05 June, 2013

Carven Gods Long Gone

Snow on the Gate

carven gods long gone
dead leaves alone foregather
on the temple porch


Hobbes said...

My skin still tingles when I read this haiku, for the umpteenth time. What a powerful little poem it is.

I'm not one to over-analyse a poem, especially a haiku, which is intended to be an instantaneous expression, but this Basho classic does deserve some reflection.

The notion that the gods have long since departed suggests that Basho is not just talking about the wooden statues in the temple, but to the passing of the gods themselves. This is a common sentiment in Zen, which sometimes considers itself to be "post religious", in the sense that, as I have written many times before, one must "slay the Buddha" in order to become a true (Zen) Buddhist.

These gods are not just gone, but they are long gone, and this temple, in whatever forgotten state it remains, is all that we have to remind us of them. The dead leaves are now their only subjects; husks as empty and diminished as the deities once worshipped there. We have the idea that even the gods have limited timespans; that all life, even that of a deity, is lightning in a thundercloud, as the Buddha once put it.

Reflections on transience occur often in Zen texts, and especially in Zen poetry; they are, like the kwatsu! strike across the shoulders with a hard stick, a means of focusing one's attention and bringing us back to that which is important, and that which is passing before our eyes, often without us marking its passing.

All in Basho's seventeen onji syllables.

There is a reason that his poetry is considered timeless, and as relevant today as it was almost four hundred years ago.



Hobbes said...

P.s. Where is the temple in the image that makes the haiga? Flowing water holds a special place in the Zen vocabulary: when one practices, one is able to "stop the flowing water".

Bastian said...

Hey Hobbes.

As a fellow lover of pu and haiku, I enjoy your blog immensely.

Do you know a good book on haiku? I would like to know more about haiku in Germanic languages. (Translation, onji, kireji, stuff like that.)

- Bastian

Hobbes said...

Dear Bastian,

The following two books are excellent Basho translations - you can always trust Penguin Classics:

On Love and Barley

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

...while the following is a very worthwhile collection of haiku in English:

A Haiku Anthology

That latter is a particularly special book in my life: every week, when I was a student, I would go into my local bookshop-cafe, and read a few more haiku from its pages over a cup of coffee. Eventually, years later, I bought it for myself, and it is a continual treasure.

In terms of onji, seasonal words, etc., the following is quite nice:

The Haiku Handbook

...which has essays from major haiku writers (in the West) which are now classics in their own right.



Bastian said...

Hi, and thanks!

I really need to read The Narrow Road. It sounds amazing. (Also interesting that the haiku in that volume are translated into four lines.)

All the books you suggested are in the library system, awesome! Thanks again.

By the way, I like your own haiku a lot ... keep them coming!

- Bastian