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young leaf #3

haiku presented with commentary by the Yuki Teikei Society for discussion

young leaf #3

By Patricia Machmiller & Jerry Ball

                                                            incessant crickets . . .
                                                            on the mosque’s marble wash basin
                                                            ancient Greek letters

                                                                     —Zinovy Vayman

pjm: There are many parallels and contrasts here. The parallels: crickets are as old, older even, than the Greek language, meaning is being conveyed through cricket sound and through the carved letters, sound has “shape” and shapes in the form of letters indicates sound. And the contrasts: the liveliness of the crickets vs. the stillness of the letters carved in marble, the blurred inscrutability of the sound vs. the clarity of the carved letters. Or, contrariwise, the letters may have become worn and less readable with age while the crickets’ song is unmistakable and as distinct, as ever.

I’m not sure that I have plumbed the depths of this many-faceted haiku. I am still mulling it over. And as I do, I am aware that it is autumn. Perhaps the haiku can be read as the natural world vs. civilization—and the question of which will survive. Do they compliment each other? Or is one destined to outlive the other. The poet doesn’t explicitly say. But if the poet leaves the outcome unclear, with the choice of an autumn kigo to represent nature, he is saying that the time is late.

jb: I see a sequence of images with this verse. First, and most ancient, the sounds of crickets taking us back millions of years. Next the mosque, a mere thousand or so. And then the Greek letters. The author is engaged in framing. The Greek letters (which are almost, but not quite the first true alphabet—the first being Phoenician) frame the mosque. The Greek alphabet, which was based on the Phoenician, became an institution about 1000 BC. So the Greek letters put the mosque in perspective, but the sound of crickets frames even the Greek letters. Please forgive my intellectualizing.

This verse reminds me about the feeling of antiquity. In spite of the mosque, and in spite of the Greeks, we have the crickets.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. From The Golden Journey to Samarkand

    by James Elroy Flecker:

    Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
    When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
    And softly through the silence beat the bells
    Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.

    Read the whole (long) poem here:

  2. Bad Luck

    Charles Baudelaire
    trans. Crosby

    One needs your stamina to heave,
    O Sisyphus, so great a weight!
    The will to work must dominate,
    For Art is long and Time is brief.

    Far off from famous burial grounds
    My heart moves toward a lonely tomb;
    In cadence like a muffled drum,
    It beats as though a dead march sounds.

    –Many a jewel, buried deep
    Within the darkness, lies asleep,
    Far from the pickax and the drill;

    Many a flower, to its despair,
    Must waste its scent on desert air
    Where solitude is deep and still.

  3. Ozymandias

    by Percy Bysshe Shelley

    I met a traveler from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.


    William Butler Yeats

    THAT is no country for old men. The young
    In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
    – Those dying generations – at their song,
    The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
    Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
    Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
    Caught in that sensual music all neglect
    Monuments of unageing intellect.

    An aged man is but a paltry thing,
    A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
    Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
    For every tatter in its mortal dress,
    Nor is there singing school but studying
    Monuments of its own magnificence;
    And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
    To the holy city of Byzantium.

    O sages standing in God’s holy fire
    As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
    Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
    And be the singing-masters of my soul.
    Consume my heart away; sick with desire
    And fastened to a dying animal
    It knows not what it is; and gather me
    Into the artifice of eternity.

    Once out of nature I shall never take
    My bodily form from any natural thing,
    But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
    Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
    To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
    Or set upon a golden bough to sing
    To lords and ladies of Byzantium
    Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

  5. Thanks, Merrill. I’ll risk redundancy and add we don’t last much longer than the cricket…
    …nor stone

  6. In the juxtaposition I see a calling into question just what is lasting. We think of life as so fleeting…and stone (marble) and the poems (art) we produce as being more lasting than our lives, and yet it is the little cricket, who will perish in a short time that survives … that brings life into each new instance of being.

  7. incessant crickets . . .
    on the mosque’s marble wash basin
    ancient Greek letters

    —Zinovy Vayman

    Culture upon culture, making its marks on stone, rock. Eventually , water wears away stone/ rock…. ‘wash basin’ is what makes for subtle irony here.

    The incessant sound of crickets…Cid Corman wrote this:

    The cicada
    singing isn’t;
    that sound’s its life.

    Basho, this:

    into rock absorbing
    cicada sounds

    Corman / Kamaike (trans)

    Lonely silence
    a single cicada’s cry
    sinking into stone

    Sam Hamill (trans)

    deep silence –
    the shrill of cicadas
    seeps into rocks

    Gabi Greve (trans)

    Ok, these are cicadas and Vaymn’s haiku has crickets, but I can’t help thinking of these insect sounds as related.

    Stone outlasts many generations of crickets or cicadas, absorbs their voices/ lives. It would seem that the Greek marble made into a mosque washbasin has, in a sense, absorbed the earlier Greek culture, put it to a different use. Stone absorbs the voices of cicadas or crickets and human cultures have liked to ‘immortalize’ themselves in stone, one way or another, but over time, water will wear away stone and all its absorbed voices, languages, marks of life. The short-lived crickets, the marks of succeeding human cultures on stone, the very marble washbasin itself are all impermanent, though there are differences in duration.

    That crickets are a kigo for Autumn emphasises this sense of impermanence.

    This is what occurs to me on reading this haiku, anyway.

  8. Hmm, I think that quote of Oleg Grabar’s is saying that recycled building materials have always been popular, still evident today in, for example, Lebanon where pieces of Roman buildings have found their way into later constructions – 19th century homes with a column tucked in as a corner.

    Cities are often built on other, older cities of civilisations that have waned. Places of worship are often built on earlier places of worship of religions that have waned. Those who espouse a new religion to a population aren’t silly – people are used to gathering “here” to worship, so we continue to gather “here”, but we’ll worship something different. They’ll get used to it, especially if we keep the same feast days (Easter and Christmas, for example).

    You’ll find more about sites in Europe here:

  9. “But the peculiarity of the Qusayr Amrah fresco, the Dome of the Rock, and Baghdad is that they went beyond “presence” into a sort of affirmation of possession or rather of appropriation. Although in each instance this appropriation took different forms, in all cases the forms and symbols used were not new creations of Islam but forms and symbols that belonged to earlier cultures: inscriptions in Greek at Qusayr Amrah, a Sassanian crown in the same palace, the martyrium shape in the Dome of the Rock, Christology in its inscription, its relationship to Abraham and to the Jewish tradition, the circular plan of Baghdad, and so on. This point is important in defining an essential aspect of early Islamic culture, the conscious attempt to relate meaningfully to the conquered world, by islamizing forms and ideas of old. The process was not limited to these three monuments nor to the first century and a half of Islamic history.”
    -Oleg Grabar, “The Formation of Islamic Art”, Yale University Press

    Tray, I’m not an expert on Islamic architecture. If you want to read more of Grabar’s document, you can find it through Fordham’s website. The point of Grabar’s comments, and mine in quoting them, is that we are not only connected, we are conscious that we are connected, and feel compelled to communicate that knowledge.

  10. Perhaps someone will explain this to me. A mosque is a Muslim place of worship. Why would there be ancient Greek letters on a washbasin in a mosque? Thanks.


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