*************************************************************** IV. Rhyming Haiku *************************************************************** by Charles Trumbull (email@example.com) Rhymed haiku in English is far from the norm, but by the same token, rhymed verse in general has fallen out of fashion. Writers seems to feel that rhyme, meter, and other such tools interfere with the purity of the poetic content or dilute the emotional directness of the message. Avoidance of poetics, however, can lead to an impoverishment of poetry, and there is a risk involved in casting off those very attributes of a poem that distinguish it from prose. While good haiku and good poetry can be written without rhyme, and rhyme is not vital to the success of a haiku, nevertheless, form can and should be used where appropriate to enhance the content. Harold Henderson, writing in 1967 (9), observed that only one rhymed haiku had won any prize in the journal American Haiku (in vol. 2, no. 2), the following one by Ethel Freeman: Brown mimosa seed where blossoms once invited hummingbirds to feed. (Henderson also mentions an article on rhyme by W.H. Kerr in American Haiku, vol. 3, no. 1, which I have not been able to locate -- does anyone have a copy?) The current approach to English-language haiku is well expressed in Lorraine Ellis Harr's "The Isn'ts of Haiku" (7), in which she makes two points about rhyme: "Haiku ISN'T poetics (in the English-language poetry sense) but it IS pure poetry. "ÕHåaiku should flow, especially when read aloud. It doesn't rhyme, except rarely. AVOID run-on lines. . . ." One is not certain if the "except rarely" is intended as a license to rhyme or an apology for an occasional accident. Harr's emphasis on "pure poetry," however, sidesteps the important fact that haiku in Japanese is a prescriptive art form, with rules governing syllable count, structure, word selection, and content. Can English-language haiku, then, simply ignore all stylistic restrictions? If writers of haiku in Japanese make use of the range of poetic devices available in that language, should authors in other languages not avail themselves of the conventions of their own poetic traditions? Even more questionable, of course, would be to appropriate one aspect of the Japanese form while ignoring others (12): To write a haiku Count seventeen syllables (Nothing else counts much). One way to see the benefits that rhyme can bring might be to compare the same haiku unrhymed and rhymed, as can be done with translations. Juxtaposing versions of one poem as interpreted by different translators is a fascinating exercise it itself! Resisting the temptation to digress, however, and admitting up front that many factors besides rhyme affect the success of a poem in translation, I would argue that Harold Henderson's rhymed versions of the following three haiku by Basho are certainly no worse than, and usually superior to, the others. The transliterated Japanese originals with which each section begins are also Henderson's (8): Shizukasa ya iwa ni shimi-iru semi-no-koe How quiet -- locust-shrill pierces rock (13) How still it is! Cicadas burning in the sun Drilling into rock . . . (3) >From silent temple, voice of a lone cicada penetrates rock walls. (2) silence itself is in the rock saturated are cicada sounds (4) So still: into rocks it pierces -- the locust-shrill (8) So still . . . into the rocks it pierces, the cicada-shrill. (9) Henderson latches onto the ingenious "still-shrill" pairing in the fifth translation above and keeps it for another version, the sixth, that he published nine years later. Note the short first line, which (especially with the ellipsis) tends to attenuate the rhyme. Is the rhyme in the last two translations here any less valid poetically than the heavy use of alliteration in the fourth? Inazuma ya yami-no-kata yuku goi-no koe A flash of lightning; Through the darkness goes The scream of the night heron. (1) Lightning -- heron-cry stabs darkness. (13) Lightning flickering without sound . . . How far away the night-heron cries. (3) Heat-lightning streak -- through darkness pierces the heron's shriek. (10) A lightning gleam: into darkness travels a night heron's scream. (8) The fourth translation is by an unnamed poet but has the feel of Henderson's hand. Another clever selection of rhymes is made, "streak" and "shriek," both words suggesting rapid motion through space, one visual and one aural. In this instance the rhyme contributes to the unexpected relating of two senses, sight and sound, that is a key element of haiku. The fifth translation is somewhat less successful but introduces an air of mystery abetted by the rhyme words "gleam" and "scream." Did the lightning actually discharge, or is it only a metaphor for the sudden cry of the bird? Haru nare ya na-mo-naki yama-no asa-gasumi Thanks to Spring, a nameless hill Has its veil of morning mist. (11) Because spring has come, this small gray nameless mountain Is honored by mist. (3) Spring -- through morning mist, what mountain's there? (13) Oh, these spring days! A nameless little mountain, Wrapped in morning haze! (8) This is clearly a difficult verse to translate. It is important to convey the sense of total joy at a spring morning that even places a coronet of mist on a humble little hill. Here the rhyme in the final variant provides a lightness that the others lack. In the Preface to his pioneering haiku handbook (8) Henderson defends his use of rhyme in his English translations of the Japanese masters in the following terms: "First, I happen to like rhyme in a short poem of this sort, and I think that it is at least allowable. The chief reason that Japanese do not use it is that all Japanese words end either in a vowel or in "n," and rhyming would soon become intolerably monotonous. Secondly, I think that any verse form, be it sonnet, triolet, or haiku, is more effective if it is kept fairly rigid, so that it can act as kind of a frame to the picture. In Japanese the effect of definite form is given by an alteration of five and seven syllables; in English this method is impossible, and the use of rhyme or assonance, especially if it can be kept unobtrusive, is perhaps the best available substitute. Thirdly, haiku are very short, and their grammar is often fragmentary. There is real danger that a literal translation might be mistaken for an unfinished piece of prose, and a haiku is not that, but a poem, complete as it stands." The key words are "allowable" and "unobtrusive." In fact, this is the approach endorsed by J.W. Hackett, one of the greatest haiku masters writing in English: "Rhyme and other poetic devices should never be so obvious that they detract from the content," (5) or again in another volume: "Avoid end rhyme in haiku. Read each verse aloud to make sure that it sounds natural." (6) Hackett, who always places the "pure poetry" aspects of his haiku first, applies his formulation for rhyme brilliantly, as in the following selection (5): In the greens of that tree a squak of blue is playing hide and seek with me. Hackett pairs the first and third lines, probably the most common rhyme scheme. He is playing with the words and the reader, however, because "tree" is stressed but "me" cannot be; the meaning would be changed. Hackett's words are playing hide-and-seek too! At the summit tree, my exhausted dog lifts his leg -- a dry formality. Playing with the text again: the rhyme emphasizes the comic effect of the Latinate final word. Rocks stacked high with snow narrow the wild stream into a ribbon of flow. This haiku has no punctuation, but the rhyme sets the caesura and invites comparison between the subject, "snow," and the object, "flow." Clouted by a dew, the horn of this snail withdrew and just disappeared! A lovely haiku! "Withdrew" suggests the end of the main thought, making the remaining line something of a coda, trailing off, subtly but precisely emphasizing the text. Now soar butterfly -- but hereafter take more care, webs are everywhere. Hackett gets the reverse effect here. By rhyming the second and third lines, he liberates the first -- and allows his butterfly to soar! One must kneel to see the tiny yellow bugs that run the creeping slug. Internal rhyme here, more subtle, and something Hackett does often. The rhyme adds complexity, especially rhythmic interest, calling a caesura after "bugs" and giving the poem a very appropriate "three-against-two" feeling. Finally, consider this more recent haiku from the late Nicholas Virgilio in which the rhyme has less to do with structure and more to do with mood. Virgilio achieves an eerie sense of foreboding (14). Adding father's name to the family tombstone with room for my own. _______________ Works cited: (1) Robert Aitken, A Zen Wave: Basho's Haiku and Zen (Weatherhill, 1978). (2) James David Andrews, Full Moon Is Rising (Branden Press, 1976). (3) Peter Beilenson and Harry Behn, in Haiku Harvest (Peter Pauper Press, 1962). (4) Cid Corman, One Man's Moon (Gnomon Press, 1984). (5) J.W. Hackett, Haiku Poetry, Volume Three (Japan Publications, 1968). (6) James Hackett, The Way of Haiku: An Anthology of Haiku Poems (Japan Publication, 1969), as cited in "Suggestions for Writing Haiku in English" in Dogwood Blossoms, issue 2. (7) Lorraine Ellis Harr, "The ISN'TS of Haiku" in Dogwood Blossoms, "Issue Zero." (8) Harold G. Henderson, in An Introduction to Haiku (Doubleday Anchor, 1958). (9) Harold G. Henderson, Haiku in English (Tuttle, 1967). (10) unnamed translator, in X.J. Kennedy, An Introduction to Poetry (Scott, Foresman, 7th ed., 1990). (11) Asataro Miyamori, An Anthology of Haiku, Ancient and Modern (Greenwood Press, 1970--orig. pub., 1932). (12) Ron Rubin, in E.O. Parrott, "How to be Well-Versed in Poetry (Penguin, 1990). (13) Lucien Stryk, in Basho: On Love and Barley (Penguin, 1985). (14) Cor van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology (Touchstone, rev. ed., 1991).
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