Contemporary German Haiku:
A Reader Response Study
German haiku writers seem to capture the essence of "being
alone," much like Matsuo Basho would extol in his haiku.
Many of the subjects in these haiku are observations by lone
viewers, and several have messages of sorrow. Numerous German
haiku include a reference to nature. The 5-7-5 pattern is
closely observed in the German haiku community. They welcome
the challenge and discipline of limited syllables.
Professor Horst Ludwig, who spoke at the Global Haiku Festival,
says that when haiku was introduced to Germany, "the
poetry had some friends, but these friends had quite a bit
of trouble understanding its essence." I believe he is
correct, because of some examples of German haiku he provided.
my entire glory is nothing
compared with this dewdrop
sparkling in the sun
Because of the way we have studied haiku based on reader
response criticism, I do not think this is a good haiku. It
tries to provide a central image, the dewdrop, but the poem
is too "literary." The number of adjectives severely
reduces the impact of the poem. Also, the topic of personal
glory strays from the intent of the haikuto be inclusive
of the reader. We do not know what Holzs previous opinion
of himself was, nor should we concentrate on the feelings
of the author. It would be a tough call between trying to
re-write this haiku or just discarding it. I would offer my
own variation, trying to retain the two elements, sun and
in the sun
Yet I am not entirely satisfied with this haiku either. "Enlightens"
still holds the connotations of human values forced upon a
natural phenomenon. The author of the original haiku needs
to employ "the light touch." A good example of the
light touch is the following haiku.
when crows came
from somewhere, fogs
began to talk
Here the natural world is not left completely alonethe
author still interprets the fog sound as "talk."
However, the human feeling is not present. The author alters
the environment enough to let us see the unique observation,
to put ourselves into the moment where a fog seems to talk
because of masked crows. The author did not call the fogs
"eerie" or "heavy"they are left
to our reading. This haiku is more true to the Japanese tradition.
It leaves the moment as an experience that can be relived
by many people.
Another German haiku that I felt was over-the-top in its
approach is as follows.
The farmer plows the field
The image of the field is minimal. He uses the haiku as a
way to phrase a question, rather than preserve a moment. The
existential question makes us think about the farmer, as individual,
verses the collective fate of death. An idea of reward is
present, too, as it asks us to consider who will benefit from
our hard workourselves, our inheritors, or those who
steal the harvest. This is not the purpose of a haiku. I could
propose a variation on this haiku, but it would not be anything
close to the intent of the author. My haiku about a field
and a farmer would be:
in the field
wipes his brow
This haiku is flawed as well, because of its lack of momentous
subject matter. It is an inconsequential moment, even if it
does portray a single farmer and his toil. A haiku must give
us something to consider, and it helps if it is something
common to our own experience.
Among her twenty rouges
She looks for a full pot:
Turned to stone
Rainer Maria Rilke
According to Professor Ludwig, "haiku does not create
a subjective reality that needs to be explained to others."
We take pleasure, as readers, if we can read a haiku and create
a personal mental picture. A haiku that is approachable, no
matter what language it was composed in, is successful. A
woman preparing herself with makeup is an important and routine
occurrence. Here, not everyone may know the reference to rouge
pots, but I feel it is a better haiku than several other German-language
haiku I have read.
I find that German haiku is not as good as I had expected.
Perhaps I have found poor examples, but many of them seem
to be complex. Part of this is in the translation, but it
is also because of the approach of various writers. All of
the haiku I have cited so far have come from different authors,
and I have more to examine.
moon peeks through the clouds
the snow shines in the cherry tree
brighter than blossoms
Imma von Bodmershof
Although it originated with a German author, this haiku has
two key Japanese images for haiku. The moon on cherry tree
has a rich history for Japan, but not so for America. Would
Germany be able to appreciate this haiku? I cannot answer
this, but it brings me to a question posed by Ludwig: "Is
there a German haiku?" Is there something in a haiku
which makes it distinctly cultural? I think so, but only in
a limiting sense. If we call a haiku an "English language
haiku" we are referring to the language it was written
in. But if we call a haiku an "English haiku," arent
we saying that the haiku holds more meaning for citizens of
England? Can a haiku be American, without being exclusive
of other cultures? I dont think so. When you identify
a haiku as Canadian, or German, or French, you are leaving
it to full interpretation only by the people of those regions.
A German-language haiku can be translated, and understood
by others, although it retains a German style. The beauty
and serenity modeled by this haiku gives the reader a sense
of place. It does not infer emotions. This is a good haiku.
I also enjoyed another haiku by the same author.
the old geese are moving
an old monk looks
through the barred window
Imma von Bodmershof
The use of repetition, an old monk and old geese, creates
an instant link despite the separation depicted in the haiku.
An inside/outside juxtaposition lets us look at each situation.
The monk has chosen his barred window, but he still looks
to the outside, to those who have freedom. It does not make
me feel sad, really, but it does strike me as a poignant moment
because it allows for reflection on choices. It is a human
quality to wonder "what if
" and religion,
as represented by the monk, gives us answers about purpose.
still not deciphered
scrolls of fern
I also liked this haiku, for its creative description of
what an opening fern looks like. It avoids using words that
would make it a metaphor or simile (i.e., "like a")
and so it keeps the focus of haiku.
a wind gust shakes
its blossoms wave like dancing flames
lonely this house,
on the window, the rain
sound of a bell from far away
from a quiet forest
along dark paths
lute, sing your song:
the wind shoos spring and blossoms.
the moon weeps in the reeds.
last winter moon
it pours cold and hoarfrost
into the chalices of the crocuses