Monday, 9 May 2016

Buson and the Wife

I wanted to write this short piece to answer some points that came up on twitter the other day. A discussion broke out after I stated one of my favourite Buson haiku is:

The main argument against the validity of this piece is anchored by the fact that not only was Buson’s wife still alive at the time of composition, but that she lived another 30 years after. This naturally develops into the argument of authenticity in haiku and how the haijin should write exclusively from experience. Now I’ve butchered the argument down to size here for the sake of brevity but I think the point comes across.
Firstly I kind of agree with this sentiment although I would encourage people to test and look at the limits of this ideology and the other principles of haiku. I’m not going to say what I think Buson was doing is right or wrong what I will say is that this poem hits me like a blow to the head and that to me is very real. That is a direct emotive experience. It feels no more real or nonreal than, for example, Issa’s dew drop poem, invoked by the loss of his daughter:

this dewdrop world
a dewdrop world...
and yet...

Personally I have reconciled certain feelings from direct experiences into others. For instance I feel homesick at least once a week, I’m hardly going to write directly on this experience over and over. But with this sense of longing I can, and do, express it in other ways. Not seeing my Father for six months at a time is sometimes like he has passed away or is sick. I grieve ever so slightly the way I do for people I have actually lost.
As readers we do this all the time. Buson’s ‘wife’ or Issa’s child are two experiences I have felt. And yet they strike me in relation to things I have felt rather than their direct experiences. The loss of a child or a wife is something that I’ve never felt but I have felt loss in other ways and this is how I transliterate this emotion. Would it honestly be that much of a crime for the haijin to do the same?

All translations are my own.
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this fleeting body reveals the light

Mabel Royds, Dandelions, 1932

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