Gabriel   Rosenstock






An early draft of Haiku Enlightenment was serialised in the e-journal World Haiku Review.






Copyright©: Gabriel Rosenstock

Copyright©: The authors quoted







‘Forgetting oneself is being enlightened by all things.’




‘Every day is a good day.’




Haiku: One-breath poetry, traditionally in seventeen syllables (5-7-5), now increasingly practised outside of Japan as a free-style form. It owes its inspiration to a meditative instant of perception in which the experiencer of the haiku moment is suddenly at one with the phenomena perceived or object viewed.



Senryu: One-breath poetry, less nature-centred and lighter than haiku, often touching on human foibles.

(Author’s definitions)







World-wide praise for Haiku Enlightenment:


Gabriel Rosenstock offers us a marvelous path into the essence of haiku and the state of being in harmony with the laws of the universe. Take this path. It is a real spiritual gift!

                   Ion Codrescu, Romania


A learned, imaginative and profound commentary on haiku with many outstanding examples from around the globe, demonstrating the form’s universal appeal. Persons with little knowledge of haiku will be captivated, while those with expertise will feel renewed …

                   George Swede, Canada


There is no better ambassador for haiku! Through  workshops, reviews, translations and, now, in this book, Rosenstock offers enlightenment to an increasing number of people in a most humanistic way – ‘soft energy paths’ (A. Lovins) that stream through the heart and brain.

                             Heinz Bossert, Germany


If you believe, as Rosenstock certainly does, that the best way to start along a new path is to be swept off your feet, this is the kind of book to read. Rosenstock is an excellent teacher, wise enough to realise that in describing haiku (as in so many other things) examples are worth a million words. He spreads before us a variegated tapestry of haiku, by poets in all places and at all times since haiku began, as well as from his own ingenious pen, in which ‘the spirit of play and the play of spirit are simultaneous and one’.

                   David Cobb, England


From the wealth of his experience, Rosenstock gives profound advice and useful tips for the wanderer on the haiku path, showing us how sudden enlightenment can happen in our ordinary life.

                   Ruth Franke, Germany


With edifying purpose, the author subtly introduces examples of haiku’s apocalyptic potential of transfiguration, known in haiku and Zen as ‘spiritual interpenetration’ and, by so doing, offers the reader an opportunity to witness – through numinous haiku moments – the entwining of the Universal Spirit with Its Self.

I salute Gabriel’s literary skill and applaud his spiritual discernment. Haiku Enlightenment is an altogether admirable work: one that reveals an astounding ascent of soul.

James W. Hackett, Hawaii




Haiku Enlightenment …………….00



Stabs at Nothing…………………...00

haiku and senryu

 by Gabriel Rosenstock





Conclusion………………………. . ...00



Writing Haiku: Useful Tips…………00



Glossary of Useful Terms ……………00



Key Quotes …………………………..00




The dynamic pause … In haiku, we pause for a few concentrated seconds. Not to escape from the helter-skelter – or tedium – of existence but to allow ourselves seep into the life of things in a dynamic way. Haiku is a good way of coming to a stop. A full stop!

The haiku moment refreshes us, focuses and strengthens us, encouraging us to continue on a pathless path which reveals itself uniquely to us all:


 Who goes there?


                   midstream halt –

                   the horseman looks up

                   at the falling stars

                                                H F  Noyes


Time has stopped for that horseman. Does he even know who he is anymore? An Indian sage, Poonjaji, says: ‘Enlightenment does not happen in time. It happens when time stops.’ We will see many instances of haiku as a time-stopping device in the course of this book. Keep a sharp look out! Get ready to stop. What we view may well be minute or  minuscule but will contain a cosmos.


Opening the casements of perception … These intimate haiku-pauses ground us in the mystery of being as we open ourselves, time and time again, to new vistas and to keener insights into the living, changing universe we inhabit. They allow us to be attuned to the rhythm, colour, sound, scent, movement and stillness of life, from season to season, whoever, whatever or wherever we are.

Haiku may be used as a technique which facilitates an instant flooding of the mind. No known side-effects. More about that – much more – as we go on.

Though we may not take to the roads as did many of the Old Masters, haiku reminds us that we are all wanderers, in time and space. But are our eyes – and ears – truly open? Are our hearts open? Haiku is there to enrich our experience of being alive, to unfold the tapestry of living - in a flash - to bring us down to earth, where we belong.


Touch and savour … The haiku bids us to savour phenomena:



autumn –

                             now the slow bee allows

                                      stroking of fur

                                      George Marsh


For the habitual reader and composer of haiku, momentous events may often appear small; seemingly insignificant happenings take on a new and delicate meaning. The jaded palate finds that what it longs for is not the sweet, the sour, the piquant or the robust but the possibility of all of these and more, the coolness of water, the headiness of wine, the comfort of old port. Many unexpected pleasures await those who stroll, watchfully, on the haiku path. Many contradictions, a host of odd juxtapositions, await one. And haiku will resolve them, making everything whole again.


As it should be … Autumn – slowing-down time for the bees! Sluggish bees can emerge in summer, too, as intoxicated as a bunch of Taoist poets. This, from Basho:


                                how reluctantly

                   the bee emerges from deep

                             within the peony

(The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa and Other Poets by Sam Hamill, Shambhala Centaur Editions)


In both of these haiku we are with the bee, fully with the bee, one with the ‘bee-havior’ of a bee at one particular time and also, with the nature of all bees. Where the bee sucks there suck I. Allow yourself to be sucked into haiku moments. It’s the only way. It is we who emerge from deep within the flower. Haiku is not some form of unfeeling, scientific observation. It is a vividly experienced exploration of a shared universe, whatever our mood!

What about the bee that plods on and makes it to see the winter? Does it not excite our compassion?


          in vain a winter bee

                   went on tottering

                             for a place to die

                                      Murakami Kijo 1865 –1930

(Classic Haiku: A Master’s Selection, selected and translated by Yuzuru Miura, Tuttle Publishing 1991)


On your lips … Many haikuists and editors of haiku journals like to read haiku aloud, remembering Basho’s advice: ‘Repeat your verses a thousand times on your lips …’ In other words, don’t be flat, be sparingly sonorous.


You may utter this one as slowly as you like:


                   5. 4. 3.


                   the naked tree

(Takazawa Akiko (1951 - ), Trans. Hiroaki Sato in White Dew, Dreams & This World, North Point Press, 2003)


There’s quite a modern feel to those bare numbers; it’s a haiku  possibly influenced by concrete poetry. We will encounter many styles and  many moods in the course of Haiku Enlightenment, the modern and the classic.

Zing!  Not all of the haiku chosen here are going to work for you: some will only truly come alive when re-read later, when your transmitters and receivers are more finely tuned.

Haiku moves us because we move in its movement and are moved by its stillness:



          a crust of bread

          jumps with the sparrows

                   round the courtyard

(Dina Franin, Zaklonjen mjesec/The Sheltered Moon, Croatian Haiku Association, Samobore, 1999)

We can jump with haiku, crawl with haiku, soar with haiku, fall with haiku, be still with haiku.


Soul-awakening …  The French say that we cannot know heaven if we haven’t known earth.

In the autumn haiku, above, the shift of attention is to the bee. It is as if the bee slows down, for our sake, so that we can appreciate it – see it – in a new mood, a new light. Its summer of antics is all over. We are invited to experience and be part of another dynamic, one as real as that which went before and that which is yet to come. All of nature, and our own nature, comes alive.

The microscopic focus of the haiku reveals the inner order and beauty of existence, over and over again. All things come alive – including a crust of bread!

The microbiologist cannot fail to see a pattern, an underlying beauty – and endless variety – in the magnified specks he examines on the slide. So, too, with the patient, persistent haikuist – his perception of the life within and the life without becomes refined with practice, and attuned, whether the view is close-up or encompasses a panoramic vista.

We cannot tire of good haiku. It is a distillation of all that is real in life. It is, as you will undoubtedly see, an elixir of enlightenment, always available, a grounding experience and a soul awakening.




when the ice

bursts the waterjar



This can be read, simply, as a sound that wakes us from sleep but is it not also waking from everyday drowsy consciousness, the somnambulist state many of us are in? Haiku is a quickening of the inner life, in sympathetic correspondence to ordinary phenomena.


The naturalness of it all … Our last pause will be death. For the haikuist, death is another perfectly natural phenomenon, not something divorced from life or signifying its end:


                                      necklace of bone …

                                      ants have finished

                                      with the snake

                                                Margaret Manson


‘Necklace’ is a lovely choice of word. But it is not an invention. It was what was seen at the time.


Many haikuists have written until their very last breath. Death-bed haiku of haijin (masters) – such as Shiki – are justly famous.

We can be in awe of anything, even our own demise. Everything is of cosmic magnitude, here and now. F Scott Fitzgerald ruminates in The Great Gatsby: ‘Life is much more successfully looked at from a single window …’ The haikuist would not argue with that, even the haikuist who takes to the roads.

A forensic scientist examining the bodies of certain newly departed haijin might wonder at an odd gesture of the hand common to many of them, the hand as a claw, almost: their last act was to count syllables.

There are all sorts of death. The death of a language, the death of a culture:


                   snowflakes fill

                   the eye of the eagle -

                   fallen totem pole

                             Winona Baker

                   (Moss-Hung Trees, Reflections Press, 1992)


Death has many faces. And life? Life exists in such mind-boggling diversity that it well behoves us to take it all in, in small doses - beagán ar bheagán mar a itheann an cat an scadán, as the Irish proverb has it, ‘little by little, as the cat eats the herring’:


                   the hills

                   release the summer clouds

                   one    by one        by one

                             John Wills

(Reed Shadows, Black Moss Press and BLP, Canada, 1987)


 Ten thousand gifts … ‘Release’ is a well-chosen verb. We receive all these words, these insights and illuminations as gifts, mediated by individuals, from the common pool of humanity’s experience. In an average day, about how many free gifts can we expect on the haiku path? A thousand? That may be a conservative estimate. After all, Dogen assures us, ‘When the self withdraws, the ten thousand things advance!’ On the haiku path, the constant intrusion of the self becomes less and less  persistent – moments arise that flood us with their ‘itness’ before our cognitive, judgemental self is given a chance to, as it were, interfere.

The use of ‘path’, above, must be qualified. Irish-born Wei Wu Wei says, ‘There is no path to Satori. It cannot be attained … all the Masters tell us that we cannot seize Reality: it is Reality that seizes us.’ True. But the chances of Reality seizing us, and sweeping away our pre-judgemental mind in the process, are increased by the dutiful practice of haiku:



          cockroach feet;

                   the midnight snowfall

                                      Michael McClintock

(Light Run, Shiloh Press, Los Angeles, 1971)


Effortless attunement By working at haiku and by living haiku – through reading and composition and through acquiring the haiku instinct, or knack – effortless attunement is the natural and inevitable result. This ability then becomes the unfailing groundwork for sudden enlightenment. It can repeat itself - over days, over centuries. David Burleigh published this haiku in 1998:


                                      trapped inside a pot

                                      at the bottom of the sea

                                      the octopus dreams


Basho wrote the following in May, 1688:


                                      octopus traps –

                                      fleeting dreams beneath

                                      a summer moon

This may be mere coincidence, or it may be evidence of the cosmic mind at work, or it could be an example of honkadori, allusive variation. If so, hunkey dorey!

Mr Burleigh kindly responded to an enquiry by stating that it did, in fact, allude to Basho’s verse in the Travel-Worn Satchel but that his own haiku was inspired by the confined space of urban living.


Sudden breath of freedom … Confined no more! Each successful haiku is a breath of freedom. The seventeen-syllable, traditional form was adjudged to be a breath span. And, just as Keats said that poetry should come as naturally as foliage to a tree, or not at all, so we say that haiku is an exhalation, a breath of freedom, of exultation, a sigh.

You may polish your haiku, once it has come to you, or come through you. Honing the shape, improving the choice of words, or the rhythm – these are the wrapping on the gift. But there need be nothing laborious about the strange appearance of the first draft. ‘Haiku should be written as swiftly as a woodcutter fells a tree or a swordsman leaps at a dangerous enemy.’ So said Basho, born into an impoverished samurai clan. This suddenness, indeed, is what allows for the possibility of enlightenment. No time to think!








They say that characters were engraven on the bathing tub of

King Tching Thang to this effect: ‘Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.’ I can understand that.

Thoreau, Walden













It is a plunge On the way of haiku, we cannot possibly know what next will be revealed. We are not soothsayers. Nor do we dabble in magic. What will be the next haiku moment? Anticipation is foolish. Each moment is as unique as your fingerprints, your iris, each second as fleeting as your breath. And a haiku moment can happen at any time. But it will not happen without you. You must be there for it to happen. You must be there, before you disappear. It takes two to haiku, you and the witnessed phenomenon in a unifying embrace. It can occur in such an intense, pure form that it appears to have happened without you. That brief, piercing insight, that moment of haiku enlightenment, strips you of the thousand and one items that are the jig-saw of your ego, the patchwork of your identity. Then we’re simply jumbled back again into the duality of the world, its conflicts, routines and distractions. But we know that another pure surprise awaits around the corner, whatever it may be. The wellsprings of the haiku moment are infinite, bottomless, inexhaustible.


The glimpse … The haiku moment can occur in a glimpse. A glimpse of the beloved.  The glowing, two-way, time-stopping intensity of that glimpse! To put the words of a contemporary Western sage, Gangaji, to our own uses here: ‘The glimpse and the surrender into that glimpse, the surrender of the mind into what is glimpsed, gives rise to everything we are seeking …’ (Gangaji News, June 11, 2003)


Rebirth in the pure self … On the haiku path, you can dissolve and change into your purer self. Many haiku poets take a nom de plume or haigo. It’s a bit like Saul becoming Paul, is it not? The avant-garde haikuist Ban’ya Natsuishi explains his new name, a name which he has carried for over quarter of a century. Ban is ‘fit’ and ya is ‘arrow’. So, his identity is now shaped by the purpose and the skill of fitting an arrow to a bowstring. Cool! This coolness is balanced by the passion he has for haiku. Natsu means ‘summer’ and ishi means ‘stone’. Hot!


The first entry in Haiku, This Other World, by Richard Wright, reads as follows:


                   I am nobody:

               A red sinking autumn sun

                   Took my name away


This is profoundly moving, coming as it does from a writer

passionately concerned with questions of identity and negritude and for whom a harsh Mississippi boyhood could so easily have estranged him from the bountifulness and beauty of the earth.      


The surprise of unity … Everything about our existence seems fractured from the time our umbilical cord is cut.  Haiku offers us a direct route towards unity. It is put well by Jonathan Clemens in The Moon in the Pines (Frances Lincoln Limited, 2000):


‘Haiku seeks, in a handful of words, to crystallise an instant in all its fullness, encouraging through the experience of the moment the union of the reader with all existence. The reader side-steps conventional perception, startled into a momentary but full understanding of the poet’s experience. By locking reader and poet into the same reality, haiku helps us perceive the ultimate unity of all realities…’


Alive alive-o! The aliveness of haiku is one of its most remarkable gifts. Did not Thomas Traherne say that you  will not be able to enjoy the world as you should ‘until the sea itself floweth in your veins …’:


                   everything I pick up

                   is alive -

                   ebb tide

(Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master, Patricia Donegan et al, Tuttle 1998)


Yes, more and more free gifts! Good haiku fulfils the Emersonian dictum, every time: Emerson said that poetry must be as new as foam and as old as the rock.


Newness and aliveness … Haiku practice leads to a feeling of newness and aliveness. No, it’s more than a feeling. It is an actual, existential discovery of newness. In all things. Haiku is a vehicle for regeneration. Can one feel enlightenment? Let us be a little inscrutable about this and say that feelings may or may not be part of the experience. Sudden enlightenment is a liberation - from feelings, from cognition. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary lists enlightenment as ‘the state of being in harmony with the laws of the universe’ (Taoism) and also ‘the realisation of ultimate universal truth’ (Buddhism). Haiku practise is not at variance with these goals. Indeed, the haiku way is the goal itself, not a path to something else.

And here is a lovely Christian manifestation of haiku truth:


                   April snow-

                   the lightness of the Host

                   in my hand

                             Adele Kenny

                   (Frogpond, No. 3, 1998)


A metaphysical gift! This particular haikuist is a member of the Secular Franciscan order and believes that writing haiku ‘means using words reverently to express the sacredness of God’s universe - in moments of isolation, in moments of communion - alone and yet united with the Creator and with all creation…’(ibid.).The mood of haiku changes, from moments of isolation to moments of intense communion. ‘Achieve enlightenment, then return to this world of ordinary humanity…’ Thus spoke Basho. Indeed, seeing into the life of things seemed to be enough for Basho as enlightenment-seeking in itself may not be the most enlightening of pursuits:


How very noble!

one who finds no satori

in the lightning flash


And this creation, this created world, that we speak of is everything, not just mountains, rivers and deserts:


                   I sleep… I wake…

 how wide

                   the bed with none beside


(The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology, ed. Faubion Bowers, Dover 1996)


Creation is presence - and absence too …


                   Autumn - I look at the moon

                   without a child

                   on my knee



                   They’ve cut down the willow –

                             the kingfishers

                             don’t come anymore


                                      (Trans. Burton Watson)

It is meeting, and parting …


                   I have got to know

                   the scarecrow

                   but now we must part



It is music older than time … It is not any one thing, but many things together in strange harmonic fusion which the haikuist intuits, ‘the music of things that happen’, as we read in classical Irish legend:


                   night disappears

                   behind the mountain -

                   deer’s bellowing



It is fierce …


                   the autumn squall

                   blows the eagle

                   over the edge of the crag



It is gentle …

                   mist about the grass,

                   rain silent,

                   evening calm


It is holy …

                             putting his hands together -


                             reciting a poem




Hopeful, graceful, determined …

                             wet morning

                             an uplifted skirt glides

                             through tall brush


It can be found everywhere … We should note what Mircea Eliade says in his Diary:


‘In his book, Zen in Japanese Art, Hasumi noticed that art represents the way to the Absolute. Tea ceremony, as well as the other “ways” (dō) – painting, poetry, ikebana, calligraphy, archery – form a spiritual technique, as its aim is obtaining “the Nirvana experience” in everyday life.’


Good! Haiku is part of everyday life. Nothing, apart from a little notebook, distinguishes the haikuist from anybody else you may pass on the street. He or she may have had a Nirvana experience that morning – or is about to have one now, this instant! But no alarms are going of; there is nothing untoward. Everything is normal.


The haiku highwayman … he will stop us again and again on the road, take our clothes, our money, our watch, our identity papers, leaving us dumbfounded, looking around like a naked waif. He gives us time to wonder at our nakedness, at the universe, to look at the sky, at the moon, for the first time. Then he throws everything back at us again, laughingly. And as we pick ourselves together, we know the world has changed. We smile. We, too, have changed.

Yes, it can be like that. Generally speaking, however, the Nirvana experience can be as perfectly ordinary as opening or closing one’s umbrella, as undramatic as stepping over a snail on a footpath.


The Heraclitean truth … ‘You never step into the same river twice,’ is a truth lived each day by the haikuist, one that is essential to the aesthetics of haiku consciousness:


                             the autumn wind -

                             letters emerging one by one

                             on the wet gravestone

                                                          Yamazaki Hisao


On one level, any unexpected revelation, however ordinary, can be the stuff of enlightenment. On another level, our readiness to absorb the revelation, our ability to be struck by some ‘epiphany’ (as James Joyce used the word) becomes the real stuff of enlightenment. There are no steps to enlightenment. Steps lead to further steps and so on. There is only the laughing plunge, the sober awakening. No ashram or yoga needed here, no prayer or mediation. The garden is your ashram, the public park, the highway - and the haiku is your prayer, your meditation. You can make the plunge any hour of the day or night. You won’t hear the splash, but the ripples are real. They will change you and the world.


Instant enlightenment Many haikuists, but not all, are familiar with Zen which got its first mention in the West from Madame Blavatsky and its first exposition in 1927 by D.T. Suzuki.. ‘Familiar’ is not the best word, as part of the Zen thing is the shock of the familiar seen in unfamiliar light, and vice versa. Caroline Gourlay, one-time editor of Blyth Spirit, Journal of the British Haiku Society, recalls how deeply impressed she was with these lines found in The World of Zen, an anthology edited by Nancy Wilson Ross:


          ‘The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection.

          The water has no mind to receive their image…’


Haiku happens in this world of daily miracles and is a perfect prism through which Nature herself enlightens us. But, instant enlightenment? Surely not! How many people have spent their lives – many lives – in such a quest! This book is a plea to lower your sights, somewhat, to focus your vision. Thousands set themselves such an impossible task that they inevitably lose sight of their goal, blaming themselves needlessly.

This little book, containing haiku by practitioners from all over the world, ancient and new - and the new are as ancient as the ancient are new - this book will open up a universal path which you may have been walking already, as it happens, without knowing it! Page after page, you will notice what little adjustment is needed – if any – to our antenna in order to receive frequent sprinklings of enlightenment, leading to an acquired receptivity which allows us to be sprinkled and purified more and more – until nothing is left in the world which is not truly, in itself, a vehicle of liberation.


Freedom now … One is reminded, in this regard, of the students of Ayurveda in ancient India. Three of them were instructed to go out into the forest and return with something of no medicinal value whatsoever. Two returned with what they thought to be seemingly useless objects; the third was slow to return and when he did he was empty-handed for he had searched high and low and failed to find any blessed thing that did not contain some medicinal value.

The haikuist is that blessed third student – always looking, not with bleary-eyed concentration, merely looking, intuiting the molecules of liberating grace.

Our tendency towards self-aggrandisement will diminish the more delicately we respond to the spirit of haiku, until it is with a smile of recognition that we realise why Tarao Kobayashi changed his name to Issa, meaning a single bubble in a teacup – gone before you have raised the cup to your lips.


Grandeur in little things …


                   old pear tree

                   now laden only with


                                                Philip D. Noble


This haiku (from the 1998 Mainichi Haiku Contest) is not concerned with some grand, amorphous or Romantic concept of Nature. In Haiku, we discover, see and breathe, for a moment, those interstices, those fleeting moments of reality which are as substantial or as insubstantial as a rock, as ourselves. The haiku bears witness to the non-judgemental aspect of our humanity, that instinct for self-expression which drove the ancients to illuminate their caves with spectacular representations of those animals with which they shared this earth, long before philosophy, theology and economics became possible. An instinct to share in the life of things, partake in the life of things - their simple grandeur -and be blessed by them, an instinct there since the dawn of consciousness.


Primitive enlightenment … Yes, haiku enlightenment is a primitive form of enlightenment, tempered by a sensitivity that comes with practising the form. And history shows us that sensitivity is not a recent acquirement. The Chauvet cave in France was painted 31,000 years ago! Freud, in The Ego and the Id (1927), reminds us that thinking in pictures is immensely older than thinking in words:


                   by a winter river

                             forsaken, a dog’s




Many in the West – and, now, increasingly elsewhere – live in a cosseted, sanitized, cosmeticized environment. Haiku allows us to experience the shock of primal experience so that something flows within us again, by virtue of haiku-seeing:


winter stars

          a wild goose tucks its head

                   under a wing

                             Kirsty Karkow


                              When you express gentleness and precision in your environment, then real brilliance and power can descend onto that situation. If you try to manufacture that presence out of your own ego, it will never happen. You cannot own the power and the magic of this world. It is always available, but it does not belong to anyone.

                                 Chögyam Trungpa




It was Ruskin (1819 1900) who, perhaps, first saw the blindness inflicted on us by the modern world. Addressing his students at the Working Men’s College he is reported as having said: ‘Now, remember, gentlemen, that I have not been trying to teach you to draw, only to see.’ He then went on to describe two men going through a market. One emerges none the wiser. The other ‘notices a bit of parsley hanging over the edge of a butter-woman’s basket.’ Had he known about haiku, Ruskin might have said, ‘And there, gentlemen, is the haiku moment … yeah, the birth of a haiku. In the seeing.’

          And after that? What comes then? Well …


          Morning. The haiku

          are writing


                             Tom McGrath

(Atoms of Delight: an anthology of Scottish haiku and short poems, Ed. Alec Finlay, Morning Star Publications, 2000).


Seeing with the heart … the spirit …  It is more than seeing with the eye. We read in the preface to the tenth-century royal collection of poems, Kokinshu: 'The poetry of Japan takes the human heart as seed and flourishes in the countless leaves of words …’

 As a literary device, haiku has endless sophistication. But literature is not our main concern here. We are talking first and foremost about a delightful awareness-tool:


only the staffs

of pilgrims passing -

                   the summer fields



 Followers of the mystic traditions of East and West, devotees of Krishnamurti, Osho, Meister Eckhart or Rumi, etc., can and should follow the haiku path. This path does not contradict Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, nor can it in any way detract from the core of these or any other religions. This path is not a religion or a cult, though some neo-pagans and pantheists may be more initially attracted to it than, let us say, fundamentalists of the kill-joy variety. Haiku can be pleasurably pursued by atheist, sceptic and believer alike. It can adapt to any language, any culture. Someone once asked the former Zen teacher, Toni Packer, ‘Can a leaf swirling to the ground be my teacher?’ Her answer is what every haikuist should know. ‘Yes! Of course! This instant of seeing is the timeless teacher, the leaves are just what they are …’


                             summer drought –

                             the dazzling stars

                             all become pale

                                                Marijan Cekolj


summer fog

moonlight blowing

from tree to tree-

                                      Dave Sutter


R. H. Blyth describes Haiku no Michi, the Way of Haiku, as ‘the purely poetical (non-emotional, non-intellectual, non-moral, non-aesthetic) life in relation to nature.’ (The Genius of Haiku, Readings from R .H.  Blyth, British Haiku Society, 1994).


Nothing to invent … With practice comes assuredness, boldness. (Note the verb ‘blowing’ above). But the haiku path has nothing to invent, as such. Haiku recreates what is already there, it mirrors a moment. Like the dream-catcher, it has evolved a shape and a purpose which, if used with reverence, can do the opposite to dream-catching – haiku let dreams go and welcome in the awakening light of reality.

 The originality and freshness of a fine haiku is not the result of a quirky imagination; its special quality exists because of an unalloyed, passionate faithfulness to the elements of the phenomenon that were experienced and the experience described – and the description of the experience! What you seek is at hand.


 Enter … Obviously it is not going to work, for you or for anyone else, if your statement is something flat, without insight: ‘ the wind blows and a seagull flies over the roof’. This is just a humdrum statement. You have not even begun to see, you have not struck the note, you have not heard the note - that subtle, deep note that is struck by haiku-seeing. You have not been in the wind. It has not kissed you. It has not wafted you, out of yourself. You have not been totally ravished by the seagullness of the seagull – you are outside the seagull, still in yourself, you are the observer – you are still the you. Enter!


‘ The wind blows and a seagull flies over the roof’ is a run-on. There is no energising pause, that split-second on the diving board, to propel us anywhere. Quite often we need a suggestion of a pause in one-breath haiku – the kire - setting one thing off the next. But, like all rules, the no run-on rule can be broken:


                   Come, children,

                   let’s go out and run

                   in the hail!


                   (Trans. Makoto Ueda)


                Opening the channels of energy … And when you enter the haiku moment, in a flash, whether you lose yourself or whether you still retain a notion of the “I”, one thing is certain – there occurs a, a blissful, and also a sobering new energy which comes from letting go. Some traditional musicians experience this, as do certain jazz musicians, slipping into an extemporising mode and momentarily entering a universe in which normal constraints are shattered. After all, if we look at the word ‘extemporise’, does it not mean to be outside of time? Enter!

This fusion of energies is our birthright, ecstatically described by the unorthodox Zen Master, Ikkyu Sojun (1394 – 1481) in his miniscule poems:


                   I’m in it everywhere

                   what a miracle trees lakes clouds even dust

(Ikkyu: Crow with no Mouth, versions by Stephen Berg,

Copper Canyon Press, 2000)

          You should also know that what may not be happening is as important as what may appear to be happening:


going nowhere

during the air-raid alarm -

a scarecrow

(A Scarecrow in the Snow by Aleksandar Pavic, Moment Book, Novi Sad, 2000).

 The configuration of three lines and – initially, before trying free-style haiku – seventeen syllables, 5-7-5, will in itself be a discipline to help you to see, capture and structure the haiku moment, to recognise it, instantly, as it happens. It happens in an instant! You may have to wait for it, though:


watching the pond -

still finding

new depths

                             Eric I. Houck, Jnr

(in Sparrow, Croatian Haiku Association, 1999-2000)

Haiku lets go of concepts, of thoughts, of presuppositions, of opinions, prejudices and all the burden of the mind:


                                      in the waters of spring

                                                a certain thought

                                                          flowed away

                                                                   Sekishi Takagi


Of course, haiku does not erase or eliminate any of those elements that make up our consciousness or personality traits. On the contrary, it brings consciousness to the fore - by letting go. We can bring our moods with us into the haiku world, or allow our mood to be coloured by our surroundings, the weather, the season, the interpenetrating sounds, odours, textures, light and shade.

Enter into them all, at once! Our natural reaction to all these elements is much truer than anything we might fantasise about. And if memory is part of living in the witnessing present, then memory, too, can feature in a haiku:


Der Wintermond stand

heute über Hesses Grab.

Weite Erinn’rung



          The winter moon

                   over Hesse’s grave -

                   faraway memories…

                                      Günter Klinge

                                      ( Sparrow, 1999 - 2000)

                                                (Trans. G. R.)


True sensitivity to the present does not erase the past; far from it. The present may be enriched by a conscious or unconscious invoking of the past. From Hawaii:


                   evening sun

                   shadows line

                   the old school yard

                             Gail H. Goto


A time for every purpose under heaven …

Some of the above haiku allude to seasons. Seasonal allusion was, until recently, a necessary ingredient in Japanese haiku. A word that places you in a particular season is called kigo.

Thus the skylark or the activity of  tea-picking are associated, in Japan, with spring. Fireflies are an indication of summer, deer and mushrooms signify autumn, the eagle and the pine belong essentially to winter. But you needn’t be aware of the thousands of indicators that have traditional seasonal echoes. Find your own. No need to be more Japanese than the Japanese themselves. No, we can – and must - be ourselves first before losing the self, sacrificing the self, momentarily, in haiku.

It is quite enough that we absorb the spirit of haiku from reading the best of the old and new and sharpen our technique so that it fulfils the promise offered here in all sincerity – haiku enlightenment!


Right here and now …  The German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, claimed that the best songs of summer are composed in front of a roaring fire in winter; what may be true of poetry is not true for haiku. Generally speaking, those haiku dealing with a particular season are written in that season, are experienced in that season and belong to that season. In this respect, haiku enlightenment is a very grounding experience, in place and in time. Sand-castles in the sky? A noble occupation, but don’t use haiku if that’s your game. There is absolutely no need to fantasise. The haiku moment is as exactly as it should be, right here and now, its contours awaiting you in the emptiness of a timeless glimpse. The task is not to extract its ingredients, somehow, but to become part of its molecular structure, its essence, colour, sound, sharing its invisible nature, melding into that moment which is the summation of all of existence now, the core of creation. This is its time and place, no other. Its expression may, indeed, be coloured by past fantasies and experiences but its realm is the eternal now.

Jung’s idea of synchronicity, the drawing of Tarot cards, astrological configuration, the law of universal correspondence … as above so below … some of these notions may be connected to the haiku moment. Let us live with these mysteries.

I stop to listen;

          the cricket

                   has done the same

                             Arizona Zipper

                   (A Pale Leaf, New York, 1981)

Haiku will change your behaviour patterns!




after Christmas

a flock of sparrows

in the unsold trees

          Dee Evetts

(Endgrain, Red Moon Press, 1997)

Haiku will change the way you see – how you see and what you see.

In the haiku moment, time is frozen, melding, suspended, yet bursting with life. We are primordial once again, innocent, all senses alive, truly at one with our surroundings, truly human, strong and vulnerable, in a state of grace:


                             looking together

                             across the frozen lake

                             the heron and I

                                      Jan van den Pol


Openness to openness … Haiku encounters the truth in an open, natural state of mind and that openness and humility is rewarded by enlightenment. ‘Deep answereth unto deep, love respondeth unto love…’ and, let us add, openness to openness. Because enlightenment is an opening up to see the light. The haikuist is a seer. Though he be blind, the haikuist still sees. It is the spirit that sees.


The reward of trust … While often seeming to concentrate on - or probe - the almost imperceptible, haiku is a flowering, an opening up to the world and this trust is rewarded from day to day. The haiku is a returning to the world, a returning to reality, a ‘teshuva’ wrongly translated as ‘repent’. Let us relish the wisdom in the following:

“To return to things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always, and in relation to which every scientific schematisation is an abstract and derivative sign-language, as is geography in relation to the countryside in which we have learnt beforehand what a forest, a prairie or a river is …”

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Phenomenology of Perception, Humanities Press, 1962)


What is the shape of today? Does that sound like a riddle, a koan?  Let’s see. So … you think you know what a mountain looks like, what a summer stream sounds like? Or is it merely an idea of a mountain or a stream that you are entertaining? Seishi (1901 –1994) transmits the genuine haiku experience beautifully:


                   dunes in a cold wind –

                   the shape they take before me,

                             the shape of today …


Shapes of emptiness … In our bustling, noise-polluted world, chock-full of garish images, the haiku way of living alludes to the void, the throbbing silence at the heart of it all; deep, inviolable stillness in ourselves. Robert Bebek, the Croatian haijin, gave the title Oblici Praznine/The Shapes of Emptiness to his highly distinguished second book:


                                      warming even

                                      an empty room, a

                                      beam of morning sun  

                                                          Robert Bebek


The enlightenment pool … As the initiate becomes accustomed to reading, writing and recognising good haiku, there arises an intimate sharing of the haiku moments of others. Enlightenment becomes pooled. French poet Yves Bonnefoy said, ‘At its most intense, reading is empathy, shared existence.

          sickle moon -















Between two thoughts there is an  interval of no thought. That interval

is the Self, the Atman. It is pure awareness.

                   Jnana Vashistha







Gifts and works … “We should learn to see God in all gifts and works,” said Meister Eckhart, “neither resting content with anything nor becoming attached to anything…” This means that we mustn’t become too attached to haiku!

How rich the haiku harvest is once we become poor in spirit. Walk this lonely, companionable way with us:


wet west Muskerry –


                             drying the clothes

                                                Seán Mac Mathúna


Yes, that is a little bit crazy. But let’s not forget that haiku was once dubbed kyóku, crazy verse! The rational mind - given that it might be able to compose such a haiku - would have rejected it instantly, depositing it deep in the waste-paper basket, in the hope that no neighbour or colleague might fish it out. But there is nothing crazy about it, or sane, nothing good, nothing bad about it, nothing right or wrong about it. It is simply what it is.

Consider, now, the words of Chuang Tzu: “When we look at things in the light of Tao, nothing is best, nothing is worst. Each thing, seen in its own light, stands out in its own way.”


Learning selfhood … The magic of the Mac Mathúna haiku is that it appears to happen without the interference of human agency. But it only appears that way. The human imagination is actively at work, transforming one reality into another. The human spirit is at work, language is at work, as effortlessly as the trained Inuit shaman travels silently to the moon.

“Learning the way of enlightenment is learning selfhood.

Learning selfhood is forgetting oneself.

Forgetting oneself is being enlightened by all things…” Dogen

(Quoted in Introduction to Kensho, The Heart of Zen by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, 1997).


Forgetting oneself is not a retreat to some Elysian passivity! It is not absent-mindedness. If you are competitive in sports or in business, 'forgetting oneself’ is the key to spontaneous action and initiative. Who has ever crossed the winning line in a hundred metre dash, or hit the bull’s eye in a game of darts, by thinking of himself? Or for that matter, who has ever truly loved another by thinking of himself?


When you are old and grey … and nodding by the fire … Traditional societies respected their elders. Some even worshipped them. The concept of ageism, the neglect of the elderly, prejudice against the elderly – are these the bitter harvest of a youth culture which came to the fore in the 1960s, or products of a society which evaluates our usefulness as mere worker-bees?

The haikuist sees beauty in the aged person - or thing - in the gnarled:


                             dangerous pavements,

                             but I face the ice this year

                             with my father’s stick

                                      Seamus Heaney


grandma and grandpa

          side by side on the couch –

          wearing each other’s glasses

                                                Lee Gurga


Ask yourself, would ‘facing’ be better than ‘I face’ in Heaney’s haiku; ask yourself could one safely drop ‘my’; ask yourself is  Gurga’s equally charming piece a haiku or a senryu. It is only by  questioning that you develop your own aesthetic standards.

It is perfectly acceptable to use ‘my’ as in the haiku by Kenny and Onitsura in this book:


                   on the scale

                   my bathed and steaming body

                   this night of snow

                                      Katsura Nobuko

                   (Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women, Makoto Ueda, Columbia University Press, 2003)


This, too, will pass … Estrangement, alienation, displacement, these are some of the pathologies of the 21st century. But living haiku does not suffer estrangement. In joy or in wistfulness, in sadness, pain, or in sorrow, the haikuist is at one with friends, family, strangers, lizards, the stars above, seeing the mutability and vulnerability of all beings, and of ourselves. This oneness is an all-redeeming illumination:


                                      in the old temple

                                      even the snake has shed

                                      his worldly skin


(The Spring of my Life and Selected Haiku, Kobayashi Issa, Trans. by Sam Hamill, Shambhala 1997).

This oneness bestows extraordinary vision and a compatibility with all life forms. Nothing will ever be the same again. (Nothing was ever the same; nothing is ever what it seems):


August heat

the old orange cat sits up and licks

the sun from its tail

(Almost Unseen, Selected Haiku of George Swede,

Brooks Books, 2000)

Why furry, feathery creatures are our relations…

Diane Wolkstein, writing in the influential journal Parabola shares with us the wisdom of the oral tradition of the now extinct Karraru People from Australia. It could be the Haiku Gospel:

‘All around you are your relations – the crawling, moving, feathery, and furry creatures – the water, the grass, the hills, and the wind. This is their place. Now it is your place, too. Where you were born is your Dreaming. You must always take care of that piece of land… Care for the land for your grandmothers and grandfathers, as well as for your grandchildren. I travelled every step of the earth and it is alive…’

Which one of us would not like to feel the truth of all that deep within ourselves and to know it actively in our lives! With haiku we can and we do. What? We think like that? Proclaim feathery, furry creatures to be our relations? Hmm… Do we? Can we? Should we? Thomas Berry, also writing for Parabola, challenges our scepticism and insists that, ‘The outer world is necessary for the inner world. The greatest and deepest tragedy in losing the splendour of the outer world is that we will always have an inner demand for it.’ Without the natural world, he claims, ‘our integral spiritual development can never take place.’


Many non-haikuists can show us, in the immediacy of their engagement with Nature, what joy awaits us on the haiku path. Environmentalist and primate specialist Jane Goodall is a fine witness to these experiences: ‘ … the air was filled with a feathered symphony, the evensong of birds …’ This is a typical, passive activity among haikuists, to listen to birdsong. With time, the ability to listen increases naturally and the concomitant pleasure. Goodall continues: ‘I heard new frequencies in their music and also in the singing insects’ voices – notes so high and sweet I was amazed.’ This is what can happen on the haiku path. It is not magical or exceptional in any way. It is perfectly natural. And she says: ‘Never had I been so intensely aware of the shape, the colour of individual leaves, the varied patterns of the veins that made each one unique. Scents were clear as well, easily identifiable: fermenting, overripe fruit; waterlogged earth; cold, wet bark, the damp odour of chimpanzee hair …’ (Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, Warner, 2000).

The two ways are one … Haiku can encompass the two classical approaches of the via negativa and the via positiva – the choice is yours. One can have a foot in both camps! In the via negativa we favour solitude and contemplation and the image may be doleful, a crow or a sewer rat. In the via positiva we are outgoing, comprehensive, all-embracing, merging with the whole and our images may be colourful parrots at sunrise!


Constant renewal … Crafts people and artists in all disciplines go to Nature, not to copy Nature, but to find something new:

‘Nature is the eternal creator where each art comes to be renewed, where the eye of every thinker and artist reads a different poem…’ Emile Gallé

(Quoted in Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Duncan, Eidelberg, Harris, Thames and Hudson, 1998).


The haiku path reconnects us. To everything. Not just, say, to the full moon. That would be too easy. No, to the moon in all its phases, life in all its phases:


          Fourteenth day moon -

          the distant cry of a child

                   somehow familiar

(Tsuru by Yoshiko Yoshino, translated by Lee Gurga & Emiko Miyashita, Deep North Press, 2001)


In haiku, each fleeting moment of the day becomes precious:


                             just before sunrise

          a crow’s cawing is bright and sober

                             over fragrant woods

                                      Marko Hudnik

          (Samobor Haiku Meeting, 2000)


What an excellent start the Slovenian haikuist has made to the day, combining sight, sound and smell to share his pure, connecting experience with us. Or is there too much going on in this haiku? Too many adjectives? Be critical about what you read and write. Has too much been said? Has too little been said? Getting the balance right takes time. After a while, we recognise good haiku, flawless haiku. And so,  we who venture on this path become connected, in wonderment, to the great body of haiku itself:


I rub my nose

                   over and over - how skilful

                             are Kyoshi’s haiku

                                      Yoshiko Yoshino (ibid.)



From certainties to ambiguities… Our aim here is not to furnish a set of dogmatic principles or practises with a five-year guaranteed Certificate of Enlightenment. The haiku (and its related, lighter form, the senryu) is not at all afraid of the foibles and ambiguities which are an inevitable consequence of living life boldly and to the full:



                                      after the divorce

                                      she sleeps on his side

                                    of the bed

                                                Stuart Quine

Does Quine’s senryu (named after Karai Senryu, 1718 -1790) mean that she misses him, partakes as it were of his absent warmth? Or might it mean that she preferred his side of the bed and now has the freedom to enjoy it?

The way of haiku welcomes ambiguities, the shadows and blurs of life, the spoors of existence, be they vivid or faint:


                                      cloud shadows

                                      on silent cliffs

                                      where condors nested

                                                Jerry Kilbride


An ornithologist? No, a San Francisco bar-man. A veteran of the Korean War. A haikuist!


                                      after months of rain


                                      by my shadow

                              Ken H. Jones


 The Japanese term ada means that mood, that style which suggests we can be surprised. Few qualities are more treasured by great achievers in life, be they artists or scientists, philosophers or gardeners. By practising and living haiku, we recover the lost innocence of childhood and ada colours the way we view the world anew:



          spring rain falls –

                             and grins of earth break out

                             all over the fields



(Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, Trans. Steven D. Carter, Stanford 1991)         


Tread softly … Enlightenment is not omniscience! Mystery remains at the heart of creation. Fragility, too:


                             omokage ya

                             oba hitori naku

                             tsuki no tomo


                             now I see her face,

                             the old woman, abandoned,

                             the moon her only companion


This haiku, by the incomparable Basho, is quoted in the introduction to a book devoted to another Japanese form, the tanka.(Only Companion, Japanese Poems of Love and Longing, translated by Sam Hamill, Shambhala 1992).


Walk this path, this compassionate path, not with strident certainty; walk the haiku path, tread softly.


Issa wrote the following haiku on the death of his daughter, Sato-jo. She was the poet’s second of four children to die:


                             this world of dew –

                             a world of dew indeed,

                             and yet, and yet …


It’s worth repeating … In haiku, some things are worth repeating. Beating one’s breast once is not always enough:


                             Riding on the waves.

                             riding on the waves,

                             the cormorant’s loneliness


Had Seishi said, ‘the lonely cormorant’, the effect would be almost trite and sentimental. But ‘the cormorant’s loneliness’ carries with it every aching heart in creation, bobbing on the ocean of life.


 Face to face … Haiku is about living, about life and death. It is about being intensely alive. We engage with life, confront demons, in haiku. With haiku, there is nothing to shirk.

 Luke-warm haiku will enlighten nobody. To espouse a philosophical, ethic or religious creed that has compassion at its heart is next to useless if the body-mind is not alert to the occasions that elicit and arouse our compassion. Thus, the haiku path triggers the salvation mechanism within us all, bankers, prisoners, generals, civil servants, actors, poets, plumbers, whatever our station in life.

Rabindranath Tagore expressed it well when he said, ‘There is no higher religion than that of sympathy for all that lives.’ This sympathy - without which we dare not call ourselves truly human - is constantly born and regenerated along the haiku path.

A Muslim mystic, Ahmad Ibn Ata’Allah, gives out to us, and rightly so:

‘Encompass with your mercy and compassion all animals and creatures. Do not say, “this is inanimate and has no awareness.” Indeed, it does; it is you yourself who have no awareness!’

What are we like today? How keen is our awareness of reality? Are we much more aware than our grandparents ever were? It’s debatable.


‘No longer can man confront reality immediately; he cannot see it, as it were, face to face. Physical reality seems to recede in proportion as man’s symbolic activity increases. Instead of dealing with the things themselves, man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself…’

( Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1944).

If this be the disease, how effective is the cure:


                             the pursued beetle

                             just led the other into

                             an empty snail shell

                                      J W Hackett


Twenty years after the publication of Cassirer’s An Essay on Man, the following winning entry was one of over a staggering 41,000 haiku received by the Japan Air Lines-sponsored contest in America:


                   a bitter morning:

                   sparrows sitting together

                   without any necks


The author? J W Hackett, the first American master.

What would Cassirer have to say – well over half a century later – of our age of virtual reality. Would he not say that we are in need of the following anonymous Japanese haiku as a form of therapy?



                             how refreshing –

                             the whinny of a packhorse

                             unloaded of everything!


And what would Cassier have to say about the cult of personality and stardom? How refreshing that the above haiku is perfectly anonymous!


Innocent play … Pornography degrades men, women and children. But when haiku touches on the erotic, the experience is usually one of innocence, surprise, awakening:


                   looking for eggs inside the barn…

                   but I’ve found instead

                   my cousin’s breasts!

                             José Rubén Romero


Haiku and senryu have many moods and playfulness is one of them. H F Noyes, the American haikuist domiciled in Greece, elucidated this play:


‘With the Mahayana Buddhist teachings that spread in the first century to China and Japan, there was a profound infusion of spiritual and cultural energy. Central to the new understanding was the Chinese character , a symbol of universal essence. The word haiku in Japanese may be construed to mean merely a playful verse, but as handed down to us from Basho’s day, it has had a vital spiritual element… the natural and the spiritual element cannot be separated and they form the harmonic whole we so often sense in the haiku moment. The spirit of play and the play of spirit are simultaneous and one …’

(Ko, 1998, Spring/Summer)


                   a sprinkle of lights

                   across a dark mountainside –

                   the goose-bearing wind

                                      Suzuki Setsuko


Borne on the wind… Haiku can be (but need not be) an arduous, ascetic pursuit of enlightenment. ‘Pursuit’ is pushing it! It is enlightenment now, borne on the wind, could we but open our eyes:


                             here at the mountain village,

                             look how the fair moon comes –

                             into our soup!



Essentially, it is everywhere. As the 10th century collection of Japanese poems, Kokinshú, declares:

‘Listening to the voices of the warbler that sings in the flowers or the frog that lives in the water, we ask, what of all living things does not create poetry…?’*


*(Quoted in Traces of Dreams, Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, Haruo Shirane, Stanford University Press, 1998)


Sanity, health, salvation … The haikuist, like the shaman, the druid, the eco-warrior, is convinced that our relationship with Nature is essential to sanity, health and salvation. By this we do not mean that we must make a retreat in the wilderness. In the classic haiku of Issa, the Japanese master demonstrates extraordinary fellow-feeling for the lowliest of creatures, even the flea. Issa’s heart and spirit live on:


                             waiting for crumbs

                             the blackbird’s gold-rimmed eye

                             on my freezing fingers

                                                Ruth Robinson


Before and after enlightenment… In the 9th.century an anonymous Irish monk wrote with the regaling freshness and pure awareness that we associate with haiku:


          Small bird

          from your little yellow beak

          a whistle dashed

          out over Loch Lao*


          from a branch all


                                      (Trans. GR. *Loch Lao/ Belfast Lough))

The poetic essence of a place, hon’i in Japanese poetics, is captured above.


Haiku – and to a certain extent the nature-poetry of the Irish, the Chinese, the Inuit and the literature of tribal peoples – roots us in a meaningful existence, reminding us of the fragile interdependence of all living things and the illusory nature of matter, as seasons turn, as vapour changes to water, to ice. A Zen disciple described his life as hewing wood and drawing water. That was before enlightenment. After enlightenment? Hewing wood and drawing water! All very ordinary really:



                             a sheep seeks something to drink

                             deep in the bucket

                                                Marcel Smets


And good fun too:


                             bowing slightly

                             to a snowman:

                             a drunkard

                                                Ikuyo Yoshimura


                             composedly, he sits,

                             contemplating the mountains –

                             the worthy frog!



Meditative observation…  Prettification is not at the heart of haiku. Haiku is of much sterner stuff. The haiku way of living is more than simply observing the minutiae of natural, terrestrial phenomena in all weathers and moods and it is much more than snapshots of flora and fauna. In meditative observation, the haikuist peers into the life of things, ‘sees eternity in a grain of sand’ and is transmuted by the encounter:


                                      the reservoir

                                      passes its whole night

                                      gargling stars

                                                Francisco Mendez


These insights are, as it were, spontaneous gifts exchanged between humans and creation, glimpses of cosmic consciousness, illuminating flashes when earth and sky, heaven and the world are one and the heart is at peace:


                   the sun leaves

                   one cloud dropped

                   in the lake

                             Tadao Okazaki



                   la vasta noche

                             no es ahora otra cosa

                                      que una fragrancia


                   the vast night -

                             now no more

                                      than a fragrance

                                                Jorge Luis Borges

                                                          (trans. Noel Griffin)


The freshness of dust… It was not blindness or part-blindness that heightened the Argentinean’s sense of smell. There is a fragrance that accompanies the haiku experience, the haiku moment. It is the fragrance of the spheres, first cousin to the music of the spheres. It is the freshness of dust!


                             lodo del charco quieto:

                             mañana polvo

                             bailando en el camino


                                      mud in a still puddle:

                                      tomorrow’s dust

                                      dancing on the roadway

                                                          Octavio Paz

                                                                   (trans. Noel Griffin.)


It is the fullness of emptiness!


                             that cormorant’s my

                             favourite who surfaces

                             with an empty beak

                               Issa *


*( The Spring of My Life and

   Selected Haiku, Kobayashi Issa,

   Trans. Sam Hamill, Shambhala 1997)


Breath of attunement… Not everyone is capable of writing – or even reading – conventional poetry. It is a minority pursuit, in most so-called civilised nations. But the haiku is within everyone’s compass. Anyone – even a child, especially a child – can write haiku, once the principle of the haiku moment is grasped. Thereafter it’s a question of practising the seventeen-syllable structure in three-line configuration until it becomes second nature, and later experimenting with free-style haiku of a dozen or so syllables:


                             the fleeing sandpipers

                                      turn about suddenly

                                                and chase back the sea!                                                 

                                                J W Hackett

old pond

 frog jumps in

 sound of water



In one breath, Matsuo Basho expresses perfect attunement. How utterly real it is! No illusion here, no doubt, no anxiety, no self-absorption, no dreaming, no showing off, no distraction, no longing, no loathing, no desire, no self-deception, no self. It is unalloyed awareness, active absorption, the pure breath of the here and now (and how that moment still rings out centuries later). Enlightenment is only a breath away… listen!


                             over the dishes

                                      goes the sound of rat clatter –

                                                ah, how cold it is!


                                                          (Version: GR & NG)


* (Traditional Japanese Poetry, An Anthology, Trans. Steven D. Carter, Stanford, 1991)



Issa knew that haiku- poetry can be a path to enlightenment: ‘He believed that one part of that path is shikan, a meditative state in which perception is utterly free of discrimination between mind and matter, self and object; where the only permanence is impermanence and change, whether subtle or violent, remains the essence of being…’

                               (The Spring of my Life)


Haiku creates a silent revolution, deepening our understanding of these truths: change is life itself and all life-cycles, governing all living organisms, including ostracised forms of life so beloved of haikuists:


                             quenching its thirst

                             with bitter ice –

                             a sewer rat



Basho spoke of fueki ryúko, that which is unchanging and that which is ever-changing. Haiku is born in the energies of this rich paradox.


The art of interweaving … It is when we are cut off that enlightened perception becomes impossible. We need to learn the gentle art of interweaving and once we learn it – through haiku – it’s rather like riding a bicycle, something we never forget.

Croatian haikuist and haiku theorist Marijan Cekolj puts it this way: ‘When the interior awareness knows that the exterior awareness is waiting in a state of readiness, there is a good possibility of their interweaving in the present moment in which the Ego has never existed…’

(Smijeh Sazanja/The Laughter of Cognition, Samobor, 1998, The Croatian Haiku Association).


Learning from the pine… Basho’s advice, ‘Learn of the pine from a pine …’ is so often quoted in haiku circles as to become a shibboleth. Like all great, simple truths, it  needs commentary to help us grasp the original meaning. Isoji Asâ comments thus:


‘The way is not to divorce oneself from the pine and to see it with one’s own feeling, but to divorce the self and to enter the pine with a selfless interest. Then a real insight into the pine arises. Thus will it become a pine into which the human heart has entered…It will become sentient, instead of remaining a natural object, viewed through the five senses objectively. And furthermore contemplating the human feeling infused into the object, the poet expresses it through the illumination of his insight, and when that feeling finds its expression, it becomes the art of haiku…’              

(Quoted in The Japanese Haiku by Kenneth Yasuda, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1957).


Embracing the ‘itness’ of the pine … This is how

the art critic Bernard Berenson (1865 – 1954) described a defining moment of consciousness: ‘I climbed up a tree stump and felt suddenly immersed in Itness. I did not call it by that name. I had no need for words. It and I were one …’ (Sketch from a Self-Portrait, Pantheon Books, 1949). Some psychologists may say that this is nothing more than our longing to return to the undifferentiated world of the womb. But it is not so. Not really. We are mammals, yes, not robots. But the haiku moment does not project us forwards or backwards, in time or space, to the security of an environment we have lost. (Though, interestingly enough, one does encounter the occasional Japanese haiku which revolves on seeing one’s preserved umbilicus in later life, as an adult!) Who knows what remains of the subconscious after the haiku moment has  tussled us into an awakened awareness of the here and now?

 Perhaps the most meaningful arts are those which fuse the factual with the sublime, the earthly with the unearthly, the paintings of Chagall and Gaugin, the poetry of Yeats and Lorca, the Lieder of Schubert, the short stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer, haiku such as this:


                   wild geese, wild geese

                                      sleeting through

                                      the ebbing stars

                                                Seán Mac Mathúna


A life of connection… We propose, therefore, in this book, that the haiku way of living is one of connectedness. For too long the intellectual fashion was to be the outsider, the wry observer of a world of mayhem, cruelty and meaninglessness. Haiku challenges this dehumanising legacy of disenchantment. Writing in A Heart as Wide as the World: Living with Mindfulness, Wisdom, Compassion (Shambhala, 1997) Sharon Salzberg claims that ‘a life of connection and authenticity can come completely alive in us now.’ This claim we make for haiku today, without fear of contradiction.. Test its validity for yourself. The haiku moment is real. It is not a fata morgana. It is not a vision in the clouds. The haiku path is a path through this world, a path of tolerance, compassion and fearless engagement, not one of complacency.


Issa, the tenderest of poets and author of 20,000 haiku, could be critical of society when he saw fit:


                             don’t mention people –

                             even the very scarecrows,

                             crooked, every one! *


And, elsewhere, he complains:


                             not all of the nightingales

                             visiting my humble hedge

                             sing that well


Is he really complaining though? Remember his favourite cormorant earlier on, the one that caught nothing!


* (The Autumn Wind, A Selection from the Poems of Issa, Translated and Introduced by Lewis Mackenzie, Kodansha 1957)

What is it about a feckless cormorant, a less than perfect nightingale, an orphaned sparrow that warms the heart of Issa?

It is something beautifully anti-heroic that has been called hogan-biiki, a sympathy for the outcast, the defeated, the underdog. It is one of the greatest gifts of haiku to poetry and to mankind.


A healing balsam… The healing balsam of haiku, ancient and new, is needed now more than ever in our age of rapidly decreasing bio-diversity, irredeemable cultural and linguistic impoverishment and the ravaging of natural resources.


                             hey, don’t hit him!

                             the fly rubs his hands,

                           rubs his legs



 We quoted R. H. Blyth earlier as saying that the haiku path is non-emotional. This may or may not be true. Issa, above, shows love for the fly, does he not? Indeed Yoshiko Yoshino is bold enough to state: ‘When making haiku, mere observation, however detailed and precise, is just not enough. Once love is sent towards the object, the object responds…’ (Quoted in Tsuru, Yoshiko Yoshino, Trans. Lee Gurga & Emiko Miyashita, Deep North Press, 2001)

Is reality - so-called - what makes the news? The following  anonymous haiku is not the makings of newspaper headline. There is very little happening. But is it less real for that?



                             seems to happen:

                             insects chirping


Is this too insignificant to record? Nothing is insignificant on the haiku path! Consider this: ‘That which fleets by has great significance. The most delicate things are the ones that in the end prove strongest.’ (Seamus Heaney, Chicago Tribune,

June 3, 2001)


                   just a minnow

                             the granite mountain wobbles

                                      on the lake

                                                Christopher Herold


are there? or not?

                                      how interesting –

                                                snail’s horns

(A Zen Harvest, Japanese Folk Zen Sayings, Ed. Soiku Shigematsu, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1988)


An invitation to play…Think of what might happen if children all over the world had the opportunity to enjoy and explore  the spirit of haiku for half an hour each week, in sessions devoted to reading, composition, quiet reflection and discussion. Might we create a better world, a less violent world, a world more loved than it is now?


                             january storm

                                      the bamboo loves

                                                to thrash about

                                                          Robert Gibson *


(Children of the Sparrow: HAIKU,  Seattle, 1999)

Do we exclude the spirit of haiku from the curriculum in our efforts to ‘create’ ‘successful’, efficient people who will ‘grasp’ whatever opportunities they can in later life and ‘control’ the world they live in?

                   in the silence

                   after snow

                   a wren’s faint chirp

                        Rich Krivcher *

(Fallen Leaves, Ed. John Leonard, San Francisco, 2000)


Issa tells us in Oraga haru (The Spring of my Life) that he was only six years old when he wrote:


                   my little sparrows,

                   you too are now motherless –

                   come play with me!


Merging, the ultimate sacrament …To be slightly technical for a moment, this beautiful haiku contains ada, the freshness of child-like vision. It also contains what you will find in some of the best haiku, what the Japanese call butsuga ichinyo, the identification of the poet with his subject. In much of conventional literature, we praise the author’s ‘distance’, as the French have it. In haiku, self merges with object. In this very merging is the sacrament, the dynamics of enlightenment.

 Haiku is a complete, universal, effortless path in itself. At the core of the flurry, flux and excitement of life is ineffable stillness and imperturbability, the ‘Be still and know I am thy God’ attested to by mystics of all creeds and none.

The haikuist comes to the haiku moment unburdened by prejudice and doctrine. ‘If thine eye causeth thee to sin, pluck it out!’ Such masochistic advice is foreign to the nature of the haikuist’s vision. Closer would be the advice from the Candamaharoshana-tantra:


                     When you see form, look!

                             Similarly, listen to sounds,

                             Inhale scents,

                             Taste delicious flavours,

                             And feel textures…


The New Testament tells us, ‘Unless ye be like children, ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’ The haiku moment restores our child-like innocence and is ready to happen whenever our lives appear ‘stale and unprofitable.’


Supplying the words… Ultimately, the haiku path is not a didactic one. Life itself offers us an eternal, textless sermon for which we  merely supply the words and that which reverberates behind the word:

                                                autumn wind:

                                                gods, Buddha –

                                                lies, lies, lies



Haiku can be a daily, weekly or monthly spring-cleaning of the mind and spirit, leaving us with such an openness of heart that our sense of being alive is almost staggering:

                                      if the rain falls

                                      from the far sky, let it rain!

                                      if the wind blows, let it blow!

                                                Ryokan (1758 –1831)

(Traditional Japanese Poetry, Trans. Steven D. Carter, Stanford, 1991)


The lightness of being … Let us demystify enlightenment! What is satori (in Zen), samadhi (in Hinduism) but the dissolving of the ego. Similarly, the Tantric concept of maithuna relates to that falling away of the ego in sacramental, sexual union. The haiku moment is a powerfully charged, focussed glimpse of unity and non-differentiation, its sheer pleasure reminding us of our birthright, its passing an eloquent portent of impermanence and mutability.


For most of us, the divine transports and ecstasies of St. Teresa of Avila, of Rumi, or of Sri Ramakrishna are closed doors. Our lifestyle, our habits, our diet… maybe even our neighbours … everything seems to conspire to close the gates of such exalted realms to us. Ramakrishna described  an instant:


‘It was as if houses, doors, temples, and everything else vanished altogether; as if there was nothing anywhere. And what I saw was an infinite shoreless sea of light, a sea that was consciousness…’


In haiku, we take our enlightenment in smaller, more manageable doses as we experience the dissolving of ego, its coming and going:


                             in the river reflection

                             he watches himself

                             watch the sunset

                                      Alan J. Summers

                             (in paper wasp, Australia, 1997)

There is a relaxed feeling of lightness – karumi – in the above haiku, employing everyday syntax and easily recognised imagery. Karumi became Basho’s ideal in the final phase of his development.


The fabric of consciousness… Haiku can accompany all of us along the path of life, not as a diary or archive of what we have seen, experienced or felt but, rather, as a living testimony to a developed, ever-evolving, instinctual awareness of having actually lived a life impregnated by reality – whatever our circumstances. This awareness colours and strengthens the fabric of our consciousness, into and out of the sunset of our lives:

                   growing old –

                                      more haiku,

                                      more turnip soup





death at last

little by little

the odours of medicines fade                                                                             Dakotsu


The Afro- American writer Richard Wright wrote thousands of haiku during his self-exile in France. His daughter Julia remarks:  ‘I believe his haiku were self-developed antidotes against illness, and that breaking down words into syllables matched the shortness of his breath…’

(Haiku, This Other World by Richard Wright, Arcade Publishing, New York, 1998)

Become a haijin! Practising haiku leads us, inexorably, to an awareness of our awareness. D T Suzuki (profiled in the New Yorker, August 31, 1957) remarked: ‘The intuitive recognition of the instant, and thus reality, is regarded by Zen practitioners as the highest act of wisdom…’

Don’t overlook the word ‘act’. The path of haiku, while effortless, is not for the lily-livered. It is a profound engagement with life itself. Haii, the spirit of haiku, is boundless, eternal.


Takahama Kyoshi (1874 –1959) composed thousands of haiku in the course of a long life:



a woman bathing

                   in a tub –

                   stared at by a crow



Not something one sees everyday, an ogling crow, and yet what a haunting image it is.

Fukio (1903 –1930) had a much shorter life but also wrote riveting haiku:


                             mid-winter – a crow


                             on its own shadow


This has the quality of sabi or loneliness. . It is the opposite of the flowery, the showy. Haiku does not close its eyes to drabness, bareness, raggedness, homelessness.


What a shame it would be to live a life, short or long, happy or sad, without knowing one has witnessed unique, haunting moments.

The haikuist is alive to the world and open to a host of impressions that may never quite penetrate those of duller or jaded senses. What are our senses for but to make our way in this world as fulfilled, enlightened human beings?


                                      I’m leaving –

                                      now you can make love,

                                      my flies





Confrontation… To this day, hundreds of thousands of Japanese enjoy composing haiku, and travel in bus-loads to view cherry blossoms, plum blossoms… a harmless activity, one might say. But it would be a mistake to see the haiku path as one of charming innocence, respite, or mere escapisms in a world still ravaged by war, starvation, poverty, disease and suppression.

Haiku does not shirk conflict, as was illustrated in a remarkable, confrontational collection of war haiku published in Croatia in 1995:


                             a fallen soldier.

                             how loud the ticking

                             of the watch

                                                Enes Kišević




a body falls

dissolving the snow

into a red ice

                   Ivica Jembrih


We are not spared the horrors of war in this unflinching testimony since it is the haikuist’s vocation to look at, not look away:


                             in the burned-out village

                             a wounded stray dog

sniffing charred bones

                                                Vladimir Devidé


Amid the bombings, from out of the smoke, the screams, among severed limbs, nature emerges, somewhat incongruously. Life? A glimmer of hope? Out of all this gore and destruction? Meaning? In the midst of meaninglessness?


                                      a red poppy

between the rails                              stops the trains

                   Smiljka Bilankov


with its big cobweb

a spider mended

the demolished roof

                   Luko Paljetak


These haiku restore some sense, even some dignity, to an apocalyptic situation; they display the versatility of haiku in handling the most extreme vicissitudes of life. A sane, resilient response to insanity. Silence in the face of exploding shells. Enlightenment dawning through the ghostly smoke rising from the rubble.


During the Sino-Japanese war, many haiku were found on the dead bodies of soldiers:


                   on foreign soil,

                   oh violets, neither your colour

                   nor your fragrance has changed!


There’s a saying in Irish, beatha an tsaighdiúra, beatha na muice – ‘the life of a soldier, the life of a pig’. Both are fed for the slaughter! Haiku consciousness emphasises the fragility of life, the futility of war:


          lilacs by the bridge –

                   soldier after soldier

                             catching the scent

                                      Ernest Sherman

 (Modern Haiku, 31.3, Fall 2000)


Boredom, cynicism, ennui and other negative states of mind can be avoided by taking the visionary path of haiku:


                             a tide-cluttered beach;

                                      this clear chunk of jellyfish

                                      magnifies the sand

R. Christopher Thorsen

Haiku and health … Might haiku be actually good for our health? If the haiku moment is a form of meditation, then why not? People in the healing professions should try to use haiku as a therapeutic tool with no known side-effects.

Haiku and human relations …   Relationships, too, become deepened, heightened, by experiencing and expressing them in haiku form:



                   the fragrance of the forest

                             on their shoe soles,

                   father and son sleeping on the train

                                      Ikuyo Yoshimura



a sudden chill –

in our room my dead wife’s

comb, underfoot



The haikuist’s relationships extend to all the living and the dead, embracing and being embraced at the same moment:


                                      wintry day,

                                      on my horse

                                      a frozen shadow



Haiku enlightenment – living the life of haiku – changes the way we behave, subtly refining our actions:


                                      leaving a patch


                                      wild strawberries

                                                Elizabeth Searle Lamb                


Flawed creatures that we are, abstract notions of virtue, ideals of ahimsa (non-violence) and the usual moral precepts, or commandments, do not always transfer to daily life. Living according to the spirit of haiku is to be aware. In this awareness, our higher nature is allowed to express itself naturally, in word and deed:


                             come on then, beetle,

                             walking over my foot –

-         you go first!

David Cobb


The ripple effect of such words and deeds is immeasurable and criss-crosses the world. As Kenneth Yasuda observed (and as we will have gathered already):

‘A haiku moment is a kind of aesthetic moment – a moment in which the words which created the experience and the experience itself can become one. The nature of a haiku moment is anti-temporal and its quality is eternal, for in this state man and his environment are one unified whole, in which there is no sense of time…’

(The Japanese Haiku by Kenneth Yasuda, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1957).


Preparing for the haiku moment – or not …You may ask, how does one prepare for the hai                               ku moment? Conscious preparation may lead us nowhere. An ancient Zen scripture admonishes us as follows: ‘Don’t dwell on anything, yet enliven the mind.’ (Quoted in Zen Antics, translated and edited by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, 1993).  It is best not to prepare for the haiku moment, while keeping the above precept on the back-burner. The outrageousness of Zen – grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and putting you standing on your head – is one way towards gaining an insight into the spontaneity of haiku enlightenment; but it could also be a dead end. If it doesn’t work for you, drop it – and be quick about it! Having said that, many would argue that Zen has proved to have universal application. ‘Among the diverse roots of Japanese civilisation,’ claims Thomas Cleary, ‘Buddhism is pre-eminent in providing an intellectual outlook that can transcend national cultures and sustain a genuine egalitarian global vision…’(Rational Zen, Shambhala, 1992).


Zen Buddhism may or not be a suitable introduction towards preparing for the experience of haiku enlightenment. Here is another way to look at the problem. It comes from Dutch author Cees Nooteboom in a book about Spain, Roads to Santiago (The Harvill Press, 1997):

Sternstunde, a wonderful word in German, defining a particular moment in life, a “starry hour” that has been or will be so important that it will change life’s course. The notion presupposes a stroke of enlightenment, a sublime flash of insight, a shock of recognition, and I am much too intractable a character to believe in that kind of thing. Surely whatever it is that has suddenly required illumination must have been there already, in a state of latency. How else could you recognise the moment.’

 A Zen master or a haiku practitioner might not disagree.


Side-stepping regret and remorse… Too many lives are steeped in regret and remorse. Too many of us know the meaning of Tennyson’s ‘tears from the depth of some divine despair’. Haiku can step in before regret is possible, confronting reality so that the shocks and upheavals of life do not unbalance us. By facing the exigencies of daily life in the spirit of haiku, how can things catch up on us unawares?

                   my ailing father

                             listening to the crickets

                             last day of August                 

                                      F M Black

As we have pointed out previously, death itself need not catch us unawares.  Jisei, death poems, could be said to be a genre all of its own. Here from Blithe Spirit, June 1988, is Norman Barraclough’s ‘death poem’:

                             on the moor

                             wind-chased ripples run

                             into still water


Albrecht Dürer said a long time ago: ‘For verily, art is embedded in Nature; he who can extract it, has it…’


Channelling natural wisdom …Whatever about this century, the 20th century will not be described as an Age of Faith. Uncertainty seems to be the order of the day and conspiracy theories have cult-like popularity. Those who tenaciously cling to doctrinal tenets are deemed fundamentalists, extremists, ‘unlettered’ peasants, Flat Earthists, Luddites and the like. Society seems to need scapegoats.

Such are the complexities of modern life that artists search for a voice to convincingly handle a variation on the theme of ‘we do not know’ and quite a few resort to shock tactics. Haiku stands out in this world by confidently proclaiming that there is quite a lot we know, a lot we can intuit, much we can learn, by channelling our own natural wisdom:


                             coming to a marsh

to cool their hooves

                             autumn deer

                                                Keiko Akamatsu


Because of its compactness, haiku says just what it wants to say while containing more than it appears to say. Elaboration would be gilding the lily, smothering the stark truth of the haiku moment:


                             stillborn –

                             only the mother’s cry

                             echoes down the hall

                                      Peter Duppenthaler


Enlightenment on the haiku path is not synonymous with bubbling happiness. It can be chilling. But where there’s life there’s a promise of warmth:


                             standing side by side

                             two bucks lick ice and frost

                             from each other’s skin



warm rain before dawn

my milk flows into her


                   Ruth Yarrow


Seeing is believing … A theme running through this book is the importance of seeing. Some of us need to be taught how to see. Heinrich Böll recalled in What’s to Become of the Boy? (Northwestern University Press, 1996):

‘For a time I must have been walking with my head down, since one day my father offered me a prize if I could name twenty-five stores between St. Severin’s Church and Perlen-Graben. I lifted my head once again and won the prize…’


Of course, even with heads down we can see. We can see from wherever we are now, even from habitual angles:


‘In a certain town there lived a cobbler, Martin Avdéich by name. He had a tiny room in a basement, one window of which looked out on the street. Through it he could see only the feet of those who passed by, but Martin recognised many people by their boots, which he had repaired…’ (Twenty Three Tales by Leo Tolstoy, Oxford University Press).


What may be an exotic image to one person may be quite everyday to another, as in these two examples from Haiku Moment:


                   the dugs of the old cow

                   shrivelled –

                   late autumn wind

                                      Joe Nutt


          spot of sunlight –

          on a blade of grass the dragonfly

          changes its grip

                   Lee Gurga


The nature of the image is not important; what matters is the moment of perception. Perception is more than seeing. Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary defines ‘perception’ as: ‘act or power of perceiving: discernment: apprehension of any modification of consciousness: the combining of sensations into a recognition of an object…’ In Webster’s Third New International Dictionary one of the uses of ‘perceive’ is given in an illustrative sentence by Norbert Muehlen:… ‘people have become so used to the sights of ruins that they hardly perceive them any more.’

Precisely! Perceived by the haikuist, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. As Jim Kacian reminds us:… ‘If haiku affords us moments of vision, it is not so much that we are visionaries, as that up to that moment we have been blind…’ (Frogpond, 1998, Vol. XXI, No. 2, Haiku Society of America).


Haiku and the city …Can one write haiku in towns and cities? Of course! Rain falls on cities too. And snow. The sun shines, or does not shine. Cities have gardens and parks. There’s always the zoo … why not visit your nearest zoo and compose zoo-ku!

 Some cities have urban foxes, urban monkeys and, for all one knows, alligators in the sewers. Cities have men, women and children, insects, markets, flower stalls, aromas and textures:



                   reducing the city

                   to ruins

                                      Seán Mac Mathúna

Nature’s ability to manifest itself amid the hubbub of urban life can add poignancy to haiku as in the following American and Japanese vignettes:


the city bus stops –

a caw of a winter crow

through the opened door

                   Robert Spiess



in front of one hundred towers

the winter butterfly

                   Yasumasa Soda

(Haiku Troubadours 2000, Ginyu Press, 2000)


Unique and alone … Each one of us is unique and we are alone. We may enjoy the love of family, the conviviality of friends and the esteem of colleagues, but – whether we do or not – ultimately we are alone. For all that, we are intimately linked to everything in the universe, animate and inanimate, and to each other. Our relationships change, inevitably, since change is the nature of growth. Haiku moments vividly capture the vulnerability of our shared existence:


                             orphaned duckling

                             sticking close

                             to the water lily

                                                David Mills

This is something the haikuist once saw and may never see again. ‘If an event is unrepeatable, that is beauty…’ says Soen Nakagawa in Endless Vow (Shambhala, 1996).



Easter evening –

the old woman gathers

her unsold  flowers

                             Ion Codrescu


(The use of a seasonal topic is known as kidai. Kigo is the actual word, or phrase, that conveys kidai. We can have our own seasonal, cultural or religious festivals to replace the traditional 5 seasons in the Japanese haiku tradition – spring, summer, autumn, winter, New Year).

In dreams, in meditation, in prayer, in revelry, it often seems that we are not utterly alone, that no one is ever totally alone, that the myriad dead live on, that the whole universe is teeming with ghosts, humans, gods, demi-gods, angels, demons, imps, fairies …Our dreams, our myths, our songs, our legends, these too are part of a greater pattern of reality:


                                      in my dream my father

talks about summer projects

not knowing he’s dead

                                                                   Alain Kervern


(This has the quality of makoto, honesty, sincerity, unaffectedness).


Relics and rubbish … The more haiku you read and write, the more you are likely to discard. One in ten will satisfy you at first. Later, maybe only one in a hundred. This is as it should be.

The very notion of haiku enlightenment itself should be consigned to the rubbish heap, for a period, lest it become an obsession! Krishnamurti says in Thoughts on Living, ‘Truth is a pathless land. There is no guide, no law, no tradition which will lead you to it but your own constant and intelligent awareness.’


                   father presses olives,

                   we dip our bread

                   in the first oil

                             Marinko Kovacevic

                                      Committed to the Road (The Association of Croatia Haiku Poets)


On the haiku path (or pathlessness), blink and you miss it! Bruce Ross, editor of Haiku Moment, An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku (Tuttle, 1993) offers the apprentice some hope, however:

‘Underlying this emphasis on the given moment of time is the Buddhist idea that the world is made anew each moment. A kind of divine spontaneity thus inheres in each moment…’

In the West, we are rapidly losing a sense of the sacred, of the temenos, the holy place. We regard with some amusement the Japanese belief that after 99 years, cooking utensils take on the significance of holy relics.

Constant regeneration … Defining ultimate reality is not the business of haiku. What is ultimate reality? A mathematical formula? Our realities are coloured by our moods, our temperament, our language, our culture, our beliefs and so on – throw in the weather, the contents of our stomach, our ailments, and the list becomes surreal. The haikuist can only claim to capture a moment of reality – and a succession of such moments. These moments are intuited and caught in all their transience and uniqueness and are streamlined with the constant regeneration of the world:


                             she brings a snowflake inside


                                                look how big it is

                                                                   Sean Burn



Haiku is simply seeing. Seeing, simply:

                                      yellow dandelion

                                                head above

                                                the young nettles

                                                          Zoran Dederović


Aloneness predicates the possibility of oneness:



                   evening feeding –

                                      old farmer’s breath

                                      smokes out to his cows

                                                Randy M. Brooks


Children of the gods …In his Record of the Little Garden, Masaoka Shiki wrote:

 ‘Just then a yellow butterfly came flying by and as I watched it forage among the flowers in the hedge, my soul began to move out to it as though by instinct. Together we visited the flowers, searched out fragrances, and alit in the buds of things. Just as I thought to rest my wings for a moment, it crossed over the low cryptomeria hedge and circled the neighbouring garden and again came wheeling back to flutter in the pine tops and over the water basin. Then, blown off by a gust of wind, it soared high and away. By the time it was hidden by the roof across the way, I was beside myself, lost in ecstasy. Suddenly coming to my senses, I noticed that I was feverish and feeling rather unwell. I came indoors, closed the paper sliding door, and pulled the quilt over me; yet in true reality I was dancing madly with the butterfly, now flown off over a broad, boundless plain. In the midst of my dancing, several hundred butterflies gathered from somewhere, and as I gazed at them playing I realised that what seemed butterflies were all little children of the gods …

(Masaoka Shiki by Janine Beichman, Kodansha International, 1986)


All art forms have therapeutic uses. Haiku is particularly effective in coming to terms with loss, with grief, submerged memories, old wounds. Chiyo-ni grieves for her lost son:



          My dragon-fly hunter:

                   where has he wandered today

                             I wonder?

(Quoted in Haiku – one breath poetry by Naomi Wakan, Heian International, Inc., 1997)

 Allow old desires, old sorrows, disappointments, pangs, attachments to flow into the light of the now in a mature spirit of acceptance:


                             autumn wind –

                             in the attic

                             love letters yellowing

                                      Sylvia Forges-Ryan


If you placed a book such as this in the library of the nearest prison, hospital, nursing home or school, might it change lives? It might – it might even change the way we view our pets, not to mention our neighbours:



                             our dog licks

                             my reflection

                             in the cold puddle        

                                      Scott Hall


Way of the gentle warrior … If the traditional martial arts of the East are said to bring us to a state of balance, poise, flexibility and readiness, a state in which we anticipate a blow to the body, or, indeed, deliver a blow, the way of haiku could be described as the way of the gentle warrior:

                             struck by a

 raindrop, snail

closes up



How immediate this is! The author lived between 1716-1783 – but this haiku is ever-new.

          Rain is common enough in world poetry - where rain occurs. In the poetry of India, a dark rain-cloud can represent a divinity, a harbinger of fruitfulness. But how often does one find a single raindrop in a poem? In Buson’s haiku it strikes a snail! One is reminded of the cold accuracy of martial arts! And yes, haiku must make a direct hit if it is to be hair-raisingly effective.


The word zenkan could be applied to many haiku in this book. The word means, simply, pure seeing, momentary, instant enlightenment:


                             in a pool of stars

                             a frog is hopping

                             from one to the other

                                                Robert Bebek


This is a charming example of the effectiveness of Dogen’s dictum in action - ‘forgetting oneself is being enlightened by all things’. We cannot forget ourselves by a mere act of will and determination. We can go into a stupor with the aid of narcotics or induce a comatose state by hammering our heads with a mallet… Forgetting ourselves while still remaining conscious - more conscious than ever - this is what we sow and reap simultaneously in the field of haiku enlightenment. Haiku does not seek to obliterate our consciousness of who we are. Au contraire, it sharpens our sense of who and what we really are, as Seishi observed, dramatically:


                   With every cry

of the shrike

I know who I am





Seeing truly is not merely a change in the direction of seeing, but a change at its very centre, in which the seer himself disappears.

                                      Ramesh S Balsekar



Jim Norton, an Irish haijin, writing in redthread, Newsletter of the Haiku Sangha (February 2002) admonishes us to hear with the whole body! This is what Seishi (above) was doing. It is what Ikkyu was doing, in his boat on Lake Biwa, when – caaaaw! – a crow furnished him with satori.


                   Cricket chirp –


                   my life is clear

                             Hakuu (1911 –1936)

                                      Trans. Lucien Stryk

 Norton gives us an apt quote, reminding us how essential to the haiku path is the aural dimension:

‘If our listening is partial, there is still an I who is listening, and our listening is tainted by this. Simply listen. It is only when listening is complete that the enlightened mind appears. But we are always listening. We are listening now. We listen with our ears; with our eyes; with our nose … we listen with every cell and pore of our body …’

(Going Beyond Buddha: The Awakening Practice of Listening, Dae Gak, Tuttle, 1997)

This is an electrifying insight. Walking the haiku path can create goose-pimples – and, listen, they are listening!


          First thing to catch my ear –


                             of my native village

                                      Hosha (1885 – 1954)

(Cage of Fireflies, translated by Lucien Stryk, Swallow Press, 1993)


Wake up … We can take a communal , compositional stroll, or ginko, creating and then comparing haiku with like-minded friends; or, in this age of increased mobility, we can take our haiku notebooks with us on our travels:


                   4 a.m.

                             first the cockerel

                                      now the donkey


(Flamingo Shapes by John Barlow, Snapshot Press 2001)


The promise of haiku … R H Blyth, whose 4-volume Haiku (Hokuseido Press, 1949) is essential reading for all who wish to follow this path, believed that writing (and reading) haiku is a spiritual exercise in which we instantly blossom into a state of mind, ‘in which we are not separated from other things, are indeed identical with them, and yet retain our own individuality…’ This is true. This is the promise of haiku. The non-appearance of the personal pronoun throughout this book, and in most of the haiku examples given, does not imply any diminution of the individuality or personality.


Sympathetic vibrations … A haiku may zoom in on one particular object of clear-eyed scrutiny:


                   take care grasshopper –

                             you become one with the leaf

                                      only when you’re still

                                                          Robert Bebek

This is known as ichibutsu shitate. A haiku may also combine two distinct images, or happenings, which exchange a sympathetic timbre:

                   fish-vendor testing

                             the knife’s edge –

                                      cry of seagulls



This type of resonance or combination is known as toriawase. The dash with which the second line ends is the Western equivalent of the kireji or cutting word.

So much can be encapsulated in this smallest of literary forms. The wren’s nest is a perfect fit. It is sufficient to the wren, as the Irish proverb has it (Is leor don dreoilín a nead). A hazel nut is the size it should be. Why should it be as big as a turnip? The genetic engineer who comes up with a turnip the size of a hazelnut should go and get his head examined. To quote (or misquote) William of Occam: ‘It is a sin to do with more what can be done with less!’ The cultivation of haiku can deepen our

day-to-day understanding of the mountains of needless waste in the world


A ten-line haiku would not be a haiku. It would be unable to hold the energies of a haiku, it would become diffuse, a reflective, discursive or descriptive poem. Roland Barthes, the insightful French critic, writes: ‘Haiku brevity is not formal; haiku is not a complex thought reduced to a short form but a short event which finds its right form in a touch .’ (L’empiere des signes, Flammarion, Paris, 1970).

Simply mastering the haiku form will not bring sudden enlightenment. It is the spirit of haiku which matters and this has been eloquently attested to by Humberto Senegal, President of the Colombian Haiku Society:


‘Erudition and intellectual wisdom, the paths of the egotistic poet, are not adequate for one who seriously wishes to draw near to haiku. The path of intuition, of the non-being of being, leads directly to haiku…’


And he goes on to warn potential haikuists:


‘In the West, few cultivators of the haiku go beyond form. They focus on this part of the legacy from the masters because it seems easier to count syllables or to tie themselves to the seasons than to present themselves, and their wonder, to that same astonishment which Basho must have experienced at the trees in bloom, at the sound of the birds and at the sound of the rain…’

The word ‘astonishment’ is apt and Goethe suggests it as a vehicle towards ‘the highest summit to which the human spirit can ascend’:


                             linking heaven

                                      and this world,

                                                a spider’s filament

                                                          Hoshino Tsubaki

          (Version by ST in World Haiku Review, March 2003)

But let’s return to Senegal’s insights. Without them, we are not truly on the haiku path:


‘Spirit is not discovering through intelligence, manipulation of literary data, academic disciplines, memorisations of literary techniques, nor through the study of complicated books and the analysis of theory and content. Spirit is only discovered through the grace of wonder and amazement …’                 


Unless you recognise the truth of Senegal’s pronouncements and adhere to this simple truth, through thick and thin, the promise behind this book – sudden enlightenment through haiku – will not be fulfilled for you. From the same source, two more pronouncements then, for extra measure:


‘Every haiku, when authentic, is satori, an ecstasy of the observed and the observer in union and manifestation, thanks to the simplicity and impersonality of the poet…’

Finally, Senegal emphasises another thread running through this book, namely the universality of haiku:

                   ‘To understand Basho, his poetry, his work and his literary aesthetics is to uncover the here and now, the spirit of being, within ourselves and the world around us. And this spirit which exists in millions of forms does not belong to any culture, man, literary school, philosophy or any one religion …’

(Round the Pond, ed. Ion Codrescu, Editura Muntenia, Constanta, Romania, 1994).


The severed link … A Breton scholar of Japanese studies, Alain Kervern, writing in the same Romanian publication, suggests that nomadism may still form part of our consciousness, a nomadism replaced ‘by the Neolithic revolution, with fixed settlements, thanks to cattle breeding and lands to plough. Considering the long presence of men on earth, which can be estimated at hundreds of thousands of years, the Neolithic period is a recent one, and the sedentary way of life is a very new phenomenon, by comparison…’


The haiku way of life reconnects us with this severed link to Nature and will do so even when we live, or holiday, in outer space. Basho referred to Nature as zoka, meaning creation and transformation. Deena Metzger (Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, Fawcett Columbine, 1998) sees the modern reaction to Darwin as ‘a terrified lunge away from the reality of our animal natures’ while Seyyed Hossein (Religion and the Order of Nature, Oxford University Press, 1996) calls for ‘a resacralisation of nature’.

In effect, what many insightful ecologists and philosophers are telling us today is that we should feel we belong to this earth, that the colonial phase of extending mankind’s influence to far-flung corners of the earth – and into outer space – must be replaced by a new concept, namely the colonist becoming native. Haikuists already feel that they are ‘natives’ of this earth and never before has our planet been in need of such caring wisdom.

The way of haiku is a way of relating to species older than ourselves, even to often abhorred species such as the rat, said to be as numerous as ourselves:



                   July afternoon -

                   a couple of river rats

                   grooming their whiskers

                                      C M Buckaway

(Haiku Moment)

In some haiku, the vision seems to penetrate beyond the normal reach of vision, into the secret heart of Nature herself. This, by Basho:


                             at night, quietly

                             a worm in the moonlight

                             digs into a chestnut

(*Matsuo Basho, The Master Haiku Poet, by Makoto Ueda, Kodansha, 1982).


While classical Japanese haiku often shows a subtle blend of religious influences – Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Daoism, Shintoism as well as various literary influences, Nature herself often wins out against formal codes and beliefs:


                   please wait a minute!

                   do not ring the temple bell,

                   lest blossoms should fall

                             Shigeyori, 1603 –1680


Consciousness of evanescence opens the doors of wisdom:

                   our life is thinner

                   than a piece of paper:

                   snow in springtime

                             Shiki Matsudaira

  (Let us Write Haiku by Sakuzô Takada (Toranomon Haiku Group, no date)



                                          The less you have the more 

you are – it is accumulation

A                                that robs you of being.
B                                           Karl Marx






As we grow older, life seems to offer fewer surprises for us. We’ve seen it all and the latest headlines only confirm our suspicions. On the haiku path, however, we remain surprised. The universe is never drained of mystery. Perhaps this is its greatest gift:


                   I plucked in the dark

                   the scent of white flowers, then

                   they were plum flowers

                             Yayu Yokoi, 1702 –1783

(Excellent Haiku of Japan in the Edo Period by Nakimaro Hirose & Sakuzo Takada, published privately, no date).

The haiku path offers this eternal renewal of the spirit, It is constant, effortless work. In 1693, then aged fifty, Basho declared, ‘I write to discipline myself …’


All that glistens … Those who seek Enlightenment are often duped by the word itself, as if the word promises brilliance, a world and a mind awash in pure light. It can be so, but not necessarily so. In Instant Zen, Waking Up in the Present (North Atlantic Books, 1994), Thomas Cleary has translated general lectures on Zen by Foyan (1067 –1120) in which Foyan’s master tells him:


‘Learning Zen is called a gold and dung phenomenon. Before you understand it, it’s like gold; when understood, it’s like dung .’


If you intuit the wisdom of this, you already know what haiku enlightenment is all about.


                             nobly, the great priest

                             deposits his daily stool

                             in bleak winter fields


(The Sound of Water, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, 1995).


Of course, more than dung is on offer. The haiku path promises this much to the dedicated haiku initiate: freedom-through-engagement – freedom from the myriad distractions that assault us from every side, from without and from within, the flowering of a dynamic, ethical consciousness and a return to the roots of our innate Buddha-nature. Haiku is a perfect vehicle for this on-going process, bypassing cognition and intellectualisation, intuitively sublimating the duality of our existence, momentarily finding ourselves nowhere, everywhere, here on the boundless path:


‘Just like the empty sky that does not increase or decrease – so with our mind – what need could there be to augment or amend it?’

(A Man of Zen, The Recorded Sayings of Layman P’ang, translated by Ruth Fuller Sasaki, Yoshitake Iriya & Dana Fraser, Weatherhill/Inklings, 1992)        


                             settling, white dew

                             does not discriminate,

                             each drop its home

                                                Soin (1604-1682)


A glimpse of timelessness … We are in time - in haiku time – and in time-stopping time -  and haiku time gives us an insight into the mysterious fluidity of time:



speal mo sheanathar

ag meirgiú sa scioból -

clapsholas fómhair

                             Cathal Ó Searcaigh


my grandfather’s scythe

rusting in the barn -

                                      autumn twilight



This is a perfect example of the quality of oldness and loneliness

that is called sabi (from the verb sabiru, ‘to rust’!)


Haiku can give us, too, a glimpse of timelessness:


          En el espacio

          esa forma sin tiempo:

          la luna nueva

                             Jorge Luis Borges

(quoted in Haiku International Anthology, Ed. Zoe Savina, Athens, 2000)



In space

                   that timeless form:

                   the new moon

              (trans. G. R.)



                   im frühlingssturm


alte blätter vom herbst

                    Georg Gisi


                   in the spring storm

                   old autumn leaves

                   are dancing

                             (trans. G. R.)


Haiku time is time now, time past, time future, time continuous:


                   the sunset glow -


                   as if still burning

                             Yasuhiko Shigemoto


It is time suspended:

                   with his golden eyes

                   glittering, a sleeping snake

                   in hibernation

                             Makoto Tamaki


It is time and space, recreating themselves in the cosmic dance, always taking on old-new forms, old-new shapes, old-new sounds:


                   A hum

                   from the north

                   grows into swans above me

                             Tsunehiko Hoshino


 Diligence and awareness come with haiku and are necessary virtues along the true haiku path if we are to avoid the delusions of false enlightenment. After all, in his lofty Bavarian retreat, Hitler would stare at the mountains and when the moon appeared he used to say that his mind would fill with brightness… Clearly, therefore, a balmy suffusion of light is hardly sufficient to transform our hearts and minds. Thankfully, the discipline of haiku is on the side of life and inner light:


                             pregnant again…

                             the fluttering of moths

                             against the window

                                      Janice. M. Bostok


Haiku is the promise of new life, hope and regeneration, albeit

in a world of impermanence:


                             frost on the grass:

                                      elusive form

                                                there and not there



The Baal Shem Tov reminded his followers that the primordial spark exists in all things. We discover that spark in haiku:


                heat shimmers:

          the stone’s soul

                   still alive


(Emiko Miyashita, Shiki Haiku Calendar 2003)


Do you know what haiku is now? Hopefully, if this is your first encounter, you will have a feeling for it by now. Don’t lose that feeling! Who would have thought that something so apparently simple could be so elusive, so full of contradictoriness? R H Blyth (in Haiku, Volume 1) writes: ‘These are some of the characteristics of the state of mind which the creation and appreciation of haiku demand: Selflessness, Loneliness, Grateful Acceptance, Wordlessness, Non-Intellectuality, Contradictoriness, Humour, Freedom, Non-morality, Simplicity, Materiality, Love, and Courage.’ Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But these characteristics can begin to manifest themselves in all of us. How? By the very habit of haiku itself; those flashes of energising enlightenment – kensho – that accompany real haiku have the power to sustain the life of these characteristics in us and to conjure them at the required moment.


Look again … Look through some of the haiku in this book. It may well be that you missed out on a few and that their full impact still awaits you. Do this now. Flick through the book again and keep the states of mind mentioned by Blyth (above) in mind. You could write out all 13 on a sheet of paper. Armed with this list, make a random search now. How many of these characteristics, or others, can you find? Many excellent haiku create a space for more than one interpretation.


Simple acts … To write a haiku is a simple act.  ‘A real haiku’s gotta be as simple as porridge and yet make you see the real thing,’ we read in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. ‘As simple as porridge.’ That’s good.


                   evening coming –

                             the office girl

                                      unloosing her scarf

                                                Jack Kerouac

 It is becoming increasingly difficult in our cluttered world to perform acts of utter simplicity. In Turtle Island (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1974), Gary Snyder – the actual speaker (thinly disguised) speaking, above, in The Dharma Bums - sums it up:

‘It is hard to even begin to gauge how much a complication of possessions, the notions of “my and mine”, stand between us and a true, clear, liberated way of seeing the world. To live lightly on the earth, to be aware and alive, to be free of egotism, to be in contact with plants and animals, starts with simple concrete acts …’


What could be simpler than the act of haiku?


                             water trough .

                             a horse

                             drinking the sky

                                                ai li

(Blythe Spirit, Vol. 8, No. 3, 1998)


Come, butter, come!  This was a Celtic mantra, said when churning butter. How do we encourage the haiku moment, or our recognition of that concatenation of events that will give birth to a haiku? Robert Spiess gave stimulating advice to his many readers in America, and elsewhere, in the course of a long and productive life as a haikuist and editor:

‘As haiku poets we should keep our sense perceptions open and relaxed, not using them forcefully to grasp experiences.’ This is a wise observation, ignored at our peril. He goes on to say, ‘With this almost detached way we do not block our inner awareness and intuition. Simultaneously we are then perceiving both inside and outside ourselves, so that these two conditions become a unity.’

(Modern Haiku, Vol. 33. 3, Autumn 2002, Robert Spiess Memorial Issue)


Grateful for small mercies … We are nearing the end of this journey – hopefully, for you, the beginning – on the haiku path. If nothing else, you will be, henceforth, grateful for small mercies:



          Laying down chopsticks –


          I’m grateful

                                      (Santoka (1882 –1940) in Cage of Fireflies, Lucien Stryk, Swallow Press, 1993)







                                      Try to be mindful and let things take

their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings. Like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things.

                   Achaan Chah









Versatility … it’s endless… To the uninitiated, all haiku may appear the same. Let us remind ourselves of what anthologist Cor van den Heuvel has to say in the third edition of The Haiku Anthology (1999 W.W. Norton & Company):

“The writing of variations on certain subjects in haiku, sometimes using the same or similar phrases (or even changing a few words of a previous haiku), is one of the most interesting challenges the genre offers a poet and can result in refreshingly different ways of ‘seeing anew’ for the reader. This is an aspect of traditional Japanese haiku which is hard for many Westerners, with their ideas of uniqueness and Romantic individualism, to accept …”

The range of haiku is wider than we may think. Janine Beichman (Masaoka Shiki, Kodansha International, 1986)

describes the characteristics of Basho and Buson, as Shiki saw them:

In the case of Basho, “such ideals as classical grace (koga), mystery and depth (yugen), pathos (hisan), tranquility (chinsei), simplicity (hei-i), subdued elegance (sabi) and thinness (hosomi). Buson’s characteristics “tended towards the positive traits of virility (yukon), strength (keiken), charm (enrei) and vitality (kappatsusa).” If it is versatility we seek, surely there’s enough there to go on. Some, if not all, of these characteristics - and others - may arise as we follow the haiku path, emptying ourselves of the dross that clouds our perception of ourselves and the world, stripping ourselves of falsehoods and delusions:


          I powder the baby

          after her bath –

          she truly owns nothing

(Selected Haiku, Takaha Shugyo, Furansudo, 2003)


In haiku, we always come back to silence, to nothingness, ‘the atoms and the void’ as Democritus said. The universe is a pulsing riddle and full of staggering phenomena; it allows us, it beckons us to learn how to appreciate its gifts more and more, simply for what they are. Haiku re-aligns us with creation, sharpening our receptivity so that everything yields its strange beauty and meaning to us:

                             washing the yellow-green

                             stems of leeks:

                             mud runs like Chinese ink

                                                Keith J. Coleman


Our link with creation … Haiku is a tapping in to the eternal life of the universe. Why  are so many people blind to the dance of the universe, deaf to its music? We must restore a living link with the living universe or our lives are only partly lived; and the universe is always prepared to make this link with us, to fill us with glimpses of its wonders, if we ready ourselves, in loving surrender. The advocate of scientific pantheism, Paul Harrison, proposes something to which most haikuists will nod in agreement: ‘If we empty our mind of all thought and allow ourselves to enter into the motion of things, and the motion to enter into us, we can literally swim in the ocean of existence and burn with its fire …’


The music of a kiss …We referred earlier on to the music of things that happen. What is that pulse, that music? It is memorably expressed by Vladimir Devidé, the Croatian master, writing in Ginyu No. 17, 2003:

 ‘The flight of a butterfly from one flower to another, is the song of that butterfly’s life. The singing of a bird at dawn or at dusk, in its nest or on the ground or in the air is the song of that bird’s life. The scent of a rose, when its bud is opening and a breeze carries its perfume around, is the song of the rose’s life …’ Devidé says that we can receive the kiss of this song. But, be careful! In haiku, he claims, ‘there is no place for reflection, deduction, education, analysis, philosophy etc. since otherwise what is being written down would not be a record of a kiss of a life’s song, but merely a record about a kiss of a life’s song.’ That nicely separates the sheep from the goats!


Sincerity and total attention … Nothing else is required on the haiku path. Dogen, instructing the cook, Tenzo, said: ‘If there is sincerity in your cooking and everyday actions, whatever you do is an act of nourishing the sacred body …’

the master sleeps –

                             from their hooks marionettes

                                      stare into moonlight

                                                Patricia Neubauer


Welcome, then, to the world of haiku in which marionettes, too, can become enlightened!
















Gabriel Rosenstock, poet, haikuist, playwright, writing in Irish and English, is the author/translator of over 100 books. He is a member of Aosdána, the Irish Academy of Arts and Letters.

He has worked in theatre, radio, television, print journalism and book publishing.

          Some titles of note include his selected poems (from the Irish) Portrait of the Artist as an Abominable Snowman,  from Domhan Books, New York; Forgotten Whispers, haiku and senryu (Anam Press, Cork); Signs of Rain: Irish Weather Wisdom (Appletree Press, Belfast); Irish Proverbs: in Irish and English (Mercier Press, Cork & Dublin) and the compilation A Treasury of Irish Love from Hippocrene Books, New York. Recent volumes of poems in Irish are Syójó (Cló Iar-Chonnachta) and Eachtraí Krishnamurphy (Coiscéim). A forthcoming volume of poems in English, Uttering Her Name, consists of love poems in the classical tradition of spiritual longing.

A former Chairman of Poetry Ireland/ Éigse Éireann, he is a member of The World Haiku Club, The World Haiku Association, The British Haiku Society, The Haiku Society of America, The Irish Writers’ Union and is an Hon. Life Member of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association.

He has translated thousands of haiku and poems into Irish, including the selected poems of Heaney, Grass, Michele Ranchetti, Said, F X Alarcón, J W Hackett, Issa, Michael Augustin,  Hansjörg Schertenleib, Peter Huchel, Georg Heym, Willem M. Roggeman, Georg Trakl.

Rosenstock has read his poetry and haiku in Ireland, Britain, US, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, Australia and India. He contributes a daily haiku column to the newspaper .


                             STABS at NOTHING


                                                                A handful of haiku and senryu



                   G R


outside the Guggenheim

the shape

of real trees








deepening dusk:

          some trees are whispering

                   others hold their counsel




          a bagpipe’s dying notes

                   singly and in groups

                             swallows disappear

watering the magnolia –

          ah, that’s where your’re hiding!

                   pesky midges







-         a baker’s dozen

each one the same







Church bells –

          where are they all going?

                   myriads of ants




ah! mounting each other

          with such gentleness

                   August evening clouds


knowing its name:

          the lungwort

                   appearing in every cranny







in the flaming coals

these, too, will change





sipping beakfuls

of its own image




where is the hedgehog tonight

          has she found some leaves

                   a resting place?







flowers in a vase

a cat prowls

the bare garden






foghorn at dusk …

          little by little

                   the world disappears




shining one!

          again and again

                   the seagull’s sun-flushed breast





passing a laundrette

                                      this spinning world

becoming still


was its spirit released?

          burning limbs

                   of an old tree



flicking their tails

out of habit

cows in the chill of autumn




flea market in Valparaiso

a German helmet

eaten by rust





circus field







flowers, weeds, stones,

drenched in enlightenment



did her eyes watch

that little danse macabre?

          decapitated hen





three stabs at nothing!

the heron shakes its head

in disbelief




slipping over morning fields

                   a sunray

catches the hare’s urine*










*( Joint Second Prize, Mainichi Haiku Contest, 2003)


island post box

the empty thud

of a letter


Achill island

oyster catchers

gawping at tourists


black black the night

          what does the hedgehog dream

                   does she dream in colour?






          the unintended girl

                   turns her head


matching the moss it explores

the green

on the pigeon’s neck




all that’s left of the night

two crows

on a branch




                                      drizzly morning …

                                                a pigeon savours

                                                          a drunk’s vomit





a shrunken bent old woman

          the hedgehog with her snout

                             in young grass


past and future lives

          in the unblinking eyes

                   of a king cobra



                                      rags on a pavement

                                                a body stirs in them




                   sun over the Himalayas

                             my mule drinks

                                      from the Ganges





dark morning

a crow

looking down a chimney




                             nothing left

                             but the gates -

                                      temple of air



all day … and every day

unseen rays

          streaming from the sunflower




our daughter

          two hearts beating in her now

                   how strange



grey November strand


          lugworms burrowing


                   for secrets



frosty morning

          a robin bares his breast

                   to the whole world




news of a death

          a fruit-bat suspended

                   in slumber




an egret stands in a lagoon

                                      the sound of clothes

                                                washed on stones






but not unloved

the old magnolia




harvest moon –

          burying the short-lived hedgehog

                   where she snuffled for worms




the pigeon’s mate has flown


          still he struts


                   chest puffed out



how relaxed

          the seaweed-covered boulder

                   massaged by waves

how noble!

          the horse on a coin

                   no longer in use


the March air

          tendrils escaping

                   from a broken pot


two magpies

in flight: one

the soul of the other





at the foot of the Cross

          a blood-stained snail

                   becomes a buddha


standing up

to the morning haar –

seldom-blooming magnolia




the unripe raspberries–

do not touch!


not that we had forgotten!

          the yellow furze




with his one good hand

          the scarecrow

                   points at the moon




left out for snails

          tomorrow’s buddhas



a pigeon cooing to himself

          until he no longer

                   has a self



baby frog! who was your mother

          where is she now

this autumn day







bathroom spider

          sent out into the great world …

God go with you                  


there! wiggling in the light –

          but what are they in shade?

                   crazy tadpoles …



          lift high your chalice now

                   for all sentient beings


strains of Vivaldi

          late into the night

                   are they listening? earthworms






was that your ghost

          softly among fallen leaves

                             dead hedgehog
shield and sword intact

          the grinning Viking raider

                   never made it home


their first full moon –

                   all the tadpoles

                             eerily quiet




evening sunshine –

          graveyard midges

                   Christ, how they bite!



                                      pale yellow sound -

                                                putting out the candle

                                                          a second moth spared




jumping back into the pond

          what only yesterday

                   was a tadpole







dying notes of a bagpipe –

          singly and in groups

                   swallows  disappear


Farrera: April in the Catalonian Pyrenees


dying winds

          faint mountain path

                   to a disused church




          by so many buttercups

                   how sober – the horse
with each call

the cuckoo

melts the snow





somewhere in the fog

                   the little bell

                             around the horse’s neck





feeding time

the old man

                   singing to the rabbits


one crisp sound

voices of sparrows

dripping of melting snow






this thin mountain air

everywhere: rock crevices

empty walnut shell






snow-capped hills

the foal’s mouth

flecked with mare’s milk








the squirrel

(on a tree I do not know)

has a brother in my land



dark clouds leaving

for the next valley

aroma of strong coffee





chilly morning -

an eagle’s talon

nailed to the door







Writing Haiku: Useful Tips

·       Dedication is the first tip, after which come more mundane matters. In a letter to a friend, Basho says: ‘I’ve worn out my body in journeys that are as aimless as the winds and clouds, and expended my feelings on flowers and birds. But somehow I’ve been able to make a living this way, and so in the end, unskilled and talentless as I am, I give myself wholly to this one concern, poetry …’(From the Country of Eight Islands, Columbia University Press, 1960)

·       Always have a notebook in your pocket – you never know

when the haiku moment is going to manifest itself. A pencil for notes, say, and a pen for your first draft. As was noted in the beginning of this book, we do not seize Reality: Reality seizes us. Be prepared!


·       Keep your eyes and your ears open – but not too intently, not fanatically! Look! Listen! Strike while the iron is hot!

Or you’ll miss it.


The pond reflects

          a flying squirrel

                   over the wisteria


          (from A haiku menagerie)


 Have all the senses at the ready. On the haiku path,  if your sight doesn’t actually improve, your percipience will. You will notice new things in a new way:


A cricket –

          look at his face …

                   that headstrong face!

                             Yamaguchi Syuson


·       As in the above haiku, you might prefer to avoid using capital letters except, perhaps, for the first word. Note also that titles are not used for individual haiku but a sequence, or gunsaku, may be named if we wish to identify the locus of the haiku.


·       Revise at leisure. Be ruthless! When your notebook is full, select the very best haiku and write them out again, carefully, in a fancier notebook. Keep copies on your PC, if you use one. Now, which ones are the best? Those moments of pure awareness, not created or imagined by you; moments of grace that happened to you in intimate commune with nature. Again, you cannot go wrong if you listen to the advice of Basho. Imbibe every word: ‘Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one – when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there …’ And again: ‘Submerge yourself into the object until its intrinsic nature becomes apparent, stimulating poetic impulse …’ There are hundreds of haikuists who ignore this advice and their work suffers as a consequence, lacking in depth, spontaneity, atmosphere and resonance. If you remember nothing else, you have more than enough in this to succeed.



·       Try writing a haiku sequence – a particular place at a particular time of the year. It will concentrate the mind on the notion of a thematic unity and diversity which exists within any given season and locale, the everyday miracles waiting for your contemplation. Nothing should be beneath you. On the haiku path, nothing is trite if conceived in the haiku moment.


·       Keep your haiku in the present tense. The haiku moment is here and now – though it may be coloured by our past lives and memories, even by fantasies. Of course, once you have mastered this all-important rule – but only then -  are you  to write the occasional fictional haiku, such as this stunning example from Buson:



this piercing cold –

in the bedroom, I have stepped

on my dead wife’s comb


It’s a classic, never mind that his wife outlived him!



·       Avoid the use of “I” and “me” and “mine” as much as possible. (Obviously, Buson gets away with it above). When the interior and exterior landscapes merge as one – enlightenment - there is little room for the “I”.


·       The three-line, 5-7-5 configuration is a good discipline for

beginners. You may wish to stick with it. In time, however, you may be more at home with the free-style haiku of a dozen or so syllables.


·       Read your haiku aloud, over and over again. If the rhythm is not natural, try varying the lines. Maybe line 3 should be line 1 or vice versa? It often happens that a haiku sounds best if the second line is the longest of the three, followed by a break (such as a dash) and a lift in the third line. The pause (after the first, or second, line) is called a kire and may be denoted by ellipsis (three dots), a dash, a comma or a colon. The word ‘caesura’, meaning a pause in verse, means to ‘cut off’. You will also see haiku in this book, and elsewhere, which discard punctuation when the caesura is deemed obvious.


·       Try to eliminate connective tissue, words such as “like” or the definite and indefinite articles - “the” and “a” - without going overboard or being cryptically telegrammatic. Be sparing with adjectives and adverbs. Listen to your haiku –

if it contains two or more words ending in “ing” then some surgery may be needed.


·       When is a haiku finished? How long does the haiku moment last? Interesting questions? Maybe this haiku answers them:


a camellia flower fell;

                        a cock crowed;

                                  some more fell




·       Haiku is a spiritual path. Without the spiritual dimension, the cultivation of haiku may become frivolous or dilettantish. Much of it was hollow before Basho arrived on the scene. When the spirit is alive in the haiku moment, resonances can be intuited, without the use of simile, as in Basho’s:


lightning gleams

                             and a night heron’s squawk

                                      travels into the darkness


See the note on toriawase in the Glossary. Try to find haiku in this book, or in any other, which contain toriawase or any of the other qualities explained in the Glossary. This will help your attentiveness as a reader of haiku, your own and others. Curiously enough, the example of toriawase given in the Glossary has lightning in it as well. Remember, with or without toriawase, a good haiku retains a mystery and a freshness for all time. Go through this book again and see if some haiku have a different impact on you at a second or third reading.


·       If you do not have a formal spiritual practice such as chanting, meditation, tai chi or prayer, being alone with Nature is enough. Contemplate trees, grasses, the sky – let go, enter, intermingle with creation. Lose the head! Look at what happened to D.E. Harding: ‘What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. A peculiar quiet, an odd kind of alert limpness or numbness, came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down … Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough’. (On Having No Head, 1961) And so it should be with us.


·       Use plain language. Anglo-Saxon words (if you write in English) tend to be more concrete and simpler than their Latinate brothers and sisters.


·       Occasional internal rhyme or half-rhyme is fine but end rhyme is thought to be inappropriate.



·       If you are lucky enough to have a garden – with a pond – find out what you should plant to attract interesting visitors throughout the year. Buddleia for butterflies, for instance, berries for birds. Plan your garden so that there is something to enliven the senses all year round. Relax in your garden with a good book, say A haiku garden by Stephen Addiss (Weatherhill, 1996) or A haiku menagerie by the same author (Weatherhill 1992), with their respective themes of flora and fauna, culled from Japanese classics.


·        Increase your nature vocabulary in as many realms as possible – birds, insects, plants, animals, rocks, the weather and so on. From time to time, try to use a kigo or season word that is associated with your country or region.


·       Read the haiku classics, over and over again, and read the best of the moderns. Cultivate reverence in your haiku work and seek out silence. Remember, each one of us is unique and we all find ourselves, daily, in unique situations. Be brave enough to express your own visions and the textures of life as you apprehend them. Haiku is about everything and nothing:


a flash of lightning!

the sound of drops

                        falling among the bamboos


(R . H. Blyth Haiku, Volume 1, Eastern Culture, The Hokuseido Press, 1981)



The bargain that intuition seems to drive is that it will serve you if you serve it. You must obey your intuition to cultivate it, to develop it, and to retain the use of it. This is a voluntary act. In colloquial language, you have a hunch, and the hunch is an involuntary experience. Whether or not you obey it is up to you. If it is a real hunch, an intuition, you will inevitably regret it if you do not. These experiences will increase in frequency if you obey them, and if you don’t they will cease altogether.

Joseph Sadony





·       Celebrate aspects of your own culture and topography

Look for found haiku or hidden haiku in your favourite writers. With a little editing, even passages of prose can unearth found haiku.


·       Cultivate sentiment, avoid sentimentality. Remind yourself to be passively aware, each waking hour of the day, and use as many of your senses as you can. The over-active brain may come between you and the haiku moment. From time to time, consciously avoid overstimulation. Try pacifying the mind, naturally. Drink green tea or herbal fusions that have been tried and tested in your clime.


·       If you have a second or third language at your command,

write translations or versions of haiku that have impressed you. This will cultivate your haiku style and sensibility. Try translating some of your own haiku as well: this could lead to a back-translation – revising the original.


·        Keep a very open mind! Haiku possibilities are everywhere. The haiku spirit is limitless:


autumn wind

          everything I see

                   is haiku

                             Kyoshi (Trans. L. Stryk)


·       Submit previously unpublished haiku, or haiku in translation, to a haiku journal or poetry magazine. Subscribe to one or two journals such as Frogpond (USA) Modern Haiku (USA) or Blithe Spirit (UK).Explore haiku links on the Internet, such as haikuworld, and learn to enjoy the beauty of haiga (illustrated haiku). Avoid overdose. Read and re-read the classics but not too many at a time.


·        You have seen many beautiful haiku in this book, one hopes. However, it is well to ponder  J W Hackett’s advice: ‘Remember that lifefulness, not beauty, is the real quality of haiku’. An extreme example of Hackett’s  dictum might be the following by Nagata Koi (1900 – 1997), a frightening haiku from his A dream like this world (Japan 2000, trs. Naruta Nana & Mitsutani Margaret):


an old cat, straining, shits –

in such a pose

my mother dies in winter


Repulsive? It might be best to forget haiku if your inclinations tend towards mere prettification. Take up flower arrangement instead! (Though this, too, is a rigorous path when properly pursued). Ultimately, haiku is about fearless engagement with life and death, a close encounter with the world - shorn of illusion. It’s about being more honest than you ever thought possible. Honest, yes, but not dourly serious all the time. Light touches of self-effacing humour are perfectly acceptable as in Issa’s


                   like some of us

                             he looks very important –

                                      this snail











A life-long encountering … Through habitual reading and writing of haiku we can experience temporal states of non-differentiation, of union with natural phenomena. Many people, if they think of this possibility at all, relegate such events to the lives of nature mystics and highly evolved spiritual poets. It need not be so. Along the haiku path, we encounter our own peculiar destiny. Compassion, intelligence, awareness, intuition, perspicacity and creativity are all fused and enlivened on the haiku path.

 With frequent practice of haiku, our senses sharpen one another: as we watch and see more closely, the keener becomes our hearing, our sense of smell, until we are wordlessly brought into the great silence, the womb of creation where the haiku moment is born and reborn, spring, summer, autumn and winter. We acquire that ‘singular state of mind’, as French-language poet and critic, Phillippe Jaccottet, describes it, which leads us to ‘the peak of limpidity’ and to ‘the full and luminous life to which everybody aspires’. (In a review of the work of R. H. Blyth, English translation David Quin). This ‘singular state of mind’ is acquired through purifying consciousness, repeatedly, in haiku engagement:


the empty rock pool –

        till the mind clears,

                then a thousand little things

                                Jim Norton


Tagore wrote a letter in which he described a sensual union with all of creation: ‘I felt that once upon a time I was at one with the rest of the earth, that grass grew green upon me, that the autumn sun fell on me and under its rays the warm scent of youth wafted from every pore of my far-flung evergreen body ... ’ The haiku path restores that sense of unity and non-duality which we all once enjoyed as our birthright; don’t interpret this as a  regression to infantile certainties, however. Tagore continues in the same vein: ‘The current of my consciousness streams through each blade of grass, each sucking root, each sappy vein, and breaks out in the waving fields of corn and in the rustling leaves of the palms …’ (Rabindranath Tagore, Krishna Dutta & Andrew Robinson, Rupa 2003).


The death of negative emotions … The haikuist lives the life of an ordinary man and woman; most haikuists experience more or less the same joy, sorrow, disappointment, anger, anxiety, pleasure, ecstasy, boredom, etc. as is the common lot though it must be said that the active haikuist, aware of the potential of this self-validating technique, manages to slough off negative emotions more often than indulging in them. Fear, estrangement, selfishness, distraction … these and other negative states can cease to haunt us: the haiku technique begins to  equip us with everything that’s needed need to allow us glimpses of  surprising oneness with creation. More than mere  glimpses, in fact: rather, an  interpenetration in which time is temporarily suspended, and clarity is restored to our lives.

In haiku, little details explode into life:



        the sparrow hops

                along the veranda

                        with wet feet


                                (Trans. R H Blyth)


An aura  Good haiku have an aura, a shimmer, a glint. Apples on the table are just apples. When they become part of a still life by Cézanne they acquire life, an aura. What brings the aura to the apples – or what enhances their own aura – is the poet’s glance.


Non-striving awareness … Haiku is an open-eyed engagement with the word and with the world. It is not so much what paints itself on the retina as what resonates – through one or more of the senses – with the human spirit. Haiku moments, in all their purity, surprise us when – and only when – we have achieved passive, non-striving awareness:


        the moon

                above the snow-capped mountain

                        dropped hailstones

                                Sekitei Hara, 1889 –1951


An old Zen adage goes as follows: ‘Before enlightenment, hewing wood, drawing water … after enlightenment, hewing wood, drawing water …’ It is not enough to understand these words. You can and should experience the truth, for yourself, on the haiku path.


Neither pro nor anti … It is worth familiarising yourself with Chinese and Japanese classics, particularly the poetry of the T’ang Dynasty and the countless fables, parables, koans and poems that form part of the Zen tradition. Do not start on the haiku path with a pro-Zen or anti-Zen mentality. After all, Zen may be nothing more than a happy accident. It seems there were tremendous difficulties in translating Buddhist sutras from Sanskrit to Chinese. In many cases one was left with riddles, what appeared to be nothing more than runic rubbish. Meditating on these dark, sacred texts revealed no logic, no wisdom, no great revelation – thus the mind transcended meaning and therein found enlightenment in No-Mind! (One can look further into this theory in Kogen Mizuno’s Buddhist Sutras: Origin, Development, Transmission, Tokyo: Kosei, 1982).

Seng-ts’an (known as Sosan in Japanese) was the Third Chinese Patriarch. He admonishes us, wisely: ‘If you wish to know the truth, hold to no opinions – neither for nor against. Setting what you like against what you dislike, this is the disease of the mind.’ Treasure this insight. If you can live by it, a thousand vistas will open up for you on the flowering haiku path.

Do not be alarmed by the possibility of ego-loss on  this path. Do not be afraid! Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, the German- American philosopher, reminds us that God is invisible; so, to be made in God’s image is to be invisible! Don’t be afraid of that either! The haiku is small enough – there isn’t space in it for your ego. Leave your ego outside. You may return to it later (if you must!)


The conditioned mind … Focussing on the here-and-nowness of the haiku moment, being in that moment, simply means  that we facilitate the dissolving of the conditioned mind. (For more on the conditioned mind, try to get your hands on a book, or books, by Raymond Karczewski).


                Haiku discipline results in our appreciation of a   dazzling concatenation of events which otherwise might have remained beyond our ken:


                as it’s swallowed

                        a frog blinks

                                in a snake’s mouth

                                        Itaru Ina

        (Modern Haiku, Vol. 34.2, Summer 2003)


















 Glossary of Useful Terms

(It is not necessary to be familiar with all of these terms but, in themselves, they are pointers towards certain qualities or potentialities worth looking out for when reading haiku or revising one’s own work)


Chiri:  in  season-word lists this covers the wide geography of mountains, rivers, hills etc.

Dubutsu: in season-word lists this covers animals, birds and insects

Shokubutsu: in season-word lists this covers all types of plants peculiar to your own environment

Tenmon: in season-word lists this covers meteorological observations, i.e. the weather and the appearance of heavenly bodies

Gunsaku: a sequence of haiku written more or less around the same time and place

Sono mama:  more or less factual observation of natural phenomena without any emotional adornment

Gyuji: the name in a season-list for holidays and festivals, Hallowe’en etc

Hokku: the opening stanza of a linked verse composition (renku) and the immediate antecedent of the modern haiku

Renku: also called  renga. Linked verse, from the 14th.centurt to the present day, often composed at renku parties, with a distinguished poet giving the Hokku, setting the tone or season and  out of which subsequent verses evolve. The couplet (7-7 syllables) following the three-line hokku is the wakiku

Haibun: prose written in a style which allows the inclusion of haiku, very often involving travel or pilgrimage

Furyu: restrained elegance

Kanjaku: Serenity in desolation

Hosomi: Understatement or modesty

Haigo: a pen-name used by haijin. Basho was the pen-name used by Matsuo Munefusa (1644-94). It means a banana tree, a type that doesn’t bear fruit in Japan - plantain or coarse banana - and is often miserable- looking in wet, windy weather! Basho-an was his hut, made of the plantain leaves.

Haijin: accomplished writers or masters of haiku

Karumi: a lightness of touch in haiku style

Haiga: illustrated haiku, often filling in details that might be missing from the actual haiku itself. Today it extends to non-traditional forms, such as photo-haiga with calligraphy or contemporary type. You can find haiga sites on the Internet

Zen: a Japanese development of Chan, Chinese Buddhism

Buddhism: The teachings and culture of Gautama the Buddha

Christianity: the teachings and culture of Jesus the Christ

Shintoism: traditional Japanese belief system, involving the spirits of Nature and ancestor worship.( Shintoists have shrines, Zennists have temples)

Jiku: a name in a season-word list for climatic and atmospheric conditions

Sabi: loneliness in haiku, quiet elegance, undefined longing

Wabi: beauty found in austerity

Shiori: loneliness in haiku coupled with an acceptance of fate or note of ambiguity

Senryu: a lighter form of haiku, concentrating more on people than on nature

Ginko: a compositional stroll

Honkadori: literary allusion, a haiku that echoes a previous well-known haiku, or part of it

Kire: a pause in haiku, after the first or second line, often indicated by a dash

Koan: Zen-Buddhist riddle

Kyoku: crazy verse, once a term for haiku

Ada: a mood in haiku suggesting child-like innocence, a propensity to be surprised

Kukai: a meeting of haiku poets, following a ginko

Hon’i: the poetic essence of certain places

Shikan: a meditative state achieved effortlessly by those on the haiku path

Hogan-biiki: a natural sympathy for all that lives, especially the lowliest creatures and outcasts

Butsuga ichinyo: identification of haiku poet with the subject of haiku

Satori: flash of enlightenment, liberation of consciousness from its normal day-to-day structuring of reality

Haii: the eternal spirit of haiku, found everywhere, especially in nature

Kidai: seasonal topic in haiku

Shibumi: beauty found in undramatic images, the half-hidden, toned down

Seikatsu: in season-word lists, this covers ordinary, traditional human activity portrayed in senryu and haiku – blackberry picking, seaweed gathering, for example

Kireji: cutting word in Japanese haiku to indicate the kire or caesura.

Makoto: appealing honesty, openness in haiku

Zenkan: pure perception

Ichibutsu shitate: the quality of closely-focussed haiku, often centred on one object only

Toriawase: seemingly disconnected phenomena perceived by one or more of the senses in a haiku moment,  unified in a strange resonance. A term with a similar meaning is renso:

At a flash/of lightning, the sound of dew/falling from a bamboo*

Koga: classical grace, often influenced by Chinese aesthetics. It’s not a bad idea for haikuists to read the T’ang Dynasty poets, for instance, as well as the classics of our own culture

Yugen: this is a quality of depth and mystery. Hidden beauty. This elegance and other qualities may emerge unbidden in our work as we grow older and wiser with haiku!

Hisan: a word for pathos. Our haiku will be devoid of hisan if we do not develop compassion in our daily lives. Santoka tells us that ‘anything that has not really taken place in someone’s heart cannot be haiku poetry’.

Kado: the Way of Poetry, thinking like a poet, feeling like a poet, being like a poet, through thick and thin

Chinsei: Tranquillity. In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth says: ‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity’. The haikuist can often do without recollection, finding tranquillity in the scene before us, here and now, as with Buson:

Pear blossoms - /reading a letter by moonlight/ a woman*



*(Ueda, Makoto. The path of flowering thorn: the life and poetry of Yosa Buson. Stanford University Press, 1998)



Hosomi: this describes thinness or slenderness. It’s the opposite to opulence. In our oversaturated world, it is a quality that is becoming rare

Yukon: Virility, whether in men or animals

Jisei: death haiku, one-breath poems written with one’s last breath

Saijiki: a dictionary of season words. An international saijiki was published in William J. Higginson’s The Haiku Seasons: poetry of the natural world (Kodansha International, 1996). Over 600 seasonal themes are covered in his Haiku World: an international poetry almanac (Kodansha International, 1996)

Aware: a feeling in haiku of the impermanence of phenomena – in the midst of life we are in death

Ukiyo: this term is used to describe the impermanence and fragility of our mortal lives: das Leben ein Traum, life is a dream

Uta-makura: a so-called ‘poetic pillow’; certain geographical areas that have inspired countless haiku   

Shasei: sketching from nature, the immediate scene. This was the style and method advocated by the 20th century master, Shiki Masoaka

Kanjaku: A mood or quality in haiku of utmost tranquility

Nioi: interpenetration of fragrances

Zappai: Superficial senryu or pseudohaiku of no literary merit or spiritual content.



When the self withdraws, the ten thousand things advance.



If you wish to know the truth, hold to no opinions – neither for nor against. Setting what you like against what you dislike, this is the disease of the mind.




Haiku should be written as swiftly as a woodcutter fells a tree or a swordsman leaps at a dangerous enemy.









Basho ……………………………………………………..00


Buson ..……………………………………………………00







Gabriel Rosenstock

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27 North Frederick St.,

Dublin 1




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