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Montage #20


Montage #20, presented by Allan Burns, is now up here on The Haiku Foundation website. This week’s theme is “Moonstruck” and features the work of Margaret Chula, Taneda Shōichi 種田 正一 (Santōka 山頭火) and Natsume Sōseki 夏目金之助.

                                Walking under the moon,                                         carrying moonlight
                                Sōseki has forgotten                                                  into the house
                                All about his wife.                                                       the white peony

                                   —夏目金之助                                                              — Margaret Chula

Moon’s brightness I wonder where they’re bombing

— 山頭火

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. On a moonstruck theme, but from both an Earth and space perspective:

    sputnik satellite
    a solar flare picks out
    a rivet

    Alan Summers

    This is Sputnik 1 opening the way for space exploration and for eventual future moon exploration.

    “Rocket Dreams” commission.
    Read/performed U.K. National Poetry Day October 4th 2007 with Space Historian Piers Bizony and NASA images, as part of World Space Week:

    escape velocity
    the moon pulls oceans
    behind Apollo 11

    Alan Summers

    “Rocket Dreams” commission.
    Read/performed U.K. National Poetry Day October 4th 2007 with Space Historian Piers Bizony and NASA images, as part of World Space Week.

    mars landing-
    a tendril of red dust
    shifts from a footfall

    Alan Summers
    Tinywords November 2007

    SFku (which is my term for predominantly ‘science haiku’ but not excluding ‘science fiction’ haiku but not necessarily including science fantasy haiku.


  2. Just like to point out one small change over at Montage. All galleries, both current and in the archive, are now listed with the names of poets (in parentheses) following the titles. So now it’s easier to find the work of a specific poet who has been featured. Thanks to our webmaster, Dave Russo, for helping me with this improvement.

    night of the new moon
    I crave nothing, no one
    frogs croaking, croaking
    –Margaret Chula

    (New moon: the phase when the dark side is toward the Earth, used particularly well here.)

  3. I don’t seem to have as strong a need as some to find context and continuity in a haiku. I don’t need to find its “story” or mine. My first take on this poem was that it is slight. I know that some of Santoka’s poems taken alone give that impression, and do better when seen on the page, or heard spoken, along with other poems. That is my experience of his work in *Mountain Tasting*.

    Following something Paul said, however, if I were given just the poem and knew nothing about its author, or even that it was a translation from the Japanese, and were perhaps encouraged to live with it awhile, to recall what Keats termed: “Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”, then I might take an existential approach, and allow the poem to play very simply on my imagination. When I do that, what I find are two qualities juxtaposed, or interpenetrating–

    the moon (being) fully what it is: brightness


    I (being) fully what I am: homewardness

    No cause and effect; just an interpenetration of aspects of Being. I am not sure what else is given here. I’m not saying this is the way to go with this poem. Maybe I’ve done no more than show a preference of approach; others
    may find satisfaction in imagining situations and story lines, but to be honest, I don’t think that’s what this is “about”.

    As to the matter of diction, again, if I didn’t know the poem was a translation, I’d probably get stuck on “the moon bright”. This brings up, for me, the matter of many ELH sounding like imitations of translations of haiku, but I don’t want to get my hackles any higher up than they currently are, so, next paragraph…

    My hunch, not knowing Japanese, is that, though more natural, “the moon is bright” would not be quite right. “Is” in this case may be too narrowing, too objectifying. The sense, as explored above, may more closely require a combination of “moonness brightens” and “brightness moons”. How ya gonna do that?

    Was Hiroaki trying to avoid the bullying, confining verb “to be?”. I think the Japanese language does things we just can’t touch, which may be why “versions” work better.

    1. tsuki ga akarukute kaeru

      the moon bright i go home

      i like the openness of this kind of work and it’s ability to allow the reader their own interpretations and meaning, where to pause, where to break (or to place those pauses/breaks), regardless of the original Japanese. i find that fun and worth revisiting.

      in a literal/realistic sense, as a traveler in the first quarter of the century in Japan, in the countryside, i doubt there were electrical lights, streelights, or anything of that kind (those areas are still poorly lit, worldround) for Santōka. so the light of the moon was probably especially important and essential for Santōka to get places, especially at night. no light to travel by or see where he’s going. it’s pitchdark—darkness, depression and melancholy having had such a strong presence in his life and family; the light of the moon, which is the light of the sun, having special significance then perhaps, or maybe having a lot of importance for him spiritually as well as physically.

      “home” also seems especially potent/powerful in that Santōka was a constant traveller and a poor one at that, with an actual home few and far between. whether one knows his life story or not, “home” still represents something strong—shelter, loved ones, security, rest, peace of mind, etc. the fact that he was able to go there, because of the moonlight, brings the taste of happiness, satisfaction, a moment of ease.

      the ku is simply stated, radically terse, but with powerful words (even more so because there are so few) that had great importance in his life and wellbeing. the moon made it easier for him to travel, follow his chosen way/path. it was something to cherish and get him to where we wanted to be.

      there is also the sense that he has been filled with the light (in the translation): “bright I.” not as something that has happened already, but something that is happening, something that will nourish and sustain him as he travels home, that he will be filled with. which reminds me of another Santōka ku:

      tsuki no hikari no sukihara fukaku shimitōru nari

      the moonlight pierces my empty stomach

      (Stevens p 118)

      so, those are areas i find poetry in that one.

      i find two of his others in this installment of Montage especially satisfying and provocative, challenging and inspiring:

      moon’s brightness i wonder where they’re bombing

      which has an (unfortunately) timely quality to it and, from the time it was composed, will probably always be pertinent. i take it he was criticizing his own country’s government which, for him, really was something. haiku poets were jailed for that kind of thing.

      the other one i really admire is:

      there in front of death i put the moon

      which really engages the imagination, memories and our own mortality. what an image—which asks us to create our own individual images for death. again, an engaging openness.

      i always find Sanokta’s straightforwardness and simplicity to be a breathe of fresh air. though they do go to an extreme of haiku composition. he was radical in his simplicity and hunger for freedom, something i find quite satisfying and admirable. he took chances.

  4. Paul (& all),

    Just a quick response. I of course respect anyone’s right not to “dig” this or that. Why do I like this haiku myself? And what poetry do I find in it?

    Obviously, Santoka took a risk with such a minimalist poem. But it pays off (for me) in the juxtaposition of two such archetypal images–moon & home–with the implied but somewhat mysterious connection between them. Lots of connotations and space for the reader who so chooses to play with. Certainly, as Gabi Greve’s latest version makes explicit, the light relates to finding one’s way. And I suspect “bright” will suggest to most readers a full moon, no clouds to obstruct it–that’s at least what I’m seeing. Also: I tend to view haiku at the level of the oeuvre as much as at that of the individual poem. So for me there’s enjoyment in it being “very Santoka”, in the relation between it and his other moon haiku and the whole body of his work, not to mention his life as a wanderer (which context invests “home” with a different shading than it might otherwise have).

    P.S. I didn’t call explicit attention to it before, but do click on the new Wyeth image linked to my name (to the left). Speaks to the poetry.

  5. tsuki ga akarukute kaeru

    (the) moon is bright
    I go home


    Well, will I speak only as a translator, not a poet.
    Since Haiku is the poetry of the first person, as my haiku teacher uses to repeat …
    this verb identifies the first person, Mr. Santoka
    With reference to TE in the AKARUKU TE …

    it could mean simply

    I go home as long as the moon is bright (so I can find my way)

    A lot of Santoka “poems” that I know are simple statements of his way of life.

    (being German, but I try my best in English … grin … so forgive any mistakes )

  6. Ha! Allan, Hoisted am I by my own petard (painful, let me down, please).

    I am grateful to you and Gabi for a glimpse at the Japanese, content and order. I do understand that any article (opening “the”) is interpolated. I also find it interesting that the personal “I” is used in translation. It is my understanding (based on no Japanese skill or scholarship, just reading others’) that I, me, my are very rarely written out in Haiku. Such words are in the dictionary but are not often a part of Japanese haiku. Note too: not too frequent in English haiku but used for emphasis when the poet is also an actor, not just observer.

    Is saying out loud “I” before “go home” one of those conventions in that language even if not in the wording?

    So, before we get to “my” English, the poem — no capitals in Japanese — may or may not have “the” before moon and the use of “I” before the verb “go” is questionable. It might be: bright moon — go home
    Is Santoka in a ditch or by a bridge trying to sleep off the sake, and he is disturbed by the moon — he is in effect cursing it? If the first person reference is included, then it might be the poet tottering off, no curse.

    Might be, may be — so much to guess at with no signposts as to the original experience . . . sigh.

    I reply again that in Hiroaki’s wording, if a cut WAS after: moon bright I / go home — Santoka might be revealing he was fed up with this moon, and wished it to set. He had been brightly lit long enough. That is with the interpolated translation of “I” in the poem.

    Yes the Japanese is very abbreviated — what I tried to ask in the first place.

    Another one Gabi provided the romaji for was 22 or 24 “on.” Santoka was unconventional: tsuki no akarusa ………..

    If it boils down to what Allan and Gabi have shown … call or paint me foolish and judgmental . . . but I find very little “there” there in the 4 or 5 word version. I have not a supple enough mind to find greatness in this example of this poet. Others of his haiku are appealing, quite a few — please don’t ask which and why — I am not a Santoka fan, in the main. It is hard to assess and discuss what I do not know in a language I do not know. If this Japanese wording or this translation could be put to all anonymously? Genius? Obviously many folks know the Japanese original and a few would know the English hence the attribution to the Famous.

    Gabi, I never meant the Japanese was Tonto-speak. Just the English.

    Which brings me to the point from which Allan was so able to pounce! (Be it known, to all far and wide, that Allan and I are good friends. His points were intellectual, not personal — and he and I both know this. Now you do too.)
    This time the varlet wins!

    I still think the translation is well, errrr abbreviated. “good” English was not terribly well put on my part. Smooth as opposed to my original “choppy.” Smooth English? Lacking in at least a few of the little polite words and spacing that allow English to be spoken.

    Yes my published and prize-winning “August heat” (ha! such an Ego!) has no punctuation and no verb. And I like the poem. Touche, Allan. Would an em dash or ellipsis points make the whole into “good” English? More like Western Poetry? Line breaks are a part of some poetry forms, are they not, beside haiku? Isn’t “is” also understood here as it was for Santoka? Anyway, yes I followed formulae I have learned and trust that readers also know them. As to the verb? What I like about my construction is that this is a very active haiku with no verb(s)! The nose and the bird move at the same pace — a constant distance. An eternal dance of predator and prey, the huge bulk and rapid strength of the alligator is all hidden from view — the little duck is like the one on the pond in “Peter And The Wolf”– and I tried to leave most of that to the reader. I seem to have no room for that kind of entry into Santoka’s. No room to expand within the framework of his few, terse words. No mention other than moon is bright. So, a clear night? Or, is it full? Did it just rise? Is it about to set? So much to describe the moon is available and we get only bright. “go home” must be describing the future as written …poet is about to go home. I will go home now. Or as I mentioned, he is telling off that moon… but not a hint, not a clue. Are we to take such a thin framework, call it poetry, and make up in our minds what is lacking — for all parts of the poem? Only brightness to go on? I cannot hang my hat on that alone. What about in English?

    bonfire I go home
    train headlight I go home
    Jupiter I go home

    bonfire go home
    train headlight go home
    Jupiter go home

    perhaps art, just perhaps, but great Art?

    You ask, Allan:
    “But has the essential poetry been changed?” [by one version or another]

    bright moon/ go home OR EVEN bright moon/ I go home
    I reply, perhaps just to shock, perhaps not — “what poetry?” Should I soften it to: “what good poetry?” – Paul, solemn lament, head down

  7. Sato gives the original as

    Tsuki ga akarukute kaeru

    –sames as what Gabi Greve provided (except the opening capital Paul objects to).

    Btw, it’s 11 sound symbols (“on”) not 17.

    Literal translation, so far as I can tell, would be something like:

    “Tsuki” = moon

    “ga” = a particle or “situation marker” that doesn’t translate

    “akarukute” = bright

    “kaeru” = go home (also many other things in different contexts, including “frog”)


    moon bright go home

    (That’s the dictionary speaking, so to speak; I have no Japanese myself.)

    The original is indeed quite terse. It seems Sato has rendered it quite faithfully but with the idiomatic additions of “The” and “I”. The verb “is” is, yes, implied.

    You’ll forgive me, but I’m chuckling a bit about the allegation of “poor English” in haiku–haiku, which is made up almost entirely of fragments.

    For ex., let’s take this haiku of yours, Paul:

    August heat
    an alligator’s nose
    in the coot’s wake

    Now, tell me, my friend, how is that “good English” in any conventional sense? (yes, quite another matter–it’s certainly good haiku)

    Let’s start reading:

    August heat/ an alligator’s nose

    Huh? As a reader of “good English” I’m already lost. Cuts are not part of the concept of “good English” or understood by the overwhelming majority of English readers. Unless I’m already “in the know,” the line break is of no help.

    Let’s continue:

    August heat/ an alligator’s nose/ in the coot’s wake

    And where’s the verb, sir? You are setting this forth as a complete utterance of some sort without a verb? Good English? The teacher’s red pencil whips into action….

    My goal here is just to highlight how far from “good English” in a standard, conventional sense virtually all haiku are.

    You’re used to the conventions we’ve evolved within the haiku community, Paul. But Santoka and Sato are doing something just a wee bit different by minimalizing further and placing the poem on one line. Hardly radical considering how many original English-language haiku have been and are being written in one line.

    Maybe you’re happier with Gabi Greve’s version:

    the moon is bright
    I go home


    But has the essential poetry been changed?

  8. The moon bright I go home

    tsuki ga akarukute kaeru

    (the) moon is bright
    I go home

    tsuki ga akarukute … in not tontoism in Japanese
    kaeru … is not tontoism in Japanese

    I found the Japanese romaji here

    Still looking for the kanji



  9. I’ll try, Christopher.

    As I said in the comment to Allan, I am not sure of the original or the translation. I have met Hiraoki Sato (a fine gentleman) and heard him speak — had breakfast with him in a Greek restaurant, but that is another story.

    The moon bright I go home

    This is well into Tonto-speak, that the late Paul O. Williams conceived and wrote about in a famous essay. Tarzan -speak is another way it is described.

    me Tarzan you Jane

    If, for example it was put (by either Santoka or Hiraoki) as: the bright moon
    OR the moon is bright it would be smoother English and just as minimal. I am not against minimalism in haiku, just poor English, even if brief by design. The second part — and I’d prefer spaces between the parts to prevent misreadings like: The moon / bright I go home — “I go home” after the “unsmooth” first part, amplifies that quality. I head toward home, I’m going home, etc., might be easier to the Western ear and eye. But, I do not know the original. Santoka is often translated in three lines, is he not? or sometimes two — Burton Watson, John Stevens for examples. Hey, while I’m already hip-deep in alligators, I don’t like the capitalized first word, either. But, again, Santoka may have intended this poem to sound and appear just this way. I do not know. Is there a pidgin, word-for-word of the original? – Paul

  10. For what it’s worth, Allan’s elucidations corresponded with my understanding of these poems when I read them. I found the comment about the poem being “choppy” particularly interesting.

    Paul: do you think you could say more about what you mean by this, and in what sense you feel that way?

  11. Natsume Sōseki なつめ‐そうせき【夏目漱石】

    Natsume Kinnosuke 夏目金之助
    (his real name 本名)


  12. Paul,

    Many thanks for your comments. Always glad when Montage selections occasion some discussion here on the blog. Choppiness to some degree may be in the beholder’s eye. In the first Santoka selection (and I’ll address only the translations here, not the originals)

    The moon bright I go home

    I find a clear cut (and pause) after “bright” and a sense of the poet called home (in his own mind) and guided on his way by the fulgent moonlight.

    Through the moonlight’s center I come back

    is surely a poem that requires imaginative participation from the reader. Something intense seems to be going on here. I take it the poet has perhaps stepped through a ray of moonlight, looked up, lost himself within (dazzlement? wonder? an epiphany? a sense of oneness?), and then returned to himself from this momentary eclipse of ordinary consciousness. There’s a powerful sense I find here of the relationship between the moon and states of mind–something long believed in and that gave our language the words “lunacy” and “lunatic”. But there may well be other ways of seeing this one.

    Moon invisible moonlit water brimming

    seems to me more exterior in nature. I read it this way: The moon is hidden from the poet’s line of sight by some unspecified obstruction–but he can see its light on the brimming water. The “haiku moment” involves indirect communion with this celestial presence, the unseen object manifest only in the pale fire of reflected light.

    These interpretations could be off because they’re impromptu readings of translations without consulting the word-by-word meaning of the originals or any available commentaries–but that’s what I’m finding in Sato’s translations at this moment. Anyone else like to take a crack at ’em (or any of the 18 other haiku from this gallery)?

  13. Very enjoyable selections to read, Allan. How _many_ ways to look at the moon! Always good to see some of Margaret’s classics, too. Since Hiroaki is an experienced translator, I can only assume the first by Santoka is that choppy in the original. I think I understand it, nonetheless. Can you give me a little analysis on how the third and fifth of the Santoka examples work, hold together (Through & Moon invisible)? I am in the dark of those moons. – Paul

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