Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Onset of Spring - Yuyama Sangin Hyakuin Verses 1, 11, 12

Just as I just discovered Minase Sangin Hyakuin in a previous post, I have recently begun reading another great renga work called Yuyama Sangin Hyakuin, a 100 verse poem - each verse linked to the previous one by image or word play.  Renga linked verse poetry was very popular in Medieval Japan.

Yuyama Sangin Hyakuin was created by the three Japanese poets--Sogi, Shohaku, and Socho (1488).  After visiting Minase and creating one epic renga, their next stop was Yuyama.  They were basically on a road trip, stopping at a few temples along the way to create renga poems and party afterwards.  True story.

While passing around the sake, and observing strict "ba" rules of  renga session behavior, they penned this classic poem, considered one of their finest.

Since I haven't finished reading all of the poem's 100 verses I will share my favorite two "linked" verses so far - verse 11 and 12.  I also admire verse 1, the all important opening verse, and share it as well.

Yuyama Sangin
Verses 11 & 12
Sōgi, Shohaku, Sōchō
English Japanese

Even in my remote village
I see snow has melted away
Without a trace.  (Sōchō)

Would that in this world as well
the true path appear. (Sōgi)

furusato mo
nokorazu kiyuru
yuki o mite.

yo ni koso michi wa
[Poem from article: Three Poets at Yuyama Sogi and Yuyana Sangin Hyakuin, 1491 by STEVEN D. CARTER]

In my own words I think the poem may be saying this: 

"After such a long, lonely Winter in this small remote village, we are delighted to find the snow melting away and revealing a path; this is a sign of the onset of Spring!  However, in life great suffering could be avoided if only a true path to happiness were so easily understood."

So Sōchō and Sōgi spun off these two verses,  the first expressing a joy felt by the onset of Spring, while the second ponders hopeless submission to a life of suffering. 

Now, the opening verse (see below) was created by Shōhaku.  He beautifully describes a scenic moment one might observe just prior to Spring as the sunshine has almost melted the ice and is already  uncovering last year's Autumn leaves.  

Opening Verse 1Poet:
English translation by:Japanese
On the mountain path
the leaves lie richly colored
under a thin snow.
usuyuki ni
konoha irokoki
yamaji kana
[From Three Poets at Yuyama Sogi and Yuyana Sangin Hyakuin, 1491 by STEVEN D. CARTER]

Do you interpret these verses the same way I did?  They are three of my favorites (today).

Please feel free to comment....

Autumn - Deer -- a Haiku Painting by Otsuyu

I know when Autumn has arrived as do most people, and even as do wild animals; the color of Maple tree leaves begin changing from green, to yellow, to red.

So how would a deer living in an evergreen pine forest sense the onset of Autumn? 

Well...if you treat the answer artistically for a moment as did Nakagawa Otsuyu, you may conclude the deer, lonely in the woods, frightened and unable to measure its life's pace by the changing of the season, suddenly bolts down from the mountain and through the forest. 

Arriving at the foot of the mountain the deer, running full speed through the meadow below, glances back from where it came and screams, frightened by where it had been but relieved to be free in the sunshine amongst leaf-strewn Oaks and Maples.

Deer, a haiku painting, was created by Ise poet Nakagawa Otsuyu (1675 - 1739) - he is also known as Bakurin. I enjoy this painting for the way it very simply and beautifully shows a deer bounding out of the mountain, at least as I imagine it. 

Notice the three hump-shaped brush strokes painted from the picture's upper right edge, continuing diagonally down through the deer's body, then up, then down, as the shape of the bottom of the calligraphy?   I really like that...

The haiku poem written in highly stylized calligraphy above is as follows:

Nakagawa Otsuyu
English translation Japanese
The mountain
no deer's cry has reached
is still green.
shika no ne no
todokanu yama wa
mada aoshi

Poem from article: Haiga : Takebe Sōchō and the Haiku-painting tradition

Do you suppose the mountain remains green in Autumn due to indifference to the deer's distress, or might there be some boring botanical explanation?

Please comment and share your thoughts.

Along the Road - Saigyō

This waka (poem) "Along the Road" was created by Saigyō (1118 - 1190), a Japanese wandering monk-poet and former samurai. The haiku picture shows Saigyō in the Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首).

Here is the waka poem:
Title: Along the RoadPoet: Saigyō
English translation Japanese

Along the road
a pure stream flows
in the shade of a willow.

Wanting to rest
I paused - and have not left.

michi no be ni
shimi zu nagaruru
yanagi kage

shibashi to te koso
Poem from article: Haiga : Takebe Sōchō and the Haiku-painting tradition

Now, how beautiful is that?

I have felt this way many times while hiking shaded paths alongside mountain streams, through old-growth forests where only filtered sunshine occasionally streamed down between the trees.  Suddenly the trail emerges from the forest into bright sunshine at a small clearing by a stream. 

During my recent hike along the Upper Dungenous River, that clearing had a perfect resting spot near the edge of the forest, but still in the sunshine by the river.  Arriving,  I dropped my backpack to the ground and, using it as a pillow, rested with the feeling I would never choose to leave.

Have you had this kind of moment before - the one Saigyō so elegantly describes? 
Please comment...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Old Pond - Bashō

When I first began discovering haiga, renga, and waka poetry, books on these subjects invariably referred to master poet Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉) as the father of haiku, whose most fameous poem was Old Pond .

In 1686 Bashō included  Old Pond in the book Frog Contest (kawazu awase) so you might naturally suspect the poem to conjure images of a frog, jumping, and an old pond - Bashō does not disappoint.

This haiku of Bashō's was indeed a masterpiece.  The poem evokes a beautiful serene moment, a simple motion, and a sound which breaks the silence.

"Old Pond"Poet:

Old pond
a frog jumps
the sound of water

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

Here is the Haiga painted by Bashō - he also inscribed the calligraphy.
(click on picture)
Such a poem, once it has become famous, can have unpredictable ripple affects!

Ripple Affect:  100 years after Bashō created Old Pond, it remained so famous that many people wanted paintings of Bashō to also include his poem, which would then be added by a professional calligrapher.  Some calligraphers however refused to "subjugate" their art by providing such highly commercial services while others begrudgingly accepted the commissions.

So, around the year 1800 Suzuki Nanrei painted just such a picture of Bashō, then asked scholar/ calligrapher Kameda Bōsai to inscribed Old Pond onto it. 

Instead of refusing the job, Nanrei  tweaked the poem, just a little, then inked it onto the painting.  Nanrei obviously had a wry sense of humor; here is what he wrote:

Old pond
after jumping
no frog!

I'm not sure who would hang this one on their wall, but here it is:
(click on picture)

Incidentally, I also like the following translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa:

Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond
A frog jumped into water—
A deep resonance

References I used for his post primarily were:
1.  The narrow road to the Deep North, and other travel sketches
2.  Haiga : Takebe Sōchō and the Haiku-painting tradition

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Over the Ice

One dark night, while camping on a Mount Baker's Coleman Glacier, I peered out of my tent to see a full moon and an approaching snow storm.  It was so cold I had been trying to sleep fully clothed, including heavy boots and with a backpack under my legs to stay warm.

I could never have imagined that 600 years earlier in 1473, a 15th century Japanese poet had so perfectly captured my frozen moment in time.

This poet-priest-scholar was named Sōgi; the poem is called Over the Ice, it is only two verses in length, and it contains a total of 31 syllables.

The poem's images are fresh.
"Over the Ice"Poet:
English translation by:
Stephen D. Carter
Over the ice
A cold wind blows.

In the sky's expanse
Clouds speed past the moon
On a clear night
Kōri no ue o
Kaze wa yuku nari

Kumo hayaki
Tsuki no ōzora
Sayuru yo ni

My camp site on the Coleman glacier is shown below.
Please click on picture;

Sunset At Highcamp Posted by Picasa

Over the Ice poem may be found in an article called Three Poets at Yuyama; Sogi and Yuyama Sangin Hyakuin.