Haiku as Paradigm

Revised 21 vi 2016; 25×2016

On the Kigo as an Image of Desire

Haiku is a hinged form. The single line — Japanoese kigo– is often spoken of as a cultural given, a seasonal word everybody in the language community understands,  a sort of fixed point. I’d rather say it is an index of the DESIRE for transcendence, a need that cannot die (as William Desmond puts it). That’s why the phases of the moon often contribute to the kigo; there are other “cyclical” phenomena that serve the same purpose. We can see the roots of kigo in Chinese poetry of the Ch’an tradition, where the “appearance” of the creative void often anchors the scene in Heaven (a Chinese symbol of transcendence).

On the Ethos of Haiku

One reason — perhaps the most “rational” among many — I love the art of haiku is that it “models” ethical thinking in general. That is, the two-part asymmetrical structure of haiku brings into relation the concept of community –the self’s  basic desire for transcendence– and the concept of moving between the self and the other, which informs narrative, story, allegory. The narrative, usually expressed in the two line section, moves between the self and the other, the classic I-it/thou structure.

Now that’s saying too much, or not enough! We need an example.

The poet brings these two parts of experience into relation in a haiku. For the haiku to be good the juxtaposition must fit– must be fitting, aesthetically and ethically..

From Basho’s “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (Barnhill 76):

the moon so pure

on the sand carried here

by the Pilgrim Priest.

The final line refers to a local tradition at a shrine beloved by Basho. See Barnhill’s notes.

As I typed it out, I wanted to write:

the moon so pure

on the sand brought here

by the Pacific.

That would update the poem to my time and place. But so much cultural history would be lost! We have to live with these cultural differences; some people will celebrate “progress” as it swallows the Priestly way into oblivion. Barbarians. Yet we have to find ways of celebrating the moon. Perhaps the ambiguity of the name “Pacific” has its own numinous presence. The “perhaps,” as William Desmond remarks, has something of hope in it.


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