Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2002

Medea Mosxona

Medea's Haiku

Medea's Essay
on Carlos Fleitas



The Differences Between Culture, Language, and Geography in Haiku:
A comparison of College students’ haiku and haiku by Carlos Fleitas

Previously I had wanted to write about the different aspects between Carlos Fleitas own work. I had wanted to look at the translated haiku and then the haiku in Spanish and see what differences there were between translation. However, due to the short nature of haiku, there weren’t a lot of differences to be found. In order to write haiku you have to be very skilled and careful about choosing words, hence, it is a lot easier to translate haiku and to have the meaning remain the same because of the brevity and exactness of word choice in haiku. Also most of Fleitas haiku do not include metaphors, which would make the translation harder. They are all pretty straightforward. The big difference for me is the sound of the haiku in the different languages and which sounds more poetic and flowing to me.

Since my first idea didn’t go well for me, I decided to use what I had learned through classroom exercises. I decided to compare haiku by my author to members of our class. I think it would be an interesting comparison because the two different types of personalities of writers are so extremely different. He is a middle-aged man form Uruguay and most of the members of our class I am assuming are between the ages of 18 and 25. I think that many haiku that students have written in our class are similar to his ideas, but are expressed differently due to cultural differences, as well as geographical, and age differences. I think that matching and comparing our class’ writings to his is a good idea because we are basically on the same level of publishing. He has not had many of his haiku published, and for most of the people in the class, this is our first attempt with haiku writing.

I am going to be comparing not only the style of writing and which haiku I prefer, but other aspects as well. I am going to look at differences based on culture and language usage. I am also going to look at differences that could be caused because of age in style, topics, and word choice. Another difference that I plan to investigate is musical style of our haiku and his haiku. I want to see if our haiku flows in a musical pattern much like the haiku that Fleitas usually writes.

A yellow rose
fragrance and joy today
tomorrow deep tears

Carlos Fleitas

Valentines dinner
I watch the couple

A.J. Cunningham

I picked to compare these two haiku because they both go along the theme of a love/hate relationship. One day you are so happy with someone and the next day you they make you cry. For example, the haiku about dinner is something that in our culture indicates that you care about someone. In the college environment, a dinner date is a big deal. College students do not have much money, so the opportunity to go out to eat indicates either that they are trying to impress their girlfriend or that this is a special occasion and not a common setting. I got the image that the couple is out to dinner to celebrate their love on Valentine’s Day and then they end up fighting the entire time, which ruins the purpose of Valentine’s Day.
With the rose haiku, someone receives a rose, and for the time being everything is great and wonderful, however tomorrow is another story. His haiku is different from Cunningham’s by matter of age difference, more than culture. Receiving flowers tends to be something that I associate as belonging to a different era, especially receiving roses. They remind me of my father and his generation, which uses roses as a gesture of love and as a mark of importance to an occasion, much as college students use dates as a measure of importance of a certain occasion.

These haiku are similar because they both use items or gestures that are symbolic of what a special occasion entails. However, the moment of significance is similar in the two haiku. They are both about moments that are supposed to be happy and full of love, however end up being just the opposite. Another difference between the two haiku is the language used. For example, perhaps because this is his second language or perhaps because he is older, Fleitas haiku seems to be written more formally. "Fragrance and Joy" are not really words that one would traditionally see in a college student’s haiku. Describing something as having ‘joy’ is somewhat of an older expression.

If I were to pick a winner between these two haiku I would have to pick the one by Carlos Fleitas for several reasons. I really like that he made the rose singular and not roses because sometimes a single rose is more romantic then a large amount of flowers. I also liked how he made it yellow and not red or pink, which is a customary romantic color. My favorite part of this haiku however was describing the tears as deep. Perhaps this is just a glitch in translating, however I have never heard tears described as deep before but it really strikes home. Some times you cry so hard that the tears go deep. The Valentine’s haiku about dinner really was more of a sentence. It did not flow nearly as musically as the haiku by Fleitas and was not as enjoyable to read out loud. The word ‘squabble’ was pretty interesting, but I still feel that Fleitas haiku was more beautiful to be heard.

In my way home
grapes ripen in the fields
a sip of wine

Carlos Fleitas

side of the road
the field of wildflowers
pulls her over

Kerry Hammergren

I wanted to compare these two haiku because they are both about side of the road views. I really liked how both haiku take something as ordinary as what you see driving somewhere and make you realize how beautiful it can sometimes be. The moment of significance in each of these haiku is how a quick view can influence you to do something. They are both about the compelling beauty of nature. The differences geographically are quite apparent. We obviously do not have wine growing around Illinois, which is why Kerry picked wildflowers, which are common to our area. The idea that linked the two haiku, however, was that grapes growing are as common in the Uruguayan culture as wildflowers are to students in Illinois.

The differences culturally are represented in the wine and the wildflowers. Some of us are not old enough to drink. Also in the American culture, it is not as familiar a practice to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day. Here in America, college students associate alcohol to getting drunk and not as something that you could just sip for the pleasure. Also in our culture, it would have been beer as opposed to wine. Beer is something that is more commonplace in the United States than wine is.

The age differences have a lot to do with the cultural differences. Most college students do not have time to sip wine. If they are drinking, they are usually drinking pretty heavily. Kerry’s haiku also demonstrates our culture because most of us have cars. In Fleitas haiku it doesn’t really elude to how he is getting home. However, in Hammergren’s haiku it is pretty apparent that she is in a car because she used the common phrase, "pulls her over." Pulling over is a common phrase associated with driving and getting on and off of the road. I really liked Fleitas’ because I could not only see the picture but I could smell the wine and taste it as well. I also got really great color visuals of a deep red wine and then of the actual greens and reds of the vineyards.

However, I would have to say that I liked Kerry’s better because I empathized with hers more. As noted before, we don’t have very many vineyards here in Illinois, but we do have a lot of wildflowers. I got a really good picture of this whole field of purple and pink phlox. I am a chronic flower picker so this was something that I would do. I also liked how she played with the pulls her word theme. The car pulls over and the wildflowers are pulling her towards them as well.

The next poems that I chose to compare were written in Spanish. I roughly translated both haiku into English. I am going to do a triple comparison for these two haiku because I want to compare not only the two poems with all of the various comparisons of culture, geography, and age, but I also want to compare how the musicality of the two languages. Which haiku is the most pleasant to the ear, which haiku comes alive when read. The first haiku by Carlos Fleitas is going to be compared with a haiku by Angie Williams.

Summer wind
With rose petals
And I let them go

Viento de Verano
Juntos PÉtalos de rosa
y los dejo ir

Carlos Fleitas

Valentine’s Day
frozen petals
on my windshield

Angie Williams

I chose to compare these two haiku because they both were about petals and had distinctive seasonal elements. Both haiku have different moments of significance. Fleitas haiku is more about letting someone go, whereas I took the haiku by Williams to about the possibility of rekindling love or as an apology. Williams’s haiku shows the importance of automobiles in the American culture. The haiku by Fleitas used a lot of aspects of nature to demonstrate his love. I could definitely notice a difference in age between the two haiku. Fleitas was a more somber haiku that was written from the opinion of an older person. I could tell Williams was in college because the younger generation tends to view Valentine’s day as THE day to do something nice. It also incorporated the car, which is something someone much younger would find sweet. Someone older probably just wants someone to do their dishes for them.

As far as musicality, there really is no contest. I love the way the Spanish version flowed. He used lots of ‘s’ sounds, which contributed to the fluidity of the haiku. Whereas in English it didn’t flow as well, especially the "and I let them go part." It doesn’t sound nearly as romantic as "y los dejo ir" (pronounced – ee los day-ho ear). I prefer Fleitas in Spanish because the words help to create this beautiful image to me. Juntos in Spanish means together or with depending on the usage and so it doesn’t really translate well into English, but the image in the Spanish haiku is so romantic and forlorn. For women who save things their lovers have given them this poem is especially significant. I can see someone finally getting rid of some old rose petals that a past love had given them. Letting them go into the wind makes such an image to me that I especially love this haiku. In Spanish it is more musical and soothing then the both English haiku. I like the idea of petals frozen into a windshield, but not to be funny, the image is too cold and too much of a contrast between the warmth that the idea of petals is supposed to convey. I also did not like the harsh sounds of the words in English such as ‘frozen.’ This is not an especially romantic sounding word. I think that haiku in English tend to sound harsher and not nearly as flowing.

The next haiku that I discussed is going to be compared to a poem by Matt Eichhorn.

looking for place
between snow-covered branches
the sun is entangled

buscando lugar
entre ramas nevadas
el sol se enreda

Carlos Fleitas

snow glistening—
the bud of a daffodil

Matt Eichhorn

There are a lot of differences in these two haiku. Once again, the language is somewhat different. The word ‘entangled’ is a slightly more mature sounding word. The word ‘bud’ is also symbolic of youth. There really were no differences that were geographical, except I didn’t know that it snowed in Uruguay. Fleitas haiku could have been written in the United States really. Comparing the moments of significance I think that Fleitas haiku makes more of an impression. It uses very good description words, such as ‘entangled’ or ‘enreda.’ I think that the word ‘glistening’ is also a good description word. And the idea of the bright yellows and sharp greens of the daffodil against the snow are very catching. However, I get such a great image of the sun being caught in the branches of a tree. I can picture the sun going down and the contrast between the golden reds of a sunset and the thin, black lines that the branches would make against it. Although the picture that I get from Eichhorn’s haiku is very beautiful and soothing, it is not nearly as vivid as Fleitas.

Once again, however, the translation is not nearly as good or succinct as the original Spanish haiku by Fleitas. I really enjoy the Spanish haiku best. The first line really almost says that he is looking for a place not so much just looking for placement, however it can not be translated as ‘a’ or ‘the’ because ‘el’ is not included. However, I believe that it should really say looking for a place. I like the way he uses a lot of words that end with an ‘ah’ or ‘ahs’ sound, such as ‘nevadas, enrada, and ramas.’ I think that brings about a lilting pattern when the haiku is spoken. Whereas there really is no such sound in either of the English haiku. In Eichhorn’s haiku there is a lot of hard ‘d’ sounds, such as the ‘d’ in ‘daffodil’ or ‘bud’ or ‘covered’ these hard and heavy sounds contrast with the image which I consider to be a very fragile and precious moment. The English version of Fleitas haiku is also very uncomfortable and doesn’t flow. This is primarily because it wasn’t written to flow in our language. I liked Fleitas haiku because I can imagine taking a walk on a snow covered day and listening to the silence. In the silence it is easy to find significance in the sparkling snow covered trees. I like the idea of looking for a place, because many times when we are seeking peace and solitude we are in search of a place to hide. One of the primary reasons that I prefer this haiku is because I can fit myself and my feelings into this haiku very well. It was very interesting to note that I could fit myself better into a haiku written by someone who is far older than I, and living in a different country and culture, more than I could someone who is my age, and who lives not even a block away from me.

In conclusion, I noticed that I tend to prefer that haiku that flow better. I also tend to prefer the haiku that I can stick myself into. I found it interesting to compare the differences in haiku based on geographical, age, and language differences. I also really enjoyed comparing the musical sounds of each haiku. Speaking the haiku out loud adds a new element to the haiku that you can not glean from strictly reading it. I also realized that there are a lot of signal words in haiku that can give context to who is writing the haiku. I noticed that our class in particular, were easy to recognize because we wrote words that tended to be really succinct to me. It was almost as if our generation has a certain code that we can all follow. However, my favorite haiku still tended to be those haiku that were in Spanish. I now know that I really enjoy how a haiku sounds, sometimes almost more than what the haiku is actually saying. I think the rhythm and musical styling of a haiku are equally important to the word choice. This comparison helped me to realize how much my writing can show where I am from, my age, and my cultural values. I am definitely going to think twice about my word choice from now on.

—Medea Mosxona

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