Cherry Blossom Haiku

The sky shifts with the cherry branches above my head. I’m lying on the grass staring at the blossoms. This idyllic scene would be straight out of a Japanese silk painting were it not for the fact that I’m dressed for garden work and the reason I’m in a reclined position is because I’m exhausted after weeding the garden. But as the petals fall on my face, I forget about the back pain and think of my favorite haiku by Matsuo Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet.

How many, many things
They call to mind
These cherry-blossoms!

Haiku weaves vivid images, and cherry blossom themed poems have an element of contemplation and bittersweetness that is compelling. The sight of blossoms, so exquisite and so evanescent, is a reminder of the transience of things, and while it can be melancholy, it’s also reassuring. Everything passes–and then returns.


Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

Under cherry-trees
soup, the salad,
fish and all . . .
Seasoned with petals

In a sense, poetry is closest to perfume, because the interpretation of the message concealed in words as in aromas are left to the beholder.

Very brief –
Gleam of blossoms in the treetops
On a moonlit night.

Silent the old town . . .
the scent of flowers
floating . . .
And evening bell

Spring by Yosa Buson, another celebrated Japanese poet, is rendered in bright strokes. Can you tell that he was also a painter?

A woman
Reading a letter by moonlight –
Pear blossoms

In the moonlight,
the color and scent of wisteria
seems far away.

Japanese poetry has a reputation for overly refined aesthetics without room for earthier forms of humor. Partly, the translation is at fault, because the wordplay that Japanese with its numerous homophones makes almost effortless is hard to render in another language.

Here is one example by Buson. A literal translation:

Autumn again,
Camphor wood of eight mat size,
Golden Pavilion Temple!

Lovely and staid, isn’t it? But the poem can also be read as follows:

Hanging down,
a badger’s balls,
a badger’s itchy balls.

(Buson was staying at a temple in Kyoto and one evening he thought he saw a badger and started screaming. An alarmed monk ran into his room and in his haste he left his robes open. The sight left Buson mildly traumatized.)

Basho. Basho’s Haiku: Selected Poems by Matsuo Basho. Translated by David Landis Barnhill. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004.
Japanese Haiku, translated by Peter Beilenson. New York: Peter Pauper Press, 1955.
Bownas, Geoffrey and Thwaite, Anthony, ed. The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse. London: Penguin Classics, 2009.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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30 Comments

  • Karen 5.0: What a lovely start to my day! Thank you for this post – I love Basho and Buson and of course, cherry blossoms, which I actively seek out in whatever part of the world I happen to be in at springtime. They always take my breath away.

    I hope the weeding wasn’t too strenuous, though isn’t there something calming and Zen-like about this seeming chore?

    I chuckled at the alternate interpretation of the Buson haiku. Thanks for that~ April 26, 2017 at 9:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Perhaps, if one digs in the garden as an occasional hobby, it might be calming, but to be honest, the agricultural work in our garden is grueling and hard. I don’t find it Zen-like. And yet, nearly passing out can make one think of poetry. 🙂 April 26, 2017 at 1:47pm Reply

  • Gabriela: Lovely, thank you Victoria. Here in Spain there are many cherry blossoms and there is a cherry festival in Céret, France, in May. April 26, 2017 at 9:42am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t visited that one. France does have many flower devoted festivals. April 26, 2017 at 1:47pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: How wonderful of you to badger us with these haikus 😄 Keep up the cross-cultural references, please! April 26, 2017 at 10:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Ha ha! I’ll do my best. 🙂 April 26, 2017 at 1:48pm Reply

  • sunnlitt: Thank you, Victoria, you have reminded me of how delightful it is to lie on the grass and gaze up at the sky!!
    It used to be a favorite childhood pastime, but I am out of practice.
    I will give it a go this afternoon. April 26, 2017 at 11:43am Reply

    • Victoria: Please do! It’s such a wonderful pastime. Even better if you do it just for fun, not because you’re tired and passing out. April 26, 2017 at 1:48pm Reply

  • Tati: I don’t think I’m going to be able to get that image of badgers out out of my mind! Thank you for a fun post. Made me laugh out loud. April 26, 2017 at 1:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s one of my favorite haikus. 🙂 April 26, 2017 at 1:49pm Reply

  • Leslie Enzbrenner: Thank you for this beautiful post. I live south of Washington DC and have been enjoying the cherry blossoms in the Sping along the Tidal Basin for the past 40 years. Every now and then, I see a “Cherry Blossom” fragrance, but do they really have a scent that is actually used in the fragrance industry? April 26, 2017 at 1:49pm Reply

  • Leslie Enzbrenner: Thanks so much Victoria. Now, I am dying to try Cherry Blossom Tea! April 26, 2017 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: Cherry leaves and twigs also have a wonderful taste of roasted almonds. My grandmother uses leaves for pickles and twigs for roasting meat. April 26, 2017 at 2:23pm Reply

  • ClareObscure: Hi Victoria. I hope you are making progress in your garden. This was a lovely post about the fleeting poignant loveliness of Spring blossoms. Here in England we are surrounded by various flowering trees & shrubs. As well as the small frilly blossoms in pink & white, we have an abundance of magnolia blooms, often on a grand scale. These visual treasures thrill me every year as they magically reappear to announce the end of winter, once again.
    All of the comments have been good to read. Thanks to you all.
    Your recent magazine article about Iris based perfumes was enjoyable & informative, Victoria. April 26, 2017 at 7:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s been a bit cold, so my progress is limited, but I still have to whitewash the garden. That’s the biggest task of all.

      English spring is among the most beautiful. I love how it start first tentatively and then explodes in a profusion of blossoms. Enjoy this beautiful season. And thank you for your nice words. April 27, 2017 at 7:20am Reply

  • Anna: What a lovely post for the Spring, Victoria. Cherry blossoms and haiku. I love Basho but had not heard of Buson. It reminds me to buy an anthology.

    Winter gives way
    The sight of cherry blossoms
    Joy returns April 26, 2017 at 9:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Buson is one of my favorites. His poems have particularly vivid images and he’s able to capture a range of emotions with few words. The haiku of a moonlighter and pear blossoms is exceptional.

      Thank you for this beautiful poem! April 27, 2017 at 7:22am Reply

  • Karen A: I am right there with you nearly passed out from exhaustion from working in the garden! I take breaks under various shrubs breathing in the scent of the earth. Love the poems, amazing how a few words can capture or conjure up a scene. April 26, 2017 at 11:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: What do you have blooming right now? April 27, 2017 at 7:22am Reply

      • Karen A: The lilacs are on the way out, for some reason this year they were incredibly fragrant! (There is one French lilac that is just starting to bloom, it’s fragrance is quite different and seems more “green” than the others). This year I bought some azaleas, I’d put off buying any as they are very popular here, but my overall goal this year is to buy only evergreen shrubs, preferably flowering ones. Although they are new and not large, they are quite pretty and the bees are loving them.

        Irises just started – yesterday the first bloom opened. Plus various alliums here and there. The Holly trees are flowering – I know they aren’t known for their flowers, but the fragrance is really something. Up close you can’t really detect it, but from around 10-15′ it is quite strong. Another favorite of the insects!

        The wild dogwoods and choke cherries are also in bloom (and I do know that the dogwood “flowers” are really not the true flowers, but they are so so pretty!). Each year I wish that I’d planted some in the yard. Fingers crossed later on I can get some of the choke cherries for jelly before the birds do! And the buttercups in the fields make for a lovely view.

        Peonies will probably start in another week, it’s been chilly and rainy but supposed to get up to 90 (!!!) this weekend, uggg. I moved my big rose arbor this winter and need to find a different rose for it. The New Dawn was gorgeous (and will be this year, I’m sure) but the thorns, holy moly! Plus it had gotten so huge. April 27, 2017 at 7:49am Reply

        • Victoria: Your garden sounds lush and full of flowers. So fortunate. April 27, 2017 at 11:29am Reply

      • Karen A: Oops! I felt so guilty for forgetting one if my favorites, the viburnums which are also flowering! This year, the highly fragrant Burkwoodi got hit by frost, I think it was last year Cornelia or Hammamalis and I were trying to identify the note of it’s amazing fragrance, we settled on heliotrope. Also, this past year I made little chicken wire cages for tulip bulbs, everyone has horror stories of planting tulips and ending up with none in the spring as the squirrels and other critters love them. The cages worked and this year I’ve had lots of tulips (beyond the smaller species ones), some are still flowering. April 27, 2017 at 8:00am Reply

        • Victoria: Viburnum is one of my favorites too. Are yours white? April 27, 2017 at 11:29am Reply

          • Karen A: Mine too! They are such wonderful shrubs/small trees. Yes, except the Burkwoodi is a pale pink, but the others are all native to this region. April 27, 2017 at 4:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: A good anthology of haikus is a must have for me. It’s like a never-ending reservoir of inspiration and beauty. April 27, 2017 at 7:23am Reply

  • Richard Goller: Beautiful writing and imagery. Thanks for the morning lift. R April 27, 2017 at 5:04am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Richard! April 27, 2017 at 7:23am Reply

  • Aurora: I enjoyed this mix of poetry and humour, Victoria, and well done on the gardening, but take good care of your back! Lilacs across the street are in bloom, purple and white, and the geranium I had brought inside for winter too. April 27, 2017 at 3:03pm Reply

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