Hansha Teki


- Hansha Teki -

Hansha, a haiku poet from New Zealand

I have chosen four of Basho's hokku to speak about briefly in the spirit of "Basho and his Interpreters" by Makoto Ueda
and for that reason I will display Ueda's translations.

The first two I shall group together as, not only do they appear to have been written within a short time of each other, but they also seem to me to be tightly linked in spirit.

the rough sea —
flowing toward Sado Isle
the River of Heaven

araumi | ya | Sado | ni | yokatau | amanogawa
rough-sea : Sado on lie Heaven's-River

under the same roof
courtesans, too, are asleep —
bush clover and the moon

hitotsuya | ni | yujo | mo | netari | hagi | to | tsuki
one-house in courtesan also is-asleep bush-clover and moon

In both poems there is a flow of thought from the particular observed in the first or the accidental conjunction in the second to the awareness of transcendence. Many have commented on the first hokku and there is little that I can add but, for me, the second hokku borders on the sublime.

The story of the poet's chance meeting with the travelling prostitutes is well-known as are the interpretations of the poem but here there is far more than simple contrast. The transcendent sense of unity of all things that the poet has evoked here is way beyond the words used - it is in the flow of his spirit as he allows us also to experience that movement. What Basho has achieved in this poem is most clearly equalled in James Joyce's equally wonderful short story, "The Dead".

I shall also group together the remaining two hokku that I have chosen, written as they were in an autumn three years after the previous two hokku referred to.

on this road
where nobody else travels
autumn nightfall

kono | michi | ya | yuku | hito | nashi | ni | aki | no | kure
this road : go person nonexistent with autumn's evening

this autumn
why am I aging so?
to the clouds, a bird

kono | aki | wa | nande | toshiyoru | kumo | ni | tori
this autumn as-for why grow-old cloud to bird

The feeling of transcendence has grown so much more intense as has the existential loneliness. The poet feels keenly his mortality and the end of his identity within created things. Again the second hokku becomes sublime where such simple words and the sigh that rises from his solar plexus gives voice to a profound awareness of the nature of one's mortality. Both hokku that I have chosen to call 'sublime' approximate as much as any poem can the state of the wordless poem.

The limits of translating hokku become blindingly clear to me - to understand these poems in their full glory we must become one with the poet as we do the pine or the bamboo.


. Cultural Keywords used by Basho .