Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Haiku Handbook 5

On the relationship between the haiku and its object, Higgins writes (in The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku), in the context of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), probably the most famous of all haiku poets:

One of Basho's disciples explains that to be genuine a poem must contain the spontaneous feeling that comes from the object itself. In effect, the poet's first job is to share in the essential nature of the thing written about. Basho's disciple goes on to say that just as a mere "look at" an object is not enough to produce the deep seeing that begins inspiration, so the writing of a mere description cannot capture the essence of an object the writer's mind has penetrated. Basho says, "In writing do not let a hair's breadth separate your self from the subject. Speak your mind directly; go to it without wandering thoughts. (10)

The directness, which is such an obvious (and sometimes such a surprising) feature of haiku, is explained by Higgins:

Having shared in the life of an object, the writer must share this life with others through the medium of words. But these words must connect directly to the writer's mind, that is in turn directly connected to the object. This, the expressive stage, logically comes after the perceptual stage. But, as Basho clearly says, the two stages ideally occur as one. In the final poem, both the language of the poem and the mind of the poet should be transparent to the reader, who, on reading the poem, should see directly into the inner life of the object as the poet did. This is the ideal of Basho-School haiku, an ideal almost all haiku poets since have striven to attain. (10)

In other words, identification, directness, and transparency; a movement from perception to expression, and from the event to the writer and, ultimately, to the reader.


  1. Thanks, Paul! :-)
    Allow me to share the most famous haiku by Basho:

    The old pond:
    A frog jumps in-
    The sound of water

    (Translated by Blyth)