George Swede and Horst Ludwig
George Swede and Horst Ludwig are, in a large sense, very similar haiku poets. Both were born in Eastern Europe during the few years prior to World War II and are currently in their fourth decade as a professor at a university in North America. Both men have published extensively and now have spread their mastery of haiku into editing and criticism.
Of course, there are large differences between these two as poets, the first of which is that most of their haiku does not share a common language. Horst Ludwig, professor of German at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN, was born in Poland and grew up in West Germany. He was exposed to haiku through an Austrian ambassador to Japan and began writing German-language haiku in high school. He now writes German and English haiku, but is more familiar with the German vernacular and writes the most and best of his haiku in German. George Swede, born in Latvia but a Canadian citizen since 1947, serves as professor of psychology at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto. He has published many books of all kinds of poetry and is the co-founder of Haiku Canada.
The differing backgrounds of these two great poets are evident in their work. Overall, Ludwig takes a much more traditional approach to his haiku, having trained early in the Japanese tradition. He writes strictly in 5-7-5 syllable form and is careful to include season words in most of his work. Swede, a successful poet in various forms of contemporary poetry, is quite the contemporary haiku poet, experimenting with form and subject matter. Swede and Ludwig write haiku, as do many others, that deal with mans relationship with his surroundings, but one difference is clear: Swede views nature as the world outside of culture, while Ludwig views nature as the world in which culture exists.
The differing view of nature between these two poets is evident in this pair of simple haiku:
These are two excellent haiku, both seeming to be the authors description of an experienced natural event. Swedes haiku shows a peaceful solitary moment- the driver may not have any particular destination, and follows the river as the sun sets. There is a wistful (but not sad) quality to this poem that shows a deeper connection with nature. Ludwigs haiku, on the other hand, has no mention at all of anything having to do with human culture. He paints a beautiful scene with words that shows the eerie majesty of a winter dusk. There might be a lone car driving across this snow-covered land, but Ludwig pays no attention to it. It in fact may be the glory of these purple hues that has inspired the lone driver to choose his path.
Swedes immersion in civilization is evident against another similar haiku of Ludwigs:
Swede is truly appreciative of his natural surroundings in this haiku, marveling at the perfection of the small, round fishing hole reflecting the full moon. The moment described is very restful and awe-inspiring. Ludwig paints a similar picture, and yet it is interesting that he describes a "small forest lake" in his haiku. After all, that is basically what a fishing hole is, and yet Ludwig attaches no reference to mans use for the water. Ludwig describes trembling water, rather than a clear, perfect reflection- an interpretation could be that the author is "on" the lake, and his raft is creating ripples, destroying the perfection of the moons reflection. We get a sense of mans invasion of the natural world through this reading of Ludwig. Of course, some humor in this haiku could be related to the generally spooky thoughts related to full moons around Halloween, and even the water is getting a chill. (Note that Ludwig again includes a season word in his haiku.)
We continue to see Swedes well-intentioned but culturally-conditioned idea of mans ownership of nature through this pair:
Swede writes an excellent haiku here with a cleverly morbid view of the natural order of things, fate, etc. He has just positively affected his natural surroundings when he finds the toil was futile. This haiku can be easily interpreted as discussing much more than the natural order of insects, showing the Western desire to add a personal message to a moment. If he had not righted the beetle, what would have been its fate? Should he bother to do nature a favor like that again? Or the world? This is oddly balanced with a much less puzzling haiku by Ludwig that shows mans ownership of nature in a more positive light. The dog in this poem is obviously providing great comfort to the woman on the bench, and the two share a mutually benefiting relationship. The favor the woman does for another living thing is not futile here at all.
Extending the idea of our natural surroundings to that of the spiritual world, some similar contrasts can be made between these two:
Ludwig shows tremendous respect for the dead in his haiku. This pious woman would be expected to believe little in any worth of mere physical remains, and yet she lights a candle while in the graveyard, trembling perhaps from age, chill, or nerves, either one a reminder of her own mortality. Swede draws a parallel between a faded grave and a homeless man in his haiku. The man "rests" against the tombstone, as if he finds comfort in the company of an almost-forgotten grave. Through this interpretation, a kinship is formed, but there is no sense of awe in the face of this schism between life and death.
These contrasting ideas continue:
In both of these haiku, the author is seemingly pleased through a reminder of the deceased. Swedes provides a swift juxtaposition, placing a feeling of comfort and relief adjacent to a hint of mortality. Whether this is supposed to simply shock the reader or make a point is up to interpretation, but regardless: Ludwig demonstrates a much more awed and respectful mood in his haiku. The fog blurs his own reality and reminds him of the omnipresent spiritual realm. In this situation, he can listen more easily to the deceased, like a cool wind hitting him. He is not simply refreshed but transformed through the clear, peaceful speech.
The next matched pair deals with objects of man-made immortality:
These are two very similar and very effective haiku. Both, obviously, demonstrate the contrast between the strong, immovable, man-made sculpture and the soft, fleeting, natural snow. The organization and description of this moment shows an interesting contrast between these authors.
Swede first describes the statue itself, putting in the readers mind the idea of how majestic and proud it is. One expects the last line to be "points toward the Potomac" or something along those lines. The last line changes the imagined scene entirely, and all of a sudden this proud force is helpless and vulnerable. The ending idea for this reader, at least, was one of frustration against nature, that the statues surroundings are denying it its rightful glory.
Ludwig, however, structures his haiku to a different end. He first describes the natural environment- the first three words allow the reader to immediately imagine a cool winter evening- and then he describes that snow is falling on a statue. The realization that it is a statue of naked girls is what becomes unnatural to the reader, not the snowfall. This frail human image then seems a bit stronger to withstand the snowfall, rather than vulnerable, and more of a relationship rather than struggle exists between the contrasting images.
Both of these haiku authors show tremendous skill at describing a scene with a powerful effect on the reader. Swede and Ludwig deal with similar subjects and reveal their own personal view of nature and poetry. George Swede uses haiku to show the contrast between people and their natural surroundings and make some interesting insights on human nature. While doing so, he reveals how grounded he is in society and how nature is, to him, something that affects and improves Western culture. Horst Ludwig maintains the principles that founded haiku through strict form and continual awe of the natural world. While doing so, he makes little insight on our lives as people but provides tremendous inspiration for out citizenship in the natural world. These two men are both excellent poets and will help define what western haiku becomes in the future.
Translations & essay by Mark Grizzard
©2001 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors