Haiku, the traditional Japanese verse form composed of seventeen syllables, can express a dramatic scene or philosophical idea in a single line of verse. In this collection, haiku poet Yuzuru Miura has selected and translated poems by past masters such as Bashô and Buson, as well as haiku by contemporary poets. Fireflies, pheasants, a summer shower, winter snow, camellias-all the favourite haiku subjects are included among the one hundred poems of this impressive anthology.
Preface to the book by Miura Yuzuru
A Japanese haiku is a microcosm composed of seventeen syllables. Within this limited compass, haiku poets are able to express a great variety of feelings and thoughts, at times catching a glimpse of eternity through the evanescent, through the commonplace.
Every great poet, Japanese or otherwise, is a haiku-minded artist, I believe. For example, the mystic poet William Blake, like a traditional haiku poet, could see the world in the palm of a hand, could imagine the cosmos in a small wildflower by the roadside.
On the following pages are English translations of one hundred Japanese haiku written by ancient greats - Bashô, Buson, and Issa - and celebrated moderns - Shiki, Kyoshi, and Dakotsu. As the criterion for choosing the poems was literary merit rather than historical significance, Bashô's well-known haiku about the frog and the old pond is not included in the collection. The poet Takahama Kyoshi has stated that Bashô's poem reveals the starting point of Bashô's direct natural description but the poem itself is trite. Written in 1686 when Bashô was 43, the poem is more important for its historical significance than for its artistic attainment.
For people unfamiliar with Chinese characters, each haiku in the volume is printed in romaji, the romanized form of Japanese. An additional reason for including the romaji is that although the assonance, onomatopoeia, and other poetic features of the original Japanese cannot be satisfactorily reproduced in English translation, such features are apparent in the romaji.
The Japanese original appears in three lines without punctuation; the romaji is rendered in three lines, often of five, seven, and five syllables; the English translation also uses three lines. Of course, literal translation of Japanese to English is difficult - too often unnatural and distorted - and lines in English translation cannot always correspond to lines written in romaji. Above all, my chief intent in presenting these translations has been to convey the poetic essence of the originals.
Haiku are inseparable from the changing seasons, and the one hundred poems of this book fall into haiku's five traditional categories: spring; summer, fall, winter, and New Year's. The number of poems within each category differs because artistic worth is more important than numerical arrangement.
One way to think of a haiku is as a kind of word picture dotted with images on its canvas. Such thinking led to the inclusion of illustrations and calligraphy to accompany certain poems.
Composing verse in the traditional seventeen-syllable form remains very popular in modern Japan. I sincerely hope that this little book will be a great help in promoting haiku in both the East and the West.
For the publication of this book I am grateful to the staff of the Charles E. Tuttle Company; to Mrs. Katô Kokô, president of the Kô Poetry Association, member of the managing board of the Museum of Haiku Literature, and councilor of the International Haiku Association; to Mr. Ishizaki Ryokufû, a leading staff member of the haiku magazine Kô; and to the internationally famous painter Saitô Gorô and the calligrapher Yokoi Enshû, who amused our eyes with beautiful illustrations and dynamic calligraphy. I take this opportunity to thank again these persons.
About the author
Yuzuru Miura is an English literature professor at Chukyo University in Nagoya. In 1984 he published Suuifuto kanken (A Glimpse of Swift). A writer whose talents span both hemispheres, Miura is also an established haiku poet.
1st Paperback Edition 2001, Paperback 120pp, 13.5 x 20.2 cm