Dragonfly Blues

Here in Victoria, Australia, we are in our 5th COVID-19 lockdown. *sigh*


The 4th volume of R. H. Blyth’s Haiku, the Autumn – Winter volume, has a section devoted to dragonflies.

In Japanese haiku dragonflies are an autumn kigo (season word), so dragonfly haiku might not be entirely appropriate reading at the moment, given that here in Melbourne we are currently in the depths of winter.

He has dyed his body

with autumn, –

The dragon-fly.

Bakusui (trans. R. H. Blyth)

Whenever dragonflies are given a colour in Japanese haiku they are always red.

The beginning of autumn,

Decided

By the red dragon-fly.

Shirao (trans. R. H. Blyth)

Several of the dragonfly haiku in Blyth mention late afternoon or early evening. Do we notice dragonflies more often at that time of the day? Or is it that there is a parallel between the colour of the dragonflies and sunset colours?

Between the moon coming out

And the sun going in,-

The red dragon-flies.

Nikyu (trans. R. H. Blyth)

Some of the haiku focus on other characteristics of dragonflies, like the size of their eyes:

The face of the dragon-fly

Is practically nothing

But eyes.

Chisoku (trans. R. H. Blyth)

About this haiku Blyth notes:

This is what any child might say, but for that very reason, near to the kingdom of poetry.

Dragonflies fly with abrupt changes of direction as though they are constantly changing their minds.

The dragon-fly,

Swift to the distant mountain,

Swift to return.

Akinobo (trans. R. H. Blyth)

A number of the dragonfly haiku quoted in Blyth mention graves, stones, walls (and an “uneventful” village) presumably as a point of contrast to the busy flight of dragonflies.

Old graves;

Red dragon-flies flitting

Over the withered shikimi.

Anon. (R. H. Blyth)

In his notes on this haiku Blyth states:

The shikimi or Chinese anise has a small white flower in summer. The flower smells sweet, but is poisonous. Nevertheless, sprays are offered before the Buddha. The old grave, the withered offerings, the dragon-flies rustling to and fro, - what a scene of thoughtless significance?

“Thoughtless significance” . . .? Sometimes Blyth’s prose is quite poetic and you need intuition, rather than analysis, to approach his meaning.

These haiku seem to establish that in Japan dragonflies are red, but here in the south eastern part of Australia I think most of the dragonflies I’ve seen are blue. Maybe some are yellow and black? Or yellow/green? But mostly blue.

Note: I do not have a good source for identifying Australian dragonflies, but a quick scan of the internet shows some have evocative names like: Swamp Bluets; Blue Skimmers (the female of this species is greeny-yellow and black); and the Tau Emeralds. The name Tau Emerald conjures something of the jewel-like appearance of many dragonflies.

My skim of the internet also revealed a few red species of Australian dragonflies but I don’t think I have ever seen any. So, here is a blue, south-eastern Australian, dragonfly haiku:

     Home, where I grew up ā€“
swans are black
dragon-flies are blue. šŸŒµ

References:

Haiku, Blyth R. H., The Hokuseido Press, 1949-52.