It’s interesting when you find examples of English language poetry, and haiku translated into English from the Japanese, that seem to share a theme. Here is an example I came across recently:
Bloom, O ye amaranths ! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not ! Glide, rich streams, away !
With lips unbrighten’d, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.From Work without Hope, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
And the haiku:
I stopped –
Flowed off aloneSeishi (trans. Lucien Stryk)
Both poets are left behind as streams, and whatever the streams represent to them, flow away. While the themes of the verses are similar, the contrast between the Coleridge’s flowery couplets, and the extreme plainness of the haiku, could hardly be more pronounced. Seishi’s haiku leaves most of the story and almost all of the meaning to the reader’s imagination.
A personal aside: about 12 years ago, when suffering from anxiety, my GP referred me to see a psychologist. The psychologist had me do the following exercise:
Close your eyes and imagine a gentle stream flowing past in front of you. Leaves fall into the stream and float away downstream. Each time you think about one of your problems, imagine placing the problem on one of the leaves, and allow it to be carried away by the stream.
So, for Coleridge the stream seems to carry away hope and inspiration; for my psychologist it was intended to carry away my thoughts and stress; and for Seishi? Seishi leaves you, the reader, to decide what, if anything, is carried away by the stream and how that makes you feel.
Seishi seems to have been quite fond of the theme of water flowing away from stationary things. Here is another of his haiku from the same collection:
red iron chain.Seishi (trans. Lucien Stryk)
Somehow, reading this handful of words I seem to feel languid, and indolent, and trapped and completely hopeless, all at the same time.
Recently I looked up my psychologist on the internet to see if he was still practicing and found that he had been banned from offering any health services while under investigation by the Health Complaints Commissioner. The newspaper article I found about his case said he had prior convictions for domestic violence and was accused of breaching an intervention order against his ex-wife. It also said that he had been drinking vodka out of a lemonade bottle during his court case and when breathalysed by the police was found to have a blood alcohol content of over 0.4 (the maximum reading that the device could measure).
The Oxford Book of English Verse, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch ed., Oxford University Press.
Cage of Fireflies, Modern Japanese Haiku, trans. Lucien Stryk, Swallow Press.