- Time and Space


Time and Space

Japanese haiku are usually placed in the present tense.

The concept of shasei, sketching from life, also places a haiku in the present.
. Sketching from Nature , SHASEI 写生 .

And we have the time-space shifting MA:
. MA 間, the pause created by a cut marker .


There are however haiku that talk about the past or the future.
Let us look at some of them here.

Many use the word yagate やがて /軈て/頓て
eventually, after that, in the course of time
in due time



yagate shinu keshiki wa miezu semi no koe

shrilling of cicadas -
they show no sign
of dying soon

Tr. Gabi Greve

soon to die
yet no sign of it
cidada's chirp

Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉

- Translation reference -

omoshiroote yagate kanashiki u-bune kana


hatsu choo mo yagate karasu no fujiki kana

first butterfly--
before long some crow's

Shiinji Ogawa helped me understand this brutal haiku:
that sooner or later the first butterfly (or butterflies) will be eaten by a crow (crows).
Issa's poem recalls W. B. Yeats's lines,
"Cast a cold eye/ on life, on death!"

Tr. David Lanoue

waga ue ni yagate sakuran koke no hana


the PAST

tsuki izuku kane wa shizumeru umi no soko

where is the full moon?
the war bell has sunk
to the bottom of the sea

Basho often alludes to events of the past.

. Basho in Kanegasaki, Tsuruga .



Japanese artistry, by design,
melds time and space into all its creations

Among the greatest of Japan's gifts to the world is surely the gift of design.

..... From the time Japan opened its doors to the outside world at the end of the feudal Edo Period (1603-1868) — after more than 200 years in which it was a capital offence to leave or enter the country without authority from the very highest level — people in Europe, America and China, in particular, became bewitched by the culture of Japan.

This was because they saw how Japanese culture brilliantly combined the abstract design of scale and the passage of time itself with a level of mastery in technique that had not been seen before. Indeed, to me, Japanese design is no less than design of space and time itself. This may sound rather obtuse, so let me explain.
One feature of Japanese aesthetics that redesigns time is totsuzensa (suddenness).
Japanese culture is full of the unexpected, the unpredictable. In the traditional performing arts of kabuki and bunraku it can take the form of an instant transformation from one state or form to another — as when one character becomes another, such as a ghost. In ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), it is often evident in the poses and grimaces in the scene, capturing an unexpected instant of high drama.

The art of the haiku, too, which has become a universal symbol of Japanese emotional expression, beautifully illustrates the design of space and time in the engineering of scale.

Consider Issa Kobayashi's (1763-1827) haiku that jumps from the face of a traveler to the sky above:

Asleep with a fan
Across the face
The moon on the sea

Another poet who, in his haiku, presents startling images that redesign the spatial relationship between things was Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902). What is big? What is small? It all depends on your perspective and your personal viewpoint.

Sometimes, Shiki would present a spatial stretch of the imagination, but always in the presence of nature:

The snail is enticing
Rain clouds
With its antennae

Or sometimes he would offer a painterly scene in which the changing light plays a part:

Locusts buzz
The paths between the rice fields
As the daylight dims

Another characteristic of Japanese aesthetics, as is so sublimely evident in the following two haiku by Shiki, is the manipulation of color in order to achieve incongruity, contrast in scale and visual starkness:

The mountains in summer
All creation green ...
But a red bridge


Pale blue in the rain
Bright blue under the moon

I would define haiku as "the redesign of space and time in 17 syllables."
By redesigning space in this way, Japanese culture places humans (including us who read the haiku, view the picture or observe the performance) properly in nature, as one small element with a highly personal viewpoint.

Only art can slow or prolong the ticking of the clock and allow people to appreciate their place in the scheme of the world; and Japanese art has demonstrated this ability in ways no other civilization has done.
source : Japan Times, December 11, 2011


Susumu Takiguchi writes:

silk strand
suddenly I've become
a puppeteer


Amidst the flood of praise for this haiku of yours, may I add a comment on a question which is seldom discussed, and may well have been never pointed out before. The question is a non-Japanese convention of recommending the use of present tense, or 'present', in haiku-writing. This is one of the many conventions which WHC has been challenging into having a good review and reassessment, at least not accepting as a received gospel.

One of the reasons why your 'spiderweb silk' haiku is a success is the fact that you used present perfect. We Japanese, write, and have written for centuries, haiku in past tense as a routine. Even if we write some haiku in what 'appears' to be in present tense, it can be because of some grammatical convenience or of constraint of brevity and in 'real terms' it could still point to a past point.

What feels very much like the English present perfect (i.e. something already happened in the past but it is still in the same state such as the famous crow haiku in that the crow perched on the branch some time ago, and Basho may well have witnessed it, and he is still in the same state of perching there) is often used in Japanese haiku and is very effective.The convention of emphasising the present tense or 'present' in haiku comes straight from R. H. Blyth and Harold G. Henderson.

Fifty years on, we should review their views and reassess them properly, not to down or disown them but to respect them.
Compare, an'ya, your haiku 'spiderweb silk', or
Basho's on a bare branch /crow haiku.

Susumu Takiguchi, the World Haiku Club

source : sites.google.com/site/existencearts


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