Monday, July 20, 2009

Haiku

A haiku is a seventeen-syllable poetic that has been written in Japan for three hundred years. It’s an elegant and minimalistic form of expression. But it is easier to describe the structure of the haiku than it is to describe how it should be read. Let me explain:

From my reading I gather (and if we think about it, it seems obvious) that there are three ways in which works of art can be approached (there may well be more, I am no expert). So, art can either be "Used" or "Received" to quote C.S.Lewis or in the case of the Haiku approached in the same way as a Rorschach test.

To "Use" art is to treat it as an assistance for our own personal activities - a puerile example would be someone who took only a cursory glance at a painting and purchased it because the colours went with the curtains in the dining room. Or, someone who uses art to satisfy lust rather than enter into the full meaning of sexual love. To "Use" art in this way is to not open oneself to the message of the artist. The 'user' is unable to accept the art as an end in itself.

To "Receive" art is to be open to the message of the artist. It means putting aside preconceived notions, desires, interests and associations and to enter into the perspective of the artist. "He is thus able to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with his own".
There is an implication of losing oneself in the work of art, or in the activity of reading, viewing etc.

The "Rorschach test" was created by Hermann Rorschach, and is based on the idea that the test taker's spontaneous or unrehearsed responses reveal deep secrets or significant information about the taker's personality or innermost thoughts. These days many psychologists consider the test unreliable and that there are more modern personality tests - but the term "Rorschach" is loosely used to mean the individual response from the unconscious or conscious mind in response to some sort of stimulus.

Sometimes an artist specifically states how a work can be viewed e.g. The author John Fowles stated in relation to his book 'The Magus' - "If The Magus has any real significance it is no more than that of the Rorschach test in psychology. Its meaning is whatever reaction it provokes in the reader, and so far as I am concerned there is no 'right' reaction."

I am thankful for the Rorschach explanation in relation to the Haiku, because as a lover of poetry I have often found the traditional Japanese Haiku difficult. But seen in the light of an active partnership between the poet and the reader it has helped me to make more sense of, and enjoy more this form of poetry -- " For the haiku does not make a complete poem in our usual sense; it is a lightly sketched picture the reader is expected to fill in from his own memories."

These examples of haiku have special meanings and associations for me. But if you apply the 'Rorschach Test' approach they may have a different meaning for you.
.
WHEN THE AUTUMN WIND
SCATTERS PEONIES,
A FEW
PETALS FALL IN PAIRS
- BUSON
.
POPPY PETALS FALL
SOFTLY QUIETLY
CALMLY
WHEN THEY ARE READY
- ETSUJIN
.
FROM WATCHING THE MOON
I TURNED
AND MY FRIENDLY OLD
SHADOW LED ME HOME
- SHIKI
.
RIPE HEADS OF BARLEY
BENT DOWN BY A RAIN,
BOWING
NARROW MY PATHWAY
- JOSO
.
ONE PERFECT MOON
AND THE UNCOUNTABLE
STARS
DROWNED IN A GREEN SKY
- SHIKI
.
BROKEN AND BROKEN
AGAIN ON THE SEA,
THE MOON
SO EASILY MENDS
- CHOSU
.
BEYOND A DARK WOOD
LIGHTNING REVEALED
STILL WATER,
BRIGHT, LIKE A VISION.
- SHIKI
.

4 comments:

Delwyn said...

Beautiful beautiful haiku my friend and I am only familiar with one of them - so thank you - they will be added to my collection.

For the reason you have described I especially like haiku. The imagery is sparse but vibrant and allows for a freedom of interpretation...
Mind you I think this theory applies to all art and literature...We always see into and read into a work of creation...
our own range of feelings and experiences - it is impossible not to, so I suppose a test of a 'good' piece of writing or art could be its ability to introduce us to a new way of seeing or feeling, in so far as we are able to via empathy...

thank you for the treats

Happy days

Dan Gurney said...

I, too, am a lover of haiku poetry. I think part of its appeal and promise is that it is accessible to the hurried-harried-short-attention-span mind that we so often experience. Haiku can get its word in edgewise and helps us slow down and appreciate a more spacious mind.

Another aspect of haiku that appeals to me is its tendency to direct our attention to the natural world, its seasonality particularly.

Finally, haiku encourages participation the way a song with lots of repetition encourages the listener to join in. Simplicity and brevity have many virtues. Lots of "non poets" can get their feet wet by composing a haiku.

Thanks for your post on haiku.

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

Delwyn, I have two little books of Haiku that I bought in a second hand book shop last year. They were published in 1962 and are from a series of 4 books. I would like to be able to get the other two books - maybe I will have a search at abebooks.com - a great source of second hand books online.

And yes I agree that one of the charms of Haiku is that it allows for a freedom of interpretation.

Alden Smith (Nick name - Pal) said...

Dan, thanks for your comments, they are very interesting - and yes it is nice that the Haiku often directs us to the natural world. I think this is true of a lot of poetry - the natural world and especially its four seasons have great metaphoric meaning for the human condition - the red and gold of Autumn can be a metaphor for a certain stage in our lives etc, etc....