Friday, October 13, 2006

The grebes of Lake Biwa

Basho by Sugiyama Sanpû (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The keiki (landscape) style of Haikai was dominant in the period Basho was writing, with its fusion emotion and the external scene. Some of Basho’s verse appears to consist solely of a brief landscape description. For example, Haruo Shirane quotes a hokku written in January 1691: kakurekeri shiwasu no umi no kaitsuburi (hiding in the water – the grebes of Lake Biwa – at year’s end). However the wider context for this poem is provided by the season word ‘shiwasu’ which literally means “teacher running” and has associations of ‘the end of the year, when everybody is rushing about cleaning up and settling their financial accounts’, so that the author of the poem appears in contrast to be ‘a carefree, reclusive person, someone who has the leisure to observe grebes at the busiest time of the year… At first glance, the hokku seems focused on a seemingly minor, if not insignificant, detail, but it gradually expands in the eye of the beholder, creating a tension between the smaller object and the implied landscape, or between the specific moment and the larger river of time.’ (Haruo Shirane’s Traces of Dreams p49).

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