Selected Haiku: Masaoka Shiki

I’ve long been an admirer of good Haiku, as opposed to much of what passes for Haiku. So, it was a no-brainer for me to order the recently published A House By Itself: Selected Haiku: Masaoka Shikafter reading that Shiki’s ideas have dominated modern haiku since his death. My experience with Haiku has generally been limited to the Classical masters, so I was eager to see how modern Haiku differs from classical haiku.

The opening essay, which takes up nearly a third of the book, certainly gave me a better understanding of Haiku than I’ve had in the past. I was surprised to read that Shiki’s “great contribution to haiku was sharei, or ‘sketching from life,” this in contradistinction to the prevalent subjective, imaginative, even fanciful approach to composition.” This came as a bit of shock to me as I’ll have to admit that I always assumed this was true of Classical haiku. I always thought that a particular scene directly inspired the haiku. For Shiki, “Most important was fidelity of the poet to Nature, i.e., reality. To be shunned was empty imagination divorced from observable reality.”

Later Masaoka introduced the concept of “selective realism” where the poet’s individual taste/creativity determines what part of the scene is described. He continued to refine his concept with the introduction of “makoto, or ‘poetic truthfulness.’” “The poet is to experience his inner life as simply and sincerely as he is to observe nature…” Finally, I find his attempt to fuse poetry and painting particularly appealing.

I only wish more of his haiku had been included in the collection. There’s only about a hundred of them included in the collection, but since I liked so many of them I’m assuming that the translators, John Brandi and Noriko Kawasaki Martines, picked what they considered the best poems for this selection.

It seems remarkable that I can so clearly relate to an author who wrote nearly a hundred and fifty years ago. I can easily imagine that he was hiking Sunrise on Mt. Rainier when he wrote:

After the fog clears
mountains
ten steps away

This haiku summarizes my frustration trying to capture the ocean in a photograph.

Oceans and mountains
way beyond
seventeen syllables.

These leaves
how they hold on
to the passing autumn.

Could easily have been written in my backyard where these maple leaves are still hanging on.

A Christmas Resolution

Way back in December of 2001 I posted my first article on my memories of Orson Welles and Bing Crosby’s version of The Happy Prince, a memory that had ceased to exist until I started thinking about what Christmas meant to me. Apparently, the tradition disappeared along with our 78 rpm recorder, probably when we moved from California to Washington.

At the time I couldn’t find a single version of the song in America, though apparently it was available in England. I’ve searched for the song intermittently since then. This year when I typed Bing Crosby “The Happy Prince” in iTunes I discovered “Timeless Stories” a collection of four stories with the original Bing Crosby version.

I made a resolution to listen to the song at least once a day until Christmas to counter the Black Friday barrage of ads, not to mention the saccharin Hallmark/Pixel Christmas stories I indulge in far too often.

Unfortunately, the story seems just as topical as it did when Oscar Wilde wrote it in 1888. Human nature being what it is, I suppose it is foolish to expect anything else. Still, it motivated me to make another contribution to UNICEF instead of the more traditional environmental causes.

Getting Back on Schedule Is Hard

It’s been a hectic but joyful week and a half around here. Tyson and his family stayed with us for nearly a week, and though the kids spent some nights at Dawn’s house we had five guests and two large dogs for company most of that time. More often than not we had more guests for dinner, including my brother and his wife. Preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for that many people would have been even more challenging if grandkids hadn’t volunteered when needed. After Tyson and Jen left, we drove to Leavenworth and spent the night with Cory and Margaret and family. After an arduous return Sunday, I collapsed around 7:00 PM and woke up an hour later in time to get ready for bed.

Now comes the hard work — trying to get back on schedule. Though I originally planned on getting up in time to get to the gym for a much-needed workout, we ended up getting out of bed around 8:30, too late for a workout before the mobs hit the YMCA.

With rain forecast for the entire week and heavy rains throughout the day, I decided I would delay my outdoor projects and try to get in some reading and writing. I did manage to finish A House by Itself: Selected Haiku: Masaoka Shiki, a book I purchased a month or two ago. At a hundred pages, I figured it would be easier to finish than The Book Thief which I’ve been reading on and off — mostly off — for nearly a month.

Reading is a constant in my life. I’m more addicted to reading than I am to TV. I can’t imagine not spending at least a couple of hours a day reading something, whether newspaper, magazine or online source. Increasingly, I spend more time reading blogs or stories from Facebook posts than I do reading actual paper books or Kindle books.

Clearly I am not as addicted to writing as I am to reading. Reading is fun; writing is work. Recently, for whatever reason, it’s been hard work. When I started this blog I wouldn’t have imagined reading a book without writing about it here. In the last few years, I’ve skipped writing about far more books I’ve read than I’ve written about books I’ve read. Not sure why that it is, but I’d like to reverse that trend if I can. I’m still convinced that good writing and good thinking got together.

A Break in the Clouds

Long, long ago in a freshman philosophy class at the University of Washington I was introduced to Plato’s concept of the Golden Mean. Surprisingly that became one of the great “Aha” moments of my life. Surprisingly because I was notorious in my family for my uncontrollable temper, not for an even temperament. At times I despised my boring, mundane life, longed for the dramatic life that so many favorite authors and poets had lived.

Nevertheless when I read that part of Plato’s The Republic, I knew that it was an absolute Truth and that it would become a guiding principle of my life — which is not to say that I instantly lived up to that standard. I like to think that it helped me to avoid some of the excesses of my generation, but serving in the Army, particularly in Vietnam, tended to lead to excesses, not restraint.

I’ve definitely mellowed over the years, not least of all because of those experiences in Vietnam. At 76, I’ve learned that there is always going to be more than enough suffering in the world, that bad will follow good, just as surely as good will follow bad. I’ve learned to look for good things even in the worst of times and not to allow the bad things to block the good moments out.

For the last month or so, one of the good things has been Lael’s high school swim team. After years of struggling at sports, Lael found her niche in swimming almost as if a gene had passed directly from my father to her. Throughout the season Lael has managed to improve her best time in every race she’s been in. As a freshman she qualified for Districts in all the events she could.

The competition got much tougher at Districts, but she improved her times both days of the event while managing to have a good time even while waiting for her events.

Though she was worried that she wouldn’t qualify for the second day of Districts when the field was cut in half, she again qualified for all of her events,

though we had to wait for the last event of the day, a relay, to see her get to the podium.

She didn’t qualify for the State Tournament but did go as an “Alternate” for her school’s Relay Team. I’ll have to admit she exceeded my expectations. Though neither of the schools I taught at had swim teams, freshmen seldom made it to Varsity in other sports, much less to Districts in individual events.