Basho in Leiden

Doing some research to finish an article about the Dutch in Japan during that nation’s closed era (about 1641 to about 1853), I came across a photo of a Basho haiku painted on a wall in the delightful city of Leiden in The Netherlands – and now can’t remember whether I walked past it 2 years ago or am now just thinking I did!

The Basho wall haiku in Leiden. Image: Tunbantia, via Wikipedia

ara yumi ya sado ni yokotau ama no gawa

a wild sea, 
and stretching out towards the Island of Sado,
the Milky Way

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), tr RH Blyth See more translations here.

This website about the Wall Poems Project has a page dedicated to Basho’s 1689 poem, which was painted by Jan Willem Bruins in 1994 using a paper version in Japanese characters as his guide. “While he was painting, he was spotted by a group of Japanese passers-by. Filled with adoration, they stopped to watch Bruins apply the characters in a slapdash fashion. They asked if he had ever done a calligraphy course. When he said that this was his first try, they paid their respects to the painter with a deep bow.”

The Wall Poems Project ran from 1992 to 2005, and includes this very graphic 1966 poem by another Japanese poet, Seiichi Niikuni (1925-1977).

Kawa mata wa Shū by Seiichi Niikuni. Image: David Eppstein, via Wikipedia

The two characters translate as ‘river sandbank’ with the left line being ‘river’. Niikuni was a longtime creator of concrete poetry.

The smell of haiku

The power of scent to raise a memory has been scientifically proven, as has the link between scent and emotion, one that perfumiers strive to tap into. This article in The Harvard Gazette explains the science: Smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to the other areas of the body’s central command for further processing. Odours go directly to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory – and the oldest parts of the human brain.

And although we list taste as one of the five senses, science says that everything we taste is by way of being smelled. No sense of smell, no sense of taste.

Here are some haiku I think convey the sense of smell very well, even if they almost all use the word ‘scent’! I hope you’ve enjoyed this four-part look at haiku that engage with the senses beyond sight, I’ve had fun putting it together.

fallen eucalypt …
the scent
cut into stove lengths

Jo McInerney
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

gentle rain
scent of the seedbed turning
a deeper brown

Katrina Shepherd
from Before the Sirocco (NZPS, 2008)

yellow roses
at Uji the fragrance
of roasting tea leaves

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to the haiku, written in 1691, is that as yamabuki flowers (Kerria japonica) have no fragrance, they must borrow smells from the roasted tea.

Uji was once one of the most important tea-growing areas in Japan. Read more here. It’s interesting to note that although the yamabuki plant is not a rose, its name is often used to mean ‘yellow rose’ in Japanese literature!

migrating geese –
her scent finally gone
from my pillow

Stephen Toft
from another country: haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer, 2011)

in the alleys
orange blossom scent . . .
the rest escapes me

Luci Cardillo
from Autumn Moon 2.2 (2019)

otoko kite heya nuchi suisen no nioi midaru

a man enters
the room, disturbing the scent
of daffodils

Yoshino Yoshiko, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

two boys giggle
as he enters the bike shop …
onion seller

Alan Summers
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

family reunion
bad breath
has a name

Roberta Beach Jacobson
from H Gene Murtha Senryu Contest, 2019

summer breeze
setting aside the book
to smell her hair

Makarios Tabor
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1, 2020

 

The touch of haiku

The sensation of touch – whether we’re touching something or someone or we’re being touched – is often an unrecorded sensation. We’re much more likely to respond strongly to taste or smell. But from the moment we’re born our vulnerable skin is wrapped in a textile or fibre, and we do that until we are dressed for the final time and our earthly remains commended to the elements.

Our skin is our largest organ and is constantly absorbing and classifying contact sensations. As I type this only my face and hands are exposed and I realise that I haven’t for a long time considered how my fingerpads feel the keyboard keys and what messages they’re sending to my brain. Given that I’ve been using typewriters and keyboards for more than 40 years, I might be forgiven for falling into non-observance but it’s a timely prod that I could well do to examine this facet of my haiku writing.

feet up
toes spread wide
I catch
8 tiny summer breezes

Anita Virgil
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

cat’s tongue
licks the Atlantic
from my damp skin

Doris Lynch
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

summer morning
the riverbed stones warm
beneath my feet

John Barlow
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

yu no nagori koyoi wa hada no samukara n

tonight my skin
will miss the hot spring
it seems colder

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to this haiku, written in autumn 1689, is that the poet gave the haiku to Toyo, the son of the innkeeper, as he was leaving the hot springs resort at Yamanaka, near Kanazawa. In her introduction to this section of haiku, Reichhold notes that Basho had become ‘infatuated’ with the young man.

drafty temple –
only the buddha
not shivering

Stanford M Forrester
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

mother’s ashes
the mountain wind
on my hands

Meg Arnot
Morika International Haiku Contest, 2019

my thumbprint
on this thousand-year-old pot
fits hers

Ruth Yarrow
from Montage

haguki kayuku chikubi kamu ko ya hanagumori

gums itching
the baby bites my nipple –
spring’s hazy sky

Sugita Hisajo, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

summer haze
on the small of my back
the feel of his palm

Patricia Prime
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

The sound of haiku

We are surrounded by sound all our waking (and sleeping) hours, some of it pleasant (birdsong), some of it discordant (emergency sirens). These haiku seem to me to use sound in interesting and sometimes inventive ways.

cello solo the owls in my bones

Tanya McDonald
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

morning sneeze
the guitar in the corner
resonates

Dee Evetts
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

pissing into a steel trough the muted boom of the bar

Stuart Quine
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

listen!
the skins of wild damsons
darkening in the rain

Caroline Gourlay
from Stepping Stones (BHS, 2007)

furu oto ya mimi mo su-nara ume no ame

a falling sound
that sours my ears
plum rain

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note for this haiku, written in 1666, is: What the Japanese call ‘ume’ is most often translated as ‘plum’ … but the fruit more closely resembles the apricot. Because the fruit ripens from mid-June to mid-July the rains of this time are called ‘ume no ame’ (‘plum rains’). Even ripe the fruit is inedible until it has been preserved in salty, sour liquid, similar to olives.

breastfeeding
the slow drip of rain
on the nursery roof

Vanessa Proctor
from Wishbone Moon

summer solstice
the measuring tape reels back
into its case

Carolyn Hall
from Montage

setsugen ya majiwarazu shite wadachiato

autumn night –
the sound of two white plates
touching

Yoshiko Yoshino, tr. unknown

through my stethoscope
the rumble
of the 8:15

Jon Iddon
from Stepping Stones

foghorns –
we lower a kayak
into the sound

Christopher Herold
from Montage

drought
my ears have lost
the creek

Sandi Pray
from Wishbone Moon

late-rising moon
each rock in the stream
has its own sound

Burnell Lippy
from Montage

The taste of haiku

Finding myself with some time on my hands I thought I would explore haiku that deal with our senses beyond sight. So there will be a themed post once a week for the next four weeks. I’ve had fun finding and selecting these poems, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

Taste and scent are and likely the most difficult senses to weave into a haiku. I catch myself writing ‘the taste of …’  far too often so then must stop and figure out another way of saying exactly that. It’s been fun discovering or re-discovering taste-sense haiku where the authors have found ways of making their poem bold, fresh and vivid.

sweetness
oozing from a fig
indian summer

Harriot West
from The Wonder Code (Girasole Press, 2017)

mononofu no daikon nigaki hanashi kana

warriors
the bitterness of pickles
in the talk

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note for this haiku written in 1693 says Basho has chosen to pair ‘daikon’, a large radish that is often pickled, with ‘nigaki’, meaning ‘bitter’. Both the pickles and the military men’s stories left a bitter taste. She believes the haiku also references the Japanese proverb, ‘the ambitious man eats strong roots’.

shimmering pines
a taste of the mountain
from your cupped hands

Peggy Willis Lyles
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

wood smoke
a little something extra
in the tea

Adelaide B Shaw
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

Valentine’s Day –
a cherry tomato
bursts in my mouth

Michael Dylan Welch
from Haikuniverse, Feb 14, 2017

carnival day
candy-floss kiss
on the ghost train

Ron C Moss
from the ‘Freshly Caught’ sequence, Kokako 2 (2004)

im-mi-grant
the way English tastes
on my tongue

Chen-ou Liu
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

no longer friends
the aftertaste
of imported ale

Polona Oblak
from A New Resonance 9 (Red Moon Press)

lovacore market
notes of diesel
in the chilled cherries

Lew Watts
from a hole in the light (Red Moon Press, 2019)

我味の柘榴に這す虱かな
waga aji no zakuro ni hawasu shirami kana

this pomegranate
tastes like me
enjoy it, little louse!

Issa

Translator David Lanoue says: In the prescript to this 1820 haiku, Issa recalls the legend of a mother demon who went about eating children. The Buddha recommended  she switch to a diet of pomegranates, which supposedly taste the same as human flesh. See R. H. Blyth, Haiku (Hokuseido, 1949-1952/1981-1982). In this hard-to-translate haiku, Issa catches one of his lice, and, instead of killing it, places it on his surrogate, the pomegranate.