japanese poetry: 4 posts

Make Time for Yourself and Banish Guilt

If a person with children and living in an extended family were to write my article How to Handle Self-Isolation and Not Lose One’s Mind, they would instead title it How to Survive Quarantine and Not Kill One’s Family. Then again, they probably wouldn’t even write it, because they would be too busy being a career professional, cook, cleaner, and school teacher. All of this in addition to the general anxiety. Since most of the household responsibilities fall on the shoulders of women, many of my female friends are finding this period of confinement stressful. Whether they live in New York, Tehran or Kyiv, the problems are the same–they are under pressure from their employers, schools and their families.

Far more qualified people than me can give advice on how to manage home schooling, household responsibilities and children. On these pages I can only provide comfort, distraction, and a reminder that taking a moment out of a day for oneself is crucial. And that such moments shouldn’t be tainted by guilt.

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Wind Through Green Leaves Aoarashi

Imagine right now standing under a tree and hearing the wind rustling through its leaves. If you enjoy this vision, I would like to share a Japanese poem with you.

Wind blowing through green leaves
I see a shrine
And I pray

青嵐神社があったので拝む
Aoarashi Jinja ga atta node Ogamu

Japanese haiku are full of seasonal words, which serve as a guide to the reader. For instance, this charming poem by Ikeda Sumiko (池田澄子, born in 1936) contains the word aoarashi.  It means wind blowing through green leaves and it’s a seasonal word for the fifth month.

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The World in a Haiku

Silent the old town
the scent of flowers
floating
And evening bell
-Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), translated by Jane Reichhold

Haiku condenses. Haiku magnifies. If haiku speaks of a flower, it doesn’t compare the poet to a flower or the world to a flower. It says, the world is a flower. The world is in the flower petal. The details are refined by the poet’s imagination, who pours the whole experience into seventeen syllables. Haiku is the essence.

Discontented
Violets have dyed
The hills also
-Shiba Sonome (17th century), translated by Earl Miner and Hiroko Odagiri.

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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.

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