The Sound of Water (II): Brooks and Water Mills

.. Several streams of spring water come together, running down a steep mountainside, soon forming a brook, which entertains us with its beautiful cantata as it courses between mossy rocks. Its soprano is like the singing of a dreaming girl, while its bass is like the wailing of a lover. The passing wind also adds a voice, sometimes resembling the soft whispering of a mother while her baby is asleep, and at other times, sounding harsh like a father’s scolding of a mischievous child. Bird songs also provide accompaniment from time to time. The vivace of spring warblers announces the arrival of warm weather. Cuckoos put us to sleep in summer with their monotonous andante. Shrikes warn us with their autumn staccato to prepare for frost and snow. Crows and owls frighten us in winter with their fortissimo. For me, brooks are the source of endless musical pleasures.
.. Here I am reminded of Wordsworth’s description of a ‘rill’ that runs by his birthplace:
…. Oh, many a time have I, a five-years’ child,
…. A naked boy, in one delightful rill,
…. A little mill-race severed from his stream,
…. Made one long bathing of a summer’s day —
.. When I visited Cockermouth, I was impressed by his birthplace, a sturdy stone building, probably the largest in the whole town, but I did not think the rill was deep enough for swimming, nor could I spot the mill. Probably this mill had gone long before and the rill had lost much of its water.
.. I also found ‘a playmate’ in a brook when I was evacuated from Tokyo to a small country village in Hiroshima. I was a middle-school boy, and spent most of my summer days fishing in the brook running by my house. The water was so clear that I was able to see every stone and pebble at the bottom. I could also see fish swimming against the stream, but I soon learned they were not easily caught. In a brook like this, you should hide yourself behind a tree or a rock and cast your line in the foaming part of the stream. If you do this, before the bait sinks to the bottom, you will have a fish hooked on your line. However, I had to spend more than a year to learn this trick. Another pleasure I found in the brook was the fireflies that came out in early summer. I saw them flying in their hundreds above the brook, blinking their lights in unison. They would also sometimes form balls of light on grass leaves. However, it was very sad to see a few latecomers flying away into bamboo thickets at the end of the season. They were like ghosts returning to their graves.
.. As Wordsworth mentions, brooks are often dotted with water mills. Unlike English mills, which are made of stone, mills along Japanese brooks are wooden shacks, and instead of damming the brooks, water is led to the mills via wooden or bamboo pipes. The upper side of these pipes is open, so that you can see the water gleaming as it passes though them. It always amazes me how silently the water can run through the pipes. The mills are equipped either with waterwheels, or with four arms, each with a kind of bucket at the end. While the latter contraptions are more primitive, musically they make more interesting sounds. As the pipe water drops, waterwheels turn with a continuous noise like the rustling of a brush against rough cloth, but the rotating arms provide an intermittent sound as each bucket suddenly dumps its load. In either case, the mills are equipped with wooden hammers that pound wheat or rice. As the hammers rise they squeak, and as they come down, they surprise us with their heavy pounding noise. This is repeated night and day, but the rhythmical sound of such old-fashioned mills never tires our ears.

…. Singing to herself,
…. A girl crosses a log bridge,
…. Leading to a mill.

…. Four flat stepping-stones
…. Split a brook into five streams,
…. Forming a quintet.

…. There was once a boy
…. Who loved to fish in a brook —
…. Swift as a ninja.

…. Dammed by a brocade
…. Of golden and scarlet leaves,
…. The brook stays a while.

…. The brook hibernates,
…. Its stream hardly audible,
…. Laid in snow and ice.

5 Responses to “The Sound of Water (II): Brooks and Water Mills”

  1. Five beautiful haiku. I especially like the first and fourth. The first haiku has a somewhat fairytale-type tension between the carefree singing of the girl, the prostrate log, and that log slaughterhouse: the mill. And I love the fourth haiku for the lovely contrast between “dammed” and “brocade,” the use of the word brocade to describe autumn leaves, and in particular the image of a brook arrested by beauty.

  2. We can learn a great deal from this haibun. Firstly, that it is not imperative to scatter the prose liberally with haiku: we have the option, too, to place a ‘tail’ of poems after the piece, as Basho and others have done before. Secondly, as Norman Darlington has pointed out elsewhere, that there is a place for both metaphor and simile in haibun, although it might be easy to overdo. Thirdly, that personal reminiscence can often be worthwhile, and we don’t always need to phrase our haibun sentences in the eternal present. The Sound of Water idea is a strong one and the haiku backing it up have a wonderfully varied imagery and offer us a whole bouquet of emotions. I look forward eagerly to further istalments.

  3. …..Calm and easy writing, full of imagery but not overflowing, giving us enuf to work on in our own imaginations.
    Much thanks.

  4. “Dammed by a brocade” is wonderful. I am there taking it in (the season and some communion w/ the brook). This poem seems to offer a counterpoint to what’s been said about brooks in this piece.

  5. Richard Donovan Says:

    Various ‘currents of thought’ flow forth as I read this.

    The five streams … a veritable ‘Trout Quintet’….

    ‘Bach’ means ‘stream’….

    ‘Strom’ is German for ‘current’.

    And so the water-wheel returns to its starting point….

    The imagery throughout the haibun is charming and the extended musical metaphor works well, though I don’t think ‘bass’ and ‘wailing’ go well together, as wailing is high-pitched — perhaps a ‘groaning lover’?

    I like the clutch of haiku at the end — they work almost like renku.

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