haikai and uso

. Hokku and Haikai 発句と俳諧 - Introduction .

- haikai 俳諧 Haikai and uso - a poetic "lie" - lying skillfully

Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 advises his disciples

"The poetic mind must always remain detached (mujo) and eccentric (kyoken).
The thematic materials must be chosen from ordinary life.
The diction must be entirely from everyday language."

source : Peipei Qiu: Basho and the Dao

. Hokku and Haikai 発句と俳諧 - Introduction .


The new discussion started on facebook with a quote by Makoto Ueda and the quest for its Japanese origin.

- source : facebook.com/ michael.dylan.welch/ posts -

“The art of poetry lies simply in the skillful telling of a lie.”

Bashō (translated by Makoto Ueda, from
“The Nature of Poetry: Japanese and Western Views,”
Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature #11, supplement, 1962, 142–148)
- Graceguts - How Do You Write Haiku?
- source : Graceguts -

The original Japanese is attributed to Matsuo Basho.
There are  variousJapanese  versions to be found googeling.
(I have no library close at hand and rely on google,
so this is not a scholarly treatise, but a little snooping around, which anyone can do.)

俳諧といふは別の事なし. 上手に迂詐(うそ)をつくことなり.
haikiai to iu wa betsu no koto nashi. joozu ni uso o tsuku koto nari.

This (abbreviated) quote is attributed to Basho, in a publication by his disciple Shiko
Haikai juuron 俳諧十論 Haikai Juron, Ten arguments about Haikai
published in 1719 by 支考 Shiko.
The full quote is the following:


The old master said:
Haikai is not something special, it is to tell a lie gracefully / skillfully.
But do not explain this to people who do not understand the real from the fake.
This is only a "swing with one sword" for the disciples of Basho.

Tr. Gabi Greve

. Kagami Shikoo 各務支考 Kagami Shiko .
1665 - 1731

- Other versions of the Japanese found googeling:
俳諧といふは別の事なし, 上手に迂詐(うそ)をつくことなり
俳諧といふは別(格別)の事なし。 上手に迂詐(うそ)をつく事なり


- quote by Jeff Robbins -
Basho on How to Make a Haiku
 17 statements from his letters and spoken word
Translations and Commentary by Jeff Robbins / Assisted by Sakata Shoko

1 Settling for standards and searching for reason places one in the middle grade of poets; one who defies standards and forgets reason is the wizard on this path.
2 Without a sense for how to use ordinary words, you will get mixed up in oldness.
3 Poetry benefits from the realization of ordinary words (Haikai wa eki no zokugo o tadasu nari)
4 Know that a poem combines things . . . Poetry is the experience of the heart which goes and returns.
5 “The skillful have a disease; Let a three-foot child get the poem.
6 Only this, apply your heart to what children do.
7 “As I gained some feeling for the rhythm in this verse on blossom-viewing, I made Lightness.”
8 Now in my heart the form of poetry is as looking into a shallow stream over sand with Lightness both in the body of the verse as well as in the Heart’s connection
9 Do not allow your verse to be artificial.
10   The verse HOARSE SHRIEK is Kikaku.
‘Gums of salted bream’ is the poetry of my old age.
The lower segment, “A fish store,”saying only that, is my style.
11 In the verses of other poets is too much making and the heart’s immediacy is lost. What is made from the heart is good; the product of words shall not be preferred.
12 A stanza may have extra sounds, 3, 4, even 5 or 7; if the phrase has good resonance, it is okay – however if even one sound stagnates in your mouth, scrutinize the expression.
13 This is a path of a fresh lively taste with aliveness in both heart and words.
14 According to your various talents, make the verse from your heart, whether linked verse or haiku, neither heavy nor merely spinning about.
15 In poetry is a realm which cannot be taught. You must pass through it yourself. Some poets have made no effort to pass through, merely counting things and trying to remember them. There was no passing through the things.
16 “To have the little boy stand out in relation to the daikon-gathering was the making of this verse”.
17 The physical form, first of all, must be graceful, then the musical quality makes a superior verse.

- - - - - read the explanations here:
- source : writersinkyoto.com - Jeff Robbins -


- - - - - Chris Drake explains :

Shiko on Basho --
From the fourth essay in Ten Essays on Haikai (Haikai jūron 1719) by Kagami Shikō (1665-1731):

Master Basho said, "Haikai is in fact a matter of lying skillfully." He thereby expressed something very basic about haikai. Basho's followers put great stress on this principle, but it should not be taught to those who do not understand how to freely use both emptiness (kyo 虚) and actuality (jitsu 実) in their haikai. It is easy for people to misunderstand when they hear the words emptiness and actuality, so these two terms must be understood in depth during discussions with a haikai teacher. This is essential for those who would follow the Way of haikai. Some people who know nothing of the Way of haikai go out at night to have a good time, and they tell lies they know are not true. These people believe their words are lies and what they think in their minds is the truth, so the lies they tell are nothing more than attempts to trick or deceive people....


Note: the phrase "a single-swing sword" (一振刀) is a metaphorical expression meaning to put great stress or emphasis on something important or to concentrate all your power on doing something important. Samurai sought to cut down their enemies by concentrating their minds and making a single powerful swing of their carefully sharpened sword. Despite what is shown in samurai movies, samurai swords were extremely sharp only for the first swing, and after a few swings they became too blunt for their purpose. Shiko doesn't seem to be implying anything martial here, since the metaphorical phrase was a common one.


Kagami Shiko was one of Basho's leading followers and probably the best one at writing poetic theory as opposed to transmitting Basho's own words. This passage is taken out of context in a complex treatise, so my translation adds a few words to fill in the context that Shiko's readers would have had in mind. The word translated as lies (uso) is a common colloquial word for just that, but Shiko argues that there are different kinds of lies and that poetic lies are a form of emptiness (kyo 虚), a concept in Shiko's philosophy that is placed in opposition to actuality (jitsu 実), an opposition that is linked to a whole series of oppositions, including lies and truth, fiction and reality, language and physical reality, the invisible and the visible, infinite and finite, formlessness and form. Shiko practiced Zen, and he sometimes suggests parallels between emptiness (kyo) and Buddhist emptiness (kū 空) as well as 'nothing, none, not, no' (mu 無), a term used in Daoism and Zen. Therefore he also stresses that haikai poets should have empty or emptied minds when they write. Shiko was also trying to develop the distinction between emptiness and actuality that was used in medieval Chinese poetics, especially as represented in the Santeishi (or Santaishi), the Three Forms of Chinese Shi Poetry (Santi shi), an anthology that was popular among Japanese Zen monks and was read by Basho. The poems in this anthology were arranged not only according to their form but also according to how empty or actual they were. In the anthology actual meant poems or lines in poems about the outside world using natural description and concrete details, while empty poems or poetic lines were those that expressed inner feelings, moods, and thoughts with no tangible shape or form. Shiko developed this opposition dialectically and argued that all poems were combinations of both emptiness and actually, although he, and apparently Basho, felt that emptiness was the most important and was the source of creativity for both subjective and objective poetry. Thus haikai poets had to start from selfless feelings or thoughts and, after they had reached a state of selflessness, engage in description or evocation of the world of physical form and objects.

The quote from Shiko refers back to the preceding section of the treatise, which discusses the history of Japanese poetry. Shiko quotes both Chinese poetry as well as the kana preface to the early medieval Kokinshū waka anthology in order to show how waka are able to express deep emotions and move all kinds of readers, and he goes on to discuss two very early waka from the Man'yōshū anthology period. In the first an emperor writes as he were in a rural hut, and in the second an empress writes as if the early summer flowers on a mountain were a great robe. Neither of the waka could be actual, Shiko points out, and they gain their power because the poems are empty -- that is, they are fictional and use figures of speech to achieve their effect. The word Shiko uses for fiction is emptiness (kyo), a word which is used in kyogen (虚言), a Sino-Japanese word for lies, which literally means 'empty words.' Pivoting on this word that Shiko uses to mean both 'lies' and 'verbal fiction,' Shiko quotes Basho as saying that poetry in China and Japan is the art of lying skillfully. Thus, in Shiko's account, Basho is stressing that haikai is one important genre of world and Japanese poetry and not just a playful game indulged in by renga poets in their spare time, as it had been until the middle of the 17th century. Basho isn't talking about haikai's uniqueness here but about what it shares with Chinese poetry, waka, and renga and about its ability to draw on and evoke strong emotions and moods even when it makes realistic descriptions of nature. The end of the passage quoted above clearly distinguishes poetic lies and fictions, including metaphor and allegory, from ordinary lies made to deceive others, and Shiko associates poetic lies with the whole realm of invisible human emotion and thought, which can be suggested with descriptions in "empty" language of the actual world, the realm of form, shape, and visibility. All of these meanings are extensions of the word "lies" in Basho's statement, which also suggests a break with earlier haikai, which Basho felt depended too much on unimaginative "actual" description, artificial concepts, and wordplay rather than on spiritual depth. With Basho, Shiko asserts, haikai has become a high literary art on the same level as other Japanese and Chinese poetic genres.

Although Basho's teaching recalls Aristotle's statement that Homer taught poets how to lie skillfully, it most probably goes back to ancient Chinese Daoism, which recognized that 'allegories,' a term for fiction in general, could suggest deep spiritual truths. Basho's words also show that he recognized haikai were not simply utterances but involved a "willing suspension of disbelief" by both the writer and the reader. Coleridge was writing about prose fiction when he made that description, but in Basho's and Shiko's conception, good haikai, too, required a kind of suspension of ordinary beliefs and common sense in order to achieve the imaginative intensity felt by readers as a sense of being alive or of being present at the site of an action or a moving natural scene. That is why Shiko often stresses that actuality can occur in poetry only after a state or sense of emptiness or fictionality has been achieved first, a relationship summed up by his phrase "emptiness first, actuality later" (虚先実後). Basho himself used a different phrase: fūga no makoto, truth revealed through poetic art. Not all Basho's hokku are fictional to the same degree, of course, but many of his most famous hokku are deeply fictional. Just a couple of examples:

octopus pot --
fleeting dreams beneath
the summer moon

takotsubo ya hakanaki yume o natsu no tsuki

silence --
cicada cries
penetrate the rocks

shizukasa ya iwa ni shimi-iru semi no koe

In the first hokku a special pot lies in shallow water near the shore. Attached to it is a rope, and soon a fisherman will pull up both the pot and the unsuspecting small octopus inside it. The pot is visible in the bright moonlight, and Basho imagines the fate of the small octopus which has entered the pot seeking safety and is now dreaming peaceful dreams, not knowing what will soon happen. The octopus' short dreams and its pitifully short remaining life are even more moving since nights are so short in summer. The short nights and the imagined dreams of the octopus suggest Basho's pity not only for the octopus but also for himself and other mortal humans who are caught in an all too similar situation amid the rapid passage of time and the impermanence of all things and all human activities. While some of the suggestion of this hokku might also be evoked by a painter, with the moon suggesting enlightenment, the hokku has its strongest effects on an "empty" emotional and spiritual level.

The second hokku was written at Ryūshakuji Temple in northern Honshu when Basho made his journey along the narrow roads of the north. The temple is located high on the slope of a mountain and is flanked by several rock cliffs which have many cracks and hollows in them. The hokku is not a naturalistic description of the cliffs, however, but a meditation on emptiness. The cries of the countless cicadas make the mountain silence seem even deeper. The cries no doubt penetrate through Basho as well, and the sound of the cicadas can be felt as a vibration field linking all living and even "non-living" things, such as rocks. Much can be said about this hokku, and it seems to be a good example of the kind of lies or emptiness Basho and Shiko are talking about.

Chris Drake, May 2016


The Japanese quote talks about haikai 俳諧.
The question is:
Does the English version The art of poetry express this meaning?
At the time of Basho, other kind of poetry was also written in Japan, for example Waka and Court Poetry.

Basho was not talking about Waka or other kinds of poetry.
And the translation of USO 迂詐 is quite problematic, a "poetic falsification,, poetic beautification" . . . maybe.


uso 迂詐 / うそ USO

う【迂】[漢字項目] - u
[人名用漢字] [音]ウ(呉)(漢)
1 遠回りする。「迂遠・迂回・迂曲・迂路」
2 世事にうとい。「迂闊(うかつ)・迂愚」
3 自分を謙遜していうときに冠する語。「迂生」
- source : デジタル大辞泉の解説 -

さ【詐】[漢字項目]- sa
[常用漢字] [音]サ(漢) [訓]いつわる あざむく

(a) fraud; 〔金などをだまし取ること〕swindling, a swindle; 〔他人を装って〕(an) imposture
commit fraud/practice deception ((on a person))
- source : デジタル大辞泉の解説 -


uso 嘘 うそ【嘘】
1 〔真実でないこと〕a lie, an untruth; 〔軽いうそ〕a fib うその|false; untrue 見え透いた[もっともらしい]うそ|a transparent [plausible] lie
- - - - - more English samples on this page.
- source : kotobank.jp/jeword -


うそ / 嘘 uso
..... ゾウや小人などの想像上の友だちと空想のなかで遊ぶ(イマジナリー・コンパニオンimaginary companion)という例も子供では珍しくないが、これも願望充足に属するものであろう。
- - - - - continue reading here
- source : kotobank.jp/word -

うそ - uso - related to usu, thin
1 薄い意を表す。「うそ霞(がすみ)」「うそ雲」
2 少し、少ない、の意を表す。「うそ黄」「うそ暗い」「うそ笑む」
3 なんとなく、どことなく、の意を表す。「うそ寒い」「うそ寂しい」「うそ腹立つ」
- source : kotobank.jp/word -


昭:あきらか (to make clear and visible)
- source : koseibiken.cocolog-nifty.com/blog -


. Hokku and Haikai 発句と俳諧 - Introduction .

. Cultural Keywords used by Basho .

. - KIGO used by Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - .

- #haikai #usolies #makotoueda -