Most often, appreciation of an art form begins even before the learning process begins. Something moves us from deep within – say, when we listen to Pandit Kumar Gandharva sing one of those memorable ‘nirguni bhajans’ of Sant Kabir. Maybe we could call this stimulation, this spark, ‘Rasa’ — the connect between the performer and the listener. Those claps, that wah! arising so spontaneously from our lips when those notes or the poetry of the moment hits us.
The most important aspect of rasa is that it lingers long after the stimulus has been removed. We often ruminate over a concert for days and savour the joy of its memory. Thus, although the stimulus is transient, the rasa continues.
This is very true of haiku. There are days when I quickly switch on the computer to once again read some beautiful haiku I read a while ago, for I need to know how the poet can pack so much in such few words.
To begin with, shall we see how this haiku magic works?
Let’s read a few haiku that I love even after repeated readings. Take special care to notice the use of concrete words and specific images. It may surprise you to learn that the use of adjectives is kept to a minimum but the images are strong. I quote haiku written by two Japanese masters, Matsuo Basho and Kobayashi Issa, both translated by renowned authors. Can you immediately picture this in your mind or draw it on a piece of paper?
on a bare branch
a crow has alighted …
Translated by Makoto Ueda
Now look at your drawing. Is it a picture of autumn nightfall? Is there another sketch of a bare tree and a crow landing on a branch?
So you have two striking images … right? One image — autumn nightfall — forms a backdrop, as in your school play, while the other image, in the foreground, shows a bird landing on a bare branch. Keep this in your memory! When two images are juxtaposed (put together side by side), a poem becomes a haiku. Otherwise, it would just be a three-line poem.
In this translation (there are many other versions too), what strikes me most are the images that arise from within the poem which have not been mentioned in words. One such strong presence is the moon – I see a full moon, and for me that creates a glow that illuminates the branch, the crow, and the night.
Let us see some more examples:
a great spot
to hear the cuckoo …
Translated by David G Lanoue
Here is a similar haiku by a contemporary haiku poet, the late Laryalee (Lary) Fraser:
I leave you here today to meditate on these images. I will meet you again in a week with much more to satisfy your hunger for this beautiful little poem called haiku.
* The copyright of the translations rest with the authors, and that of Lary’s haiku rests with her family.
* Copyright of this title and the page rests with Kala Ramesh.