The Essential Haiku, End Notes

… more notes on Buson…

… i learn that:

  • the mountain cuckoo lives in deep forest, is often heard, seldom seen… the tradition is that nobody knows much about it, so secretive is it
  • a deer crying three times = fall

… i am finished with the notes on Buson… next is Issa, then i move on to other reading material…

The Essential Haiku, End Notes

… i was telling my brother and sister yesterday that i have found reading this book of Haiku has had a daily centering effect on me… in light of all the family trauma and drama going on right now, this has been useful…

… more notes on the poems of Buson…

… i learn that in Buson’s time, there was an annual doll festival held in the spring… this poem talks about it…

the lights are going out

in the doll shops—

spring rain.

… i wonder about the translation not relying on cultural knowledge of doll festivals happening in the Spring in Buson’s time, and so reiterating that it is spring in the third line… i suppose it is so obscure that western audiences need the help?…

… Bats flitting here and there: Hass relates this poem to The Young Housewife, a poem by William Carlos Williams… i look up the poem, find it slightly confusing, but understand the connection… a poem of longing, less clearly so in the case of Buson…

… i learn about a particular willow tree that has long poetic tradition, visited and written about by Saigyo, Basho, Buson… i am reminded of the catalpa tree in the graveyard… from there, i remember a comment on my photos utility poles and wires at the last Salon, comparing them unfavorably to R. Crumb’s drawings of the same subject… i look them up and find this short video slide show set to the music of Joni Mitchel’s The Big Yellow Taxi… i respect the person who made the comment, but, i don’t think they were right…

… hmm… from the haiku of Buson to the drawings of R. Crumb and music of Joni Mitchel…

The Essential Haiku, End Notes

… i’ve moved on to the notes on Buson’s haiku…

… Buson seems a more down to earth poet as i have observed earlier…

… i learn that erotic themes are not generally pursued in traditional haiku, Basho certainly doesn’t… Buson, perhaps, indirectly…

… i learn that leeks are a winter vegetable… i am growing leeks in my planter tanks… i look up when to harvest them… soon…

02 Buson Poetry:

… a poem cycle, about a beautiful young woman traveling home we are told… the willow tree is mentioned as it was yesterday… i am wondering about symbology of the willow tree…

… in Japanese myth and folklore, the willow is associated with ghosts1

… i look up river symbology in Japan, there is one article that talks about rivers representing the flow of life, which is so in many cultures… however, more generally water is significant in Japanese philosophy as one of the five elements of Godai…

水 Sui or mizu, meaning “Water”, represents the fluid, flowing, and the formless things in the world. Outside of the obvious example of rivers and the lake, plants are also categorized under sui, as they adapt to their environment, growing and changing according to the direction of the sun and the changing seasons. Blood and other bodily fluids are represented by sui, as are mental or emotional tendencies towards adaptation and change. Sui can be associated with thought, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.2

… i return to yesterday’s poem and realize the broad symbology of water is important, along with the willow tree… a woman seeks to keep the poet to her, asks him not to journey on with the flow of the river, but he views her as the one journeying on while he remains as the ghost by the river that cannot follow… it’s a poem about death?…

… today’s poem talks about a young woman journeying through her life to return home to the brother and white haired mother she left to be on her own… again, the flow of life, the journey metaphorical… life’s journey…

02 Meditations:

Buson poetry: Song of the Yodo River…

… on the face of it, a poem about a man and a woman, she asking him to moor his boat and stay with her, he saying she is the one on the move and he cannot follower her…

… i follow up on the Yodo river and Naniwa (what is now central Osaka)…

… what i find is minimal, economic facts and statistics…

… here is a Hokusai print depicting the Yodo river…

… the woman appears to be Chinese, writing in Chinese verse, the man appears to be Japanses, writing in Chinese quatrain format, but in Japanese language… is this a poem about the relationship between two countries, two cultures?…

… the poem is a little sad…

02 Meditations

Buson, long poems…

… Mourning Hokuju Rosen

… so it’s not haiku, but long form poetry… i read the first one about someone loved departed… the poet grieves the absence, it is unclear whether the one loved will return, just that they left and went far away… then there is the friend who lives on the other side of the river…

… i do some research and discover that the poem is about the death of Hokuju Rosen and the great sadness it brings him… i am not able to find much about Hokuju Rosen, it seems he was a master Buson studied under… the last stanza of the poem…

By the image of Amida, I light no candle

and offer no flowers. I sit here alone,

my heart heavy, filled with gratitude.

… Amida, I learn, is Amida Nyorai, the Buddha of Limitless Light…

 Amida Nyorai (Sanskrit: Amitabha Tathagata), the Buddha of Limitless Light, sits upon a lotus pedestal with his hands forming the mudra of meditation. Amida presides over his own paradise, the Western Pure Land, to which he welcomes any being who calls upon his name. His benevolent gaze, directed toward the viewer below, is symbolic of this boundless compassion. The Pure Land sects of Buddhism, with their emphasis on salvation through faith, stirred the imagination of both courtiers and commoners alike, and temples dedicated to Amida were constructed throughout Japan. Originally installed at a temple in the vicinity of Mount Kōya, this sculpture and the Dainichi Nyorai on the central altar were both acquired by the Museum through negotiations with Yamanaka & Co., the pioneering dealers in Japanese art.1

Public Domain photograph, via The Met, Fifth Avenue, NY

… i love the idea of a heavy heart filled with gratitude… contradictory feelings… Buson is sad to loose his teacher, but feels gratitude for his presence in his life…

02 Meditation

Buson Haiku…

… the very first poem i read is about cutting the last flower, a peony, from the garden… peonies are spring flowers and come relatively early… it is interesting that it is the last flower in the garden, unless it is a garden dedicated to peonies only… i suspect symbolism here, as it seems one always must…

Also known as the ‘King of Flowers’, the peony is a Japanese flower that is used as a symbol of good fortune, bravery, and honour. It is often used in tattoos to signify a devil-may-care attitude.1

… so, a poem about old age?… a life that has run out of good fortune, bravery, honor?… both?…

… a poem with bird symbolism and historical reference, written on his death bed, a winter warbler in the hedge outside and a reference to Chinese poet Wang Wei… is the winter warbler the same as the Japanese bush warbler?… if so, it is a harbinger of spring and rebirth in Japanese literature, film and art… Wang Wei was a famous Chinese poet from the Tang Dynasty period…

02 Meditations

Buson haiku…

… several poems land in this morning’s set…

… one about old man ears and the sound of rain falling down the rain pipe… my old man ears are listening to the rain hitting the pavement outside…

… another one talks about hearing the moon and seeing the frogs croak… what an odd displacement…

… several flowers are mentioned…

… white chrysanthemum…

Chrysanthemums have noble connotations, appearing on the Japanese Imperial Family’s crest for generations. But white chrysanthemums indicate purity, grief, and truth, and are used for funerals.1

… the peony…

The Japanese peony, considered the “King of Flowers,” has a symbolic meaning that includes wealth, good fortune, honor, daring and masculine bravery. The peony originated in China; around the eighth century, the Chinese introduced the peony to Japan.2

… the iris…

from dark purplish variants to their more pale, pastel violet hues, these are used to represent loyalty, having a noble heart, and good news.3

… i have plunged down a rabbit hole on haiku, reading more and more about what makes haiku, haiku… a lengthy article on the rules developed in North America for haiku content and structure and how those rules are contrary to the classic haiku traditions exemplified by Basho and Buson…

02 Meditation

Buson Haiku…

… the first poem stands out most to me today… a bottomless tub blowing around in the autum wind… it seems so contemporary, i can easily imagine the scene happening in the coming fall… what constitutes a tub for a poet writing in the 1700’s as compared to now would be interesting to see… it could be that the Japanese for tub has more of the time connotations… in English, it is still a much used contemporary term…

… another poem notes a Camellia falling into an old dark well… i don’t have an image in my mind for Camellia, so i look it up… it’s like a carnation and comes in a number of colors but most prevalently in pink or red… i wonder if it signifies anything to the Japanese and look it up… here is what i find in a guide to giving flowers in Japan…

 Among warriors and samurai, the red camellia symbolized a noble death. Otherwise, the red camellia means love. However, they don’t make good presents for people who are sick or injured because of the way the flowers “behead” themselves when they die.1

… the flower was popular during the Edo period in Japan… Buson composed poems in the heart of that period… with that information the poem opens up… the flower as symbol of an honorable death, or as symbol of love makes sense in the poem… the flower falling into the old dark well (death) could be a straightforward allusion to seppuku, which ended with beheading by a second’s sword… it could also be a bit more allegorical, the old well symbolizing the poet himself, the Camellia symbolizing love, taken together, finding love at an old age?… could there be a may/December relationship here?…

… it seems that when reading haiku one has to examine every word or phrase for it’s possible symbolism… what seems to be a straight forward observation of a moment can be fraught with implied meanings…

02 Meditations

Haiku of Buson

… i read more on haiku yesterday, trying to ascertain what makes a haiku a haiku as i continue to compose my own on a daily basis… many of the “rules” are broken these days, as they were even in the days of Basho and Buson, though more regularly now…

… of today’s six poems the first stands out because it shadows my own present experience… a grove in summer, and no leaf stirring, meaning no breeze, no relief, which is frightening?, such stillness is frightening, full of portent…

… i read yesterday that haiku’s are the capturing of moments of revelation, sudden understanding… i don’t think the Buson poems are this… i think they are renderings of momentary experience, any leaps being made are leaps into the moment… noting the moment, opens doors for further contemplation…

… another poem depicts the reflection of the moon on the water, which escapes the nets and ropes… a reflection of the moon, not the moon itself… why not look directly at the moon?… why not be in that moment?… something magical about light shimmering on the water… something magical about moonlight… i am reminded of Monet’s waterlily paintings, where what’s reflection and what’s not is a central theme… what is it about reflections that make them so enchanting?… surface of water, humankind’s first mirror?… still water… i wonder if, when we look in a mirror, we have memories of ancient still water mirrors programmed in to our brains… to apprehend the self, that it is self seen in the reflection, what kind of leap is that?…

02 Meditations

Buson Haiku…

… an old well with a fish jumping at the bottom of it… this reminds me of the “frog pit” at Madam Brett factory… a little square plumbing access pit, no more than 30” square, filled with water, and a frog living in it… such a circumscribed world… i wondered why the frog chose to live there… how it made a living… did it reproduce?… did it ever come out of the pit?… i used to visit the pit regularly until someone decided to seal it up… it seemed like a sacred place, an old well… i wonder how the fish came to be living in the old well?… did someone put it there?… this leads me to a childhood memory, when i discovered a live trout in a cistern on a property near the road… someone must have put it there, to keep it clean?… to preserve until a future dinner?…

… another of the poems describes the beyond-reproach nature of the pigeon and questions whether the mountain cuckoo is… a little research on the internet suggests that the cuckoo was often considered an ill omen, portending tragedy or doing the bidding of the restless dead as in this Kunisada print on the tragedy of the Soga Brothers…

… pigeons are a more benign bird in Japanese lore, encouraged on the grounds of temples and shrines where they are thought to assist the transmission of “hopes and prayers” to the appropriate deities… a woodblock print by Watanabe Seitei, “Ginko and Pigeons”…

… the depiction of pigeons with a Ginko tree, often depicted as Buddah’s Dragon Tree, is a significant indicator of the benign, possibly sacred, nature of the pigeon in Japanese lore… both Ginkos and Pigeons were encouraged on temple grounds1

… Ginkos are symbols of longevity, living as long as 1000 years2

… Ginko trees were among a number of tree species that survived the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and continue to live3

… well, this morning’s meditation turned into a bit of a research paper…

02 Meditations

Buson Haiku…

… i decide that two pages a day, generally six haiku, is better than 4 pages a day, generally 12 haiku… haiku may be brief, like the cherry blossoms in May, but, like the cherry blossoms in May, they can evoke endless reveries and are worth lingering with, to let them unpack a bit, before moving on…

… a poem about how the sun reddens plumb blossoms and moves on to “attack the oaks and pines.”… i have never thought of sunsets as attacking anything, making anything bloody… what sort of mood must the poet have been in to make this juxtaposition?…

… another poem tackles the joy of eyeing a lover hiding behind her white fan?… Buson is a down to earth poet, writing about lovers, did Basho ever write about love or lovers?… nothing comes to mind but i am sure my knowledge is not exhaustive…

… another poem takes note of the “morning breeze rifling the caterpillar’s hair… how utterly mundane and miraculous at the same time, the sacredness is in paying attention…

02 Meditations

Haiku of Buson

… i am finding the haiku i am reading this morning have more dimension than those i have read in the past few days… all of them are Buson… have i hit poems with particular affinity to my self, or am i more receptive this morning?…

No bridge

and the sun going down—

spring currents.1

… the poet has arrived at the edge of a stream and needs to cross, the stream is full and currents are fast… there is no bridge, soon it will be dark… what to do?… rather than isolating and freezing a moment in time, this haiku implies a past and a future for the poet… a journey…


  1. Buson, translated by Robert Hass. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa. Edited by Robert Hass. [return]

02 Buson

… i keep searching for a name for this daily 02 slot post, which i like to be based on readings that are inspirational or in some way dealing with bigger questions… i intend the readings to be a moment of centering and contemplation, a meditation perhaps…

… this morning i continue with the haiku of Buson as translated by Robert Haas…

… as i open my book, i turn to a reproduction of a painting by Buson… Two Crows in Winter (the left panel)…

… i am reminded of Masahisa Fukase’s photo book, Ravens… an acknowledged masterpiece… i have a copy and look forward to looking at it when i get home…

… a poem about a quilt, stained with urine, drying on a line in Suma Village… Buson has no qualms about mentioning urine or shit, in his poems… we shit, we pee, and not always with decorum… an example of the down to earth nature of his poems…

02 Buson

… crows end their flight, one by one, as they return to roost at the end of the day…

… even holy people crap in the fields…

… a tree, the blow of an ax, the scent of pine, all this in the woods, in the winter…

… Buson poems seem only to be about the here and now recorded as succinctly as possible…

… i can’t decide if i like Buson… i miss the layered interpretations of Basho’s poems, the nod to spiritual dimensions… in Buson, the spiritual is entirely contained within the moment… is not a separate thing… could that be the message?… we find meaning if we engage with the moments, pay attention, notice them… commit them to a poem so we can remember them…

02 Buson

… Buson continues to be a very down to earth poet… one about a snail with unequal horn length, wondering what is on its mind… another about a frog swimming awkwardly which resonates with a song i learned in grade school, (middle school?)… i google it, there is a wikipedia entry on it which gives me the complete lyrics…

 What a queer bird, the frog are

When he sit he stand (almost)

When he walk he fly (almost)

When he talk he cry (almost)

He ain’t got no sense, hardly

He ain’t got no tail, neither, hardly

He sit on what he ain’t got hardly

… i learn the song was first published in 1922 and attributed to “a young Norwegian living in Chicago at the time…

… a fun song… stuck in my mind (mostly) all these years… Buson brought it back to me…

… thinking about Buson and Basho, it seems to me that Basho was often looking for the transcendent metaphor, the one about plowing a field and a stranger asking for directions then disappearing being a prime example… an immediate literal interpretation, a second metaphorical one… Buson seems to be more concerned with moments in and of them selves and for themselves… in a way, this is transcendent too, because being purely in the present moment is that… right here, right now, that is what matters… very Buddhist…