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Selection of Japanese Haiku

Selection of Japanese Haiku Poetry

(notes by Tetsuzo Yamamoto)





In the Utter silence of a temple,

A cicada’s voice alone

Penetrates the rocks


— Matsuo Basho




It is said that Basho made this poem at the Risshakuji Temple in Yamagata City during his travel to the northern part of Japan.  The phrase “a cicada’s voice penetrates the rock” visualises the sound.  “Everlasting time” the rocks have and the voice blend into one.


There is a Noh song titled “Sessyouseki” meaning a stone killing every creature.  The stone is made by the gush of volcanic sulferising gas.  Basho saw the stone in the Nasu Height during his travel.  He said the stone was in the shade of a mountain where a hot spring gushed out, and its poisonous character remained, killing heaps of insects such as bees and butterflies.




The smell of a stone

The summer grass is red

Dew is hot


   — Matsuo Basho








Over a stone

What is flying

Is only clouds


— By Basho’s best pupil








How pitiful

Summer insects are dead on a stone

Using the stone as a pillow

 — Amono Torin





In the first frost of the year

Even a stone killing every creature

Become a part of the view

— Kobayashi Issa








The autumn wind 

Is more white

Than stones in a stony mountain

— Matsuo Basho






Basho made this poem at the Nata Temple in Komatsu City, Ishikawa Prefecture during his travel.  The autumn wind is traditionally called “transparent wind” or “white wind”, and the whiteness of the wind and the whiteness of the stone blend with each other.










In the night of the winter moon

Small stones

Touch the bottom of my shoes

— Yosano Buson




The feeling that “small stones touch the bottom of my shoes” is so delicate that this poem cannot be made in the noisy society today.  It expresses the world where the winter moon is shining quietly and not a sound is heard.  Only the feeling of small stones under the shoes is emphasised.  We know from the classic poem that people today lose this feeling.












The summer mountains and lava

Their colours are different

— Togo Sayu (1908-91)












Under the blazing sky

Going and coming back on the way of lava

— Togo Sayu











On the marble stairs

I have dots’ reflection by the autumn sun


— Nakamura Takako

(contemporary poet made during her travel in USA)
















Stepping stones 

Are women’s stride

Winter camellia

— Nakamura Takako



In this poem, Takako seems to be going to attend the tea ceremony in winter.  She might usually walk in long strides like a man, but space between the stepping stones in a garden made her walk with short steps as a woman wearing kimono does.



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