Friday, 25 September 2009

Haikus on Love

Here is a collection of Japanese love poetry written out in haiku form. Each one encapsulates a lovely idea. Some of these ideas are familiar, but many are not, unless of course you're Japanese!

Prince Hozumi
That rascal of Love
Whom I thought I’d had locked away
Now jumps out at me.

Kakinomoto No Hitomaro
When I gathered flowers
From the top, I was drenched with dew
By lower branches.

Kakinomoto No Hitomaro
Gossip grows like weeds
In summer grass where, with my girl,
I sleep arm in arm.

Princess Nukada
My longing heart leaps
At the wind that rattles my door
Thinking it is you.

The road is dark now.
So do not go, but stay till moonrise
That I may watch you.

Otomo No Yakamochi
Better not to meet
Than to wake from dreams and reach for
Hands that are not there.

Otomo No Yakamochi
But a little while
Together, we thought our love would
Last a thousand years.

Ono No Komachi
I wake wanting you
My breasts heave in the dark of night
And my heart burns up.

Ono No Komachi 
Doesn’t he realize
That I’m not like drifting seaweed
To take when he wants.

Should I be bitter
About one who was a stranger
Till a moment passed.

Lady Ise
"The pillow knows all",
So we slept without one, but still
My name spreads like dust.

Lady Izumi Shikibu
The pillow knows all
But it don’t know and don’t you tell
Of the dream we shared.

Yosano Akiko
Fate controls our lives
And all things end, so take my breasts
Alive in your hands.

Bunya No Asayasu
In a gust of wind
The white dew on the autumn grass
Breaks like a necklace.

Beyond the twin seas,
I long for the mountain of bliss
Untouched by the tides.


  1. Kenneth Rexroth who translated a lot of these poems (though not in haiku form), himself wrote poetry in Japanese under the pseudonym of a girl Marichiko whom he claimed to be living in Japan. I didn't include any of these in the above collection because the girl Marichiko didn't actually exist. But here are some of her poems anyway.

    You wake and kiss me
    And parting I give you the dew
    Of the first morning.

    Your love makes me thirst
    Like sea water that with each sip
    I need the whole sea.

    Holding your head tight
    Between my thighs I press your mouth
    And float to heaven.

    Though no ray shines there
    The bliss of Love incandescent
    Lights up the whole world.

  2. I guess... guess... guess...
    I love this the best: --------
    Lady Ise
    "The pillow knows all",
    So we slept without one, but still
    My name spreads like dust.

    But they are ALL good. Simply GREAT!

    Domo Arigato, tomadachi Okei!

  3. Cool! That one by Lady Ise was the last I put in... :^) I understand you're saying "thank you", but I don't get what tomodachi means.

    Delighted you like them... you're poetry is also full of lovely ideas. ;^)

  4. Oh! That was "Thank you so much my friend Okei"

  5. Haikus are short but really deep in sense. I like them so much! Thanks, dude!

  6. I've always loved haikus. Of those here, I think I like best this one:

    But a little while
    Together, we thought our love would
    Last a thousand years.

  7. Ahem....Are these...meant, er, sentiments of A Geisha?!?! Too Sensual...some of these!

    Sorry...if I offended anyone!

  8. Thank you Jach and Jim!

    And Param, you go straight to the heart of a very difficult problem... of where the line is between the decent and the indecent, the moral and the immoral. I'd love to think we could transcend them or reach some objective truth of the matter, but I've come to think that we each have our own lines and must respect the lines of others so as not to cause harm. I would never try to shift those boundaries so thank you for saying what you think. Literature would certainly cause harm if it made immorality more acceptable... reading Macbeth doesn't make one more likely to murder, and yet a play about adultery could be claimed to plant the seed of the idea in someone who would otherwise never consider it. So should the subject be avoided entirely in word as well as deed?

    And then there's respecting sensibilities and not making people uncomfortable. Like the things you wouldn't want your mother to see you read, lol. Having said "do not cause harm" should be the determining factor of where to draw the line, I also think this is very burdensome and causes great pain to oneself in trying to know what will or won't cause harm. So it's best to always stay safe within the bounds. This is such a fundamental problem of all private relationships, this "where is the line?". But in public relationships, because people vary so widely, it's almost impossible. To avoid offending the clerics of Saudi Arabia would be to offend almost every woman, so I guess it's some kind of balance.

    These are not written by geishas, but mainly by people in the Japanese court over the past 1500 years. So for example one of the ones I left out was by Empress Eifuku (you can't make it up) from the 13th century.

    Dressing for farewell,
    Our drowsy thighs touched and we were
    Caught in bed by dawn.

    ...with apologies if I should have kept it left out. And Otomo No Yakamochi who wrote two of the haikus above and compiled a lot of the early Japanese poetry (in the Manyoshu) was a governor of a region of Japan way back in the 8th century. His wife was Lady Otomo No Sakanoue, who wrote to him

    You say "I will come"
    And you don't. Now you say "I won't",
    So I expect you.

    I guess what's different between this and a pure play is the reality, that these were actual love letters with the exception of the fun and games of Marichiko.

    So are we any closer to knowing how to strike the right balance in sexual morality? First I believed in objective truth, fixed principles, then I believed in subjective truth, not causing harm to those involved, but realizing the impossibility of thinking the latter through, that won't do either, so now I guess I don't know, apart from to follow the heart and go with the flow, but that won't do either because the fixed principles and the thinking things through both impede any natural flow.

    Along with Knowledge (fixed principles) and Thought (not causing harm), perhaps the third ingredient needed is rebellion? A private rebellion... I'm not trying to change anyone else like I said.

    I wonder what you think? Any advice on this most difficult problem of how to strike the right balance is most appreciated!

  9. Ok, I've just discovered that haikus are supposed to be 17 syllables, 5-7-5, not 5-8-5. So these aren't technically haikus,... oh shugar, I guess I could call them shaikus then, lol... or after much consideration, and finding out that "eight" in Japanese is hachi, we might as well call them hachikus. That's now on the internet, so it's officially true...

    A hachiku is a 5-8-5 haiku. It consists of three lines of 5, 8 and 5 syllables. It is like a standard 5-7-5 haiku, but it has an extra syllable in the middle line.

    So now for people all over the world whose haikus are too long, rescue is at hand in the long haiku form just described, the 18-syllable hachiku! :^)

  10. It's beautiful, Okei. Sensitive lines. Good pace and rhythm.... oh I'm out of words!

    Sensuality is also an art... at least to me it is.

  11. Thanks, Shahrizat!!

    I don't want to speak for Param, but I'm sure she agrees with you about the sensual being an art. The difficult question is where the boundary lies between the sensual and the profane and I respect each person's boundaries. Often it's merely matter of quality! If it is good, then it is sensual, so perhaps I should have taken Param's remark that it was "too sensual" as an underhand compliment, lol.

  12. Oh don't worry, we Asians are so, very familiar with boundaries. In Malaysia, openly speaking of intimate relationships is still considered taboo in some places. I was just referring to how I've perceived some Japanese literature to have found a way to express sensuality, with art as a medium. Everything seems implied somehow, but not too graphic!

    Are you familiar with Haruki Murakami's work? He's one of my favorite authors -- too bad I can only understand the translation!

  13. That's funny! It reminds me of someone saying that Japanese are so conservative, they have so many boundaries, so when it comes to literature, art and film where they can let the boundaries down, they just let them down completely and go to the other extreme. There's no sense of gradations of acceptability as in most other cultures. But maybe this isn't really true.

    Something else interesting about these poems is that both men and women were very much involved unlike literature in most other parts of the world at this time, and there's even an equality of style between them. For example, Lady Otomo No Sakanoue is saying to her husband in the last one I posted in the comments how contradictory his mind is, when usually you'd expect men to say that about women, lol.

    About Murakami, I've read "After Dark" and the "Wild Sheep Chase". I don't remember either being graphic, though perhaps occasionally sensual and sometimes often slightly disturbing.

  14. "Disturbing" is right! Kafka on the Shore to me was rather disturbing too, but brilliantly so!

  15. I should check it out some time then!

  16. And I just love that title, "Kafka on the Shore"...

  17. You're helping to cement it in my memory. Thanks!!! I did once read something by Kafka about turning into a spider and didn't like it much. I was quite young though, and despite not liking it, maybe it was part of the inspiration of something I wrote once about turning into a tree, called "The Leaving" which won me an English prize at school. The other guy who won wrote something about the weird mental states induced by drug-taking, so we both had some pretty crazy material we were dealing with and our teachers obviously loved it. In fact when my teacher was saying how much she liked it, I was laughing at her thinking she was joking.

    Do you read Murakami in English or Malaysian? (Oh, and obviously I don't know any Japanese either and all the above are merely my versions of the translation put into hachiku-form - for the definition of a hachiku, see earlier in the comments, lol).

    Actually re: disturbing, I don't usually like disturbing so much. I've avoided ever watching Kill Bill for example (though I love the theme tune and I do like Pulp Fiction and True Romance also by Tarantino). I do like dark though, more the sense of foreboding and mystery... I can do without gruesomeness and violence.

  18. Before I read the thread and had my theory confirmed, I thought that these poems were just the expression deep inside for the moment rather than an expression of obsessive emotion.

    Most poetry despite its culture is a release... And I did not see that the Japanese were so different than my culture really...

  19. Fundamentally the emotions are the same. What I meant was the ideas used in expressing them... the transience of dew, the wind being mistaken for the lover, the pillow that knows all, the observance of moonrise and in the last one, the twin seas (of being and not-being, or pleasure and pain, or duality in general) that bliss might transcend. On the other hand, "fate controls our lives, and all things end..." is the classic universal sentiment that is beaten to death in Western literature, but not quite so much here. Perhaps the Japanese had more problems with their loved ones being absent or unfaithful rather than coy and unresponsive?

  20. Something deep inside for the moment becomes obsessive if the same feeling is felt in every moment. But yeah, I see what you mean... everything is in the moment, like a photograph captured of the emotion. Perhaps that's part of the style of their poetry. It's all so short, so it must be immediate and direct.

  21. Clarity, simplicity, naturalness, intuition, the transformation from romanticism to Zen Buddhism through solitude and transcending of the self of being into the nothing by means of the primal ground, and the striving for the Absolute which brought about the haiku form, and the being reaching perfection through the Nothing, the key is to experience the Nothing in Being and the Being in Nothing... being is merely the medium within which we strive for the Absolute... this is all tied up with Japanese religion apparently. It really makes no sense to me. It's so confusingly written, and all I can do is pick up odd phrases and turn them over to you. See if you can make any more sense of this than I did. I wish you luck!!!

  22. I don't know... this article is just one opinion...

    I do think there is a distaste of too many words and the desire to emcompass abstract thought in an uncomplicated way...

    I use this style... unknowingly. I do not mean the three lines... but the desire to simply state what I mean or feel.

    Words are tricky.