Haiku: The poetic face of Japan [Archives:2006/958/Culture]

June 26 2006

The Oriental Culture Association (OCA) organized a June 22 symposium on the Japanese poetic form of haiku at the Sana'a-based Culture House.

Presented by OCA president Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Maqaleh, the symposium was attended by Japanese Ambassador Yuichi Ishii, as well as a number of intellectuals and interested individuals.

The event involved the Yemeni president's cultural advisor, Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Maqaleh; Dr. Damodar Thakur, English Department head at Sana'a University's Faculty of Arts; Dr. R. K. Sharma, English Department head at Sana'a University's Faculty of Languages; Sana'a University Faculty of Languages professor Dr. R. S. Sharma and university professor and critic Dr. Ali Haddad.

Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Maqaleh said many have the misconception that Japan is only a technologically advanced nation and therefore, don't know much about its culture or literature. He pointed out that some 20 years ago, Japan reportedly had approximately five million poets, while its population amounted to 80 million.

He further explained that haiku's curtness shows that Japan is a nation that hates garrulousness and that this brief poetic form encompasses unlimited worlds of meaning. He also acknowledged three Yemeni poets' contributions to haiku poetry's Arabic renditions in this unique form – poets such as Mohammed An'am, Abdullah Fare' and Abdulwahab Al-Maqaleh.

Thakur presented a paper explaining the reasons behind the fascination with haiku, the first being that haiku courageously departed “from the norm accepted all over the world since time immemorial. Generation after generation, poets shared the belief that poetry's rhythmicality partly resulted from the pairing of lines. Haiku emerged as a protest against such beliefs and convictions as a form of verse containing an odd number of three lines.”

The second reason is, “Each haiku has an idea or a feeling complete in itself. Each is its own independent universe of meaning, however small.” Thakur gave examples from different modes of world poetry, proving haiku's uniqueness and mentioning that the West especially is charmed by it.

Thakur's third reason involved number symbology, delineating the significance of the three numbers: three, five and seven, as each haiku is written in its original form in three lines, with the first and third containing five syllables each and the second containing seven syllables. Thus, he said, haiku accommodated for the unconscious and instinctual nature of those three particular numbers' attraction.

He added, “The more perceptive a person, the more likely he will be attracted by these numbers he number symbology inherent in haikus added a shade of mystery, a shade of romantic charm, a shade of unknown and inexplicable elegance to the experience expressed in a haiku.”

Dr. R. S. Sharma presented several haikus he versified in English, while Haddad tackled another aspect of haiku regarding the salient presence of natural elements, as well as the poetic form's historical development.

Dr. R. K. Sharma presented a paper wherein he described certain technical aspects of the form. He attributed haiku's popularity to its “minimalist mode, as well as the immediacy of the expression of experience.” He also pointed out the impossibility of retaining its original characteristics in terms of line and syllables when translating a haiku from Japanese into another language due to certain insurmountable obstacles. “When translated into another language, it must mold itself according to that language's linguistic compulsions. When a classic haiku is translated into another language, both the spirit and form of the original get lost.”

He added, “There's no doubt that haiku is more than a form of poetry – it's a way of seeing the world. It captures a moment of experience and is an instant revelation when the ordinary suddenly reveals its inner nature. It's like a Joycean epiphany or Hopkins's inscape. It exemplifies the saying, 'Small is beautiful.'”

An anthology of haikus by famous Japanese poets:

Oh, that summer moon!

It made me go wandering

Round the pond all night.


So cold, that autumn wind

Scatters peonies, a few

Petals fall in pairs.


That winter, when my

Faithless lover left me,

How cold the snow seemed.


No wonder today

All the men need midday naps

O that autumn moon!


When a nightingale

Sang out, the sparrow flew off

To a further tree.


We cover fragile bones

In our festive best to view

Immortal flowers.


The leaves never know

Which leaf will be first to fall.

Does the wind know?


A snowy mountain

Echoes in the jeweled eyes

Of a dragonfly.


Hop out of my way

And allow me, please, to plant

Bamboos, Mr. Toad!


Cuckoo, did you cry

To frighten away my mother

Watching in my dream?


The sun has gone down

Beyond a dead tree clutching

An old eagle's nest.