Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2002

by Jane Millikin

Jane's Haiku



Psychological Versus Natural Sources:
A Comparison of the Haiku of Swede and Bashô

In my global comparison of haiku, I have chosen George Swede and Basho. Swede’s approach to haiku is more psychological than nature. And Basho’s approach to haiku is more nature than psychological. Swede writes haiku based on memories, experiences, nature, non-fiction and fiction. He usually brings himself, if not another person into the haiku. He leaves the haiku open though, for us to step into the words and imagine or recall a memory. Basho writes haiku based on nature and unappreciated creatures, like the flea and the frog. When both author’s haiku are placed side by side, we see the differences of each culture. Swede’s memories, experiences and fictional writings are so different from Basho’s nature and occasional tell-it-like-it-is haiku. Basho appreciates nature so much that he writes what he sees and notices in everyday life.

The following haiku have been selected from Almost Unseen by George Swede, and Traces of Dreams a book about Bashô by Professor Shirane. The comparison between each matching pair varies from feelings, to different types of linking.

grandfather’s old boots
I take them
for a walk

George Swede
Almost Unseen, p.62

gathering wild strawberries
my humble treat

Matsuo Bashô
Traces of Dreams, p.13

I am comparing these two because I think they have in common the "humble treat." In Swede’s memory haiku, he is rummaging through boxes of old junk that brings about many memories. He comes across a pair of his grandfather’s old boots. His "treat" is to take them for a walk. Simple and humble, he puts them on and takes a walk, remembering his grandfather and all the good times with him.

In Basho’s haiku, I see a man in a field searching for strawberry plants. This is his free time, and he chooses to spend it looking for strawberries. He is a humble man, and doesn’t want much. But every now and then, he needs a special treat. The delicious sweet taste of the berries makes his day complete. Unlike Swede’s, this isn’t a memory associated haiku. It is the present, and he is telling it like it is.

Paris pond
a frog Picassos
my face

George Swede
Almost Unseen, p.49

an old pond . . .
a frog leaps in,
the sound of water

Matsuo Bashô
Traces of Dreams, p.13

Paris pond is a very simple haiku. Someone is in Paris, staring into a beautiful pond. Trees surround it, and flower petals fly in the air. It’s a warm, sunny day. The person stares at himself in the pond. A frog is startled and jumps into the water, making ripples in the person’s reflection. There could be more behind this haiku. For example, Swede might have been depressed. And when he looked at his reflection, it was rippled by the frog, symbolizing that he needs a change in his life.

In "an old pond," Basho captured a moment that not many people would care about, or even think twice about. His appreciation of nature and it’s dwelling creatures shines through in this haiku. The silence of the pond, the warm breeze on your face, makes this place a good spot to relax in peace with nature. As he sits quietly, a frog leaps into the water breaking his silence.

roadkill raccoon
snowflakes start to cover
the teeming maggots

George Swede
new unpublished haiku

cold in the water
unable to sleep—
a seagull

Matsuo Bashô
Traces of Dreams, p.167

In Swede’s new haiku, ‘roadkill racoon’, he is combining memories from childhood and recent memories. He remembers his childhood, when a vicious wild dog lunged at him in the forrest and his own dog counter-attacked the wild dog until it surrendered and ran away. When he has enough courage to go back into the forrest, he saw the wild dog, lying dead on the side of the path. It had maggots crawling all over it. He probably saw a dead raccoon on the side of the road, and it was snowing out. The same goes for the dead wild dog in the woods. It was probably almost winter, and everyday he walked by the dog, he had to look at it. Even in winter, when the snow started to fall, he got to see it one last time before the snow covered its decaying body.

I believe this is a good match for Basho’s haiku. Basho also brings out the cold feeling in his haiku, but he is writing about the present. It would make more sense if Basho had written this in America because all birds fly south for winter. And this seagull didn’t, and he now must endure the freezing waters. It’s too cold for him to sleep. But since he wrote it elsewhere, I would say that he wrote this in sympathy for the birds in the water. It’s cold to humans, but birds can handle the cold water. Basho is all tucked into his nice warm bed, and he hears the cry of the lonely seagull in the water. Basho sympathizes with the seagull, and has a restless night while the bird cries into the night.

after the abortion
she weeds
the garden

George Swede
Almost Unseen, p.54

on a leafless branch
a crow comes to rest—
autumn nightfall

Matsuo Bashô
Traces of Dreams, p.91

In Swede’s haiku, he takes himself out of his writing, and instead, writes fiction about a girl. This girl has had an abortion. It was more like a weed to her. Weeds are unwanted, much like her unborn child. She is young, alone, and doesn’t need to have weeds in her life right now. The baby would take over her life, just as the weeds would take over the garden and ruin it. So there she sits, weeding the garden of the unwanted.

Basho’s haiku gives a feeling of lonliness and unwantedness. The tree branch is leafless and one single crow picks that branch to rest on. This is another one of those simple haiku’s that can’t be read into very much. There is no hint of emotions that would give the haiku a more meaningful explanation.

After comparing these two magnificent authors, I have seen the difference between the cultures in a more enlightened way. Basho came from a simple life, and is very in tune with nature. From reading his haiku, I picture a habitat full of flowers, ponds, fruit fields, and people, all living in harmony together. From the way he writes, he shows a hint of his religion which could very well be Buddhism. Swede, on the other hand, comes from a life that is a bit complicated. His writings about memories, romance, sadness, and nature show that he doesn’t have the perfect life. He brings his feelings into his haiku, when Basho leaves them out. These authors are great in their own way.

—Jane Millikin

©2002 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors