One of my favourite things about the Kindle is being able to buy long essays or short stories in the form of Kindle singles such as The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield, an American author and poet. I have always wanted to know more about haiku and was able to satisfy my curiosity for just 99 cents.
Hirshfield uses her own poetic skills to write beautifully about the poetry, life and journeys of Matsuo Bashō, who in the seventeenth century, “substantially remade the shape of Japanese literature, by taking a verse form of almost unfathomable brevity and transforming it into a near-weightless, durable instrument for exploring a single moment’s precise perception and resinous depths.”
Bashō taught his students “that if you see for yourself, hear for yourself, and enter deeply enough this seeing and hearing, all things will speak with and through you” and used this philosophy to master image-based poems of seventeen sound units, written in lines of five, seven, and then five units each.
They combine the concepts of sabi which is “to feel keenly one’s own sharp and particular existence amid its own impermanence” and wabi, which is to appreciate the beauty of the most ordinary circumstances and objects.
Two of my favourite haikus in the book:
spring leaving –
fishes’ eyes filled with tears
yukuharu ya tori naki uo no me wa namida
a hangover ?
while there are blossoms
futsukayoi monokawa hana no aru aida
Hirshfield shows that the form has been brought bang up to date in the 21st century with more than 19,000 haiku about Spam, “Spamku”, being posted online.
She provides proof that “even the briefest form of poetry can have a wing-span of immeasurable breadth.”