hearing the title On the Road, or the name
Jack Kerouac, many different images or ideas arise in
ones mind, some of which may include 1950s
America, vagabond living, drugs, jazz, or beatniks.
However, not many people will hear these words and think
of haiku poetry, Buddhism, or the significance of travel
to the writers process.
surrounding Jack Kerouacs life is endless: people
have analyzed his novels, emulated his literary style,
built websites, and devoted their lives to living his
lifestyle. Yet research regarding his significant contribution
to modern haiku, his relationships with traditional
Japanese poets, and the effects travel had on this poetry
have been left out of the barrage of scholarship.
year, in 2003, Regina Weinreich edited and compiled,
for the first time, a book of Jack Kerouacs haiku,
entitled Book of Haikus. In her introduction
she outlines Kerouacs aesthetic and its many connections
to the Japanese artists Matsuo Basho (1644
1694) and Kobayashi Issa (1716 1784) as he read
them in R.H. Blyths "Haiku (Weinreich,
xxi xxii). She also presented evidence that Kerouac,
Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen spent
time together in Berkeley in 1955 talking, drinking,
and trading their own versions of Blyths haiku
translations (Weinreich, xiv).
should mention here that all of the Japanese haiku included
in this project were taken from the Blyth translations.
The problem of choosing translations arose early in
my research, as so many scholars have translated the
work of Basho and Issa. Upon discussing the predicament
with Dr. Brooks, we decided, for consistencys
sake, to consult only Blyth. How a haiku is translated
accounts for a huge part of the interpretation. With
just one or two words placed differently the whole haiku
can change meaning. I wanted to avoid this confusion,
and liked the idea that the sources I used for my project
were the same sources Kerouac and Snyder read while
lounging in the back- yard of Allen Ginsbergs
to Weinreichs edition of Kerouacs haikus
she continued to guide her reader through Kerouacs
connection to Buddhism. After presenting a connection
between two of the most important pre-modern Japanese
Basho and Issa, to two of the most significant Beat
poets, Kerouac and Snyder, she missed one important
aspect she did not fully explain their connections
or influences upon each other. What are these four poets
grouped together? Why do their haiku intersect, and
what do they contribute to each other? More important,
why have I chosen these four poets as the center of
my JMS Project?
poet pushed the boundaries of haiku in his time, for
example: Matsuo Basho is credited as the greatest
contributor to the development of haiku literature,
bringing the haiku form to maturity and establishing
it as a major literary genre (Ueda, 9). Before
Basho, haiku was a very serious art form that applied
formal language and rich allusions into t tight structure.
The first step Basho took in developing haiku began
with the practice of sabi. Sabi is a feeling of solitude,
or being alone in the universe. With this perspective,
Basho began to use his solitary experiences, especially
with nature and travel, as a way to reach sabi through
second development came later in Bashos life when
he began to lighten his haiku. He started practicing
a different aesthetic called karumi, which focuses on
freedom and spontaneity. With Bashos movement
toward lightness, he inspired many haiku poets to follow
him, and this is where the paths of Issa, Kerouac, and
Snyder all intersect. All four poets write with a sense
of karumi that enhanced theur style. For example, Kerouac
is known to have always kept a pocket notebook with
him, ready at any moment to write a spontaneous haiku.
Therefore, Basho is the cornerstone poet of my project,
and it is through his development of the haiku style
that the four poets meet.
second pre-modern Japanese haiku poet to enter this
project of Kobayashi Issa. Issa is considered one of
the three pillar poets of traditional Japanese haiku,
along with Basho and Buson. Issa followed the
Basho tradition, and practiced writing haiku in
a plain, direct style steeped in a broth of Zen
(Hamill, xi) while managing to push the very boundaries
placed by Basho. Issa challenged Bashos transcendence
of time and space, and wrote haiku from a personal human
viewpoint (Ueda, 4) born from his life of suffering.
Issas mother died when he was young, his stepmother
abused him, and all this children died before their
second birthday, yet he writes with an intense Buddhist
compassion for all life human, insect and animal.
In addition, his haiku idiom evolved to include more
vernacular language and local slang that Basho (Hass,
147). His compassion and accessibility consequently
expanded the haiku genre from appreciation in the elite
class to the enjoyment of the middle class as well.
playful humanness set the stage for Kerouacs arrival
150 years later. Here is an example of their haiku,
placed in relationship to one another.
Out of the mist.
up at the stars,
the example above, we can see how Kerouac overlaps Issas
almost-silly, childish style. Kerouac also finds a connection
to Basho as he made a large contribution to haiku, much
in the way that Basho did. While Basho defined a traditional
haiku style, Kerouac defined an American haiku style.
He jotted his ideas for this new style in his Reading
Notes of 1965:
American Haiku type:
The simple rhyming triolet: --
No, as I say, America Pops: --
Simple 3-line poems
with Kerouacs simple statement, approaches to
American haiku changed. Just as Basho raised the haikus
status, re-invigorated the genre, and created new challenges,
Kerouacs new style gave poets a new freedom they
had not previously enjoyed. His openeness of form discarded
the strict 5-7-5 syllabic metering, thus transforming
haiku into a much more accessible genre.
is not to say that Kerouac changed or discarded Bashos
traditions entirely, it is actually quite the opposite.
Kerouac followed a path of Buddhism, and immersed
himself in Zen study, finding inspiration in the
early Japanese workd of Basho and Issa, and Asvaghoshas
The Life of Buddha (Weinreich, xiii). Kerouac
found this Buddhist path through the guidance of his
good friend Gary Snyder, where our fourth and last poet
enters the project.
was inspired by D.T. Suzukis Essays in Zen
Buddhism (1927) and spent the early 1950s
traveling in Japan practicing Zen Buddhism (Weinreich,
xiii). Upon his return to the United States, he became
a mentor figure to Kerouac, and the two young poets
spent time mountain climbing together, engaging
in a sharing of poetry, observation of nature, and speculation
of haiku practice (Weinreich, xx). These experiences
would become the foundation for Kerouacs novel,
The Dharma Bums, in which he chronicled Snyder
as the nature boy / Zen mystic / poet hero.
He is a prolific writer, writing not just haiku, but
long-form poetry, prose, and essays, and is recognized
as one of Americas preeminent nature and
environmental writers (Philips, 30).
2004 Snyder was awarded the prestigious Masaoka Shiki
International Haiku Grand Prize. The award, held in
the name of Shiki, a Japanese poet who has been penned
the founder of modern haiku, recognizes the most
outstanding achievement and creative development by
modern haiku poets world-wide, (http://www.ecf.or.jp/shiki_haiku/
detailsl_e.html). The award hopes to raise awareness
of haiku and support the international development of
the form. It is rare for an American to receive this
honor, therefore Snyders work within this project
creates a special connection between Japanese and American
also was the connection in which the poetry in this
project realized its potential as social art. In his
collection On Bread and Poetry, Snyder says about
exciting thing about readings, and one of the reasons
that really turned us on about 1956 when we started
reading poetry aloud around San Francisco, was that
it reminded everybody that the excitement of poetry
is a communal, social human thing, and that poems
arent meant to be read in the quiet of your
little room all by yourself with a dictionary at hand,
but are something to be excitedly enjoyed in a group,
and be turned on by.
reading this, I reflected on how necessary the listener
is for a haiku to come to life, and decided I wanted
a social aspect to my project. I wanted to share haiku
with others, give feedback, and bounce ideas. Finally,
Snyder is a necessary link to Basho, Issa and Kerouac
for many reasons: his Buddhist training, deep connection
with nature, and influential haiku work.
was also important to me to compare and explore each
poets haiku in regard to one of the groups
most significant similarities: travel. Each of the four
poets lived unconventionally for his time, as evidenced
through their extensive travels. For Basho and Issa,
not many people were wandering around Japan on foot
in the 1600-1700s. For Kerouac and Snyder, most Americans
in the 1950s were moving to the suburbs, starting families,
and creating careers. These poets left their traditions
behind, saw things the world for themselves, and lived
experienced cultural ramifications for their travels.
In Japan today, Basho and Issas travels have become
significant cultural icons, and people still take literary
expeditions to travel to the same path they once did.
Kerouac was seen as an outcast that didnt fit
in with societys ideal. He hated the idea of getting
stuck in suburbia and traveled to remain free. Snyder
traveled for a similar reason, mostly to escape from
the constructs of man, by reaching a pure, untouched
place in nature.
should keep in mind that only today these traveling
poets are seen as heroic, whereas during their lives
traveling was a challenge, and was, in some cases, looked
down upon. This study is an important contribution to
haiku scholarship as the relationship between the four
poets, their travels, and the effect on their haiku
has never been studied in this capacity before.
to present the comparisons in an accessible way, I have
chosen to use Bashos idea of a haiku contest,
in which poems were paired in rivalry (Ueda,
147). By pairing haiku from each of the four poets,
I will be able to see how each haiku is different, yet
similar, and begin to see the relationships between
them. The differences in each poets haiku style
will lend to interesting comparisons, as well as provide
examples to explore how travel affected their haiku
aesthetic, and provide a foundation for me as I start
on a journey of acquiring my own haiku process.
cloud of cherry-blossoms;
The temple bell,--
Is it Ueno,
is it Asakusa?
How many times have you seen
of Mount Asama?
could not be a more perfect pair of haiku to begin On
the Road Haiku. As Basho stops walking to listen
to a quiet far-off temple bell, and as Issa squints
toward the sky, these images fill them with memories
of home. While traveling, far away from their familiarities,
they transcend time and space for a moment to remember
a different life they once led.
attempting to understand what Basho and Issa felt at
the moment they wrote these haiku, it is imperative
that we have some knowledge of the places they mention.
Ueno is not to be confused with Bashos birthplace
of Ueno, rather he is referring to the section of Toyko
that is famous for its 1000 cherry trees. Asakusa is
also a section of Toyko, famous for the Sensoji Temple
built in 645. If Basho were living today he might find
it slightly ironic that a double-decker bus runs between
Ueno and Asakusa for tourists convenience.
seeing geese departing toward the direction of his home,
ask them about Mount Asama, an active volcano in the
province of Shinano. Mount Asama erupted in 1783, when
Issa was twenty-one years old, killing 1,151 people.
It is still active today, as the most recent eruption
occurred on September 1, 2004.
images of cherry blossoms, a temple bell, and smoke
carry a greater depth when given a layer of attachment
and memory to a place. We can also consider why these
images resonated so strongly with Basho and Issa. What
jolted them out of their traveling into a realm of sadness
and recollection? The dialogue between the haiku begins
with Bashos cherry blossoms, which is significant
in many ways.
the Japanese, when the cherry blossoms bloom in April
it is a time for celebration. It is custom to wander
under the blossoming trees or picnic with friends and
family. Because the cherry tree only blooms for a short
period, cherry blossoms in Japanese poetry have the
association of detachment and the ephemeral nature of
human life. Therefore, the festivals are a time to enjoy
the present moment as well as reminisce with friends
and family on fond memories.
brings us to an interesting question regarding Zen and
Bashos haiku. A tenet of Zen that Basho certainly
practiced was that of living in the present moment.
When one gives over their regrets of the past, worries
about the future, and their anticipations for the next
moment, they are freed from burden and can keenly observe
and relish the life around them. Why, then, in the first
haiku does Basho use his energy to ponder the past?
Robert Aitken, in his book A Zen Wave, explains
that when the cherry blossoms bloom it is the time for
memories, as how family reunions are a time for memories.
However, breakfast is a time for porridge and
fruit, just as cleaning the dishes is a time for
cleaning the dishes.
like the cherry blossom festival, is a time to enjoy
the moment, while also reflecting on the past. The very
nature of travel is one of constant newness juxtaposed
with old experiences at which a deeper understanding
of ones surroundings is realized. It only seems
natural that Basho and Issa used the haiku form to capture
these moments when the two worlds met. However, when
these two realities are constantly intersecting, can
one ever be purely detached?
wrote while judging a haiku contest that a poet
should detach himself from his passion and submerge
himself within an objective scene. However, he
contradicted himself in his travel journal, Narrow
Road to the Interior, upon seeing the Taga Castle
built in 724 at Ichikawa Village. He wrote, [The
monument] returned us to memories from a thousand years
before. Such a moment is the reason for a pilgrimage:
infirmities forgotten, the ancients remembered, joyous
tears trembled in my eyes.
this not prove that traveling that all pilgrimages,
in fact, are monuments to ones ancestors and memories,
and are therefore not an exercise in detachment at all
- rather a bond of deeper attachment with all living
the nature of traveling examined, let us analyze the
relationship between the haiku. Structurally, they are
very similar. Both begin with the presentation of an
image in nature. Issa goes further to interact with
the geese, creating an accessible relationship with
them, asking, How many times have you seen / The
smoke of Mount Asama? This dialogue between Issa
and the animals is very characteristic of his style.
Issa wrote hundreds of haiku addressed to animals and
insects, which gives evidence to his humility and compassion
for all forms of life. Another example of his humble
dialogue between insects is apparent in this haiku:
You should fondly follow me,
bashfully says to the butterfly, why are you wasting
your time following me? I am of no importance.
Similarly, Issa respects the regality of the geese,
and with his question seems to expect a response, or
the chance to send a message with them to drop, floating,
over his hometown.
both haiku end with a question. To pose a question is
rare in traditional Japanese haiku, as it usually brings
an I into the situation. With this pair
of haiku, the question leaves the poem open - the poets
could be sad, and have let their minds wander with curiosities,
wondering about the places of their past. While traveling,
Gary Snyder felt a similar pull between past and present
in this poem:
THE WHITE RIVER ROADHOUSE IN THE YUKON
For Gary Holthaus
White River Roadhouse in the Yukon
A bell rings in the late night:
A lone car on the Alaska highway
Hoping to buy gas at the shut roadhouse.
a traveler sleeping in a little room
The bell ring is a temple in Japan,
In dream I put on robes and sandals
Chant sutras in the chilly Buddha-hall.
thousand miles of White Spruce taiga.
The roadhouse master wakes to the night bell
Enters the dark of ice and stars,
To sell the car some gas.
as Basho heard a temple bell and traveled in his mind
to Asakusa, Snyders subconscious took him to Japan,
thereby creating a layer of experiences overlapping
in the Alaskan wilderness. And finally, keeping with
Snyders travels in Alaska, here is an adaptation
of Basho and Issas haiku pair.
do you miss Tyonek?
wrote this upon seeing the belugas in the Chicago aquarium.
The experience awoke a memory of observing wild belugas
traveling in pods near the fishing village of Tyonek,
in Alaskas South Central waters. The belugas swim
in with high tide to catch salmon in shallow waters,
and then breathing, spouting mists, race back out with
the tide. Standing in a crowd at the aquarium, my heart
wrenched to see them swim circles in their cage. I thought
about how the belugas must miss their native home, just
as Basho and Issa did, when asking the cherry blossoms
hut at night;
my medicine cabinet
Has died of old age
is here that Issa and Jack Kerouac expose a sensitivity
unsurpassed by any other pair in the collection. We
see Issa first, alone at night in his tiny hut. Perhaps
he is meditating in the middle of the room, allowing
his senses to absorb the life around him. Completely
silent, he is stirred by the almost imperceptible sound
of the cricket wandering about in the straw roof, exploring
dusty corners, or trotting along in the tea cabinet.
In Japanese poetry, a singing cricket is meant to bring
good luck for the owner of the house. We can almost
see a slow smile move across Issas face as he
is surely comforted by the crickets company.
the other hand, Kerouac experiences a pale melancholy
upon discovering the fly has died in his medicine cabinet.
It is not certain when Kerouac found the poor fly, but
it is possible he too was ill, and upon opening the
medicine cabinet for an aspirin found the silent fly.
After Kerouac was finished in the bathroom, one must
wonder what finally happened to the fly. Did he pick
it up gently with his fingers and transport it outside,
or drop it in the toilet? Or did he leave it there,
peacefully, to be a constant symbol and reminder of
Issa and Kerouac, these tiny creatures were much more
to them than just insects. They were friends and teachers.
We can begin to see how they created this relationship
by the word choices they made. The cricket and the fly
were not merely a cricket and a fly,
they were The cricket and The fly. To Issa and Kerouac
they were special they might as well have been
the only cricket and the only fly in the world. By referring
to them as the, the insects became old friends
to the poets someone whom they were familiar
example, when Issa hears the cricket in his house there
is no hostility or animosity in his tone for him to
get out! rather Issa implies a warm
greeting to his household companion. And how interesting
that Issa should choose rummaging instead
of walking about. Rummaging
suggests the cricket is searching for something with
a disciplined technique. Not only is he walking about,
but he is engaged in discovery, exploration, and adventure.
What a contrast to quiet Issa, meditating in stillness
on the floor!
the fly was a friend to Kerouac, and by stating it was
of old age he subtly implied it had lived
with him for quite some time. Kerouac was welcoming
to the fly and allowed him space in his cabinet. Perhaps
he checked on the health of his old, constant, hopeful
friend every night upon brushing his teeth. Here, we
realize the deeper connection Kerouac had with this
humble creature and its death weighs upon us with much
greater sadness. Kerouac has lost a friend, and his
grief resonates throughout the last line of the haiku,
lingering with us for while.
addition, Kerouac borrowed a traditional Japanese technique
of using a seasonal word to place the haiku in a context
and convey a sense of scene for the reader. By using
the word winter to describe the fly, as
opposed to a simple old fly, we are filled
with images of bare trees, an enveloping blanket of
white, and the feel of a cold draft seeping through
an old window. Here is an example of one such seasonal
haiku from Basho:
Goes no one,
This autumn eve.
using the seasonal word autumn, Basho was
able to create a detailed scene while maintaining brevity
made one last word choice, whether deliberate or not,
that greatly contributed to the sensitivity of the poem.
Pretend for a moment that his fly lived in a bread-box:
the winter fly
Has died of old age
feel of the haiku has completely changed where
it once was ironic, slightly humorous, and sad, it now
feels flat and trite. Clearly, this haiku needs no editing,
for each line seamlessly builds upon the next to create
a complex layered relationship within a beautifully
poignancy of these haiku swell from yet another layer.
On the surface they seem to be impersonal poems written
about insects, but looking deeper they parallel the
personal lives of Issa and Kerouac. This parallel begins
with Issa, who had the extraordinary ability to imagine
the events of his life through the eyes of the smallest
creatures. He wrote hundreds of haiku about flies, fleas,
crickets, butterflies, grasshoppers, dragonflies, bedbugs,
and even lice. It wouldnt be far-fetched to say
that Issa is famous for insect haiku. This haiku, taken
from Year of My Life, a book of collected
haiku and journal entries written by Issa, gives evidence
to his unconditional love for all creatures:
Where I live quietly,
Even the flies
Have a small family.
Issa did not organically fall into his style
in fact, he began studying haiku under a curriculum
of Bashos aestheics. Although Basho had only died
70 years earlier, his haiku teachings were already harkened
throughout Japan as the new haiku style. Issa didnt
agree with Bashos detached transcendence and began
to craft a style based on the beauty, suffering, and
humor present in humanity.
writing from a crickets point of view, Issa humbled
himself, realizing that each persons world is
different, and each deserves to be recognized. In the
above haiku, Issa essentially becomes a cricket. His
mind is so attune to the crickets life, he seems
to join him, rummaging about. At this point it could
be said that Issa has detached himself from humanity,
yet he simultaneously arrives at the realization of
humanitys very essence the unity of all
Kerouac, on the other hand, his haiku parallels his
personal experiences with death. The haikus somber
tone and sense of impermanence echoes with Kerouacs
sadness for his older brother, Gerard, who died when
Jack was only four. Gerards death had a huge impact
on young Kerouac, and it was from then on that he felt
Gerard was his guardian angel. Twenty years later, Kerouacs
father will die of stomach cancer, and five years before
his own death, his sister Caroline will die suddenly
of a heart attack while on a long distance phone call
with her ex-husband.
Kerouacs life brings an intensity to the haiku
that is only present on the deepest of levels. This
haiku, included in Kerouacs Some of the
Dharma, suggests Kerouacs coming to terms
with death, that he reached feeling of respect and peace
with or without wine,
upon analyzing the relationship between the pair of
haiku, Issas influence on Kerouac is clearly apparent.
As individual poets they were very similar: both lived
most of their life in poverty, and were constantly mourning
the death of loved ones. These experiences directly
shaped their perception of the world, and it is their
haiku that reflect their ability to innately see the
suffering in all life, while maintaining a tone of irony
and down-to-earth humanity.
adaptation of their haiku that encompasses a similar
compassion, humor, and humanity might read:
jump aboard this paper
i'll carry you safely outside
back of the Supermarket,
in the parking
Not a speck of dust
To meet the
Jack Kerouac could capture such beauty and compassion
amidst a weed-trodden supermarket parking lot. I see
him walking through the neglected back-lot, passing
by scattered cardboard boxes, floating plastic grocery
bags, cigarette butts left over from employee smoke-breaks,
and maybe even some beer bottles and broken glass. The
sunlight is harsh, and makes everything seem sharper.
walks alone towards home, or maybe back to his camp
for the night. While weaving through some parked semi
trucks, clutching his bag of groceries: cans of pork
and beans, a loaf of whole wheat bread, milk, and sweet
wine, he notices, growing out of the concrete, a clump
of tiny purple flowers. Silently stooping to take a
closer look, he begins to feel a sense of hope, of humility,
and above all, of beauty in chaos. Similarly, yet in
a completely different manner, only Basho could capture
a chrysanthemum in such a pristine setting. The un-speckled
white of the chrysanthemum resonates with a radiating
light. Bashos haiku, so beautiful, pure, and delicate,
creates a sense of shunyta, a realm pure void, that
is experienced only on the deepest human level. Perhaps
the shunyta arises from this being one of Bashos
last haiku. He wrote it in Osaka while on a journey,
in 1694, during the last month of his life.
his health was declining, and he was certain death was
looming, Basho decided to embark upon one final journey
to Western Japan. He wished to see his hometown of Ueno
one last time, as well as to teach his students in Kyoto
and Osaka his new approach to haiku: karumi.
would be Bashos last stylistic phase of haiku,
and upon leaving his students in Edo for the last time,
he imparted this explanation: The style I have
in mind these days is a light one, one that gives the
impression of looking at a shallow river with a sandy
bed. It can be theorized that Bashos entire
life had been the development karumi, a development
of lightness, wordlessness, to finally achieve a haiku
of pure essence.
inspiration for his chrysanthemum haiku came from a
visit he made to the chrysanthemum festival in Nara.
Nara was the first Buddhist capital in Japan , therefore
how appropriate that in Japanese poetry the chrysanthemum
is a symbol for the imperial house of Japan. Basho borrowed
the second line, Not a speck of dust, from
a poem written by Saigyo (1118 1190), which follows:
with just a speck of dust
yet the eyes have caught it, the world
having become what it is.
complete the historical context of this haiku, Basho
paid a visit to one of his students, Shiba Sono, a few
days after attending the festival. It is the hypothesis
of some of his interpreters that this haiku was a gift
to Sono for her simple hospitality, pure heart
and elegant taste. Others, however, prefer to
read the haiku with no attachment to Sono, rather to
simply enjoy the unsentimental essence of the chrysanthemum.
reference to the haikus implicit detachment, it
seems fitting that Basho composed it while on a journey.
For Basho, traveling was a time to detach himself from
humanly desires and to be constantly moving towards
a close observation of the human relationship with nature.
He once stated, Follow nature, return to nature,
be nature. As his keen observation of the chrysanthemum
is evidence, Basho was successful in reaching a detachment,
and returning to nature.
there are times when Bashos detachment begins
to feel a little stuffy, when he describes
a beauty too austere, impossibly perfect, or even overwhelming.
His white chrysanthemum feels uptight and so clean one
would be punished upon touching it. In contrast, Kerouac
finds his beauty in imperfection, in the slightly off-kilter
man-made environment of cement and garbage. By this
virtue, Kerouacs haiku is more human and thereby
is possible that Kerouac wrote this haiku while journeying.
It is important to note that his motives for traveling
were very different from Bashos. At a time when
America was suburbanizing, creating identical cars and
television sets by the millions, Kerouac traveled in
protest. He didnt fit into the American dream
of owning a house, keeping up with the Jonses,
and working 40 hours a week. His was the life of the
vagabond romantic hitchhiking and sleeping under
the stars. It is comical to picture Kerouac, in a thick
flannel shirt and dirty jeans in the supermarket, alongside
neatly ironed suburbia housewives purchasing TV dinners
and the latest copy of Good Housekeeping.
haiku effortlessly communicates all of these feelings
to us by creating a contextual place for our visions.
In contrast, Bashos haiku seems to float in air,
leaving wide open space. When analyzing the haiku, we
should note each poets choice regarding specificity.
Basho specifies the white flower as a chrysanthemum,
to increase the strength of the haikus image.
On the other hand, Kerouac plainly states purple
flowers. See how the haiku would change if written:
back of the Supermarket,
in the parking lot weeds,
specifying the kind of flower the haikus feeling
seems slightly stifled, or closed off. Readers would
be forced to ask themselves, What does a petunia
look like? instead of allowing their mind to create
a flower of their own, whether it be irises, pansies,
violets, lupine, or lilac. By leaving the flowers anonymous,
there is a greater sense of appreciation and compassion
for their tiny, unexpected beauty unimpressed by what
kind of flower they are. This unconditional compassion
for all living creatures stems directly from Buddhists
tenets, and it is Kerouac himself that states in his
novel The Dharma Bums, compassion
is the heart of Buddhism.
is a master of remaining optimistic regardless of what
dingy vagabond situation he finds himself in. For him,
there is always some embedded beauty, some romantic
notion to be found in the most unexpected places. For
an appropriate example we can look again to The
Dharma Bums, where Kerouac describes his entrance
crossed the flats and narrow board bridge over the
yellow water and over to the poor adobe district of
Mexicali where the Mexico gaiety as ever charmed me,
and I ate a delicious tin bowl of garbanzo soup with
pieces of cabeza (head) and cebolla (onion) raw, having
cashed a quarter at the border gate for three paper
pesos and a big pile of huge pennies. While eating
at the little mud street counter I dug the street,
the people. the poor bitch dogs, the cantinas, the
whores, the music, men goofing in the narrow road
wrestling, and out on the sidewalk some little children
gathered like before a movie house and I though Oh
all Mexicali on some Saturday afternoon! Thank you
O Lord for returning me my zest for life, for Thy
ever-recurring form in Thy Womb of Exuberant Fertility.
All my tears werent in vain. Itll all
work out finally.
in the saddest, poorest of times Kerouac can sit in
the mud, with only twenty-five cents worth of pesos,
and appreciate everything from the pregnant dogs heavy
with milk, to the whores, to the innocent children in
the street. He is truly living in the moment, and like
the parking lot flowers, discovering beauty in everything.
In keeping with Kerouacs sense of imperfect beauty,
an adaptation combining his haiku with Bashos
in Memeres vase
wilting a little
the above haiku pair, Basho and Kerouac engage in a
dialogue using similar situations to convey a sense
of purity and beauty. Although both poets travel different
paths to arrive at the essence of their experience,
both haiku reverberate with a simple elegance.
will think of you
pines from this mountain
as you shelter people in the Valley
years to come
front yard tree
go in and out
must admit snipping Snyderss haiku from a longer
poem entitled, For Philip Zenshin Whalen d. 26
June 2003. Snyder and Whalen were long-time friends,
first meeting each other as college roommates at Reed
College in Portland, Oregon. Their third roommate was
Lew Welch, who was also a contributing poet in the San
Francisco Poetry Renaissance. The three friends began
studying Buddhism and poetry together, and their influences
upon each other are great.
above haiku is the closing stanza of the poem, which
is a technique Snyder borrows from the Japanese poetic
form, haibun. When writing haibun, a rich narrative
paragraph is presented and from the images in the prose
a haiku emerges to finish the piece. Haibun and haiku
have played an important part in Snyders poetic
influences, as you will find little haiku stanzas scattered
throughout many of Snyders poems.
Philip Zenshin Whalen
d. 26 June 2003
for 33 pine trees)
of logs on
chains cinched down and double-checked
the truck heads slowly up the hill
bow namaste and farewell
these ponderosa pine
whose air and rain and sun we shared
struck by beetles needles
turning rusty brown,
and moving on.
stringers, studs, and joists,
will think of you pines
from this mountain
as you shelter people in the Valley
years to come
grew up in the Pacific Northwest and worked many years
logging pine forests. Logging is a recurring theme in
his poetry, and something that has deeply influenced
his belief of the Earth being a single organism. When
placed in the context of the longer poem this haiku
begins to form layers of meaning as Snyder begins to
see the life cycle of the trees.
picture Snyder at dawn, standing by a loaded truck after
a days hard work. I can see him meticulously observing
each patient, calm long pine trunk, thinking of them
as old friends of which he has shared sun, wind, rain
and shelter. His haiku could be a little prayer, muttered
to the trees right before the truck began to trudge
away. His goodbye becomes more poignant upon realizing
that as Snyder was observing these fresh, raw trunks
he could see their future of lumber, supportive
roof joints, outdoor decks, and sturdy wooden doors.
though he brings in the human element by mentioning
the people in the Valley, the haiku is not
overpowered by ego, and is still about the trees. In
fact, the pines become a sturdy mother figure to the
people in the Valley. Snyder gives the trees a personality
by using the words this mountain to specify
their importance as well as give them a sense of home.
The trees are not from any old place they are
from this mountain that Snyder has grown so familiar
with. Snyder has watched the trees grow throughout their
lifecycle: possibly as seedlings into strong trees,
and through every season of death and rebirth. There
is a sadness in this haiku, as Snyder seems to be addressing
33 of his close friends upon their departure, with a
symbolic reference of the passing of the trees to the
passing of Philip Whalen.
Snyders pine trunks are transported down into
the Valley, my haiku finds its place. As the pine trees
are made into lumber, the lumber is made into a house,
which I am sheltered in. The cycle begins again as I
notice a patient and calm tree outside my window, a
guardian angel of sorts, a friend like Snyders,
looking over me. The tree stands by as I busily rush
into my house and rush back out. It seems that the author
may have taken the tree for granted, or not even noticed
it because she was so busy.
the haiku maintains a meditative quality about it, with
the tree being wise and trusting, contrasting the little
ant world of mine. As Snyders haiku acts as a
prayer for the pines, the second haiku could be a thank
you to the front yard tree for giving its shade, sound
of breeze in leaves, and constant presence.
relationship between these haiku is one of time passing.
The story begins with Snyders trees being taken
to the lumber mill, which connects to the house present
in the second haiku, and then finishes with a vision
of another tree, acting in a similar guardian angel
way as Snyders trees did. Each haiku paint a clear
picture of trees with different personalities. They
emanate collaboration with nature and are evidence of
a continuous life cycle. With the reminder of a constant
life cycle the haiku also embody a message of passage
through time, of impermanence, and respect for the Earths
response, a haiku that sums up the trees personalities,
acceptance of death, and patience could be:
the gas station
the $5 firewood
paulownia leaf has fallen:
Will you not come to me
In my loneliness?
hiked a thousand
begins this pair with the stillness of a leaf falling
and settling, thereby creating a somber autumn mood.
Basho specifies the leaf as a Paulownia leaf, adding
considerable depth to the poem, as the Paulownia is
known for its huge heart-shaped leaves. The tree is
native to China, and can grow in very poor soil. Basho
is relating himself to the tree - his lonely heart has
sunk with the impending autumn. He then asks, pleads,
even begs for a visitor. Who more is more fitting to
answer his desperate cry than Jack Kerouac?
Kerouac's haiku the pair began to communicate to each
other: one calls, and the other responds. It seems like
Basho's haiku was a telegram, and upon recieving it
Kerouac quickly packed a modest bag and grabbed a bottle
of special occasion wine. The wine resonates for us,
making it the focal point of the haiku. It is treated
like a delicacy, with the utmost care, espeically considering
you can't carry much with you when traveling by thumb.
see this pair ending with Kerouac arriving at Basho's
small hut. The two poets finally meet, sit on straw
mats, and pour glasses of wine.
a long journey
the lighthouse beacon
autumn full moon:
All night long
I paced round
quit climbing at a small pond
slept on a slab
the moon rose
and Snyder echo each other in this pair. Both poets
are struck by the moon's beauty and either kept awake,
or like Snyder, awoken by her light. The gap between
the poets closes when we realize they are looking at
the same moon. Reading this pair, I see the images of
Basho walking in circles, and Snyder gently stirring
in sleep simultaneously occurring across time.
haiku share a resonant energy - was it the moon that
woke Snyder, or could it have been Basho? Because both
poets are alone, the haiku have a sense of sabi - of
being completely content and one with nature. While
Basho paces, and Snyder gazes up from his small slab,
what are their thoughts?
for the movie
pulled over to watch
the moon rise
year draws to its close;
But I am still wearing
My kasa and
on a journey;
My dreams wander
Over a withered
pair of haiku by Basho embodies his life as a wandering
poet. In the first poem Basho describes the coming of
the New Year, bringing to mind celebrations and festivity.
But for Basho, he is still traveling. I like this haiku
for its loyalty and consistency. For Basho, traveling
came as natural as for a wave to break against the shore.
In my mind, Basho will always be traveling, living a
simple life. We strikingly begin to see this simplicity
when Basho describes his meek attire: a kasa (a pointed
straw hat) and simple straw sandals. His modesty paired
with rich New Years celebrations is what gives this
haiku a sense of sadness, or content, lonely sabi.
with his death poem, we see in a deeper light that Basho
truly is an eternal travevler. Even his mind will continue
wandering after his body is gone. Ando, one of Bashos
critics , suggests that just as illness is restrictive,
dreams are free, possibly highlighting Bashos
last phase of teaching: the lightness of karumi.
Ironically enough, Basho worked his whole life to detach
himself and open up to emptiness, however the writing
of haiku became his last attachment. Upon writing this
poem, from his deathbed, Basho said,
know this is no occasion for writing a hokku, as I
am faced with death. Yet poetry has been on my mind
all through my life, which is now more than fifty
years long. Whenever I sleep I dream of hurrying along
the road under the morning clouds or in the evening
haze, and whenever I awaken I am startled at the sound
of a mountain stream or the cry of a wild bird. Buddha
taught that all this was sinful attachment, and now
I realize I am guilty of it. I wish I could forget
all the haikai that I was involved with during my
this quote we begin to see the internal struggles that
plagued Basho throughout his life, making his death
poem all the more somber.
to the closet
banana-plant in the autumn storm,
Rain dripping in the tub, -
clink my window
Basho and Evans are alone, and quiet, at home. The lulling
sounds of mother nature encroach on the night in a comforting,
friendly way. Bashos choice of the banana-plant
is a good one, as in Japanese the banana-plant is called
basho. Bashos students began calling him
Basho, after one who lives in the banana-tree
hut. In those days the baths were outside, and
the catching of rain is a reminder of the elements outdoors,
contrasted with the peace inside the hut. The clink
of the winter trees is more a gentle tap on the shoulder
of the house than an eerie scratching.
sounds both poets induce are very important to the pair.
A communication, a musical call and response occurs
between the two. The poets are very attentive to detail,
giving us the sense that not much is distracting them
from enjoying a quiet, cozy night. The season words
help the reader to place the poems in context: the late
autumn is humid, causing rain showers to dump their
moisture, whereas contrastingly, Evanss winter
is cold and dry. My favorite part about this pair is
that in both haiku, a warm glow seems to emanate from
their hut and house, fading out into the wet and cold
of loosely packed snowballs
hitting my window
alone," I said.
He wrote it down in the register;
the autumn night!
And seeking a lodging for the night,--
begins this pair while inquiring about a nights
stay at an inn. I can see him, alone, dressed modestly
n a robe and sandals, and possibly carrying a small
bag. When the innkeeper asks how many will need a room,
and Issa states the obvious, Im alone.
The fact that the innkeeper asked Issa and deliberately
marked in his register one, holds a tint
of mockery. The innkeepers crude question further
reinforces and reminds Issa of his loneliness, and it
is then he feels how chilly the autumn night has become.
too is tired from journeying and stops at a lodge. According
to Makoto Uedas source, Basho and His Interpreters,
Basho wrote this haiku in the spring of 1688 while traveling
in the province of Yamato . Hori suggests that Bashos
exhaustion is not just physical. Mingled with it are
the loneliness of travel, sadness at springs departure,
and the nostalgia of a man who had spent the day touring
through the province of Yamato, which abounded in historical
sties . Then, like Issa, at the peak of his weariness
he notices, as if for the time, the beauty of the wistaria
flowers hang from vines that can grow 25 feet tall.
The flowers droop and begin to bloom at the top.
When it becomes time for the bottom part to be in full
bloom, the flowers at the top of the plume have already
faded in color and started to fall . The wistarias
transitional growth is much like that of traveling
of leaving a trail of oneself behind, while continually
growing with each new destination.
astounds me the most about this pair is Issa and Bashos
keen sense of observation and their ability to always
be in the moment, living, alive even at their
weakest. Is this not the goal of every haiku poet?
A table for one--
she asks again,
Yes, just one.
Listening, that evening,
To the rain
in the mountain.
the night mountain canyon wall road
construction lights flash
we wait til the other lane comes through
within the wilderness, on a mountainside, Issa and Snyder
contrast the sounds of nature and man. For Issa, quiet
and alone in a hut, he hears the far off sound of rain
falling softly. The rain, just as Bashos banana-tree
drips, seems comforting, just to know that something
outside his hut exists. This pair highlights how Issa
and Snyder are quite like each other. Snyder could have
easily written this haiku, harkening memories from a
summer spent on Sourdough Peak in the Cascade Mountains
as a fire lookout. He had similar experiences while
listening and observing nature, meditating, writing,
Snyders haiku comes from another important part
of his life his years spent logging in the Pacific
Northwest. Snyders soft rain comes in the form
of loud and repetitive construction beeps emanating
from heavy equipment. With lights flashing, and the
destruction of nature, his experience contrasts Issas.
yet has a similar essence. Both poets are waiting, Issa
possibly sitting in meditation, and Snyder stopping
his work as an empty bus drives by. The empty bus demonstrates
how desolate Snyder is in nature, with no one around.
However, the destruction of man is still apparent.
pair encompasses hundreds of years of history. Man living
in nature, the Industrial Revolution, and the destruction
of our home. Issa and Snyder communicate perfectly mans
the glacier creaks
--he checks his cell phone
A prostitute shack,
At 24 cents
And wafted along also,
chose to pair these haiku to highlight Issas ability
to write beautiful, honest haiku about taboo issues.
Issa is grouped with Basho and Buson as one of the three
pillars of Japanese haiku poetry, but often seen as
the lesser of the three. This is due partially because
of the risks he took to write on unaccepted subjects
of his time. For this very reason I greatly respect
Issa, and feel that this pair reveals his very core
haiku engage in a relationship balanced by purity and
filth. I see these haiku occurring in a slum, or amid
the shambles of a run-down town. Issa increases the
intensity of the first haiku with the word shack.
We begin to see women standing outside a tiny, falling-apart,
rotting structure in the rain. As the smell of urine
wafts along, our senses are engaged and we begin to
travel to Issas slum.
the chrysanthemum flowers enter a glimmer of beauty
flashes could it be that a clump of flowers grows
by the shack? With the pure white flowers, the womens
beauty begins to emerge, even among the dirt they live
in. Issa makes a comment about the inherent beauty of
all things, a sentiment that Kerouac will come to echo
in his haiku.
The form of the two haiku is also similar. Issa begins
with a descriptive line, setting a place and image for
the reader, ending with a semi-colon. The second line
links us the last resonate line, which is ended with
a period. The twin forms help create a consistency between
the haiku which lends itself to even a deeper connection
The lake at night;
little moons floating
-- used condoms
flying butterfly :
I feel myself
as an open bowl
I think about the six billion people in the world and
I feel very small. Just as Issa was struck by the butterflys
beauty, he began to feel insufficient and tiny. With
so much beauty, Issa felt humbled. What makes Issas
thoughts even more poignant is the idea that the butterfly
is unaware of its own beauty, rather is living its life
content and unburdened with such worries. Issa looks
to the butterfly and wishes he was more like it, unattached
and free. With his respect of the butterfly Issa is
connected to the organism of the Earth.
the second haiku, a similar feeling is expressed. The
emptiness felt is not one of sadness, rather it is a
feeling like the butterflys, of being open and
un-distracted. I wrote this haiku in the morning, when
thoughts are fresh and untainted. I felt like a bowl,
ready for the day to fill me, being completely open
to whatever it held in store. Jack Kerouac described
this feeling of emptiness in The Dharma Bums when he
stated, Form is emptiness and emptiness is form
and were here forever in one form or another which
is empty. Both haiku share a feeling humility,
emptiness, and open detachment that Buddhism seeks to
over green tea leaves
watching them expand
the low yellow
Moon loves me
Both of us, I
And the poppy.
see Kerouac drunk, sitting on his porch, gazing at the
low yellow moon. I wonder what has just happened. Why
doesnt he care, why does he feel alone? Yet I
am happy I will never know his haiku is appropriate
for days of defeat, when things seem all wrong. I have
memorized this haiku and mumble it from time to time,
it is the perfect simple reminder that life goes on,
that someone, even the moon is still there, and will
continue to rise, loyally.
seems to need a similar reminder. He looks at the poppy
and feels a connection. Both are impermanent creatures,
yet both are just simply living. They share
a sense of relief, of being together in a suffering
world. Just like Kerouacs comforting moon, Issa
finds the poppy. In nature both poets have found reassurance,
a feeling that everything will be okay.
big red dot
the map says
YOU ARE HERE
flies on the porch
and the fog
on the peaks
Are so sad
in the sun in the doorway
picking my teeth with a broomstraw
listenin to the buzz of the flies.
pair exposes the contrast between Kerouac and Snyders
natural energy. The haiku are both about being at home,
and taking a moment to slow down, yet the emotions they
reveal are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Kerouac
steps out of his hut in the mountains, possibly while
he was spending a summer as a fire lookout, and saw
the world veiled in grey. His haiku is steeped in impermanence,
suffering, and cold drizzle. The fog seems to chill
his bones and he gazes at the mountain listening to
the meek flys buzz with sadness.
on the other hand, is sitting on the porch in a rocking
chair, with the sun on his face. He looks at the world
with optimism, seeing the potential and beauty in all
things. I like the slow mellow feeling in the haiku.
It seems that time has stopped, and the barrier between
man and nature has dissolved. Kerouac is like fog, dissipating,
and traveling slow. Snyder blends in with the flies,
his unobtrusive peace allowing nature to move around
pair overlaps when we realize that Kerouac and Snyder
might as well have been on the same porch, listening
to same flies, yet with such different thoughts.
nights on the porch
watching him play the mandolin,
My mind hurts
It doesn't matter
will venture to say that this pair is the most enlightened
of all the pairs in this project. Kerouacs display
of brutal realism, simplicity, and honesty flirts with
a revelation on the meaning of life. I respect his confidence,
and at times nonsense, exhibited in these haiku, which
both push the boundaries of modern haiku. The first
haiku was inspired, no doubt, by the last paragraph
of The Dharma Bums when Kerouac is walking down
from spending a summer on Desolation Peak:
in keeping with Japhys habit of always getting
down on one knee and delivering a little prayer to
the camp we left, to the one in the Sierra, and the
others in Marin, and the little prayer of gratitude
he had delivered to Seans shack the day he sailed
away, as I was hiking down the mountain with my pack
I turned and knelt on the trail and said Thank
you, shack. Then I added Blah, with
a little grin, because I knew that shack and that
mountain would understand what that meant, and turned
and went on down the trail back to this world.
abandons all pretentious notions to explain his thoughts
to the mountain, rather accepts its understanding. I
enjoy this haiku because the deep analysis
is that you shouldnt be bothered wasting your
time analyzing haiku!
second haiku acknowledges that no one knows anything.
He begins the haiku in a sentimental nature-y tone,
only to brilliantly twist the last line, poking a feeling
of mockery at his reader. If this were Bashos
haiku, he would end it on a transcendent note, filling
the room with silent awe. But Kerouac doesnt care
he is beyond stuffy academia, realizing that
if he will be gone in one hundred years, if that alpine
fir will be chopped down, and the snow melted, then
indeed, nothing of this life matters. Therefore, if
you take one piece of advice from Kerouac, be it to
not take life so seriously.
years of research
turning it in
-- for a grade
Just cooking the stew
night falls --
Brooks once said when teaching students about mindfulness
and focused thinking, if you are doing the dishes
do the dishes! It is human nature to continually
have our minds reeling in different directions, therefore
a quiet moment with space for nothing else is quite
rare, yet somehow this haiku pair seems to capture it
well. Kerouac is focused on his stew just as Evans is
concentrated purely on the process of preparing tea.
A quote from Zen Art for Meditation advises:
be totally absorbed in what were doing is to
use our powers and faculties at their maximum efficiency.
As we divert our thrust by standing aside and viewing
ourselves in action, to that degree fo we lessen our
capability and enjoyment. Wondering if were
doing the right things or the thing right, at the
same time that were going our thing, inevitably
detracts from the doing. There is a time to think
about acting and a time to act. They are not the same.
actions, preparing stew and tea, are used as a meditation
for each poet. Their minds are calm, and all other distractions
are filtered out. It is here that we feel the most balanced
and at peace. This mindfulness, or keen sense of awareness,
is the root of haiku art. It is in this observant, open
sense of mind that haiku organically emerge to us as
connections form and realizations are made.
The Dharma Bums, Kerouac describes a moment while
mountain climbing with Snyder, when they have stopped
for the night and Snyder is cooking stew. It is possible
that this is the moment from which the haiku emerged.
At dusk Japhy lit a good big fire and started supper.
We were very tired and happy. He made a soup that night
that I shall never forget and was really the best soup
Id eaten since I was a lionized young author in
New York eating lunch at the Chambord or in Henri Crus
kitchen. This was nothing but a couple of envelopes
of dried pea soup thrown into a pot of water with fried
bacon, fat and all, and stirred till boiling. It was
rich, real pea taste, with that smoky bacon and bacon
fat, just the thing to drink in the cold gathering darkness
by a sparkling fire. Also while pooking about hed
found puffballs, natural mushrooms, not the umbrella
type, just round grapefruit-size puffs of white firm
meat, and these he sliced and fried in bacon fat and
we had them on the side with fried rice. It was a great
supper. We washed the dishes in the gurgling creek.
The roaring bonfire kept the mosquitoes away. A new
moon peeked down through the pine boughs. We rolled
out our sleeping bags in the meadow grass and went to
bed early, bone weary. Kerouac is so happy in this passage.
It is obvious there is nowhere he would rather be. His
haiku echoes that sentiment: enjoying the silent company
of Snyder, watching the fire, listening to the logs
crack, and caring for the stew.
haiku comes from a similar moment of happiness, spent
in complete concentration. The haiku materialized while
partaking in a winter Japanese Tea Ceremony. The tea
ceremony is a precise tradition, and a meticulous art.
Each utensil and step in brewing the green tea is intensely
focused. The spoon is cleaned with a cloth slowly, the
green tea leaves are stirred in a particular way, etc.
The ceremony has a way of calming the participants and
creating a deep respect for the art of the tea, as well
as the others drinking tea with you.
entering a tea room all distracting material possessions
must be removed, including jewelry and watches. Therefore
the participants defer any judgments and focus purely
on the process of preparing and drinking the tea. Because
the ceremony was in the winter, the sun was setting
at about five in the afternoon. Upon exiting the tea
house, I noticed for the first time that darkness had
from The Dharma Bums, Kerouac writes of a similar time
when Snyder prepared tea while the two poets rested
from climbing Matterhorn Mountain.
got out the tea, Chinese tea, and sprinkled some in
a tin pot, and had the fire going meanwhile, a small
one to begin with, the sun was still on us, and stuck
a long stick tight down under a few big rocks and
made himself something to hang the teapot on and pretty
soon the water was boiling and he poured it out steaming
into the tin pot and we had cups of tea with out tin
cups. I myselfd gotten the water from the stream,
which was cold and pure like snow and the crystal-lidded
eyes of heaven. Therefore, the tea was by far the
most pure and thirstquenching tea I ever drank in
all my life, it made you want to drink more and more,
it actually quenched your thirst and or course it
swam around hot in your belly. Now
you understand the Oriental passion for tea,
said Japhy. The first sip is joy the second
is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is
madness, the fifth is ecstasy.
children cutting paper
faces open with joy
rim of panties rides
high on the
summer, bending down.
Just enough to bend
of the daffodils
of Snyders writing is influenced by his belief
in the Gaia Hypothesis. Gaia is the Greek Earth goddess,
similar to the western Mother Nature. The Hypothesis
suggests that the Earth is still alive, and is one singular
organism. Each creature impacts the organism with its
decisions, and therefore we are all connected. In Snyders
haiku, he is writing about his wife, who had just given
birth to their first son, Kai. In the summer, under
her thin dress, Snyder notices the subtle line of her
panties along her hips. I like this haiku because of
its subtle sensuality, and that Snyder must have
been observing his wife closely to notice such a small,
beautiful, imperfect detail.
see the seasons pass, and it is Bashos haiku,
observing the gentle snowfall bending the stems of daffodils,
that compliments Snyder perfectly. The Gaia Hypothesis
blends the two haiku. Snyders wife, with her legs
bending, are in essence, the daffodils bending. The
two creatures share an inherent sensuality that is heightened
only when the haiku are placed in relation.
dewy spring morning
she moves a pink rose
slow to her face
years: San Francisco, the
beaches, the mountains,
moon and flowers:
Forty nine years
pair fills the cornerstone of my project. Snyder and
Issas haiku comment on the nature of travel in
regards to their poetic aesthetic. As Snyder begins,
eight years: San Francisco and ends with
Japan he sums up his travels with a pebble
drop. The pebble falls deep into a lake, just as deep
as this haiku. During any travel the traveler is changed,
and when Snyder reflects on his eight years, it is possible
that he can hardly recognize the person that stood at
the edge of the Pacific Ocean so long ago. As he crossed
beaches and mountains his perceptions and understandings
widened, thereby opening a feeling of greater connection
with the Earth.
haiku is actually a stanza taken from the long-form
poem Parting with Claude Dalenberg.
with Claude Dalenberg
dont we get drunk
all night facing the moon
opening our hearts
men did long ago?
night was full moon, but
bottle of sake
at lunchtime today you stopped by
your ship sails from Kobe at six.
years: San Francisco, the
beaches, the mountains,
talk and slow easy pace.
with your rucksack to India,
of the world, the light
though we might
Claude Dalenberg is an American Zen teacher that Snyder
met with while in Japan. Dalenberg also knew Kerouac,
as evidenced by his inclusion of a character in The
Dharma Bums based off Dalenberg named Bud Duchendorf
. When we put Snyders haiku in its original context,
the meaning deepens and changes. Now, not only does
the haiku comment on the transitions one undergoes while
traveling, but also travels effect on friendships.
Snyder describes a farewell celebration of drinking
sake and staying up late. The haiku has a sense of closure
to it; a complete cyclical rotation in time.
reflecting on his travels too, sums them up as a waste
of time. Issas tonal intent is unclear
this haiku could be taken in a humorous or serious light.
I would like to think that Issa is joking, but did he
truly feel that he wasted his life? Maybe he has begun
to compare himself to others: those with families and
businesses, who have created tangible success to account
for their lives. Certainly amid his wanderings Issa
must have felt restless and reckless; it is certain
there were times when he lost sight of his goals.
this be why he began the haiku with the moon and
flowers? Did he see them as his constant travel
partners? Did they inspire him? Could they have
possibly been the wanderers the haiku is referring to?
Nevertheless, Snyder and Issa s haiku undoubtedly
honor their travels as having had a very significant
impact on their lives.
st. louis airport
how different it looked
four years ago
in the doorway whistling
on my eave
Is looking around
of my peripheral vision I often am distracted with the
quick movement of a squirrel or bird scurrying along
the overhang of the roof or bounding through a tree.
In this haiku pair Snyder and Kerouac are greeted with
the spontaneous arrival of a small animal, curious about
the human situation they have found themselves in. The
chipmunk and sparrow exhibit a child-like innocence
about them: their faces alert, asking themselves, who
is that whistling? The interaction and wordless
communication between the poets and animals is one of
respect, and co-existence in the world.
haiku are quite similar, with only slivers of distinction.
Snyders haiku incorporates sound, whereas Kerouac
is silent, as to enjoy watching the sparrow, in hopes
to distract or scare him away. The pair comments, yet
again, on the connection and relationship of humans
and nature, and the importance of observing the small
beauties we are given everyday.
home from the store
circling the block,
waiting for moose to move
down in the water bucket
a drowned mouse.
grasshoppers for bait
attaching them live to the hook
get used to it
of these haiku by Snyder comment on the impermanence
of life. In the first haiku the language is very matter-of-fact.
I picture Snyder leaving his mountain hut to begin the
morning chores and upon checking the rain-water bucket
discovers the floating mouse. At first read this haiku
has a gross, even creepy feeling about it. I cringed
when I first thought of the dead mouse contaminating
the water, and thought about what a terrible way to
start the day. But the more I re-read it, the more the
mouses death felt natural and inevitable, and
the haikus tone shifted from being painful to
second haiku exposes Snyders sensitivity toward
death. Following previous comments on Snyders
belief in the Gaia Hypothesis, and remaining consistent
with his extensive Buddhist studies, he naturally has
an impulse to respect all life. However, he realizes
the inevitable impermanence that every creature shares.
Just as the first haiku began to feel comfortable about
death, Snyder began to shed his guilt for killing the
grasshoppers. However, there is a lingering sense of
his face wincing every time he pierces its body with
the hook, which could only be made up with Snyders
impeccable sense of humor and the sly finishing grin
of I get used to it.
stringing them through the gills
to bleed to death
at the end of my project, looking up at the mountain
I have just traversed and miles of trail I have just
traveled, my journey with each of the four poets stops
here, and only I can continue onwards. While studying
each poet closely over the past two years, while learning
of their lives, while reading their haiku and travel
journals, each one has taught me many things about the
art of haiku.
was Basho who taught the lightness of karumi, and to
always strive for detachment. It was Issa, while caring
for every creature, connected with the suffering of
humanity through acts of compassion. It was Kerouac
who saw beauty in every situation, and taught me about
spontaneity. It was Snyder who wrote about the organism
of the Earth, and the impermanence that connects us
together, they taught me about the effect travel has
on ones haiku aesthetic. In the first haiku pair,
Basho yearns for Asakusa and Ueno, and Issa remembers
Mount Asama. The poets begin to reach a realization
of appreciation for their home. By traveling away from
what they have become so comfortable with, they were
able to see their lives from a different angle. Upon
returning, their perspectives and understandings had
opened to a larger picture, and home, although the same
old home, had grown in depth and layers, as it finally
had a context within the world.
writes many of his poems centered around the idea of
his home. For example, his poem The Bath
from his book Turtle Island describes the
ritual of bathing with his sons and his wife in their
outdoor steam room. The sensual imagery is juxtaposed
with observations of nature, lending a blended inspiration:
his travels connected full-circle to his family. If
Snyder had not spent years studying in Japan, or sailing
as a Merchant Marine he might not have appreciated the
simple act of bathing with his family to the extent
that he did.
as I have found, and as the four poets give evidence,
also provides a reason to write. While I was in San
Francisco at the City Lights Bookstore, I sat on the
back alleyway, fittingly named Jack Kerouac Alley
and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.
All of a sudden a myriad of images were filling my mind
an old Japanese lady was walking along the alley
pushing a cart, pigeons were flitting about from nests
made in the roof beams of the bookstore and shitting
on the sidewalk, the sun was warm on my face, my vision
glared as tourists walked by with paper Starbucks cups.
pulled a notebook from my backpack, and spontaneously,
in-between bites, I scribbled down fragments of images
and haiku as they came. All of a sudden, while sitting
on the curb in a disgusting urine-reeking alleyway,
everything was beautiful. Everything had meaning, connection,
and I felt like peace was possible. Basho must have
had similar feelings while walking across Japan visiting
famous temples, lakes, and graves: standing at the site
of history, filled with haiku. If you always stay at
home, that new feeling, the flood of images, the overwhelming
need to jot down every detail, comes knocking rarely,
maybe never at all.
also lends itself to writing in that it breaks you away
from your regular schedule; it loses your worries, and
finally gives you the freedom to write. At home there
are a plethora of distractions: dishes to clean, phone
calls to take, e-mail to check, bills to pay, laundry
to do, etc. But while traveling, every day is a new
situation you are forced to think on your feet,
remain flexible, and explore new things. The very process
of travel pulls ideas out of you, and gives you time
to focus on them, whether it is like Basho and Issa,
muttering haiku while walking along mountain paths,
like Kerouac, hooting spontaneous drunk haiku from the
backseat while roaring across the plains of America
in the midnight darkness, or like Snyder arising early,
and while pulling on leather gloves and logging boots,
opens himself to the tug of a gentle haiku.
once had a teacher who explained wealth as a pile of
stories and anecdotes. He lived for making new experiences,
and was always ready for an adventure. His wealth came
from traveling, in acquiring these experiences that
gave him the ability and wisdom to understand many different
perspectives. For example, when Kerouac describes eating
garbanzo bean soup in a border town of Mexico, he is
creating an memory that will always be attached to any
mention of Mexico or garbanzo beans for the rest of
his life. For example, if he sees a bag of beans at
the grocery store his mind will flash that memory through
his subconscious, and he will feel, on some level, a
greater sense of relativity to the world.
similar experience occurred when I was in Australia.
I immediately fell in love with the many different kinds
of eucalyptus trees. After it rained, the air had a
spicy, musky scent to it as the eucalyptus oils released.
I spent one day alone hiking through a huge grove of
eucalyptus, and that memory, with everything attached
to it: the smells, the look of the leaves, the feel
of the breeze, comes whizzing back through my mind when
something triggers it, even something as simple as testing
eucalyptus lotion in the shopping mall.
the traveler everything has a connection: the
world becomes a scrapbook of memories and new experiences
overlapping, which only increases the haiku writers
ability to take a simple moment and understand the many
inherent layers of meaning.
four poets I chose for my project were natural travelers.
They were restless to travel, and as Makoto Ueda states
in his book, Matsuo Basho, that upon returning
from a long period of travel, Basho began preparing
for the next journey almost immediately. It was as if
the god of travel were beckoning him. Obsessed with
the charms of a travelers life, he now wanted
to go beyond his previous journeys; he wanted to be
a truer wanderer than ever before. Kerouac is
also an example. Imagine Kerouac not on the road! The
image seems impossible. Basho, Issa, Kerouac, and Snyder
would have been terribly stifled if they were forced
to remain at home. Their creative impetus was in travel
has the ability to open our eyes, increase our sense
of observation, and capacity for awareness. Just yesterday
I walked a different way home the path took me
along back-yard vegetable gardens, colorful clotheslines
blowing in the wind, and exposed the beautiful vulnerability
of peeling paint and open back-gates. And I would have
missed all of this if I had not traveled a different
cloud of cherry-blossoms; | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 600
A paulownia leaf has fallen: | Haiku | R. H. Blyth |
A quiet moment | Book of Haikus | Kerouac | 47
Alpine fir with | Book of Haikus | Kerouac |102
Catching grasshoppers for bait | Danger on Peaks | Snyder
Chrysanthemum flowers; | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 1129
Departing wild geese, | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 1055
eight years: San Francisco, the | Left Out in the Rain
with Claude Dalenberg | Snyder | 95
Hitch hiked a thousand | Book of Haikus | Kerouac |
I don't care | Book of Haikus | Kerouac |136
I will think of you pines from this mountain | Danger
On Peaks |
For Philip Zenshin Whalen d. 26 June 2002
| Snyder | 73
Ill on a journey; | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 1228
"I'm alone," I said. | Haiku | R. H. Blyth
In back of the Supermarket, | Book of Haikus | Kerouac
In my medicine cabinet | Book of Haikus | Kerouac |
Just simply alive, | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 1001
leaning in the doorway whistling | Earth House Hold
| Snyder | 7
My hut at night; | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 1069
O'er wearied, | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 627
On the night mountain canyon wall road | Danger on Peaks
| Snyder | 84
our front yard tree | Journal | Decatur, IL | October
sitting in the sun in the doorway | Earth House Hold
| Snyder | 8
slowly preparing tea | Japan House Newsletter | Decatur,
The autumn full moon : | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 294
The autumn storm; | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 308
The banana-plant in the autumn storm | Haiku | R. H.
Blyth | 330
The first snow, | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 83
The flies on the porch | Book of Haikus | Kerouac |
The flying butterfly : | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 550
The little sparrow | Book of Haikus | Kerouac | 3
The moon and flowers: | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 336
The rim of panties rides | Regarding Wave | Snyder |
The white chrysanthemum; | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 146
The year draws to its close; | Haiku | R. H. Blyth |
This morning: | Earth House Hold | Snyder | 4
Tired, quit climbing at a small pond | Danger on Peaks
| Snyder | 36
today i feel | Journal | Decatur, IL | October 2004
Wednesday blah | Book of Haikus | Kerouac | 90
windy night, | Journal | Decatur, IL | December 2004
Winter seclusion; | Haiku | R. H. Blyth | 1248
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