Donald Keene :: The
haiku is so very short that often it is very difficult to understand what
it means. Sometimes it's possible to get two different interpretations of
the poem. This, to a poet, would not be a bad thing. To have more than one
interpretation increases the richness of it, the possibility of stimulating
the person who reads it.
Haruo Shirane :: This is a very famous poem,
"Akebono ya." Akebono ya means "early dawn":
in the twilight of dawn
a whitefish, with an inch
Haruo Shirane :: You see the sun is just coming
up. Shirauo is "little white fish." Shiroki koto,
Issun, just half an inch. And we have here akebono ya, "early
dawn," and the ya is the cutting word, so that sets the scene.
It's as if we draw a line, and we enter into the picture, and then what's
characteristic of the haiku, it draws a big scene, a large vast scene — here
it's dawn — and
then it focuses in on a little detail, and that little detail is the little
fish, and it says shirauo — and here, this is that one line, shi,
coming all the way down here. And then shiroki koto, the whiteness
of half an inch.
And part of the power of the haiku is this ability to focus in on
a little detail in a large setting. Another aspect of it is temporal, in
that it has the ability to kind of suggest a vast, long period of time, but
also to catch that little moment when the light is flickering, when the frog
is jumping into the pond.
And the fish is so small, it's translucent. It says "white," but white here
means really translucent. So, it's the play off of the faint white light
of early dawn and the transparency of the small fish, and it's up to the
reader to bring those two together somehow. The poem never tells you what
the relationship is between early dawn and implicitly the sun coming up.
It doesn't even tell you about the sun, it says simply "early dawn." And
the little fish, it doesn't tell you what the little fish is doing or where
it is. That's all left to your imagination.
So each commentator says, some people say the fish are
caught in a net, some commentators say the fish are lying on the sand. Some
people say that he [Bashô] has come across the fish as he's walking.
And all of those interpretations are legitimate, and they're part of the
art of haiku — that it elicits different kinds of interpretations and
also forces the reader to jump across. It's kind of like a lightning-rod
effect. You jump between the two parts of the haiku, trying to bring them
together. And it's only you who can do that.
People get together to compose haiku, to talk about it, and the haiku, because
it has a seasonal word, is the snapshot. It commemorates that particular
meeting you had.
The Japanese have been kind of satirized for carrying cameras
around, but before the camera, it was the haiku. So you climbed the famous
mountain and you composed the haiku. And that meant that you had been there.
And you pulled out your diary and you read that poem and it reminded you
that you were there or you could send that haiku to your friend to show that
you had been there.
Fuji wo minu hi zo
in the misty rain
Mount Fuji is veiled all day —