Thursday, April 14, 2011

Matsuo Basho's "Spring Rain" Haiku

Today in Boston it almost looks as if spring might be on its way--sunshine, buds, and calm breezes. One must be careful about making such a claim, because in Boston it can be 65 and sunny today and 30 and snowing tomorrow. We call it April.

Regardless of the fickle New England weather, it is time to bring in some seasonal poetry. There is no better poetry for this than haiku, one of the hallmarks of which is to include a seasonal reference.

If you are familiar with haiku, then you probably know something of the work of Matsuo Basho, the most famous poet in this form. Let's look at his poem "Spring Rain:"

Spring rain
leaking through the roof
dripping from the wasps' nest

Matsuo Basho

I've searched for the original Japanese for this poem, but haven't found it (let me know in the comments it you do). So we'll look at it in English, which is easy enough with a good translation.

Like any good haiku, this one contains a kigo, or seasonal reference ("spring rain" and "wasp's nest"). It can be a word or phrase, and it doesn't have to be direct; it can be something like green leaves for summer or footprints in the snow for winter. It also alludes to a moment of satori, which is a transient and powerful experience of the unity or "oneness" of all things, especially a oneness with nature.

The rain "dripping from the wasps' nest" is what makes this a fantastic haiku. This form of poem shouldn't just communicate pretty moments in time, though that's difficult enough for a poet to capture well. It should be complicated and pull our minds deeply into exploring the world of the poem. It should beautifully haunt us.

The rain leaks through the roof, from which hangs a wasps' nest. The rain runs through or around the husk of the nest, then is pulled by gravity to the ground. Or on the speaker's head. Maybe a drop of spring-wasp-nest-rain splashes on the speaker's head, who then looks up to find the nest. Perhaps the speaker was just thinking how wonderful it is that spring is here, and the rain will bring blooms and color and life, but--oh yeah--also wasps. Beauty is not without it's ugliness, just as the proverbial rose is not without its thorns, or the most beautiful people have their one physical "flaw" that enhances their beauty.

Perhaps the speaker recognizes the wasps not only as a nusiance, but as a part of the life that is being revealed by the fresh season. Here may be our moment of satori--the speaker is thinking of spring; then, with a single drop on the ground or on the head (like Newton?) the speaker is oh-so-transiently brought into unity with all surrounding life, facilitated with the presence of the springtime wasps. What separates, in this moment, the speaker from the rain, from the wasps, from the season, from the world?

And there is more, much more to do with this poem. Please add your reading of this poem in the comments-I would love to hear how others experience this haiku!


No comments: