Monday, October 21, 2019


Autumn encourages reflection, don't you think?  More so than any other season, perhaps.  All of this passing and vanishing, all of this melancholy beauty and beautiful melancholy.  Even haiku poets, who tend not to be self-referential, are liable to look inward.

     The autumn of my life;
The moon is a flawless moon,
     Nevertheless --

Issa (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 396.  Although the phrase "the autumn of my life" could be written at any time of the year, the reference to "a flawless moon" places the poem in autumn.

The final word of the poem is nagara, which Blyth translates as "nevertheless."  Following his translation of the haiku, Blyth notes: "Issa was fond of using nagara."  Ibid, page 396.  However, he does not mention Issa's use of the word in what is likely Issa's best-known poem, although he does translate the poem later in the same volume:

     This dewdrop world --
It may be a dewdrop,
     And yet -- and yet --

Issa (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 433.

Nagara appears twice at the end of the haiku, this time translated by Blyth as "and yet," rather than as "nevertheless."  Blyth writes:  "This verse has the prescript, 'Losing a beloved child.'  This child was Sato-jo, and Issa's feelings at this time are portrayed in Oragaharu [a prose diary containing haiku].  He had already lost two or three children when this baby girl died."  Ibid, page 433.  Issa's moving description of his daughter's sudden illness and death appears in an earlier post.

Here is an alternative translation of the haiku:

     The world of dew
is the world of dew.
     And yet, and yet --

Issa (translated by Robert Hass), in Robert Hass, The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa (The Ecco Press 1994), page 228.

Autumn is indeed the season of "and yet -- and yet --" and of "nevertheless."  A song by Mark Linkous (performing as Sparklehorse) comes to mind:  "Sad and Beautiful World."

Edward Waite (1854-1924)
"The Mellow Year Is Hastening To Its Close" (1896)

Depending upon one's mood at the moment, or one's overall view of life, "nevertheless" may be an exclamation of joy, a cry of despair, or a sigh of acceptance (or some combination of each of these, in varying degrees).  Consider, for instance, this haiku by Bashō:

     This autumn,
How old I am getting:
     Ah, the clouds, the birds!

Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn, page 334.

Bashō wrote the poem on November 13, 1694, during his final illness. He died two weeks later, at the age of 50.  The poem is preceded by this title:  "A wanderer's thought."  (Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary (Stanford University Press 1991), page 407.)

Nagara does not appear in the haiku.  However, "Ah, the clouds, the birds!" functions as a "nevertheless," as an "and yet -- and yet --," to Bashō's opening observation.  But what sort of "nevertheless" is this? One of joy, despair, or acceptance?  Well, that's best left for each of us to decide.

Edward Waite, "Autumn Colouring" (1894)

What a wonderful and breathtaking circumstance:  each year, the seasons play out for us the arc of our life.  This beautiful and mysterious gift should give us pause.  One might fancy that we are part of something that is beyond our ken, and beyond words.  In the meantime, autumn and winter and spring and summer come and go, each with its own "and yet -- and yet --," its own "nevertheless."  How lucky we are.


Leaves talked in the tree
"It will be,"
Wind with lifted tune
A squirrel shook the bough,
"Quick," "Now."

Branch is not changed:
Stands the high stairway where the squirrel ranged,
Just as it stood.
Wind, on fallen key,
"It had to be;"
Leaves drift through the wood.

Geoffrey Scott (1884-1929), Poems (Oxford University Press 1931).

Edward Waite, "Fall of the Year"

Monday, October 7, 2019


It's funny how a poem will return out of the blue, for no apparent reason.  Not the whole poem (my memory is too feeble for that), but an image from it, or the feeling it evokes.  Early last week, this floated up unaccountably:

                     The Fountains

Suddenly all the fountains in the park
Opened smoothly their umbrellas of water,
Yet there was none but me to miss or mark
Their peacock show, and so I moved away
Uneasily, like one who at a play
Finds himself all alone, and will not stay.

W. R. Rodgers, Awake! and Other Poems (Secker & Warburg 1941).

The poem struck me when I first came across it years ago, and it has stayed with me ever since.  I have no desire to pick it apart in order to come to a conclusion as to what it "means."  It is simply (but not so simply) a lovely thing, best left alone.

When out walking -- in any place, under any sky, at any time of day or night, in any season -- have you ever had the feeling that the World is too beautiful to bear?

John Quinton Pringle (1864-1925), "Springtime, Ardersier" (1923)

A few days after I visited "The Fountains," this appeared:

     Just being here,
I am here,
     And the snow falls.

Issa (1763-1827) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, A History of Haiku, Volume 1 (Hokuseido Press 1963), page 359.

On a recent grey afternoon, a strong wind blew steadily when I took my afternoon walk beneath the trees.  The boughs (still leafy, still mostly green, but not for long) tossed and roared overhead.  It seemed as though some sort of denouement was close at hand.  But I immediately realized I was mistaken.  As I often do, I reminded myself to stop thinking.  The World.  There it is.

John Quinton Pringle, "The Window" (1924)