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The Kindness of Strangers 3: On Our View of Beggars

bowlThere are strong connections between haiku and begging. Many of the classic haiku masters were beggar monks who scorned possessions for a life in simplicity. Today we are again meeting austerity and begging on our doorsteps in many parts of the world, where it was long gone.

In Europe, many look at beggars with contempt, but instead we can choose to view them with openness, and our encounters with them as opportunities for those who have wealth to share it.

Instead of seeing begging as something shameful, it may be better to think of those destitute as potentials, who, given the right nurturing and a little help on the way can and will achieve something great.

Instead of seeing poverty as something ugly, we might open our minds to the beauty that is also there, take our inspiration from those on the streets and share our wealth with them in return.

The first haiku master, Matsuo Basho, was not a beggar himself, but an observer of the practice of begging.

this my heart

you will know — with this flower

and this begging bowl 

Come out to view
the truth of flowers blooming
in poverty 

Now I see her face,

the old woman, abandoned,

the moon her only companion 

Like Basho, haiku poet Nana Fredua-Agyeman from Ghana is also an observer of austerity and describes it beautifully in his haiku.

looking at the sun

for a silver coin

roadside beggar

harmattan night

a beggar’s breath

disperses the crowd

city cleanup

the remains of her shelter

carried off

—Anna Maris

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The Kindness of Strangers is a six-part series by Swedish poet Anna Maris of haiku written in consideration of poverty, homelessness, begging and our responses to these issues.

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Simply want to say your article is as surprising. The clearness in your post is just cool and i can assume you
    are an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let
    me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post.
    Thanks a million and please continue the gratifying
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  2. są rade opisać suma przygód weselnych, równocześnie z serdecznymi, jeśliby
    żądają iż pozwanie się na nie przysporzy im znaną pomyślność.
    Stanowią kolosalnie apatyczne natomiast skoro
    oczywiście toż umiem doprowadzić – srogie. W 4 incydentach na 5 starannie
    spostrzegawcze prowadzeniem postanowień do zebranego dorobku.

  3. I appreciate this series and Anna Maris’s thought that’s gone into it.

    What I would like to see is full accreditation of publication source given with at least those haiku by contemporary writers which are cited, and preferably also with the translations from the Japanese as well.

    Charity, it is said (and doing the right thing in general to our fellows) begins, after all, at home and many (perhaps most) EL haiku journals are produced by voluntary labour as a service to the community. It would be due courtesy to give the appropriate journals credit for publishing the poems used within essays published on THF, such as this series.

    – Lorin

  4. Dear Anna,

    As you say in your comment in response to Alan’s, “Anyone can be hit by misfortune.” A few years ago, I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, and began a gratitude journal. With all that is on our minds every day, it’s good to remember the basics and not take anything for granted. I note things like: “no loss of power during the storm,” “the people who clear the roads,” “pancakes at the restaurant in town.”

    Our area is still recovering from the economic down-turn. Businesses that closed, or other stores finding new ways (reduced hours). People who should have been able to rest by now, a little more.

    Twenty years ago, when I was recovering from an illness and had left a position the world valued, I experienced socially, in stores, etc. how differently one can be treated when not in good shape. A major life lesson. I’ve always had a roof over my head and food. The feelings hurt more than the illness, long-term. But I was able to use the feelings in a positive way as a caregiver, and advocate for others. Only gratitude for the life lesson now. Older now, the people who wait on me in stores are so kind, and I appreciate them.

    I also rediscovered acrostics when I began blogging. Here’s one for MERCY, I won’t try to get the spacing the same here as for a blog post. Perhaps for a bulletin board.

    May
    Everyone who can
    Remember and
    Consider
    Your children in need

    So perhaps we can use whatever hard thing happened in our own lives, or is happening now, and try and extend a little more, to understand another. Not perfectly though, I know. Tiny steps.

    All of the good poems you share are new for me, or I don’t remember if I read before. Your posts must take some time and so much thought and care.

    Thank you, Ellen

  5. Thank you for sharing, Alan Summers. Beautiful poems. Of course we should not view beggars with contempt. Anyone can be hit by misfortune. But many people do. It is easy to sound flippant when you talk about beauty in poverty, but beauty is everywhere, and we owe it to ourselves to see it.
    Anna

  6. Thank you for this post.

    I’ve had a close relationship with beggars and vagrants, moreso than tramps, over decades. I don’t view them with contempt, why should I? People are no different from people after all, except they’ve either decided a different life choice, or do not have cash that society craves.

    Most of the people I’ve met have died from blood poisoning, often from being bitten from police dogs.

    Here are some I don’t know but hope they are okay to this day…

    the vagrant
    a radio presses
    to his head

    Alan Summers
    Publications credits: Blithe Spirit vol.9 no.3 (1999)

    down the sidewalk
    an old vagrant
    daisies in his mouth

    Alan Summers
    Publications credits: Hobo (Tasmania, 1999); Issa’s Untidy Hut (2011)

    sunlit sweat
    the young vagrant
    sucks a thumb

    Alan Summers
    Publications credits: Haiku Harvest vol. 4 no. 1 (2003); Haiku Harvest: 2000 – 2006 (Modern English Tanka Press 2007); Does Fish-God Know (YTBN Press 2012): The Haiku Foundation’s Per Diem: Daily Haiku December 2012 (31 poems): Children

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