Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquakes, Tidal Waves and the Haiku

It's been an eerie day. I opened my history book on Japan and, before starting work, took a look on the BBC news website and saw tsunami, whirlpools and Tokyo shaking. I spent a couple of hours mesmerisedly watching video footage, not quite believing the country that has so occupied my thoughts for the last few days was suddenly the centre of attention: drivers of lone cars attempted to escape the grey-slurried front of water; containers from ships jostled against the uplifted and floating superstructure of whole houses; and a kind of soup appeared to move quite leisurely across ploughed fields. From the viewpoint of a helicopter's cameraman it seemed weirdly peaceful, the whole thing out of proportion, like some accident with a water bucket over someone's lovingly-built model village. It was only the footage at ground level that made it terrifyingly believable.

Eventually I tore myself away and went back to the book. I read while the history of this stricken country played out in my mind. Warlords and clan chieftains fought for power. Eventually, due to the efforts of three strong men, Japan unified, but it was a hard struggle.

The price for peace turned out to be seclusion (because the Jesuits had an irritating tendency to convert people which was unsettling), and while the rest of the world learnt about telescopes and gravity, Japan turned inwards and watched dramas called No or comedies called Kabuka, or puppet shows called Bunraku. They also composed Haiku.

Matsuo Basho (1644-94) was a great practioner of the Haiku, and I have discovered, at very long last, what exactly is meant by a Haiku. I've known for a long time about the 5- 7- 5 syllable rule but I'd always suspected there was more to it than that. W. Scott Morton is obviously admiring of the form and gave a good definition. It is a vignette, uses a fragment of a scene usually from nature, and then there is a sudden subjective turn indicating the effect of the scene on the poet. It is deliberately open-ended and depends on the imagination of the reader. It sounds rather like a good novel.


Blogger Marly Youmans said...

Only smaller.

Yes, a good day to be reading about Japan. "The sun also rises."

Sat Mar 12, 01:17:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Well, those are the 'mots justes' if any are, Marly! Thank you.

Sat Mar 12, 09:30:00 am  

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