Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2005

Laura Podeschi

Bernard Einbond and Bashô

Laura Podeschi

Laura's Haiku



A Silent Leaf: Haiku of Bernard Lionel Einbond

The prominent haiku poet Bernard Lionel Einbond (1937-1998) graduated from Colombia University with a Ph.D. in both Comparative Literature and English. Einbond made a living as a professor at Columbia and Lehman College, where he not only taught courses in the Humanities and Literature, but also in poetry. During his lifetime, Einbond was given much recognition for his own work in this particular discipline; a few of the prestigious honors that he received are as follows: the 1975 Keats Poetry Prize, the 1979 Haiku Society of America Merit Book Award, and, probably most significantly, the 1987-1988 Japan Air Lines International Haiku Contest Grand Prize (TAII 72, CL np#).

As Einbond’s friend and colleague, George Braman, states, “The haiku was a form natural to Bernard, with his keen perception and delicate insight. It was also natural to him because of its brevity, its ability to say much succinctly, just as he did in conversation” (TAII, intro). Einbond was greatly aware of how he used language within his haiku; however, he focused on much more than rhythm and repetition. A great deal of the poet’s haiku, for example, also stem from the long-standing Japanese tradition. In his book The Tree as it Is, Einbond has translated twelve of the great Matsuo Basho’s haiku. When comparing Einbond’s original haiku to his interpretations of Basho’s work, it is apparent that he looked to the old Japanese haiku masters, specifically Basho, for both inspiration and guidance.
For example, a distinct correlation exists between the following two haiku:

clouds now and again
give a soul some respite from
moon-gazing – behold

(TAII, 40)

first drops
on parched earth—

(TAII, 7)

As one closes his eyes to imagine the latter of these two works, he sees light, slightly withered grass in front of him on a humid summer day. Each blade is drooping slightly when the rain at long last comes. Though the raindrops hit the grass hard and bend some blades even further, it does not matter; finally, the wait is over. This haiku, written by Einbond, gives its audience a sense of great relief.

Though at first it may be difficult to see the link between this work and the haiku to its left, both leave the reader in the above emotional state. In Basho’s haiku, it is once again summer; the night is hot and even the moon seems to be particularly harsh as it illuminates everything below. The reader feels almost naked under its constant scrutiny until at last clouds drift by. Covering, uncovering, and covering the moon again, the clouds allow the individual time away from such constant exposure. Like the rain, the clouds become a comfort to the individual.

Thus, the overall atmosphere in both these works is nearly identical.
Other examples of the way in which Basho and Einbond’s writing reflect one another in tone can also be observed. For instance, Basho’s haiku,

first winter showers—
monkey, too, for a small straw coat
must be yearning

(TAII, 33)

as well as Einbond’s,

bare branches and sky
the color of loneliness—
winter morning


make the audience feel both cold and alone. In the first, a mixture of rain and snow is falling swiftly to the ground. A hunched over individual, walking home alone, wishes that he were warmer. His coat, like the monkey’s fur, is insufficient in such miserable conditions. Also, though the weather is never actually mentioned in the latter haiku, the reader can still feel the cold, biting wind as leafless branches sway violently against a pale sky.

Not only are both haiku set in winter, but Einbond also states explicitly that the bleak surroundings make him “lonely,” while Basho mentions that even the monkey “yearns” for warmth and security from the weather. Furthermore, both haiku leave the reader with the feeling that he is completely at nature’s mercy. The monkey has nothing but his fur to protect him, while the branches are completely “bare” against the sky.

The third matching pair of Basho and Einbond’s haiku is as follows:

no bells ringing
how does this village greet
spring dusk?

(TAII, 37)

hands to his ears—
covering, uncovering—
noise of the subway

(TAII, 23)

These two haiku, though very different in mood, relate to one another in subject matter. As the reader observes Basho’s haiku on the left, he pictures a busy village as dusk approaches. It is springtime: the air is fresh and the flowers are in bloom. But the villagers, too occupied with their daily tasks, do not stop to appreciate such beauty. Instead of hearing harmonious church bells, the individual is surrounded by the noise of hurried, impatient village people.

Einbond’s work is also concerned with the hurried, apathetic way in which many individuals go through life. A little boy sits on a bench in front of the subway. The painful discord of the subway and passersby causes him to put his hands to his ears. As if it were a game, he then continues to cover, uncover, and cover them once more. Like the individual in Basho’s village, this boy is frustrated by his surroundings as he attempts to find peace.

Both Einbond and Basho wrote a number of haiku concerning death. Within the section “Staying Alive” of Crestwood Lake, Einbond writes,

the silence between
the lightning and the thunder—
everything waits


Such a haiku causes the reader to feel as if the world around him has suddenly stopped. He sees the lightning flash across the dark sky as he half-anticipates, half-fears the inevitable sound of thunder that will soon rumble through the clouds. Though the individual knows exactly what is coming, he does not know when and is thus powerless to stop it. In 1998, Einbond died of cancer. Much of the latter part of his life, therefore, must have been spent in the same manner: waiting.

In his haiku, however, Basho refuses to wait for an imminent death:

shortly to die—
revealing no sign of it,
the cicada’s cry

(TAII, 42)

The cicada is aware that he will soon die, but he continues with his daily routine in much the same way as ever. Exactly as in Einbond’s haiku, the interval between the cicada’s cries is long; one wonders when and even if the cicada will chirp again. When he does, though, the cicada’s consistent cry is even more powerful than usual, as if he is trying to fight for a longer life. In the same manner, Basho seems to have continued his travels and long journeys even in his old age, ignoring his poor health in order to better enjoy the end of his life.

Finally, Einbond’s haiku are reminiscent of Basho’s in form. The following are two such examples:

on my travels, stricken—
my dreams over the barren earth
go on roving

(TAII, 43)

suddenly stricken—
my dreams come more and swiftly—
winter almost here


These two haiku have extremely similar structures. For example, both use the word “stricken” and “dreams.” The first line of each describes the situation with an adjective and ends with a hyphen, the second focuses more intently on the subject, while the last elaborates for the reader the context of each haiku.

Though these haiku are extremely similar to one another in format, however, their atmospheres are entirely different. The first haiku, once again by Basho, places the reader in a remote house somewhere in the country in early winter. The poet is lying in bed, sick with fever. Although he is inactive, he is very aware, for he continues to dream. In fact, these dreams keep him from losing hope, for with them, his mind still travels even as his feet remain still. Einbond’s haiku, on the other hand, is much less optimistic. Though he uses the same structure, the reader envisions a much different setting. Einbond is lying in a hospital bed. Just as Basho, he dreams more and more often; however, rather than allow his mind to wander freely, his dreams appear to restrict him. And, whereas the phrase “my dreams […] go on roving” hints at an exciting, new adventure, “winter almost here” signifies an end.

Einbond translates one of Basho’s most well known haiku in the following manner:

an old pond—
a frog tumbles in—
the water’s sound

(TAII, 44)

This version is an appealing one; the reader begins by imagining a silent, still pond, turning brown and green with age. Suddenly, life exists as the frog makes his entrance. Unlike his surroundings, this creature is young and full of energy as he unexpectedly jumps, or “tumbles”, into the water. The haiku ends with the sound of the frog’s splash as he begins his underwater exploration. If one allows such an image to linger long enough, the reader can even picture tiny ripples as they expand up to the bank. It seems that, with this haiku, Basho is commenting on tradition versus innovation. The “old pond” is static, unchanging, and has survived countless years. It appears peaceful, but it is also empty. With his small action, the frog alters the haiku’s atmosphere. He creates change and thus challenges tradition.

Within The Tree as it Is, Einbond once again uses Basho’s haiku as he fashions one of his own. He writes,

frog pond—
a leaf falls in
without a sound

(TAII, 5)

A number of similarities exist between the two haiku. For example, both the frog and the pond are incorporated into the work, the location is very similar and once again, action occurs within the pond. It is evident that Einbond is paying tribute to Basho with this work; however, the author also seems to draw his own conclusions. Unlike the “old pond”, the “frog pond” is already teeming with life when the leaf begins its descent. Following the wind’s course, it flutters down slowly and lands noiselessly. The leaf’s landing is much more subtle than that of Basho’s frog. As the yellowed leaf touches the water, however, ripples once again spread across its surface. Rather than challenge tradition in the manner that the frog has done above, the leaf is able to passively work with tradition yet affect its course regardless.

As illustrated through the above examples, Bernard Einbond owes much of his success in haiku to the master of this genre himself, Matsuo Basho. Not only is the way in which they structure their work comparable, but both subject matter and overall mood also parallel one another. Einbond acknowledges the foundation that Basho laid so long ago; tradition is a key element of Einbond’s haiku. However, Einbond’s work is not a mere imitation of Basho’s. In each of the above haiku, it is quite clear that Einbond has established his own voice: just as his silent leaf, Einbond has affected the world around him, contributing greatly to the art of haiku.

Works Cited

Einbond, Bernard. Crestwood Lake. Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2003.

Einbond, Bernard. The Tree As It Is. Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2000.

©2005 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors
last updated: May 12, 2005