Mabson Southard and Chiyo-ni:
Ordway Southard (O Mabson Southard) began writing haiku as a result of a fascination with Zen Buddhism in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This Zen influence can be seen throughout his haiku. He is best known for writing English-language haiku that follow the five-seven-five syllable structure. Southard also followed many Zen concepts in his haiku. His haiku often have a season word, are "selfless," have "suchness" (things are included in themselves), and are about "nothing-special." Southard observes nature purely and separate from humanity.
Chiyo-ni was a Buddhist nun in eighteenth century Japan. Her haiku, like Southards, centered around Zen concepts. Her haiku illustrate strong Buddhist convictions as well. Unlike Southard, Chiyo-ni didnt remove humanity from the scope of her haiku. Instead, she illustrates humanity and nature as one. Her haiku demonstrates that humanity and nature are not separate entities, but two parts of a greater whole.
These two poets, one from twentieth century America and the other eighteenth century Japan, share some spectacular moments across time and space through their haiku. The following pairs of haiku have been taken from various sources. Southards work has been taken from The Haiku Anthology and the manuscript for the forthcoming book, Deep Shade, Flickering Sunlight. Chiyo-nis work has been taken exclusively from Chiyo-ni Woman Haiku Master.
These two haiku share a paired image of moving water. To me, Southards spring and Chiyo-nis river connect an image. There is a spring that I frequent deep in the wood that is the Salt Fork River Forest Preserve. They only flow in the Spring and, at times, become fountains with water shooting up to three feet out of the ground. From the spring flows a spring which feeds a lake. My memories of this spring are tranquil ones, which both of these haiku are quiet in nature, further connecting them for me.
Two things connect these haiku: the water and the birds. Southards haiku is capturing the moment when the still of the misty morning is suddenly shattered by a loons cry. Chiyo-nis subject is similar. With her image at night, hototogisu, a nightingale, breaks the silence that had fallen across the water. Both of these haiku are following the same Zen principles as well. The both share a sense of "suchness," of "nothing special," and of "selfless."
The mists are thick enough to bring visibility down near zero, but eventually, they thin and begin to recede. Sunrise is a brightening of the gray world, and the rooster crows. The mists move slowly, revealing close objects such as the rocks and the pine tree. They linger longest in the valley, but, several hours after sunrise, the mountains begin to unveiled. This is the shared image that link these haiku.
When traveling through southern Tennessee at dawn two summers ago, I witnessed this sight first-hand. The Smoky Mountains are famous for their mists, and I was not disappointed. The mists had thickened in the hours following midnight, producing patchy areas of low visibility along the road. However, when the sun came up, mountain after mountain could be seen. I watched the sun rise while crossing a bridge near Chattanooga, the mists covering the lake retreating before its rays like graceful spirits. So these haiku also contain a shared memory for me.
These haiku are linked by the image of the moon touching more earthly objects. Southard writes of the moon sharing and edge with a morning rainbow. While the rainbow is in the sky, it is still of the earth when compared with the moon. Chiyo-nis moon is sharing an edge as well; with a fishing line. Both of these moons are near to setting and are close to the horizon, and both are summer moons. Southards morning rainbow associates his haiku with summer, as early morning rains are common that time of year. While Chiyo-ni states that the moon is a summer moon.
Frogs are a classic subject of haiku written by authors following Zen principles. These two haiku are linked through their frog imagery. Chiyo-nis haiku gives an image of a solitary frog, sitting, with the passing clouds reflected in its eyes as it watches them go by. Southards haiku is focused on the chorus of frogs that live in a single pond. They are singing in the starlight. Like Chiyo-nis frog, they are observant of the heavens, gauging their behavior on the time of day the sky tells them it is.
A small river flowed by my hometown of St. Joseph. In the summer, if you drive a short distance out of town, stop the car and roll down the window, the sound of thousands of frogs is brought to you on the wind. This chorus performs every year, exactly as it has down for thousands of years. The song of the frogs is timeless and knows nothing of its human audience, carrying only for its own natural purpose.
This haiku are linked in their image of the waterfall. Waterfalls are beautiful natural wonders. Personally, I have only seen two true waterfalls. One was at Shades State Park in Indiana and had a vertical drop of a little more than a hundred feet. It fell gently down a hill side, creating a water-slide effect on the rock. At the time, I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, as it danced over the rock and into the pool at the bottom of the slope. The other water fall I have visited is Niagara. While standing at the railing on the Canadian side of the precipice, I was amazed that only a three foot tall railing and a two foot drop separated me from the very edge of the mighty falls.
While the two are hard to compare, they share a certain magic. Their sound can be heard down stream for miles, giving the visitor a constant reminder of the wonder as he continues his journey. This shared magic of waterfalls connects these haiku as well.
Southard abhorred literary criticism that looked for the symbolic in his haiku. He felt "Whatever symbolism might be construed by others, the poet avowed that the verses he wrote flowed from concrete moments of enhanced sensibility," (Barbara Sothard). This differs from Chiyo-nis work in that many of her haiku require interpretation and are not pure observation.
Zen in haiku teaches us to deal with the ordinary in an extraordinary way. This requires slowing down our fast paced lives and taking the time to appreciate the world around us. Zen works through the work of both Chiyo-ni and Southard. The pairings are made between haiku that share Zen influence. The principals of Zen in haiku are what best connect these two writers. Southard strove to reproduce the pure image of the pure moment that he was observing. Chiyo-ni, however, followed Zen, but was primarily influenced by haiku artistry, even metaphor.
©2002 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors