Persimmons – part 6

. Among haiku poets, both ancient and modern, I think it was Shiki who loved persimmons the most. Let me quote the following passage to prove this point. It is from his work entitled “Two Persimmons”. Shiki calls it a novel and uses the third person singular for the main character, but to me, it is a piece of haibun, in which the author describes his own experiences:

Soon his sister stood up, shaking threads from her knees. She wanted to take a tray of the remaining persimmons to her sick brother, the master of the house.
“Is that all that remains,” her brother asked her, casting a sidelong glance at the persimmons.
“Yes, this is all. You ate so many of them yesterday,” she answered. There were only two persimmons on the tray.
He was a great lover of food, and especially liked all kinds of fruit. But, above all, he loved persimmons.

. He must have decided to save the two remaining persimmons till he had finished his work as reviewer of haiku. When he had done so, he wrote the following poem:

Three thousand haiku to read —
Finishing them all, I eat
The two persimmons.

. I think Shiki is implying how hard his reviewer’s work was, and also how quickly the persimmons disappeared eating them at such a pace.

. Shiki indeed has many poems about persimmons, but the following is perhaps the most famous:

A bell rings out while
I’m eating a persimmon —
Horyuji Temple.

. Personally, I find it a bit difficult to understand. If the haiku simply describes a time sequence, then perhaps it is not such a great poem. Among scholarly commentators, there is one who says that it should be taken as a poem of greeting to Soseki, who had written a similar poem. Another points out that Shiki was so ill during his visit to Nara that he probably never actually went to the Horyuji Temple. I do not find these comments very helpful for the interpretation of the poem. For me, there must be some meaningful relationship between Shiki’s eating the persimmon and the ringing of the temple bell: otherwise, the poem falls apart. The only connection between them that I can think of is the sense of satisfaction. Shiki adored persimmons, and whenever he ate one he found pleasure; while the temple bell brought him pleasure of a different sort. I think we could say that one was a physical pleasure and the other spiritual. So I take this haiku to be an expression of both physical and spiritual satisfaction. Incidentally, the poem has a short preface saying, “I rested at a tea shop near Horyuji Temple”. In an essay elsewhere, he also comments:

For a long time persimmons have been neglected by poets. I had never thought of combining persimmons and Nara, but was overjoyed when I found this possible. It was a new combination.

I believe that this combination was in fact an old one, for Imperial Palace Persimmons have traditionally been grown in Nara.

. To the end of his life Shiki remained an admirer of persimmons, and the following poem should be used as his epitaph. It is indeed prefaced “After my death”.

Let it thus be known:
A great persimmon eater
And haiku lover.

(To be continued…)

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3 Responses to “Persimmons – part 6”

  1. While two centuries earlier Kyorai had named himself sarcastically the ‘Master of Persimmons,’ Shiki was for sure the preeminent ‘Lover of Persimmons’. Nobuyuki, you are fast turning into the 21st Century’s ‘Scribe of Persimmons’. Thank you for an another enthralling instalment of your long haibun essay.

  2. Lovely. I have fallen in love with persimmons, persimmon trees, persimmon haiku. And I love the haiku book, Persimmon, from the Hailstone Haiku Circle in Kansai.

  3. Richard Donovan Says:

    My personal favourite of Shiki’s about temple bells and persimmons is the following, for its competing (or complementary) sounds:

    晩鐘や寺の熟柿の落つる音
    Banshō ya tera no jukushi no otsuru oto
    The evening bell tolls:
    The sound of ripe persimmons
    Thudding in the temple garden.

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