from the Icebox inbox – 43

Haibun: Offerings

Nicole Hague-Andrews

.. The trolls at Fowlmere live under the bridges, and sometimes under the boardwalks that meander through the marshy reed beds. They live in the damp, shady places, loathing the sunlight and will eat you if you don’t answer their questions correctly or give them the gifts that they ask for. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to appease them in order to cross their bridges to safety. They ask us what our favourite colours are (which we have rehearsed well beforehand); sometimes they ask for leaves or berries, sticks, songs, poems or numbers. They are as fickle as the wind and the rain.

circling the gunnera*
two feet wide

.. At the old watercress beds, the pump galoops water… and our dresses are wet to the knees. The trolls won’t eat the spicy, bitter watercress, but we like it with our apples and crackers. The chalk-bed stream water is so clear that Ophelia floats by on luminous weeds, as we throw blackberries on her and the silky, seed-expanded heads of reeds.

dried-up reed beds:
from the hide
Florence blows shut
the windows

.. We are becoming familiar with the different families of trolls: some are nicer than others, can even be experienced as kind. We try to understand their natures. Still, we are left alone to climb trees and make dens.

from the bridge
half a yellow leaf
… floats by

* gunnera – giant rhubarb

Poem: Voici

Serge Saunière

Voici ces quelques photos des deux jours passés prés de vous.
Ciel bleu et soleil pour nous accompagner.
Souvenirs escarpés et quelques pierres de plus sur mes étagères.
Un bonsaî genévrier qui respire à nouveau.
Basho au cours de l’eau.
Le désir de vous revoir.

Here are some pictures of the two days spent with you.
Blue sky and sun to accompany us.
Steep memories and some more stones now on my shelves.
A juniper bonsai that breathes once more.
Basho over the water.
The desire to see you again.

in deepening grey

. Seemed I was there, thoroughly involved, but did emerge unscathed. Had tried to find Kaz. Oh, Kaz! Where are you?! Had woken up. She had been here, all the while, in Kyoto beside me…
. I had seen the Earthquake in my dream a number of hours before it had happened, but didn’t know where it was. Now that I do, my heart bleeds for Kathmandu and, further to the west, for Besisahar and the lower Marsyangdi, for the small towns and villages around Gorkha – beautiful places, all, and all of which I know. What might have befallen the Shangri-La that was Manang? So much more to learn in the coming weeks. I do not look forward to them.

.. Obliging rain –
.. It comes at the crest of a ridge
.. In front of a tea-house
.. With a river view…

………… (haiqua, written between Phalesangu and Besisahar, 14.6.90)

. Am feeling the same shock now as when King Birendra and his Queen were assassinated in 2001 and the Nepalese Royal House was toppled. Why does Fate have it in for humble, good-natured, fine-featured Nepal? I worry for my friends, Hikmat, Hariprasad, Indhu, Vinod, and all of their wives and families. How long will it be before I know what happened to them? Punyaratna Sakya, from the same clan as the Buddha, Sakya-muni, rang me this morning to assure me that he, anyway, was alright.
.  Those marvellous pagodas on which I had sat as a fledgling poet and youth philosopher with long hair, where for the first time in my life (1971) I had watched ‘time go by’ – have any survived? We are told that the Khasthamandap, the city’s oldest building, the very one that gave the fabled city its name, actually collapsed in an aftershock onto people donating blood. How unutterably cruel is the earth goddess! Nepalis must be wondering what they have done wrong. ‘The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Kathmandu’ (Rudyard Kipling). Savage even.
. Peace, peace be unto you, my dear Nepal …

.. The valley smokes in silver twilight…
.. After a storm.
.. The fuming heavens will be our veil
.. For night-time’s tight lament.

.. The crickets and the bullfrogs
.. Pick up the shredded fragments of this day
.. And weave them into night.

.. A lonely temple bell
.. Attempts to break the listless air,
.. But fails
.. (As also does the light).

.. The hour of the dog
.. Is heralded:
.. Today – in deepening grey…

………… (poem, written by the Vishnumati River, Kathmandu, 23.5.72)

Fire and Ice


Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
 From what I’ve tasted of desire
… I hold with those who favor fire.
 But if it had to perish twice,
 I think I know enough of hate
 To say that for destruction ice
 Is also great
 And would suffice.

… … …  . … … ... … . Robert Frost


1972. At the time, a few British poets were as open to Chinese 4-line ‘cut-shorts’ as they were to 4-line translations of haiku.

………… In the hills meeting no one,
………… Hearing only the echo of voices.
………… Sunlight flickers through a dense wood
………… And the green moss is lit once more.
…………………… (Wang Wei, C8th)

……….……………………………….. Evening is shining in the gardens,
…….………………………………….. the thrush has started again,
………………………………………  I have come to buy some books
……………….……………………….. at the top of the town.
.……………………..…………………………… (Martin Snellgrove, Feb. 72 in England)

…………………… A silver cloud bursts in the hills,
…………………… A rainbow flows in the valley;
…………………… The fish eagle wheels to greet me
…………………… On my return from the capital.
………………………………  (Tito, Sep. 72 in Nepal)

Two years later, I arrived in the land of Basho with a yew staff in my hand made by Martin. Into its knobbly top was carved the face of a man ‘neither young nor old, neither Western nor Oriental’.

More Classic Stuff

You’ll remember that I was editing some translations of Santoka’s haiku and shared a few with you all. Here’s more, plus a bonus of works by Hosai, Santoka’s contemporary, and a lovely Chinese poem I wrote long ago when my name was Liu Tsung Yuan.

Santoka’s 8 haiku:

A dragonfly atop a sedge hat; I just walk on.

On a rainy day, walking barefoot thru my hometown.

Into my iron bowl also falls a shower of hailstones.

His back soaked by the rain; still, he just walks on.

In a rain shower, I walk to a nearby mountain.

Santoka was the prime modern example of Walking Zen, following Ikkyu’s example set in the Muromachi Period, tho S. only walked for a few years, whereas I. probably walked for over 20.

At a loss what to do, I walk alone on this country road.

Thinking nothing, just tasting the water gushing from a wayside spring. (Is this zen, or what?)

When the leaves begin falling, the water will become tasty.

Hosai’s 6 haiku:

I have a loud cough, all alone in this quiet hut.

Such a bright moonlit night; in bed alone, still I can enjoy the view.

I can see a little of the sea through a small window, the only one in my hut.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day; only Buddha and I will greet it in this lonely hut.

The pine’s branches are all hanging down; I chant the Name.  (the Name of Amida Buddha, presumably.)

Winds singing thru the pines; at dawn and at sunset I toll the temple bell.

Hosai passed away almost 20 years  before Santoka. Both were recognized in their lifetimes to be superior poets.

An old Chinese poem: ‘On a Snowy River’

Birds have ceased wheeling thru the mountains,
Footsteps are no longer seen on any snowy path.
An old man, strawclad, is seated in a small boat,
Engaged in fishing alone on the snowy river.

Such nice morsels to chew on. And here’s a haiku written with the name, Richard:

Beside the winter river
neither birds nor fish are seen;
nothing beside myself.

Maudlin to  be sure; must be the influence of some earlier poets. But hearing the call loudly in my ears for contributions, just had to pen something out.

The Woodchopper

The name – of it – is “Autumn” – / The hue – of it – is Blood –

Again, in the spirit of the “Ayame Society,” formed in England more than a century ago to encourage exchange between poets West and East, I offer the following poem on autumn, by the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Dickinson neither titled nor published her poems while she was alive (with some very few exceptions). And her punctuation is highly eccentric (a point I hope will provide no serious obstacles to readers unfamiliar with her work). In the first comment below, I’ll provide a few remarks about the language of the poem that Hailstoners new to Dickinson may find of use. But for now, simply the poem itself, in the hope that it will inspire responses in haiku for preservation here in the Icebox.

The name – of it – is “Autumn” –
The hue – of it – is Blood –
An Artery – upon the Hill –
A Vein – along the Road –

Great Globules – in the Alleys –
And Oh, the Shower of Stain –
When Winds – upset the Basin –
And spill the Scarlet Rain –

It sprinkles Bonnets – far below –
It gathers ruddy Pools –
Then – eddies like a Rose – away –
Upon Vermilion Wheels –

ca. 1862

Now, get to work & send in some autumnal haiku!

Moons West & East

A while back, Tito told me of the “Ayame Society,” of which I had been unaware. The society was formed in London  a century or so ago “to establish a garden where the poetic flowers of East and West compete in their fragrances.” Seeing as how it now is, or soon will be, moon-viewing season in Kyoto, I post a short poem concerning the moon by the American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963), in the  hope that this voice from the West might inspire some replies in haiku, here in the Icebox.

“The Freedom of the Moon”

I’ve tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I’ve tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water star almost as shining.

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I’ve pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

west running brook

N.B. “The Freedom of the Moon” was collected first in Frost’s 1928 volume “West-Running Brook.” The image reproduced here is from a signed first edition of the book, given to me by Jack Hagstrom, a dear friend of the poet himself.

From Hardy to Haiku: A Friendly Exchange

Stephen (Tito) and I lately had an exchange via e-mail that may be of interest to readers of the Icebox. I sent him a favorite short poem of mine by his countryman Thomas Hardy. Hardy is better known in Japan as a novelist. But in fact he wrote some of the best poetry we have in English from the early part of the 20th century. (Hardy died in 1928.) In this poem, Hardy “updates,” or echoes, a passage from the Old Testament of the Bible (Job 14:14): “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” I say that Hardy “updates” the Old Testament text because he alludes to it in full awareness of what modern science had revealed: that even the stars have life cycles and die; in short, that everything is mortal––in heaven as on earth. Stephen then rewrote Hardy’s poem as a haiku, reproduced here below the original. I especially like the way Stephen catches the nuance of Hardy’s “For all I know” in the second line of his haiku: “we shrug our shoulders.” One final point of interest: the noun “change” used to mean (among other things) “The passing from life; death.” That sense of the word itself passed out of use––or met its own “change”––in the mid 19th century. Thomas Hardy is reviving its older sense, if I may put it that way with mild irony.

Waiting Both”  (Thomas Hardy)

A star looks down at me,
And says: “Here I and you
Stand each in our degree:
What do you mean to do,—
Mean to do?”

I say: “For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come.”—”Just so,
The star says: “So mean I:—
So mean I.”

Tito’s fine rendition of the poem in haiku:

the star & I ––
we shrug our shoulders,
let time go by