Monday, April 11, 2011

Ode to Bashō and A Few Art Haikus

Matsuo Bashō was a famous poet during Edo Japan born November 28, 1644 in Ueno, a province of Iga (now part of Mie Prefecture). His poetic form was the haibun, a combination of haiku and prose. His haiku poems are recognized as the ultimate examples of this style. A compilation book published by Penguin Classics and translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa, (1966) presents five of Bashō’s travel sketches, The Record of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton, A Visit to the Kashima Shrine, The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, A Visit To Sarahina Village and The Narrow Road To The Deep North. As with any translated work, there is certainly something lost but we can only be gracious in this unenviable task and be understanding of the admitted limitations. The fact that it is poetry adds to the acuteness of errors but in any case, I sadly cannot read Japanese. For those who can, I envy that you can read these in their natural form.


Bashō’s travels extended throughout Japan and take years to “complete”. There is of course a quest quality to these stories but there is just as much a heartening sense of companionship and the enrichments of human contact. Bashō named himself thus from a bashō tree that was presented as a gift and planted by his home. This is a type of banana tree that does not fruit or flower or have a trunk that can be of any use. Bashō seems to have relished in the uselessness of this tree. Through Bashō’s travels there is a sense of the external complications of existing, the desire for solitude and of seeking, the mundane and the persistent that are one in the same as they are elemental. This idea of the quest is timeless but the telling of it by Bashō far exceeds the novelty of Kerouac.


The prose elements are like brief journal entries, they place the time in between the destinations of the shrine or the friend’s home or a certain tree. They can briefly contain the unremarkable events of days and weeks and guides you to whatever present experience Bashō wants to share with you in the form of a haiku. The haikus are about the specifics, sometimes written by one of his traveling companions or at the request of a stranger just met. These tend to use nature as stand-ins for emotion and time. Their form also requires the slowing of the pace of reading, something that is wonderful to submit to. Below are some examples of haiku and prose verse in this compilation:



Should I hold them in my hand,

They disappear

In the warmth of my tears,

Icy strings of frost.



The Murder Stone was in a dark corner of a mountain near a hot spring, and was completely wrapped in the poisonous gas rising from it. There was such a piles of dead bees, butterflies, and other insects, that the real colour of the ground was hardly discernible.



Bitten by fleas and lice,

I slept in a bed,

A horse urinating all the time

Close to my pillow.



No matter where I fall

On the road,

Fall will I to be buried

Among flowering bush-clovers



In a silly homage to Bashō I will now write a few haiku’s about some art thoughts and experiences I have had this past week. I am being intentionally glib as to attempt this form in any just way would require a skill that I am not equipped with. Please note that traditional Japanese haiku is composed of 17 on (sound units) not 17 syllables. As was remarked earlier, it is regrettable the complications brought on by translation. The English application of the haiku form has been predominantly practiced using a 5,7,5 syllabic form (17 syllables total) while in truth if following traditional Japanese form this translates to roughly 12 English syllables to the Japanese 17. For all intents and purposes though I will use the more inculcated English 5-7-5 form. Although presumably an incorrect form, it is easier to follow this then to pretend I have a mastery of poetic syllabic content. Here goes:



If he were still here

Warhol sits in a corner

Fearing silver face


Long Island City

What has become of your back

A daffodil scar


Vaulted mirrored room

Trembles CMYK sky

Found him there naked


A room of faces

Masks of sumi lines surround

Come hang out with us


Your voice is a box

memory machine maker

Drum drum the kids say


China will defeat

All of us eventually

It will be okay