A Proposal to American Poets

A Proposal to American Poets

Hokku (seventeen-syllable poem) is like a tiny star, mind you, carrying the whole sky at its back. It is like a slightly-open door, where you may steal into the realm of poesy. It is simply a guiding lamp. Its value depends on how much it suggests. The Hokku poet's chief aim is to impress the reader with the high atmosphere in which he is living. I always compare an English poem with a mansion with windows widely open, even the pictures of its drawing-room being visible from outside. I dare say it does not tempt me much to see the within.

"A cloud of flowers!

Is the bell from Uyeno

Or Asakusa?"

       (Basho.)

Yes, cloud of flowers, of course, in Mukojima, the odorous profusion shutting out every prospect! Listen to the bell sounding from the distance! Does it come from the temple of Uyeno or Asakusa? Doesn't the poem suggest a Spring picture of the river Sumida?

"On a Withered branch,

Lo! the crows are sitting there,

Oh, this Autumn eve!"

       (Basho.)

What a suggestion for the solitariness of a Japanese Autumn evening!

The crows—what a monotonous "Kah! Kah, Kah!"—are the image of melancholy for Japanese.

Basho was a master of Hokku, a great suggester. He made long excursions to the remotest spots frequently, leaving behind him traces which remain to this day in the shapes of stones with his inscription. His monuments are said to number more than one thousand.

Pray, you try Japanese Hokku, my American poets!

You say far too much, I should say.

Here are some of my own attempts in the seventeen-syllable verse:

"My girl's lengthy hair

Swung o'er me from Heaven's gate:

Lo, Evening's shadow!"

 

"Lo, light and shadow

Journey to the home of night:

Thou and I—to Love!"

 

"Where the flowers sleep,

Thank God! I shall sleep, to-night.

Oh, come, butterfly!"

 

"Fallen leaves! Nay, spirits?

Shall I go downward with thee

'Long a stream of Fate?"

 

Notes: