Yesterday was a blustery, but clear, day. The overall impression was golden: gold trees against the sky-blue sky and against the dark-blue waters of Puget Sound; gold leaves swirling around my feet, following me down the lane.
And then a black serpent crossed my path. But this was no ominous serpent: ten inches long and a quarter-inch in diameter, it was only out to bask in the sun. As I crouched down to have a closer look, its tiny tongue flicked as it proceeded on its way.
I felt that this was just the sort of incident one could write a haiku about. The components might be: autumn wind; yellow leaves; a path; a black snake. However, because I believe that haiku is best left to the Japanese, for whom it reflects over 400 years of tradition and practice, I do not feel qualified to attempt one.
Instead, I offer an autumn haiku by Basho. Basho may be described, in terms of stature, as the Shakespeare of Japanese literature. And, to be fair and accurate, I should also say that Shakespeare may be described, in terms of stature, as the Basho of English literature.
My neighbor, --
How does he live?
Basho (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952).
The English transliteration (i.e., romaji) of the original Japanese is:
tonari wa nani o
suru hito zo
Aki is "autumn." Fukaki is "deep." Tonari is "beside; next to; next-door." Wa is a grammatical particle that serves to identify tonari as the subject (after a fashion). Nani is "what." Suru is the verb "to do." Hito is "person." O is a particle that serves to identify nani as the object (after a fashion) of suru/suru hito. Zo is a particle of emphasis (something along the lines of "!", but perhaps not as emphatic). Please note that these glosses are based upon my inexpert and limited knowledge of the Japanese language.
Two alternative translations follow.
Autumn has deepened,
I wonder what he does,
The man living next door!
Translation by Toshiharu Oseko, in Basho's Haiku (1990).
In this late autumn,
my next-door neighbor --
how does he get by?
Translation by Sam Hamill, in The Essential Basho (Shambhala 1999).
If I had my druthers, I would opt for "what does he do?" or "what is he doing?" With a meaning that embodies both a literal/external sense and an emotional/internal sense. The gist might be: "How is he or she -- like me -- making it through these deepening days of autumn?" The problem is that "nani o suru hito" is -- no surprise here -- hard to bring over into English.