Now that I am well into my third straight year of haiku, my friends and family have solidly decided that “haiku” related goodies are a safe bet when it comes to giving me gifts. And they aren’t wrong. I’m always thrilled to discover a new “haiku” thing.
Recently, one of my friends gave me a haiku book that she found in a sale bin at her local library. The book, called The Four Seasons, has a copyright date of 1958. The cost listed on the inside flap is $1.00. It was published by Peter Pauper Press, which–by the way–still exists.
Other than a few small snags to the book jacket, this slim volume of poetry is in good shape. Granted, it smells like my grandma’s upstairs closet, but that’s part of its charm.
All of the haiku in the book are translations from the Japanese masters. There are poems from Basho, Buson, Issa and more. One thing I found interesting about the book is that there is no credit given to a translator. The introduction mentions, of course, that the haiku have been translated from their original Japanese, throwing off the 5-7-5 syllable count, but that’s as far as it goes in crediting a translator. Despite that, I flagged several haiku in the book as “favorites.”
Here’s one that was written by Rikei:
sad twilight cricket…
yes, I have wasted once again
those daylight hours
Something that struck me while reading this collection of haiku was to large number to which I could relate. I don’t know why this surprised me. I’ve read haiku from the masters before and have encountered many poems I liked. I wonder this time if it was the packaging. This particular book of haiku looks, feels and smells old. Perhaps the combination of these sensory experiences predisposed me to thinking the haiku within would also look, feel and smell old, and thus not be of my world.
How wrong I was. So many of them jumped from the page into my world. It was as if I could have penned them myself. Consider this haiku by Issa:
Issa! … You have survived to feed
this year’s mosquitoes
When I read it, I immediately thought of this haiku, which I posted last May:
year’s first mosquito
familiar prick on my arm
i live and let live
I was also drawn to this haiku by Ransetsu:
a childless housewife …
how tenderly she touches
little dolls for sale
Regular readers of Haiku By Two, perhaps, will pick up on this poem’s “infertility” theme and recognize it as a topic I’ve been posting haiku about for quite some time.
I guess what I’m trying to say about this “old” collection of haiku, is that while reading it I felt connected to the human experience.
Issa lived between the years of 1763 and 1827. Even way back then, people experienced mosquitoes in the same way that I experience them today.
The small volume of haiku that my friend gave me was printed in 1958, but before it could ever make it to press, someone, some editor somewhere, had to sift through countless translations of countless haiku and select the few ones he or she thought would most appeal to an American audience who knew nothing (or very little) about either haiku or Japan.
This editor who lived six decades ago, had also experienced mosquitoes in the same way that Issa had, and in the same way that I experienced them in the year 2010. This blows me away.
And that is my point, which I don’t want to overdraw at the risk of making it banal, but perhaps the feelings I felt while reading this old book full of even older poems can go a long way toward explaining the ongoing appeal of haiku.