So, I was reading Basho the other day – as you do…
He is, of course, the most famous of the four great haiku masters. Haiku were originally hokku, the opening stanzas of collaborative linked verse poems (haikai no renga, or renku), which gradually evolved into independent poems – in the late 19th century, Shiki renamed them haiku. They have 3 main characteristics:
- Their essence is ‘cutting’ (kiru) – the juxtaposition of two images, separated by a kireji, a Japanese form of verbal punctuation. [There's no specific English equivalent - a caesura is functionally similar, while Western haiku writers usually employ a dash or ellipsis]. This two-part structure, with the kireji prompting a mental leap, ideally links and contrasts two distinct (but related) images or ideas.
- They consist of 17 on, arranged in three phrases of 5, 7, 5 on. On are (uniformly short) Japanese sounds, which Western writers interpret as syllables. Since English syllables are generally longer & more varied, 12 syllables are about equivalent. Despite this, many English haiku writers adhere to a traditional 5, 7, 5 syllable format, while using three lines to reflect the three phrases of a haiku.
- They include a kigo. Again, this doesn’t translate easily – Western haiku writers often focus on nature, but won’t necessarily include a specific seasonal reference. Ultimately, the intent is to use objective imagery (show, don’t tell) to illuminate a feeling, a scene, or even the human condition…
Following in the footsteps of Ezra Pound, the mad old fascist himself, I decided to tackle some haiku – in English obviously, but otherwise in (fairly) traditional format. And just to complicate matters, I also chose to focus on investing as an underlying theme – arguably, just another reflection on the human condition: