What is the American haiku

American haiku: jisei - death poems - death poems


1 Ruth Franke American haiku: jisei - death poems - death poems The knowledge of the immutability of death is part of life in most cultures. For the Japanese, who are said to have a special attraction to death, this has led to the centuries-old tradition of jisei. When a poet felt death approaching, he not only regulated his worldly affairs, but also wrote a farewell poem in tanka or haiku form, which was shaped by religion, culture and the attitude towards death a kind of literary legacy. This tradition, begun by Zen monks, samurai and the Japanese aristocracy, has never really caught on in the western world, which is probably due to the diversity of cultures and their attitude towards death. Only in the United States are death poems written more often. Therefore, at the end of my series on American haiku, I would like to present a (naturally subjective) selection of these poems and compare them with Japanese jisei. Regarding the American death poems, however, one has to say that the majority were probably not written shortly before death. But in Japan, too, many poets wrote their jisei, which are important for post-fame, often in the course of their lives, in order to leave a worthy farewell poem even in the event of a sudden death. Here as there, literary ambition certainly also plays a role. "In the middle of life we ​​are surrounded by death" (Luther) every haiku should actually be a jisei. On this grounds, Basho refused to write a special death poem. What prompts Americans in particular to study death poetry? One can only guess. Perhaps it is because in the USA after World War II an enthusiasm for Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism developed, prepared by the related thinking of the "transcendentalists" (especially Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau) and influenced by leading American poets such as Ezra Pound. Haiku spread very quickly and earlier than in other countries in the western world. Here is a particularly atmospheric poem that suggests the last hours of life behind images from everyday life: last call my empty glass full of moonlight William Cullen Jr. last call / call my empty glass full of moonlight The ambiguity of the first line is convincing: »last call «can be a last phone call or a call to a bartender to place an order before the restaurant closes. You could even think of the last call on a flight. "Call" can also mean the call or scream of an animal, and this is reminiscent of the mountain cuckoo (hototogisu), which in Japanese jisei heralds death. The empty glass, emptied "to the point", is just as full of allusions as the moon that fills it now (the moon is the link in Japanese death poems to the other world in which the stars never set). "Away with the brush / from now on I will speak directly / with the full moon «wrote Koha in the hour of his death. This mood is also expressed in William Cullen's haiku: a person who has finished with life and is now alone with the moon. The Japanese concept of the afterlife is primarily shaped by Buddhism. While Zen Buddhism, mostly practiced by an elite, does not see the solution to the riddle of life outside, but only in people themselves and strives for inner enlightenment already in this world, Jodo Buddhism is most widespread in Japan. At its center is Amida, the Buddha of everlasting light who wants to redeem all people. The devout Buddhist who

2 calls on Amida Buddha before his death is reborn in the "pure land" (jodo). In this paradise that lies in the west, he himself is enlightened. The journey there is often compared to a boat trip across a river, from the "world of illusions" to the "world of truth" (Robun: "A sleeping water bird / drifts on the river / between life and death"). This idea has been known in western culture since Greek mythology, and so many American death poems also use this motif: shipping oars my own wake rocks me into shore Jim Kacian Indian summer a spent salmon washes ashore w.f. owhen the oars haul in my own wake rocks me to the shore. In the late summer an exhausted salmon drifts ashore. The latter poem depicts the powerlessness at the end of life with a picture from nature. The following poems, which are personal and use images from modern life, convey a similar feeling: this trail so long my flashlight dimming Charles Dickson dead batteries no haiku tonight and then, the moon Earl Johnson as long as my flashlight gets weaker empty batteries no haiku tonight and then, the moon falling leaves, also flower petals, symbolize transience and are a sign of the end of life in both cultures. red leaf I return it to the shore wind Ellen Compton falling pine needles the tick of the clock George Swede red leaf I give it back to the coastal wind falling pine needles the ticking of the clock Swedes Haiku gives us yet another picture: the ticking of the clock as » memento mori «, a reminder of the constant advancement of time.» Days and months are travelers of eternity «basho,» and the journey itself is a coming home. «In Western culture too, death is often perceived as a homecoming:

3 the field s evening fog quietly the hound comes to fetch me home Robert Spiess pointing my way home the starfish Carlos Colón Feld in the evening fog quietly the dog comes to fetch me home he shows me the way home the starfish With Carlos Colón another interpretation is possible: Uncertainty about the true path (the starfish with its many arms). The autumn wind whirling the leaves away ("no leaf remains / where it is" and "wherever the wind takes me") is a frequent symbol of passing life in Japanese literature. A similar acceptance of the need to die speaks of this American haiku: slowly the old woman opens the door to join the wind Leatrice Lifshitz slowly the old woman opens the door and joins the wind Fireflies play a major role in Japanese poetry. When their light goes out, it can also be seen as a sign of a life that has been extinguished: on my finger the firefly puts out its light Roberta Beary on my finger the firefly extinguishes its light This haiku is reminiscent of a jisei, the Kyorai, a student of Basho, after the death of his sister Chine wrote: "sadly I see / the light on my hand fade / a firefly". The regret to experience this world and its blossoms for the last time becomes clear in many poems. The Japanese are sometimes so worried about their flowers that they want to use them even after death. (Utsu: "The owner of the cherry blossoms / becomes fertilizer / for his tree"). Farewell is in the foreground in these American death poems: Daffodils come play with me spring is in the garden and I must leave soon Marc Thompson Daffodils comes and plays with me Spring is in the garden and I have to leave soon

4 Watching the pear tree blossom a new sorrow this year it is my turn to leave Cherie Hunter Day waiting alone one by one the flowers close Robert Gibson When looking at the pear blossom a new sorrow this year it is my turn to part alone waiting one after the other close the flowers from Robert Gibson's haiku speak of loneliness and loss. Not only do flowers and companions disappear, so does the joy of life. A sabi text that touches you. Thoughts about one's own death, the transience of life, whose traces are blown away, as well as the uncertainty about what will come after, are more common in Western cultures than in Japan, where the focus is not on individual death and the redemption of the individual even when dying man is involved in family and religion. Full trust in Amida Buddha and rebirth enable a serene serenity when dying, just like the attitude of the Zen Buddhists to accept dying as reality. It is more difficult for Westerners if they are not rooted in their religion. lull me, muse into the wavering belief that my tanka will walk me to the end of the road Sanford Goldstein When i am gone you can search the sands to find my name Do it quickly, say the crabs. William Ramsey having spent my life in the service of beauty: now human garbage Lindley Williams Hubbell fork in the road both branches closed Matthew Louvière cradle me, muse in the uncertain belief that my tanka will lead me to the end of the road If I don't anymore am you can look for my name in the sand. Do it quickly, say the crabs. my life spent in the service of beauty: now human rubbish fork in the road both branches closed The hopelessness of a situation, which is described in the last haiku, can be used as a metaphor for death. June Moreau found an interesting variation on the question of the ultimate things, which is based on elements of one's own culture:

5 What s on the other side of the sky, coyote? Open the white door of silence and take me there June Moreau What's on the other side of the sky, Coyote? Open the white door of silence and take me there. The coyote is revered in the myths of the American Indians for bringing them fire. It also helps people to get into the "other world". Roberta Beary takes up in her Tanka bird call my father would whistle to wake me wakes me to a great emptiness Roberta Beary the bird call that my father always whistled to wake me up wakes me up to a great emptiness the concept of emptiness, which in Buddhism the Essence of all things is. The bird call reminds of the previous father and at the same time of the mountain cuckoo (or raven), who in many Japanese death poems calls for the last journey. A certain sense of humor that goes as far as satire in Japanese jisei is rarely found in American death poems. Here is the satisfaction of still cheating death: age ninety-nine she repeats herself joyously Steven Addiss for ninety-nine years she happily repeats herself with the words "Stop, not so fast" (a call that comes from the language of sumo -Ringer originates from) Shayo requested a postponement of death in 1776. The following haiku has a similar theme; a picture of nature in its colorful beauty stimulates the author to an irrational hope: crimson maples maybe death won t recognize me Cherie Hunter Day purple maple maybe death won't recognize me A poet's hope that something of him will be preserved for posterity will become depicted in a tanka in a bizarre yet profound way: floating there in the pickle jar my writing hand will survive me, and maybe write of joy William Ramsey floating there in a pickle jar my writing hand will survive me and maybe write of joy

6 One could read the wish that the author would like to have a more positive outlook on life in another life. For this little foray into American death poems, I have only selected poems that represent jisei in the classic sense, i.e. that deal with one's own death. There are of course, as in general in Western countries, a multitude of "pseudo" -jisei that deal with the death of other people and mourning or, based on Western poetry, with death in general. This also includes the memory haiku, which often come very close to a death poem: once again geese heading south some never to return Steve Sanfield once again geese fly south some never return Migratory birds have always been a metaphor for loss and death in Japan (Choshi: »on his way / westwards into paradise / a migrating bird«). To conclude, a sequence that depicts the end of a life's path in clear, impressive images: Only autumn the path along the river grows narrow home from my travels my dark house greets me for the last time looking at the mountain that is only a hill by her sick bed sprig of pussywillow in a stone vase autumn grass waving with one shadow Leatrice Lifshitz Only autumn the path along the river is getting narrow from my travels at home my dark house greets me for the last time I look at the mountain that is just a hill A willow twig in a stoneware vase on her sick bed, the autumn grass beckons with a shadow Karen Klein writes in Frogpond No. 3/2003: »I feel the deep awareness of having to die and the seriousness, the beauty and the simplicity with which she expresses this. From the narrowing path to the dark house to the stoneware vase, the heaviness can be felt, but also her keenly observing eye when the grass beckons with a shadow as if it were the world that beckons its farewell «. The title already suggests: the mountain is just a hill, in the face of death many things become small and unimportant. The simple things, the relief and joy count now

7 bring. No fear of dying, but calmness speaks from these lines and the certainty that you will soon be released from the long-borne burden of a serious illness. All translations by Ruth Franke. Special thanks to Jim Kacian for his interest in this series and his constant willingness to provide support. Literature: Thomas Hemstege: Haiku in the face of death. Frankfurt a.m .: minimart-verlag, Yoel Hoffmann: Japanese Death Poems. Rutland, Vt. & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Publishing Co., ISBN; (The German edition "The Art of the Last Moment" is unfortunately out of print).