Today’s Two for Tuesday features poems from the book A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons In Poems And Prints, by Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto (a PDF of which can be found here). I’ve been intent on the coming of autumn, but I decided yesterday that I need to appreciate the last days of summer, regardless of the flies. I find that whenever am keenly focused on nature and in search of poems, I turn to Haiku, and admittedly, I am very fond of the frequent appearance of dragonflies in this type of verse.
Haiku is a traditional 13th century form of Japanese verse that depicts a moment in time, or as Cor van den Heuvel wrote in 1987, Haiku is the concise “essence of a moment keenly perceived in which Nature is linked to human nature.” When translated to English, the formal Haiku is supposed to be composed of three lines of verse, usually unrhymed, with five, seven and five syllables. These 17 syllables are akin to the original form of 17 mora, which is a unit of Japanese syllable weight; however, it has been pointed out that roughly 12, not 17 syllables in English are equivalent to the 17 On (phonetic units) of the Japanese Haiku, which only goes to show that strict adherence to form does not necessarily a Haiku make.
Over time, poets have moved away from the strict 17 syllable and line count while focusing more on the economy of form. Importantly, to understand Haiku it should be viewed as more than a short poem, more than a pithy description. For a poem to be Haiku, it must encompass a sense of awareness, an eloquence of brevity. One other aspect of Haiku that should be noted is the use of kigo, which are words or phrases traditionally associated with seasons. I actually found a world database on kigo which contains fairly comprehensive discussions of the Japanese term and its use in Haiku.
The Poetry Foundation has a good description of Haiku that can be found here. A more detailed history of the form can be found on the site With Words, and the British Haiku Society site offers a breakdown of the western views and approaches to the form. Historically, there were four Japanese poets considered masters of the form, sometimes referred to as the Great Four: Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), Yosa Buson (1716-1784), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Seventeenth-century Samurai poet Bashō is often classified as the greatest writer of Haiku; to read more about him you can go here or here for a collection of his verse.
Because of the compact nature of Haiku, I am breaking my self-imposed Tuesday rule and featuring more than two; most of these come from the “Summer” section of the book, and I am including the page numbers on which each can be found. Enjoy.
More later. Peace.
After the thunderstorm
one tree catches the setting sun—
~ Shiki (p48)
Seen in the daylight
it has a red neck—
~ Bashō (p48)
amid the bamboo shoots
sings of old age
~ Bashō (p51)
The garden darkening
the night quieting—
~ Shirao (p52)
The coming of autumn
by a red dragonfly
~ Shirao (p60)
has died his body
~ Bakusui (p63)
completely unaware that
autumn has come
~ Issa (p63)
Music by Rodrigo Rodriguez, “Hitomi (Eyes), composed by Horii Kojiro
“I’m walking through goldenrod in new shoes, shoes I got for a song— like the one I’m singing now that pleases the cicadas, the one that would make Schubert cry. And I love the way the ash is the first tree always to turn” ~ Keith Ratzlaff, from “Yellow Landscape”
Monday afternoon, cloudy and warm, 86 degrees.
So the forecast was wrong, of course. More warm weather in store, but fall is definitely looming. The Gold Finches are buzzing the late summer thistles, and the air is taking on that clear expectancy—not the stillness of a hot summer afternoon, but hesitant, as if awaiting autumn’s redolent aspect. Right after I mentioned how certain trees are already losing their leaves, I came across Keith Ratzlaff’s poem that mentions ash trees losing their leaves first. Serendipitous.
Last night I dreamed about Eamonn; he had just broken up with someone he had been dating, and she was a real piece of work. She sent someone to kill me with a knife. My dreams can be truly frightening at times. Anyway I chose today’s lovely song to go with today’s poem, which reminds me so much of my father, and it is bittersweet to think of him naked to the waist in his backyard on a late summer afternoon, taking a bite out of something he has just picked from his garden. God I miss him so very, very much.
Corey is cutting down trees in preparation for cold weather so that we don’t run out of wood this winter. Last year we were able to rely on Dallas to supplement what we had. This year that won’t be an option, so he’s getting ready. It’s odd to think of all of the small ways in which we depended upon Dallas and he on us, and now he’s gone. I still haven’t grieved for him. There has been no sense of closure, and I find myself angry at people I don’t even know, his kids, but I also do not know the circumstances of their estrangement. I don’t kid myself that Dallas was innocent, as I knew him too well to think that.
Nevertheless, I am still angry, and things feel incomplete, a caesura in time, if you will.
“There was a time, usually late in August, when summer struck the trees with dazzling power and they were rich with leaves but then became, suddenly one day, strangely still, as if in expectation and at that moment aware. They knew. Everything knew, the beetles, the frogs, the crows solemnly walking across the lawn. The sun was at its zenith and embraced the world, but it was ending, all that one loved was at risk.” ~ James Salter, from All That Is
Odd little thing around the homestead: We have swarms of flies that we can’t seem to get rid of; they are everywhere, every room, and not just a few. There are too many to count. Corey has put up fly strips (which I really hate, but they work), and they are covered in dead flies within hours. It’s very strange. It’s as if there are unseen carcasses hanging around the house, attracting these swarms, and you might assume that the house is filthy with waste and masses of trash, but I assure you that it is not.
The flies buzz me as I sit typing; they buzz me as I try to sleep. It’s making me crazy. I really, really hate flies. They are nasty creatures, living on manure and rotting flesh. I have a fly swatter in the bathroom, and I swipe at them each time I go in there, even to wash my hands. The dogs are afraid to follow me into the bathroom now, which bothers them as they think that I may go in and disappear forever. I wonder if flies are just a common pest around these parts, as the saying goes, just another part of living in the country with which I am still unfamiliar.
I remember that last summer we had masses of ladybugs, and I worried about the dogs then as ladybugs can infest the roof of a dog’s mouth, and it’s something to be wary of, but that never happened. So are the swarms of flies like the swarms of ladybugs? Corey did a bit of reading, and there is something that can be added to the big bug zapper that hangs outside; I wonder if it’s worth spending the extra cash to get something like that.
“And I’m singing because who else but a dog could be so happy at finding me here? And I’m singing because yesterday I needed something to hold, and he laid his gold head in my hands.” ~ Keith Ratzlaff, from “Yellow Landscape”
Other strange things: I remember saying to Corey months ago before Dallas kidnapped him for stud that Napoleon was such a spoiled horse that I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to come inside. Well . . . he did. The other day I walked into the living room holding my lunch on a plate, and Napoleon saw me and proceeded to walk through the front door and stand expectantly in the living room. It was crazy—a horse in the house? Really? Who has such things happen?
We do, obviously.
Corey backed him out and put up the gate that we use to keep dogs and goats outside, and the irony is that Napoleon could step over the gate or knock it down quite easily, but it was enough to stop him. So now he stands outside the door and pokes his head inside as if to say, “where’s my treat?”
I have now managed to spoil dogs, cats, goats, a bee, and now a horse. I regret nothing.
“The other day the ash tree lost its leaves in a single afternoon.” ~ Keith Ratzlaff, from “Creation Story”
I searched high and low for the source of the Oscar Wilde quote in the header, but alas, my search was in vain. I don’t believe that it comes from De Profundis or Dorian Gray; I rather think that it’s from one of his poems, but I don’t know which one. Anyone out there have a clue?
Speaking of Oscar Wilde, I really liked the depiction of Dorian Gray in the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, as depicted by Reeve Carney. He was beautiful and thoroughly charming but also a bit scary, just as Wilde depicted him. I happen to think that the series was well done and ended too soon after only three seasons. The show’s creator, John Logan felt that the series should end with the death of Vanessa Ives, portrayed by the wonderful Eva Green. I’ve always loved her; she’s so intense looking, which is what made her perfectly cast for that particular series. I also liked her in the 2011 series Camelot as Morgana, but that one only lasted one season.
Bit of trivia for you: Josh Hartnett from Penny Dreadful has two children with Tamsin Egerton, who played Guinevere in Camelot.
On that note, I think that I’ll close for now. More later. Peace.
Music by Foo Fighters, “Home”
Green Pear Tree in September
On a hill overlooking the Rock River
my father’s pear tree shimmers,
in perfect peace,
covered with hundreds of ripe pears
with pert tops, plump bottoms,
and long curved leaves.
Until the green-haloed tree
rose up and sang hello,
I had forgotten. . .
He planted it twelve years ago,
when he was seventy-three,
so that in September
he could stroll down
with the sound of the crickets
rising and falling around him,
and stand, naked to the waist,
slightly bent, sucking juice
from a ripe pear.
“I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God hep us to be men.” ~ Cesar Chavez
I found myself thinking about Cesar Chavez today, mostly because of the continued assaults on immigrants and migrants being perpetuated by this administration, the most recent of which is the abolition of the medical deferred action program (more on that later). Chavez was an American labor leader and a civil rights activist who firmly believed in the efficacy of non-violent protest. And yes, his quotes are dated in that they use men/them, man/him, etc., but he was a product of his times, so I don’t read him as being sexist.
Anyway, Chavez is actually one of the first civil rights activists whose name I learned in my youth (aside from King, Kennedy, etc). I remember reading about his hunger strikes in 1968 and 1972, and the last of which was in 1988. That last fast was big in the news as several famous individuals took up the fast once Chavez completed his 36-day Fast for Life on August 21, 1988: The Reverend Jesse Jackson, Martin Sheen, the Reverend J. Lowery (President SCLC), Edward James Olmos, Emilio Estevez, Kerry Kennedy, legislator Peter Chacon, Julie Carmen, Danny Glover, Carly Simon, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Chavez regarded fasting as both a personal and public protest. Of fasting, he said,
A fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes.
Not sure why Chavez popped up on my internal radar today, but I’m going with it. If you want to learn more about him and the American Farm Workers union, go here.
(Note: I couldn’t decide on a poem for today’s post. Most of the ones that I liked are still under copyright, and I couldn’t find a poem that was specifically about Chavez.)
Today is supposed to be the last day for a while in which temperatures approach 90. That’s a good thing. I need to get back into the habit of walking the property, and because of my weird, new reaction to bug bites, I’m looking forward to the cooling temperatures and the reduction of no-see-ums buzzing and biting me.
As today is the last day of August, I thought that I’d share this passage from Austrian poet, essayist, lecturer, and author Ingeborg Bachmann. Bachmann was a member of the literary circle Gruppe 47 or Group 47. To read her biography, go here.
August! There they were, the days of iron made red-hot in the forge. The times resounded.
The beaches were besieged and the sea no longer rolled forward its armies of waves, but feigned exhaustion. deep and blue.
On the grill, in the sand, roasted, moiré: the easily corruptible flesh of man. Before the sea, among the dunes: the flesh.
He was afraid because the summer squandered itself so. Because this meant that autumn would soon come. August was full of panic, full of the compulsion to snatch at life and hurry to start living.”
~ Ingeborg Bachmann, from The Thirtieth Year: Stories
Music by John Prine, “Summer’s End”
A Kind Of Loss
Used together: seasons, books, a piece of music.
The keys, teacups, bread basket, sheet and a bed.
A hope chest of words, of gestures, brought back, used, used up.
A household order maintained. Said. Done. And always a head was there.
I’ve fallen in love with winter, with a Viennese septet, wiht summer.
With Village maps, a mountain nest, a beach and a bed.
Kept a calender cult, declared promises irrevocable,
bowed before something, was pious to a nothing
(-to a folded newspaper, cold ashes, the scribbled piece of paper) ,
fearless in religion, for our bed was the church.
From my lake view arose my inexhaustible painting.
From my balcony I greeted entire peoples, my neighbors.
By the chimney fire, in safety, my hair took on its deepest hue.
The ringing at the door was the alarm for my joy.
It’s starting to feel like fall, which is a bit unnerving. It seems that the seasons change rather quickly here on the ridge. I mentioned this a few months ago when Corey and I were wondering why we weren’t seeing all of the green of spring, and then less than a week later, we were surrounded by green: the trees were covered in leaves, and buds were blooming everywhere you looked. Now, we’re already seeing the leaves turn on certain trees, the birches, I think.
Once again, I wish that I had some extra cash so that I could work on refinishing cabinets and furniture, but of course, there is none of that, at least not yet. I wish that my other mother were still around as I desperately need to cover the couch in a fabric that is dog and goat proof, if such a thing exists. She was so good at that.
I had one of those dreams last night in which I was back at the middle school. I don’t know why I continue to dream about that place and the people in it. The kids I taught would all be grown with their own kids, or in jail, or dead. I know that sounds like a horrible thing to opine, but truly, I have no doubts that some of those kids are in jail, one in particular who scared the crap out of me, and he was only 12.
Anyway, I was back there looking for a book that I had donated by mistake. Weird, huh?
Today’s Two for Tuesday features works by Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet James Wright (December 13, 1927–March 25, 1980), who was phenomenal; he could say so much about loneliness and isolation in very few words, and he was masterful in closing a poem. Wright, who was born in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, suffered from alcoholism and manic depression; he died as a result of tongue cancer.
Mari introduced me to Wright years ago, and “Lying in a Hammock” (below) remains one of my favorites and is surpassed in my mind only by “A Blessing.” I can relate deeply to the last line of “Hammock.” His posthumous book of collected works, Above the River (1992) is a prized possession that, thankfully, never made it into storage but always had a reserved spot on my desk. I remember exactly where I bought it: in a bookstore in Charlottesville, VA after having lunch; Corey, the boys, and I were in the mountains for a fall hike. When I finally find the box in which it was packed, it will be like Christmas all over again.
To see a good biography, go here or here. In the summer 1975 issue, he was featured in The Paris Review‘s “Art of Poetry (No. 19), in which Wright declared that “poetry can keep life itself alive.”
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden’s blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.