Hass’ Buson

As a long admirer of Japanese haiku, I appreciate the way Robert Hass’ The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa introduces these three artists, particularly the way it tries to show how they relate to each other, both how they are similar, and, more importantly, how they are different. His introductions have certainly helped me to better understand different approaches to haiku.

For instance, Hass contends that “The religious sense in Buson’s art, if that is what it is, comes from his love of Basho’s poetry and of the Ch’an Buddhist poets and painters whome he studied and admired; it’s in his clear-mindedness and in his sense of alive of things and of their presence.”

As he also points out, Buson’s poems “are painterly in several senses. They are visually intense, many of them have a certain cool and powerful aesthetic detachment, and they are in love with color. There is a sense in them also of the world endlessly coming into being, as if it were brush strokes on white paper.”

These two observations probably help to explain why I prefer Basho to Buson, because, as I’m discovering more and more, my favorite poems generally have a spiritual element to them, especially it relates that spirituality to nature as in:


on the temple bell.

On one level this is certainly a very painterly poem, it’s hard to imagine anything more “painterly” than a butterfly, especially contrasted against a monotone bell, but much of the power of the poem stems from the sense that we, like the butterfly, wait to be awakened by the bell’s knell to our true beauty.

The appeal of the next poem may well be accounted for by love of caligraphy, a form of art I practiced for years until I realized that no matter how much I loved letters and alphabets, I simply lacked the self-discipline and the determination, particularly once I was able to produce a passable work, to continue with calligraphy, especially once I discovered the Mac and Adobe Illustrator.

Calligraphy of geese
against the sky
the moon seals it.

Of course, I’m also fond of the zen-like simplicity of certain Japanese and Chinese paintings, and to the extent that Buson’s captures that simplicity I admire in that art, it’s hard not to love:

Sudden shower–
a flock of sparrows

cling to the grasses.

Of course, as a long-time bird lover, Hardy’s “Darkling Thrush” was, after all the first poem I ever memorized, and my favorite Dickinson poems featured robins, it’s easy to see why I would be biased towards this poem. But in one swift bushstroke Buson seemed to capture the essence of sparrows.