Unravelling the mysteries of Japanese poetry


I have continued with my studies of Haiku, in the hope of getting closer to the mindset that led to its creation and evolution. As I become more familiar with the works of the classic writers, I am beginning to slowly understand why its allure has lingered.

Just in case, I gave the wrong impression, in my previous blog on the subject, that I did not like Modern Western Haiku, this is far from the truth. I was just blurting out what was probably already obvious to most Haiku writers, that Western Haiku has evolved its own flavour. I was just acknowledging aloud, my belated discovery, at the difficulty, in keeping to the “Pure” approach, given the linguistic and cultural differences.

Personally, I enjoy the challenges and joy of reading and writing Western Haiku.

I was recently reading the translated works of Basho Matsuo, the venerated Japanese Haiku master, assuming that what I have read was indeed a good translation of his thoughts; I was struck with the simplicity of his approach. It was clearly intended to be more than just poetry; you could almost feel his quest for the ultimate truth. Below is an example that I particularly like:



summer grasses-
all that remains
of warriors’ dreams


Here, I feel that Basho was shining the light on the nature of reality.
Apart from the artistic aspects of his creation, he was clearly following Zen Buddhist principles of logging his observations of the world hoping to get closer to the ultimate truth of nature. I was left with the impression his writings were part of his personal quest for perfection and enlightenment.

I came across a quote, which I believe is attributed to Matsuo Basho that I forgot to take note of and cannot remember its source. Anyway, it went something like:

“In a lifetime, to have written 10 “real Haiku” is a great achievement.”

Basho clearly thought very highly of Haiku and the privilege of being able to make such observations.

If someone comes across the actual quote, I would be grateful if you could, please, post it as a reference for me. Thanks!

Before I pen off, I will leave you with another attempt at trying to capture the Haiku mindset.

Here is my attempt at what I believe fits the most acceptable definitions of Western haiku. If you want the most efficient use of minimalist words approach, you can remove the “strikethrough” words without losing the essence of this observation. The “kireji” which is the juxtaposed line is the first line, and the “kigo” meaning seasonal word is the third line.

I believe this is how the rules work for modern Western haiku. Please comment or share your thoughts if you feel that I am still not getting the idea.

That’s my thoughts for today on Japanese Poetry. From a curious mind.

Back to school

The empty classroom
is almost always crowded
when holiday ends

J M Lysun


4 thoughts on “Unravelling the mysteries of Japanese poetry

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