was; and he did it by presenting the particulars in which the experiential value of that quality resides. The following haiku shows how important a single color can become:

Piercing crimson red
Is the autumn setting sun
On the cockscomb head.


There is a violent and yet, restrained air here, filled with the fiery red of the setting sun forming on the stately cockscomb. Bathed in the flood of light, the cockscomb gains in the fierce touch of flaming beauty a visual richness just as the poet experienced it.

1. Haiku Art

The two functions of words--- namely, denotation and connotation--- I shall call their static aspects or sign function and their dynamic aspect or organic-force function. As words function dynamically, in poetry, they cease as in prose to stand for objects and concepts; rather as the force of crystallization binds them together, the words themselves can become the things they stand for. Herbert Read has put the matter succinctly: “Words are generally (that is to say, in prose) the analysis of mental state. However, in poetic composition words rise into the conscious mind as isolated object ‘things’ with a definite equivalence in the poet’s state of mental intensity.” To illustrate, let us consider that group of words can vary from meaningless juxtapositions to arrangements that deal only with their static aspects, to organizations which exploit to the full their dynamic, connotative properties. Any of these groupings can be put in a 5-7-5 shape as the following will show:

Juxtaposition: :mellow: Precious more the was
In the light eyes your all than
In roses the world.

Each word here is static. It stands alone and independent. Since the group retains only its sign function or what may be called its noun meaning, and since none of its parts relate to each other, the group has no force as a whole. Let us relate these words to each other:

Arrangement: More precious was the
Light in your eyes than the
Roses in the world.

The meaning now arise from relating the denotative function of the words to each other. The group of words is shaped like a haiku, containing the three haiku elements of object, time, and place, and is sixteen syllables long; close enough to the ideal haiku length. But it is obviously not a haiku. Far from affording a vivid insight into a lover’s feeling, it is a banal in the extreme. Although it has a haiku shape, it is not a haiku form, for there is no feeling of organic force that holds it together. As Otsuji says, the words give only “a hollow sound”:

If one does not grasp something--- something which does not merely touch us through our senses but contacts the life within and has the dynamic form of nature--- no matter how cunningly we form our words, they will only give a hollow sound. Those who compose haiku without grasping anything are merely exercising their ingenuity. The ingenious becomes nothing but selectors of words and cannot create new experiences from themselves.

2. Haiku Rhythm

Beyond cherry brumes,
Is the bell at Asakusa
Or Ueno that booms?


In reading this famous haiku by Basho, one cannot but feel the vibrating rhythm, rising from the aesthetic emotion. It is rhythm, not meter, of one kind with the mood and meaning of the experience. Here cherry brumes, holds all the charms and rich, echoing overtones of the temple bell. While listening to the inspiring gong, Basho wonders where the bell is being tolled and looks towards Asakusa and then, Ueno in marvel before the soft-pink mist of the blooming cherries. This aesthetic feeling seems to be the basic rhythm of the haiku, expressed organically in the sonorous echoes of the temple bell, tolled at evening, rising in a perfect circle, fringed with cherry mist and expanding in the air to the listening ear.

For it is not only in haiku whose appeal is to the ear, as for this one; rhythm is important. The unwary reader might suppose that when the subject matter of the verse deals with sound, the rhythm of the words in it becomes especially important. But whether, as in the crow haiku, the appeal is on the vision, or as in the camellia haiku, lies in the action, every haiku; in becoming actual produces its own rhythm as it creates its own form, true to the poetic experience. Since rhythm of the course arises from the relationships of the words to each other, it seems appropriate to consider haiku rhythm in terms of word order, which has been previously considered in terms of turning and spatial relationships. Let us take the camellia haiku as our example:

Brushing the leaves, fell
A white camellia blossom
Into the dark well.


In this haiku it will be noted how harmoniously the feeling in rhythm is expressed through the dual nature of language, its union of sound elements and thought elements, in a combination, moving as the poet’s feeling for the motion of the object--- the camellia in this case.

I shall call the former vertical rhythm, which is the rhythm of aesthetic feeling to become the pulsation of experience in temporal order; it is expressed through the tone quality of the sound of words and through patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables.

Horizontal rhythm signifies the rhythm of thought as the meaning of experience externalized in temporal order through words. It is measured or counted by the number of syllables in accordance with the flow of thought in each line, or from one line to another. Its characteristics of rhythm in each line I will call, for the sake of convenience, haiku measure.

Perhaps for the reader whose experiences in poetry have been confined mainly to English will object, that what I have termed horizontal rhythm is applicable only to a language like Japanese, which, lacking stresses and unstressed syllables, must depend on some other means of rhythm formation, such as syllable count. He may feel that in English, with its pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, such a concept of rhythm divorced from meter will either be so tenuous as to be negligible or even completely inapplicable. Up to the time of the Imagist movement there would be little who would question his stand. Since then, for the majority of readers; rhythm was felt to reside only in regularity of the meter, and rare was the poet whose numbers did not sweetly flow in metric measures. So firmly indeed, did meter grasp all other possible rhythmic elements in poetry; that an Evangeline was perhaps inevitable with its insistent dactyls galloping over every line like; a mad rider beating his horse to death, it was from such tyranny that the Imagist revolted, for the “idea that cadence should be substituted for meter… was at the very heart of the Imagist creado,” according to Hughes.

Ezra Pound trumpeted: “As regarding rhythm: [we wish] to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, and not in the sequence of a metronome.” For they felt that the high price of conformation to a regular meter resulted in the mechanical deadening of poetry, and that other rhythms were possible, which would “correspond exactly to the emotion or shade of emotion to be expressed,” as Pound went on to say. Such correspondence can be independent of meter, as John Hubert Scott has said: “Rhythm in general and in all its finest manifestations is independent of meter.” For rhythm depends upon “the feeling… arising from the content,” in Otsuji’s words. My stand is that the rhythm of the thought-flow should be the primary consideration and that vertical rhythm (i.e., stressed and unstressed syllables) should vivify and make a live experience in the poem. Vertical rhythm or meter is not the primary rhythmic factor in poetry. The relationship between the two rhythms is not like of a Christmas bauble on the holiday tree, but much more organic, like the blushing of a beautiful face.

It may be interesting at this point to consider how the Japanese met the problem of gaining interesting texture in the rhythm only from the horizontal elements in their language. According to Otsuji, Japanese poet has depended upon two methods: repetition of line patterns in the longer tanka or waka form of groupings of syllabic combinations in the shorter haiku form.

In Japanese, words of one, two, three, and four syllables predominate…. Possible word combination of two and three syllables or vice versa, or three and four syllables or vice versa are the most common…. The lack of possible variation from stress must be compensated for in Japanese by various syllabic combinations. In waka the first two lines of five and seven syllables were repeated, with a line of seven syllables to gain variety. In a shorter form such repetition is ineffective. If repetition of two and three syllables or three and two syllables is used, still this method is like a child’s play. Variety arising from syllabic combinations rather than from repetition as in waka is the necessary element. Therefore if one wishes to select common yet rich syllabic combinations, the combination of a seven-syllable line with two five-syllable lines, or two five-syllable lines with a seven-syllable line comes to mind. When either of these combinations is rearranged to gain the greatest variety, the result is 5-7-5 combination.
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