Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2003

Jennifer Griebel

Bernard Lionel Einbond

Jennifer Griebel

Jennifer's Haiku



Bernard Lionel Einbond:
Haiku Poet

Professor Einbond was born in 1937 and died on August 14, 1998. Throughout his life Einbond made many accomplishments in the world of haiku. He was a longtime member of the Haiku Society of America and president of the organization in 1975. He was an English professor at Lehman College and Columbia University. He has won many awards as a result of his talent for haiku writing throughout his life. In 1987 he was the grand prize winner at the Japan Air Lines International Haiku Contest and was also awarded the Haiku Society of America Merit Book Award and the Keats Poetry Prize. Einbond’s haiku have been published in many books including the Haiku Anthology and his own book of selected haiku, The Tree As It Is.

Einbond’s haiku do not follow any particular format as far as number of syllables per line. His haiku are varied and breaks out of the traditional 5-7-5 format. Almost all of his haiku are three lines. Einbond also breaks away from strict tradition by not always including a nature element in his poems. He puts more importance on human nature, but most often cleverly combines both nature and human nature. His haiku are creative, clever and innovative; he even puts new twists on old haiku such as Basho’s famous frog pond haiku.

the old pond—
a frog leaps in,
and a splash.

Basho, Matsuo Basho, 53

frog pond—
a leaf falls in
without a sound

Einbond, Tree As It Is, 5

Einbond also has a technique of using a particular phrase again in several haiku creating a kind of “mini series” of haiku.

the thousand colors
in her plain brown hair—
morning sunshine

Einbond, Tree As It Is, 9

morning sunshine—
in her plain brown hair
a thousand colors

Einbond, Tree As It Is, 53

the thousand colors
of my daughter’s plain brown hair
in morning sunshine

Einbond, Tree As It Is, 69

As stated, many of Einbond’s haiku are about human relations, often the emotions between lovers or husbands and wives are captured with delicate sensuality.

the white of her neck
as she lifts her hair for me
to undo her dress

Einbond, The Haiku Anthology, 36

This haiku is one of my favorites. It covers so many emotions, but at the same time balls them up into one distinct moment. “The white of her neck”, I can see a man gazing at the long and beautiful neck of his lover in admiration but also in desire. This line makes me feel love, devotion, respect and beauty all at once. “As she lifts her hair for me”, the woman lifts her long hair with her back to her lover as she grins in anticipation. I feel several emotions from this line. The woman’s gesture seems to be one of helpfulness, but also one of resignment or openness. She’s offering herself to her lover. “To undo her dress”, this line is the one that, to me, confirms the sexual connotations that I get from reading this haiku. The man is in no hurry, and he’s taking the time to admire the woman. And indeed, I feel that Einbond wanted us to not only read this haiku slowly but also get a sense of lazy love and contentment. Rather Einbond meant for this haiku to be sensual or just simply a lovely moment, it is full of strong imagery.

Haruno tells me
as she serves me a sliced pear
her name means spring field

Einbond, Tree As It Is, 18

The above haiku is an example of Einbond’s beautiful way of capturing a person but also combining them with nature. The haiku is really so simple, it’s just a moment where a person is being served a sliced pear and being told the meaning of the woman’s unusual name. But after one reads the entire poem it becomes layered. First it is simple, capturing a lovely moment while also connecting spring into the picture. But then the reader realizes, wow, that woman’s name means spring field…how absolutely beautiful is that? And Einbond just captures it so simply with no frills, it’s just there.

An aspect of Einbond’s poetry that can not be overlooked is the incredibly strong imagery he creates, but in such clever ways. The thoughtful ways he expresses moments makes his haiku thick with the senses and very unique.

the curtains drawn closed
a sliver of light admits
a bit of Monday

Einbond, Tree As It Is, 56

This haiku gives me a lazy feeling. I imagine that moment when a person sometimes wakes up just before their alarm goes off. For a moment I think it’s Saturday and I can go on sleeping, but then my senses return and I realize it’s Monday. The sliver of light sneaking in between the curtains becomes unwelcome. It’s as if that small opening has allowed Monday to crawl into my room and wake me up. And that image is very clever and creative. It makes Monday an almost living thing with it’s own feelings and images. This haiku also ever so carefully engages the sense of light. It’s written so well that it takes a moment for the power of that sliver of light to strike the reader. Just as it would take a moment for that sliver of light to wake us if we were actually having this experience.

in the gutter where
a truck leaked oil, the children
find rainbows

Einbond, Tree As It Is, 62

This haiku too, is quite clever and creative. I remember when I was a child and would point out to my mother that the oil spots on the ground were so pretty. I’d also walk up close to the spills and want to jump in them so as to make the colored swirls move, but of course my mother would always stop me. This poem sort of captures that moment before my mother would stop me, when the thought was still lingering in my mind. Even though I know exactly what Einbond is talking about it this poem, I had never thought to relate the colors to rainbows. Adding the children into the scene makes the moment feel very innocent and beautiful; it’s easy to forget I’m looking at a dirty oil spill in some parking lot. Einbond has this way of looking at something very simple, such as a puddle of oil, and writing about it in such a way that it becomes a beautifully amazing moment.

The next two haiku that I’ll discuss were written long before the tragic events of 9/11, but I feel they are very appropriate to the situation. They capture the happy feelings, the powerful moments that people experienced before the Twin Towers were destroyed.

high straight sky
between twin towers—
day receding

Einbond, Tree As It Is, 7

This haiku captures the pure awe that was felt when standing on the ground and gazing up between the Twin Towers. I can imagine the light of day slowly fading leaving a soft blue color gradient between the tall towers. Standing on the ground and looking up at the towers, our vision distorts the buildings because they are so tall, making them look like an artistic photograph. I also think it’s interesting (and again clever) that Einbond calls the sky straight. The towers slice through the sky, making it seem not high and curved with the earth, but flat and straight as an arrow. This haiku gives a feeling of power and respect.

twin high towers
against straight sky—
night advancing

Einbond, Tree As It Is, 11

This poem about the towers is very similar to the previous one. In fact this is another one of Einbond’s “mini series” of haiku. But even though the words are nearly the same this poem has a different feel to it. The first one said day receding which gives a feeling of the day dying or disappearing. This haiku says night advancing which makes me think of night as a thing taking over, creeping up on the onlooker of the towers. I also get more of a sense of light from the first towers haiku and more of a sense of darkness from this haiku. Again, this poem captures a feeling of power and awe.

Einbond was an incredible haiku poet, writing powerful haiku throughout his lifetime. The imagery in each of his poems is very strong, often engaging several of the reader’s senses. He writes about simple moments and really he writes about them in simple ways, but they are so beautifully done that as a reader it’s easy to make them profound moments full of emotion.

—Jennifer Griebel

©2003 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors