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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Saturday, December 08, 2012


Dconstructing Haiku 2

Dconstructing Haiku 2 by timtak
Dconstructing Haiku 2, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The Buson haiku that sticks in my mind more than any other is
五月雨や 大河を前 に家二軒
Samidare ya, Ookawa o mae, Ni ei ni ken

A May shower 'n,
A big river prior,
To two houses.

At first this haiku may seem intractable to Dconstruction* and a straightforward description of a scene. The poet is just standing in the rain looking a a couple of houses on the far bank of a large river. Yes that is what the poet is doing.

But, also, on further inspection this three phrase poem is managing to do what almost no other haiku achieves - to feed the viewer not one but two interpretation tainted, symbolically produced images, before taking them both away to leave only the emotion and the truth of the image: the terrible purity of the experience.

The first trick in this poem is that the poet makes us think that he is talking about seeing rain. The second is that the "ya" in the first phrase usually means "lo" "look" or "!" Ordinarily, the first line would mean "Lo, it's a May shower," but here it doesn't. Panning poetic exclamations, Buson is just telling it as it is.

As noted the previous post, Basho sets up a poem with "May shower" before telling us that he is talking about the rainwater in the river. Echoing that poem both in subject and style, the immeasurably laconic Buson manages to trick us twice.

By the time we get to the second phrase, we start to realise that the "ya" in the first was not "lo and behold" but simply "and," echoing, more prosaically, the way in which Basho's "quick" turns out to mean the speed of the river, not that of collection.

It is difficult to find a word in English that can mean both "look" and "and" but I have gone with what may sound like a meditative "nnn," which turns into the "'n" of "fish 'n chips." 

In any event, by the time we get to the end of the second phrase (o mae)  "prior," the penny really starts to drop. Buson wasn't even looking at the river!

The poet wasn't looking at a May shower at all (which are generally invisible, like jumping frogs) or even at a river, but at two houses. We realise that once upon a time a soaking wet poet stood in the rain near a big river looking with longing at the two houses on the far side. He did not see the May shower. There is a good chance he did not even see the big river, though his mind was full of negative thoughts regarding both of them. He was probably wet through. The sound of the shower and the roar of the river were probably amplifying the cold.

All he actually saw, or at least all that he was actually looking at, was two houses. And when we see that pair of houses with Buson, the "May shower" and the "big river", dissolve like raindrops in his boundless, longing gaze.

The use of "ni" (two and to) twice in the final line emphasises the solitariness of the poet and the warm welcoming communion of the houses he wishes he could reach.

*Dconstruction a Nacalian transformation of Derridean Deconstruction, wherein instead of showing how a text uses image tainted signs to purify the sign, shows how sign tainted images are are used to purify the image.

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.