02 Meditations:

Issa haiku…

… the one that catches my attention this morning is about being under a cherry tree and finding it strange to be alive… cherry blossoms are valued in Japan for there ephemeral nature, flowering briefly and gloriously, gone too soon1… like life itself…

… Issa knows the lessons the cherry tree teaches, that life is brief and one needs to be alive to it… to find existence strange at any moment in time and space is being alive to it…

… this will be a bit of a non sequitur, but in the film Black Widow, the theme of family is the unifying good… family of Avengers, family, even make believe family, of Russian spies… family transcends everything…

… i find in literature and life, again and again, that what is truly important are the simple things… home, family, being alive to nature and life… all these things can be had and enjoyed for free (or little cost) as long as basic necessities are met… we are constantly being distracted from these core simple things, especially by the consumer culture we live in, where things upon things are the symbol of a good life… even as aware of this as i am, i struggle to execute, have never gotten close to centering my life around the simple pleasures…

… family is a particular challenge for me… my birth family is difficult and scattered to three of the four corners of the continent, my in law family is a good one, but not the family i grew up with… i have never had children, just wife, dogs and cats, which do teach me many things, including the brevity of life…

… as i write this, an epiphany of sorts… living well along the lines of simple pleasures is anti-market, anti-capitalist… it’s generally anti most forms of economic organization… it is rigorously repressed as a way to conduct one’s life…

02 Meditations:

The haiku of Issa…

… the poem that stand out today is about a snail climbing Mt. Fuji… the poet backs the snails endeavor but urges slow and steady… the apparent futility of a snail climbing a mountain is the poem’s pivot point… the snail might be viewed as the poet and climbing the mountain a spiritual quest… does the poet remind themselves that slow and steady is the way to go?…

… another poem about an Oriole singing at midday…

Image in the Public Domain

… the Black-naped oriole is the only oriole extant in Japan, and is a relatively rare sighting… it is not related to orioles of Europe and the United States…

… so, that an oriole is present and singing at mid day next to a river, an exceptional moment?… there doesn’t seem to be symbolism beyond that… birds in general are related to death and rebirth, as they are in many cultures, but no special significance seems to be attached to the Black-naped oriole…

… so, an Oriole singing at midday while the river flows quietly is perhaps a contemplation of middle aged life…

… the Oriole seems to be more important in Chinese culture…

and then i learn that the Japanese have adopted the Chinese character for Oriole to represent the Bush Warbler, their equivalent to the Black-naped oriole… both birds have beautiful songs and both birds herald spring… so, it is possible that the oriole in the poem is a bush warbler… and the poem gets seasonal reference by its presence…

02 Meditations:

Buson, from New Flower Picking…

… a story about foxes appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the night… foxes (Kitsune) have a long mythic tradition in Japan… old foxes are thought to be extremely intelligent, long lived, and have magical powers, like shape shifting into human form… the mythology of foxes is my main takeaway from New Flower Picking…

… anxious to move on to more haiku, i read the short biography on Issa, whose life was peppered with difficult situations with his step mother and with marriages which were tragic or unfortunate…

… of the first three poems, one about snow melting, the village flooding, with children, stands out, because the flood one expects is that of water, instead, it is of children…

… Issa is supposed to be more down to earth than Basho or Buson…

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 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 Meditations

Haiku of Buson

… stars shining in the not-dark-yet sky… leeks and bare trees… the winter quilt is not long enough to cover head and toes… flitting bats, moonlight and plumb blossoms… peonies dropping their petals in little heaps… moored boat, end of spring… dew, still water, evening… flies, sick girl, summer heat… summer rains concealing the path… a gift of trout… dog barking, peddler, peach trees blooming… a visit to the scare crow and return…

… none of this morning’s haiku are about anything other than particular moments to which attention has been paid… this is how i think of my photography, my writing… me paying attention to what unfolds around me, and there are so many things, any one noticed is therefore notable… this is existence within the moment… why did this scene become a haiku and not that one?… why did i make this picture and not that one?… why do i write down what i write down?… there are no answers, only questions on questions… give up the questions that have no answers and just let it all be…

02 Meditations

Buson

… more mundane moments… devoid of longing, desire, sorrow, regret… just observations… a heavy cart rumbles by shaking the peonies… fish in the shallows having eluded the cormorants for another day… a man escaping his wife and children on the porch, summer heat… things are as they are, nothing more is meant by them, is that the foundational message of Buson poetry?…

… i want to think there is more, that there is meaning that once discovered will render me wise beyond my years… that would be a lot of wisdom… maybe what i am looking for, what we all look for, is being at peace with it… just being and taking joy in that…

… as i sit here i wonder if i should purchase poems by Robert Bly… a volume of haiku… is there one?… i have a look… the internet is so slow… it is early and didn’t the Verizon man improve it yesterday?…

… i prefer a physical book for meditation fodder… makes it seem more sacred… i look up the word fodder, is it the right choice for this context?… it is, and more appropriate than i thought… the primary meaning, feed for livestock… the meaning i am familiar with: expendable people, as in factory fodder, cannon fodder… this leads me to remember “no man is an island,” a poem i memorized when i was a kid, after reading For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Earnest Hemmingway, which i loved…