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Started by dipankar, April 26, 2024, 05:13:50 AM

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Recently, I have been reading Reichhold's The Complete Bashō. It's quite a treat, especially her commentaries. Although the book is a collection of haiku, Reichhold discusses the way Bashō started writing haibun. "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" is what she refers to. As we know, haibun combines prose with poetry. Reichhold says "Writing the prose parts of haibun is very different from simply setting down a bit of story or sudden fiction. The haibun are to be poetic prose, the idea being that the principles that govern poetry are followed in the text portion." Moving on to "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" consists of prose followed by 4-line poems. Every poem in the book has 4 lines. Here is an example.

"As I was plodding along the River Fuji, I saw a small child hardly three yers of age, crying pitifully on the bank, obviously abandoned by his parents. They must have thought this child was unable to ride through the stormy waters of life which run as rapid as the river itself, and that he was destined to have a life even shorter than that of the morning dew. The child looked to me as fragile as the flowers of bush-clover that scatter at the slightest stir of the autumn wind, and it was so pitiful that I gave hime what little food I had with me.

The ancient poet
Who pitied monkeys for their cries
What would he say if he saw
This child crying in the autumn wind?

How is it that this child has been reduced to this state of utter misery? Is it because of his mother who ignored him, or because of his father who abandoned him? Als, it seems to me that this child's undeserved suffering has been caused by something far greater and more massive - by what one might call the  irresistible will of heaven. If it is so, child, you must raise your voice to heaven, and I must pass on, leaving you behind." (Translation - Nobuyuki Yuasa.)

I can guess what Reichhold meant by poetic prose. I think she means non-haiku like lyricism. Example - "... this child was unable to ride through the stormy waters of life which run as rapid as the river itself, ..." We see here the use of metaphor and simile in a way that haiku wouldn't permit. I hope my understanding is correct. (Incidentally, Bruce Ross' (in How To Haiku) appears to agree with my interpretation.) I am not sure at all though about the 4 liners. Are they haiku? (Bruce Ross, Lee Gurga etc. call the poems haiku and in their own haibun examples all poems are 3 liners.)

Can someone enlighten me please?



I found the answer towards the end of the Introduction of Nobuyuki Yuasa's book The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Penguin, which is a translation of Bashō's The Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton, A Visit to the Kashima Shrine, The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, A Visit to Sarashina Village and The Narrow Road to the Deep North. This is what Yuasa has to sy:

QuoteOne final comment on the technique of translation. I have used a four-line stanza in translating haiku just as I did in my former translation (The Year of My Life, a translation of Issa's Oragu Haru, University of California Press.) I shall not, of course, try to defend my stanza, for it is an experiment, and just as any other experiment in literature, the result alone can justify or disqualify it. Let me, however, state here at least three reasons for my choice. First, the language of haiku ... is based on colloquialism, and in my opinion, the closest approximation of natural conversational rhythm can be achieved in English by a four-line stanza rather than a three-line stanza. Second, even in the lifetime of Bashō, hokku ... was given a special place in the series and treated half-independently, and in my opinion, a three-line stanza does not carry adequate dignity and weight to compare with hokku. Finally, I had before me the task of translating a great number of poems mixed with prose, and I found it impossible to use the three-line form consistently. In any case, this translation is primarily intended for lovers of poetry, and only secondarily for scholars whose minds should be broad enough to recognise the use in a translation like this.

An apology. The haibun I quoted in my query appears in The Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton and not in The Narrow Road to the Deep North.


Hi Dipankar,

Hiro Sato prefers 1-line haiku in English as Japanese haiku are traditionally single lines.
Some translators have quatrains, in the past even Heroic Couplets, go figure.

A lot of haiku contain metaphor and simile (Japan, other countries) and of course metaphorical language, and the extreme brevity of hokku or haiku will bring out startling comparisons.

Many haibun editors have different views on what haibun is allowed to be.

Check out:
The Blo͞o Outlier Journal Summer Issue 2021 (Issue #2) ed. Alan Summers, with Grix, and Kat Lehmann

Also The Pan Haiku Review issue 4 later this year, will be a haibun only edition, and as a teacher of haibun, I'm very open to styles.

kind regards,

Alan Summers,
founder, Call of the Page

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