Friday, September 20, 2013

R. H. Blyth & Chora: Late Summer, Early Fall

Art by Egon Schiele

       The change of clothes;
The crow is black,
      The heron white. 
Chora,                                        trans. by R. H. Blyth

While slowly perusing (by slowly, I mean over the last year or so) the third volume of R. H. Blyth's Haiku (Summer-Autumn), I ran across this poem by Chora, under the chapter title "Human Affairs."  Blyth, of course, always gives one pause in his astute, penetrating, and, sometimes, decidedly off-kilter observations. Here is what he said about this poem:

"Human beings are a feeble tribe, always changing. The crow remains as it is, the heron also. This haiku is somewhat epigrammatic; it is of intellectual content, but its meaning is expressed with such directness, simplicity, and concreteness that we welcome it as a lower but interesting use of the haiku form."

In some ways, most obviously tone, this seems a casual observation but it is hardly that. It is Blyth's style, coupled with his mastery of the subject, which makes the tone seemingly casual. 

And what makes him so eminently readable. 

What is negative in his assessment of Chora's haiku is the "intellectual content," which is directly to the point when discussing traditional haiku. Though he consigns it to a lower circle, in this case it is a lower circle of heaven and not hell. 

Certainly, the pros out weigh the cons.

The poem, from a human standpoint, nicely represents, if intellectually, the transition of seasons and, if I can take a hint from the volume 3 subtitle, the transition which we now in the Northern hemisphere are experiencing: late summer to early fall. I'm not quite sure it should be characterized as epigrammatic, unless strictly limiting it to meaning and not execution. Still, there are so many reasons to love Blyth. 

His selection of this haiku, for instance.

Plus that chapter title: Human affairs.  

And, oh, yes, a feeble tribe, indeed.


Photo by YST

growing feeble--
breaking off blossoms
with twisted mouth
translated by David G. Lanoue

David Lanoue notes of this Issa haiku that it is "A reflection on the aging process. Issa contorts his face with the effort of snapping off a little branch of blossoms." 

How right he is and how poignant the image, and the observation.


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