Saturday, May 06, 2006

Fallen willow leaves

For landscapes in haiku, an obvious writer to consult is the poet-painter Buson (1706-83), famous for his objective style and visual imagination. For example, from 1742 this poem about a willow tree:
Yanagi chiri
shimizu kareishi
The translation posted in several places on the web is by Robert Hass: ‘The willow leaves fallen / the spring gone dry / rocks here and there.’ Earl Miner has translated the last two lines as ‘in fresh waters weathered stones scattered here and there.’
The poem seems to be a simple landscape, describing a scene encountered by Buson, but it is also about poetry and the passing of time. The willow tree alludes to a poem by Priest Saigyo (1118-1190) in which he lingers in the shade watching the reflection of the tree in rippling water:
Michi no be ni
Shimizu nagaruru
Shibashi tote koso
Buson is also referring to an encounter with the tree at Ashino by Basho (1644-94) on the Narrow Road to the Deep North. As Haruo Shirane writes, ‘Basho pauses beneath the same willow tree and before he knows it, a whole field of rice has been planted. In contrast to Basho's poem, which recaptures the past, Buson's poem is about loss and the irrevocable passage of time, about the contrast between the situation now, in autumn, when the stream has dried up and the willow leaves have fallen, and the past, in summer, when the clear stream beckoned to Saigyo and the willow tree gave him shelter from the hot summer sun. Like many of Basho and Buson's poems, the poem is both about the present and the past, about the landscape and about other poems and poetic associations.’ For Buson (as Miner puts it in Japanese Linked Verse), ‘Saigyo and Basho are gone from the earth, remaining however in the mind as a cherished idea shrouded in the mystery of memory.’

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