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
a line borrowed from another poet spring rain — paul m., Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (2013)
Bill Gottlieb waxes poetic:
Here, concision opens to infinity; or at least to the space of nature, and the poet’s paradoxical place in it—and as it. “Spring rain” is the ingenerate alpha, the fountain of beginnings, a fresh season flowing; it is the song alongside us, at once versed and novel. Standing in spring rain’s eons of spin and English, we may remember Father Chaucer, as he happily personifies soused time: “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote: When April with its sweet-smelling showers.” And in the muddy tracks of this early ecstasy trudges the late Anti Eliot, cruelly, epically echoing: “stirring/dull roots with spring rain.” And on another articulate island sits the trinity of Basho, Buson and Issa, and their soaked poems of spring, frisky with rats, wasps and women. These canonical poets—no, all poets, canon and cannot—“borrow” their lines, indebted to texts, recent and ancient. And let’s not forget the arcane loan not only of lines but of language, that lived-in invention: “borrow” is a sprout from the seed of “pledge”; poets pledge their wet hearts to the natural happen, hoping to holler up a whole. And (as is always the case in the cause of similitude) an opposite is apposite: this is a poem about how there is nothing new under the rain—even as the poem’s artful originality asserts itself! The snake came out in spring rain and ate its tail and we tell a tale about it, in season, on and on. The circle paul m. designs for us includes us—“another poet” perhaps; a panoply of poets, plying time. This poem’s simplicity is exquisite, like a raindrop on a lake, resonating to dimensions of repeating pleasure, to a moment made to stay.
Roberta Beary cites Eliot:
paul m.’s well known haiku brings to mind Marlene Mountain’s classic: pig and i spring rain, giving the reader the bonus of two haiku for the price of one.
paul m. also gives a hat tip to T.S. Eliot’s lengthy dictum, which provides much for the reader of haiku to ponder: “One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.”
Quality haiku evoke myriad responses in the reader. That is certainly true of paul m.’s eight word poem.
Lorin Ford also cites Eliot:
“Immature poets borrow; mature poets steal.”
T.S. Eliot wrote that, right? No, he did not, despite that you can find it attributed to him all over the world wide web. What he actually wrote on the topic of ‘borrowing’( in his essay on the playwright Philip Massinger) is:
“One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.” (italics mine)
That the borrowed line, the subject of this week’s haiku, is not indicative of a case of plagiarism, ‘cryptomnesia’, imitation or any other damnable or iffy practice is determined only when we reach line 3 of Paul M’s haiku.
With the lightest of touches, he implies that an author has borrowed the line in a good way (or that he has done so himself and is satisfied with the result) by juxtaposing the neutral statement of Ls 1 & 2 with the seasonal reference, “spring rain”. In the cycle of seasons, spring rain brings renewal and refreshment back to the plant world. Forget-me-nots are blooming. Grass and deciduous trees are greening. Everything seems to be beginning, again. The feeling is gently joyous. By analogy, “a line borrowed from another poet”, perhaps especially one “…remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest”, seems to refresh and renew or add to a poetic tradition.
How different a haiku this would be if instead of “spring rain” we had (for instance) “distant thunder”!
Alan Summers gets romantic:
This seems an apparently innocent haiku, with a nod to the past with its prerequisite use of “season referencing”, and a quote, a line, lifted from an earlier poem by someone else. As much as season referencing can be emotive triggers, so too can be a quote or reference in literature or music. It wasn’t until the Romantics (poetry movement) that borrowing began to become perilous. The Romantics were a poetic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries with poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron and many others.
In the following text Jessica Millen quotes from Thomas Mallon’s Stolen Words: Forays into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism as part of her university paper “Romantic Creativity and the Ideal of Originality: A Contextual Analysis”, The Bruce Hall Academic Journal vol. VI 2010:
“The Romantic era of poets was of a concentration on ‘originality’ and individual ‘sincerity’ in artistic expression, which, writes Thomas Mallon, continues today under the ‘fearful legacy of the Romantics’. ‘True literature’, according to Hazlitt, is ‘pure invention’. This preoccupation with originality and the pursuit of individual truth through poetry resonates with poets of all ages, but it was the musings of the Romantic poets that transformed originality, that ‘sense of novelty’, into a key aspect of judging poetic value.”
Author Jing Wang said, in his book The Story of Stone: Intertextuality, Ancient Chinese Stone Lore, and the Stone Symbolism in Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, and The Journey to the West that “The standard classic Chinese practice of yung tien (“allusive borrowings”) is basically the act of borrowing words and phrases from the literary past.”
Japan borrowed from the Chinese practice of yung tien and we can read about honkadori in various sources, for example:
“Japanese haiku poets were lucky to write in a rather closed society during the Edo period, educated people knew what they knew and could compose haiku with allusions to the Chinese classics and old waka without a problem…Strictly speaking, this is a technical term for waka and renga, and later was also adopted for haikai-no-renga with specific rules about its use. It therefore is not really a term to be used for haiku but nevertheless people do. Honka in honka-dori, also called moto-uta, means an original poem (if it is an original text or episode, it is called hon-setsu).”
Dr. Gabi Greve (July 2017)
Now Paul Miller’s haiku could simply be alluding to the old practice, and in fact it’s been said that season referencing (in Japanese literature and particularly haikai literature) is a kind of honkadori.
Florin Florian finds ankylosis (the abnormal stiffening of a joint due to fusion of the bones) in the coming of Spring:
Nature, through all its daily manifestations, is nothing but the Great Poet from whom we all can always learn, or borrow from in order to create something much better. The question is if we can be totally original in trying to discover the best way to express the Truth.
Whatever we do, it is insignificant, ridiculous in comparison with the models given to us for inspiration, for the development of new paradigms.
Being not sufficiently aware or sensitive, we do not know how to translate into lyrical material what we experience.
We are all the time at the stage of imitators because we can not compete with nature’s beautiful unique poems, that sparked off our lines.
Spring, a divine piece of poetry, symbolises always a new beginning, an awakening from the heavy ankylosis of ignorance; and rain is the catalyst that puts energies in motion, brings the vital sap into the cells.
A song is hidden in everything around us, ready to be composed or written. The condition is to find a peculiar incantation which should help us to create at least some good variations on the same theme: Life
The artist, who has his chance, is after all a receptacle, an instrument, and if the artist is the chosen one, then they can try to somehow rewrite God’s unfinished work, this amazing open text with so many marginal notes…
As this week’s winner, Bill 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!
turning away from the pear tree... turning back — Roberta Beary, The Unworn Necklace Snapshot Press (2007)