April 28th 2016

I keep talking about Basho but the reason, as far as I know, is that Basho is the only Japanese poet whose collected writings have been translated into English. Perhaps unusual, as far as poets go, is the opportunity to read him working out the best way to express an idea.


the color of wind
planted artlessly in a garden
bush clover

kazairo ya / shidaro ni ue shi / niwa no hagi
wind color <> / artlessly in plant (past) / garden of bush clover


the color of wind
planted artlessly
in an autumn garden

kazairo ya / shidaro ni ue shi / niwa no aki
wind color <> / artlessly in plant (past) / garden of autumn


the color of wind
planted artlessly
in a garden of reeds

kazairo ya / shidaro ni ue shi / niwa no ogi
wind color <> / artlessly in plant (past) / garden of reeds


Basho: The Complete Haiku, Trans. Jane Reichhold

This to me, poet and writer at heart, is like truffles to a pig. To follow a genius work is always rare; and I’ve always loved reading the sketchbooks of poets or studying the manuscripts of composers. Nothing gives you equal insight into the creative process. A while back  I wrote a post on Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay and, because earlier sketches of the poem existed, was able to speculate as to Frost’s thought process.

But how about Basho? In the first version he ends with bush clover. “Bush clover” was a season word signifying early autumn. One has to wonder whether there was any significance in the bush clover beyond indicating the season. Evidently, Basho was dissatisfied. The choice of bush clover seems to lack conviction—one might say that it’s almost expedient.

In the second version Basho tries the more all-encompassing, and universal, “autumn garden”. Rather than rely on a season word, he simply states the season. Evidently, he was still dissatisfied. Why? My guess is that he found the “imagery” too abstract. What is an “autumn garden” after all? It might be more evocative than “bush clover”, but lacks concreteness.

Basho wants more. “in a garden of reeds” is his third try and with this he produces both a concrete image and beautifully ties the haiku together. How? Reeds are a season word indicating early autumn, but more than that, they are commonly associated with the wind and their/(the wind’s) noise.

  • wind in the reeds (ogi no koe, early autumn). Lit. ‘voice of the reeds’.
So, in this respect, “the color of the wind planted artlessly” assumes a whole new layer when applied to “reeds”. The reeds, in Basho’s final revision, embody the color of the wind and it’s sound and color (we imagine their papery clacking), in a way that the “bush clover” or “an autumn garden” doesn’t. Whereas the first two haiku are mediocre, lacking resonance, the final version proves to be greater than the sum of its parts.


Maybe that’s a good way to describe the best haiku—resonance.


····night—the creature’s calling and calling


For some, it’s what they don’t now that frightens them. For me, it’s what I know.


····waning snow—the moon also melting
········to nothing


Hard to believe, but a little snow still remains of Tuesday’s wintrish storm.


174 April 28th 2016 | bottlecap

8 responses

    • One of my favorite mocku/haiku of all time (not mine):

      Haikus are easy,
      But sometimes they don’t make sense.

      See? Even when you mock them, there’s genius. They’re like cockroaches, the more you fight them the stronger they become. (Refrigerators have never been the same.)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think you would write a fine Japanese death poem. One of my favorites:

      Having survived
      The poet revises
      His death poem.

      Or something like that. Wish for the life of me I could remember who wrote this.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The fact that you also appreciate Dryden causes me to take you seriously, whereas I am quick to dismiss most Haiku enthusiasts.

      Visit my “Take a Haiku” page when you can. And enjoy a Green Mountain Spring in your beautiful state.


  1. Reading the drafts in order is like watching the idea harden in stages.

    To me, the appeal of haiku is recognizing the challenge of making a good one. A setup in Verse 1 doesn’t get to payoff in Verse 3, for example. The payoff, whether it’s an image or feeling or play on words, has to build while honoring very noticeable constraints. In my opinion, a good haiku reads like a tiny world, or like a prize from an acorn-capsule.

    Using rhyme in poetry is a writer-imposed constraint as well, and many people fail to grasp the appeal of it. In the words of Alan Thicke, “What might be right for you, may not be right for some.”


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