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RELATED TOPIC:
BASHÔ'S NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH

RELATED TOPIC:
CHIKAMATSU MONZAEMON (1653-1725)

RELATED TOPIC:
SAIKAKU (1642-1693)

RELATED TOPIC:
TOKUGAWA JAPAN

 
BASHÔ, MASTER OF THE HAIKAI
AND HAIKU FORMS

Composing Haikai
Basho Video Clip

Haruo Shirane :: Haikai meant that people got together, perhaps three people, four, five — it could be any number of people — and one person would compose the opening verse, referred to as hokku, and that was seventeen syllables. And that later became what is now called haiku, but in Bashô's time was referred to as hokku ("hokku" means opening verse). And then the second person would then add a verse — he would link to that hokku — and then that would be a fourteen-syllable verse. So we start out with seventeen, five-seven-five, that's seventeen. I would add fourteen, that's seven-seven. Then we would get another five-seven-five, [then] another seven-seven. So, seventeen, fourteen, seventeen, fourteen, et cetera.

Each verse simply requires that the next verse take some part of it. The two verses come together to form a new poem. And then the next verse creates yet another poem. So you're moving away from the previous poem by linking. You can only have two verses together form one poem, so you're constantly moving away and kind of jumping by leaps and bounds from one association to another.

This was a great hit among commoners, among the new urban popular audience, and this painting here shows commoners enjoying themselves underneath the cherry blossoms, drinking, eating, as they compose these verses.

[Excerpt from a haikai, "Beneath the Boughs"]

beneath the boughs
the soup with fish and vegetables
flecked with cherry petals
— Bashô

beneath the boughs
the soup with fish and vegetables
flecked with cherry petals

the sun goes gently to the west
extending the day's fine weather
— Chinseki

the sun goes gently to the west
extending the day's fine weather

the single traveler
walks on scratching where lice bit him
as spring comes to a close
— Kyokusui

the single traveler
walks on scratching where the biting lice
as spring comes to a close

not yet grown used to wearing
his sword in a protective case
— Bashô

Excerpt from Earl Miner and Hiroko Odagiri, trans., The Monkey's Straw Raincoat And Other Poetry of the Bashô School (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 82.