In sweat-summer heat
first the thunder, then lightning
this backward storm strike –
Sharp the rise and fall
this faceless pain inflicted
leaves an evening burn.
It’s some haikus, my old friends. I went to my first and certainly not my last evening of Kendo Club today. Had I known such a thing existed on my campus, I would have gone sooner. I even quizzed half my students about it, but I was clearly asking the wrong questions, the wrong students, or questions too difficult for their level. Two thirds didn’t know – one third said they did kendo at high school, but now don’t. Kendo is Japanese fencing, to sum it up briefly, and I was unprepared for the unrestrained aggression and violence, the pounding of the floor, the echoing bone-like thwack of the sticks – respectively the “thunder” and the “lightning” in the first verse. And it is definitely thunderstorm season here – there’s one every third day, pretty much.
I’ve learnt a new fact about haiku – if they don’t contain a “seasonal” word, then they are incomplete. As it is now summer, I need to write haikus that reference this, or a summer flower or month, or summer festival – this kind of thing. In the second haiku of the pair, I decided “burn” would be enough.
I’ve also decided that haiku, designed for Japanese sentences, is much more difficult in English. Take this for example, a haiku I constructed in about 4 seconds in my first ever attempted haiku in Japanese:
Watashi wa Mattu desu,
It may seem to have too many syllables – that’s ‘coz you’re not pronouncing it the Japanese way (“Hajimemash-te”, “des”, “yorosh-ku”). Roughly translated, it means, “Nice to meet you, my name is Matt, it’s a pleasure.” I can say much more complicated Japanese than this now – in fact, a) I knew that much before I came and b) I just had a kendo session half in Japanese and half in signs and body language. So I’m doing OK.
Anyway, my point is that it took me no time at all, beginner in Japanese as I am, to make a Japanese haiku. The words, the syllables, the breaks, they all flowed beautifully, perfectly, into a haiku. Japanese is a language that moves in a 5,7,5 rhythm. English works in iambic tetrameter (8 beats like a heartbeat) – hence all the English poetry like that. Try and write a Japanese poem in iambic tetrameter and it’ll be difficult. Hey, maybe I’ll try that for the next post.
Perhaps a better English haiku would be 6,8.6. Certainly every line I compose ends in an even number of syllables. Hence the above poem’s fillers – “in”, “then”, “this” – to maintain the pattern. Probably there are some English haiku forms proposed out there, and I should go off researching and report back.
However, one last thing to say in it’s defence. In Japanese, haikus have a completeness and a wholeness that works with the conciseness – there’s just no need to say more. In English, perhaps it holds a different charm – the charm of the incomplete, the transient, the floating. And after all, all those qualities are also very “Japanese”.