We had a renga meet scheduled for the 12th, and went ahead with it in spite of the calamity that had befallen the country 400 miles to the northeast less than 24 hours before. We walked and wrote of what we saw in Kyoto, but this seemed to merge with what we already carried in our heads of the horror and grief. We had planned to begin the renga with a verse by Buson about the lengthening day and a pheasant fluttering down onto a bridge. In view of the awful situation, the sabaki used another one. Someone has just written – in an email asking after our group (who are all, we think, safe) – that ‘poetry is prayer’. You may remember, in Basho’s ‘Road to the Deep North’, that his companion Sora wrote at Matsushima (on the coast near Sendai) 鶴に身を借れ ‘borrow the wings of a crane!’ If only everyone on that coast could have done so.

Such as it is, then, with some trepidation, we here share the linked-verse we created, hoping that we might have captured in it somewhere a glimmer of beauty or truth.


The day grows longer –
echoes are heard
in a corner of Kyoto….. (Buson)

Between two gardens
abandoned tiles

Calm corridor –
one step, one prayer
white plum blooming beyond

Struck dumb
by the presence of stones

Again and again
from far across the still pond
one black wave

The silent hills look on
bathed in watery sun

An old lady working
in the woodland field
gives a glance to passers-by

Cold front
shivering dog

Which is the house
their friends lived in?
the couple disputes

Swinging from a branch
a bagworm’s cloak of sticks

Water drips
from a bamboo pipe –
an unknown tune

Two days of rain
two days of melancholy

A polished floor
inside the shuttered room
reflecting nothing

Painted on paper doors
cranes still frolic

The reddish haze
of thousands of buds
against the dim sky

Wayside Buddha
bidden farewell

Our little world –
from it, we search for meaning
in the spring stars


sabaki: Tito with Keiko
hosts: Itsuyo/Yoko
renjuin: Michael Lambe, Keiko Yurugi, John Dougill, Tito, Kazue Gill, Masako Fujie, Anne Vadgama, Yae Kitajima, Itsuyo Higashinaka, Mari Kawaguchi, Akito Mori

venue: Iwakura, including Jisso-in Temple, Kyoto, 12.3.11, the day after the Great Tohoku Quake

10 responses to “ECHOES

  1. It’s great to hear you’re all well, though of course the fate of the many less fortunate is never far from our thoughts. And although your ginko renga is understandably imbued with the mood of the moment, it is also a very peaceful, fluent read. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Wow! Beautiful verse.

    While it’s a relief that most of Honshu was spared nature’s wrath, our thoughts are with the people of Tōhoku who continue to suffer. Similar renga could have been written walking through the fields of Miyagi and Fukushima a scant week ago, and in a few years, hopefully, it will be able to be written again.

    If Haiku teaches us anything, it teaches that everything is impermanent.

  3. Pingback: deep kyoto » Blog Archive » Ginko-no-renga in Iwakura

  4. This is a most pleasing end result, as it was a difficult occasion so close to the disasters unfolding in the Far North. However, I think the organisers have done an excellent job in including hints at the ominous news overhanging the occasion without making crass or explicit reference. Certainly the beauty of the early spring had more than its usual tint of transience, and the temple garden we visited was soaked in ‘mujokan’ – buddhist impermanence. I think this is the fifth time I’ve engaged in a Hailstones renga, and it’s the one that I am most likely to return to and reread.

  5. I like the disputing couple and the painted cranes. As for the above 3-liner on Matsushima, maybe only Basho could get away with it.
    I thought there were meant to be at least two distinct ideas in a haiku. Are they ‘Matsushima’ and ‘Ah!’? Talk about ‘Less is More’!

    • This Matsushima ‘haiku’ was apocryphally attributed to Basho and does not figure in his Complete Works. Basho simply related that he was overcome by the beauty of the scene at Matsushima and could not write anything.

  6. Dear friends,
    It is always difficult to write about a great disaster, especially when we are so close to it. Allow me to show you a poem (I do not know if it is a haiku or not) whichi I wrote shortly after the earthquake:
    Not a single poem
    But just pain in my heart’s core
    This spring disaster.
    I think you all have done better. There are some nice poems in your renga. However, I am not yet quite accustomed to the idea of ginko-no-renga. Variety and change within a unity are the most important things in Renga, but ginko-no-renga tends to be a series of similar poems. I see this even in your work although your sabaki did a good job to avoid it. Images of water and stones, for example, are repeated in many poems. I think it is desirable to avoid at least uchikoshi, the repetition of similar images and words in two poems with another poem in between. I envy you all for living in Kansai area. We do not know when electricity is cut in Tokyo. My wife had to walk up to the eleventh floor immdiately after the earthquake. We were not able to contact our relatives in Ishinomaki for more than a week, but they have survived and plan to spend some time with us. Best wishes,
    Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui)

  7. A difficult task indeed, trying to negotiate a renga with so much horror unfolding at that very moment, and the events so close psychologically.

    The hokku seems like it offered an appropriate beginning under the circumstances. I too could sense the glum throughout this work. The crane verse attempts to pick up the mood for the finish.

    I too thank you for sharing this work. It illustrates how powerful terrible events so close to home can enter our conscious and perhaps change how we view things. In this case Kyoto.

  8. Thank you for posting this beautiful and melancholy linked verse.

    I think it was wise not to mention the disaster that had occurred less than a day before– it seems too enormous, too horrific, too humbling– but it was moving nonetheless to feel the charge of grief and uncertainty that the poets brought with them on this day. I found the “a polished floor” verse especially, and appropriately, evoked the loss that pervades the poem.

    My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the people of Tohoku.

    Sincerely, Ellis