Society Magazine

BOOK REVIEW: Classic Haiku Ed. by Yuzuru Miura

By Berniegourley @berniegourley

Classic Haiku: A Master's SelectionClassic Haiku: A Master’s Selection by Yuzuru Miura

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Classic Haiku is a collection of 106 poems by masters such as Matsuo Bashō, Kobayashi Issa, and Yosa Buson. It’s logically arranged into five sections: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and New Year’s Day. While haiku has come to be thought of as any poem in a 5-7-5 syllable arrangement, those familiar with traditional haiku know that there are other requirements that are at least as fundamental as the syllabic arrangement. One of these is that the poem be pure observation devoid of exposition. Another criteria is that it be rooted in nature. A final criteria, historically, has been that the poem indicate the season, if not giving an explicit seasonal word or phrase. This makes the season an optimal organizational unit for the book.

One nice feature of this book is that it includes the English translation, the Japanese romaji version (i.e. the way it would be spoken in Japanese but using roman alphabet characters), and the version using the Japanese system of writing. Granted, for those who aren’t fluent in Japanese, these features might not seem to add much. However, sound can be evocative itself in poetry, and so it can be interesting to read the Japanese for that reason. Furthermore, there are those who argue that 5-7-5 syllables is not the closest facsimile to Japanese haiku for haiku written in English. Because of the average length of syllables, some say that a 2-3-2 accented syllable pattern for English haiku is closer to the original Japanese form. Reading the Japanese, gives one an idea of the sound characteristics of Japanese haiku.

[Furthermore, if one loves a haiku enough to want to get it tattooed in Japanese on one's body, one can double-check the characters before one gets it done at a Chinatown tattoo parlor only to find that what one really has tattooed on one's butt is, "Syphilitic nightmare - Ketchup bottle mayhem day - Rides the goat to school"]

Here’s a sampling my favorites:


the raftsman’s straw cape
brocaded with
the storm-strewn cherry blossoms
- Yosa Buson

calm and serene
the sound of cicada
penetrates the rock
- Matsuo Bashō

in summer grasses
are now buried
glorious dreams of ancient warriors
- Matsuo Bashō

oh, cricket
act as grave keeper
after I’m gone
- Kobayashi Issa

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