POETRY ALONG THE WAY
by Buddhist monks, who used part of a character to represent the sound of all of it. Like hiragana it is still in common use, mainly to represent foreign words and for military communications.
Some people enjoy reciting poetry, others enjoy listening to it being recited, whilst some simply enjoy reading it quietly to themselves. Then again, some of us like to write poetry, whilst the vast majority of people neither listen to it nor write it. Since both reading and writing poetry can be therapeutic, we should never not write it because we think no one will ever read it. If what we write helps us to cope better, it will help others through our better coping. In any case, most poetry does get read by someone somewhere, and many people often find simple, largely unknown lines more helpful than some of the 'greatest' poetry ever written. We grow up believing certain poetry is 'great' because that is what we have been told from an early age.
On being shown some Japanese poetry which had been translated into English, someone once remarked: That's not poetry; it's nothing more than a statement about the weather. To which came the swift reply: But don't you see? Weather is poetry. The poet is recording the poetry of a unique moment in time. This shows the main difference between Eastern and Western attitudes towards poetry. Happily, certain styles of Japanese poetry have now become popular in the West, which has developed its own versions of both waka (tanka) and haiku.
Because both Chinese and Japanese use similar ideographs for writing, it is easy to assume that their respective languages are closely related. Whereas Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages, Japanese has no known relatives. Whereas Chines is monosyllabic, Japanese is polysyllabic.
Chinese and Korean scholars brought the art of writing to Japan towrds the end of the Fourth Century AD. A learned Chinese scribe, known as Wan'i, gave lessons in the Chinese language to the Emperor Ojin, whose successor, Nintoku, adopted Chinese as the official language of the imperial court. Although, at this time, the Japanese vernacular was still pure and spoken by the rest of the nation, Chinese phrases soon began to be adopted in elite circles as a form of mild snobbery.
Up to this time Japanese had never been written down. Attempts were now made to do so using Chinese characters. However, since the characters are merely representative of certain objects or concepts, they have no phonetic value. Although the ideographs were universal in China, each of them was pronounced differently in the various dialects. Only after a long struggle were they adapted to fit in with the Japanese language. A limited number of Chinese characters were ruthlessly simplified and made to fit the component sounds of Japanese words.
It was near the end of the Seventh Century AD before Japanese words could be faithfully written down, largely due to the parallel development of two phonetic scripts known as hiragana and katakana. Hiragana, a beautiful script, became known as 'women's hand', because written communication between elite males was exclusively in Chinese. However, since their womenfolk could not speak Chinese, they were obliged to write short poems and love messages to them in hiragana. Katakana was a shorthand devised
The moon launches our vessels.
Why do you wonder?
Moonrise arouses the tide!
Unfurl your sails and embark!
This broken style may well have been the origin of haiku, for as we see, the first three lines 5:7:5 have their own meaning apart from the last two 7:7.
By the end of the Heian period and more universally in the Kamakura period (1192-1392), writing long chains of linked verse came into fashion. This was achieved by splitting up the waka into two parts as in the Princess Nukada example and then alternating the two sections in a chain of verses as in this example:
It does my heart good
To explode in a whirlwind
Of fire and smoke.
Her innocence set the spark
Of joyous conflagration.
What do I do now?
How do I descend a peak
That I didn't scale?
Come my mother! Come O Night!
Make a star shute to slide down!
In the Muromachi period (1393-1602), with the coming of the poet Sogi (1421-1502), the art of linked verse reached its perfection in his masterpiece entitledMinase Sangin.
Snow-capped as they are,.
The gentle slopes of the mountains
Fade into the hazy mist
At twilight on a spring day.
The river descends far and distant,
Plum fragrance filling the village.
In a soft river breeze
Stands a single willow tree
Fresh in spring colour.
At early dawn every push of the oar
Is audible from a passing boat.
There must be a moon
Dying in the morning sky
Wrapped in a heavy fog.
The ground is covered with frost,
The autumn is drawing to its close.
In a sorrowful voice
A cricket is heard singing
Beneath the withering grass
I paid a call on a friend of mine,
Taking a desolate lane by the hedge
Each verse is a whole poem in its own right, but together they become one poem because each verse builds on the suggestion contained in the previous one thus creating a theme. Lilian Calder has achieved something similar to this with her four superb haiku, showing that haiku can be just as effective when composed with English as the mother tongue.have developed in many countries. Some westerners no longer adhere either to the strict 5:7:5 pattern or to the traditional nature content of the haiku, thus creating a whole new Western haiku concept. However, many of us, especially in Zen circles, prefer to adhere to the traditional forms.
Here it needs to be remembered that, in the original Japanese, the visual expression of a poem is equal in importance to its content. The calligraphy of the poem is lost when it is translated into English. Literal translation also loses the syllabic sequence of 5:7:5 for haiku and 5:7:5:7:7 for waka. To retain these the poems have to be rewritten.
Haiku is now very popular in the West, where haiku clubs and societies
from Now And Zen - August 2000