skip to Main Content

re:Virals 158

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was

 
     梅雨深し本の表紙の草木染

     deep in plum rain– 
     the cover of the book
     tinted with herbs

          — Akito Arima, Einstein's Century: Akito Arima's Haiku 
            (trans. Emiko Miyashita & Lee Gurga) 

Mark Gilbert goes by the book:

I am just commenting on this particular translation which is the only one I have to hand and I do not read Japanese.
I feel that ‘plum’ is the key word here. Although I do not normally approve of using a noun in place of an adjective, which is often a cliché, here I feel it works well. ‘Plum’ brings up a dark colour, an earthy smell, coolness and a smooth yet organic texture all of which enhance the perception of ‘rain’. I feel that these qualities of ‘plum’ also apply to ‘book’ in line 2 and perhaps the adjective ‘plum’ has been transferred from ‘book’ to ‘rain’, which is a common technique in contemporary haiku. So ‘plum’ — its dark purple shade, its musty aroma and its leathery feel — makes me think that the book is an ancient, perhaps much-loved textbook. Line 3, as well as adding to the accumulation of senses, perhaps suggests the gold leaf decorations on the covers of traditional leather-bound books. So the haiku establishes a dark, dense tone more through the interaction of colour, texture and smell than the words themselves. I did wonder whether it is ‘about’ depression on some level (judging a book by more than its cover) but I feel this is too literal. It is more likely to be about revisiting a comfortable old textbook, still full of dark secrets and insights.

virus2
As this week’s winner, Mark gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
 
re:Virals 158:

 
Carnival balloon
     still filled with
             a dead child’s breath

          — James Kirkup, First Fireworks (1992) 

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. One further comment: These trees are often erroneously called plum trees and the fruit is green, not the dark color we often think of as plum.

  2. Having lived through many a rainy season in Japan (and reading Japanese), I have a different take on this. Deep into the six-week period of rain, the everpresent moisture starts to lead to the growth of mold, which can take on an organic, botanical appearance, hence the vegetation on the cover.

    1. Dear Lori Zajkowski,
      .
      You said:
      .
      “Having lived through many a rainy season in Japan (and reading Japanese), I have a different take on this. Deep into the six-week period of rain, the ever present moisture starts to lead to the growth of mold, which can take on an organic, botanical appearance, hence the vegetation on the cover.”
      .
      and
      .
      “One further comment: These trees are often erroneously called plum trees and the fruit is green, not the dark color we often think of as plum.”
      .
      .
      Ah, yes, not totally unlike the royal mould for wine grapes even?
      .
      Thank you for your explanation regarding:
      .
      .
      梅雨深し本の表紙の草木染

      deep in plum rain–
      the cover of the book
      tinted with herbs

      — Akito Arima, Einstein’s Century: Akito Arima’s Haiku
      (trans. Emiko Miyashita & Lee Gurga)
      .
      .
      As you read Japanese, would it be possible to do even a very rough transliteration, into English, but following the Japanese pattern of syntax/grammar etc… of:
      .
      .
      梅雨深し本の表紙の草木染
      .
      .

      I find the transliteration versions are incredibly useful to show, via English, a little clue as to the sentence or poem construction, which would be so different to an English-language verse.
      .
      The weather must be so different in NY!

      1. Dear Allan Summers,

        In response to your request for a transliteration, please see below. Kanji can have different readings — for example, 梅雨 can be read as either baiu or tsuyu and 草木 as either soumoku or kusaki. My comments were based on my knowledge of the meaning of the kanji, not a transliteration. I hope this helps.

        梅雨深し本の表紙の草木染

        baiu/tsuyu fukashi hon no hyoushi no soumoku/kusakizome

        1. Dear Lori Zajkowski,
          .
          It’s Alan here, just one “l” like Alan Ladd the actor. 🙂
          .
          Yes, I know about the different meanings, but was curious about a transliteration in English, or versions/variations, if you want to capture more than one of the meanings.

  3. Having read through all the comments and the stimulation it provides I arrived at the book as the man. Plum rain happens when the fruit ripens, i.e. the man is in the full of his life (span); the blemishes perhaps those people get on their skin when old age begins.

    1. I do like that interpretation very much, of “the book as the man” and with all of Akito Arima’s achievements that continue into late age he would have many more pages, or even perhaps draws:
      .
      The Anthropomorphic Cabinet by Dail and “the human body full of secret drawers was something brought up by Marion Clarke when I published this haiku:
      .
      .

      book of birdsong
      the compartments
      in my body
      .
      Alan Summers
      Brass Bell – ‘Morning Haiku’ curated by Zee Zahava
      (November 2015)
      .
      I can imagine Akito Arima, a man of all the sciences, including natural history, being at one with the plum maturing rain, and the scent of herbs, and the brown spots on his hands in correlation with brown spots on leaves, as well as rain spots darkening them and his own clothing.
      .
      As I read somewhere, backing up I often feel, a transliteration (into English) without a translation attempt at the poem, would be fascinating to read in addition. I would love to have read transliterations alongside the translations, and compare the rhythms of the original poems alongside the gaps, the spaces that can add up to what might be called ‘espaço negativo’ or 間.

  4. Greetings to all, I feel so small here among you.
    The haiku is very synesthetic, and your comments are very interesting. I also thought that the book could have fallen into that torrential rain, with its cover so precious.

    1. I totally felt like that when I started commenting. The more perspectives the merrier! I really like your interpretation. It does somehow feel like the plum rain and the book cover being tinted with herbs are related. I also wondered if the writer had been gardening and his hands had ‘tinted’ the notebook. It’s so interesting hearing everyone’s takes on it. Thank you for commenting. 🙂

  5. Curious that Okinawa isn’t quite noted as part of Japan, perhaps because it’s a U.S. base? The East Asian rainy season, commonly called the plum rain usually lasts from May to June in Taiwan and Okinawa, and from June to July in Russian Primorsky Krai, Japan and Korea!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Asian_rainy_season
    .
    .

    “The East Asian rainy season or meiyu (literally plum rains), which usually lasts from July to August is the result of a weather front (a boundary separating two masses of air of different densities) that is created when the moist air over the Pacific meets the cooler continental air mass.”
    Explainer: The Plum Rain Season of East Asia
    By Ned Kelly, June 20, 2018
    .
    .

    Plum Rains
    .
    SNIP
    .
    They come very year between late spring and early summer for about a month at a time when plums ripen.” (china.org.cn)
    .
    .
    Delighted to find out Akito Arima is a fellow Virgo! He’s a fascinating person as he has done so much in different fields, from being a nuclear physicist to reforming the education system in Japan, without asinine politics, and yet he also became Minister of Education, as well as teaching in university, but sees haiku is the most important thing. Perhaps that’s why he’s done so much good!
    .
    .
    The first line is obvious to me, to immerse ourself into cleansing and refreshing rain, but after that wonderful opening line, what a phrase!
    .
    .
    the cover of the book
    tinted with herbs
    .
    .
    From 2000 he has been chairman of the Japan Science Foundation which covers all sciences and also in an all embracing manner, and connected to literacy. So he could quite literally have handled a book either decorated with illustrations of herbs across the cover, but perhaps in a lab, the tint was not just art but infusion. Perhaps he dozed off in the rain and everything became as one for a moment before he dashed, walked briskly, or more likely for him, he committed the dual action of basking in the rain as he strolled away for cover.
    .
    Beautiful poem!

    1. Thanks Alan. I tried to look at this translated version of the poem in isolation, but didn’t quite manage this as I knew a little bit about Akito Arima’s background which may have influenced my thoughts. Also I was aware of the Japanese meaning of the phrase ‘plum rain’ but I tried to look at it from first principles in English. I love the poem but for me it does have a dark musty feel.

      1. For me, rather than dark and musty, it seems very sensually rich — full of fresh smell, moisture, and colour. So many of the senses are involved. It feels as though the sense of nature ripening is spilling over and touching the human world: the writer is ‘deep’ in ‘plum rain’ and his book is ‘tinted’ with herbs. Nature is suffusing the experience of writing perhaps, as happens in haiku?

          1. Thanks for all the comments! I think having regularly visited a walled garden full of veggies and fruit and how everything is in sync, and weeds are an oxymoron as they make things happen, I know rain isn’t just rain. 🙂
            .
            In Asia there is plum rain, and of course there are cherry blossom storms, and I even wrote a haibun about a woman who took advantage of when the sky would pour down with fish. 🙂

    2. Thanks for commenting Alan! I really recommend the book which this haiku is from if you haven’t read it.

  6. Dear Mark Gilbert,
    Greetings ! Read through the entire commentary, how you viewed plum
    in different angles,leading on to the last line.

    I like the following analogy of books , especially old textbook etc.,a new perception on this haiku.

    “Line 3, as well as adding to the accumulation of senses, perhaps suggests the gold leaf decorations on the covers of traditional leather-bound books. So the haiku establishes a dark, dense tone more through the interaction of colour, texture and smell than the words themselves. I did wonder whether it is ‘about’ depression on some level (judging a book by more than its cover) but I feel this is too literal. It is more likely to be about revisiting a comfortable old textbook, still full of dark secrets and insights”.

    1. Dear S. Radhamani,

      Yes, it is a very interesting haiku which I came to like very much during the week – it is totally different to this week’s haiku. I do hope to see your comments up on this page in the future, and also look forward to seeing a poem chosen by you.

      1. Dear Mark Gilbert,
        Yes, it will be a life long delectable pleasure and commitment .
        This comment section gives immense opportunity for us to think,apply
        google and take the haiku further in vast directions Many thanks for your good wish –
        ” a poem chosen by ” me. All His Will. We only strive hard .
        with regards
        S.Radhamani

Comments are closed.

Back To Top