Japan Mount Fuji Photo

piqued my interest on several levels. My muse loves the imagery and the syntax. The linguist in me has an intense love-hate relationship with the myriad translations.

The form had a rather humble start. Japanese poets would engage in verse games; collaborative poetry writing sessions known as renku or haikai no renga. One person would start a poem and then, in succession, the others would add verses. A less orthodox, more casual version emerged and became known as haikai. The starting verses became a form of their own known now as Haiku.

The short fast verse of Haiku appears simple at first glance. How complex can two or three verses, seventeen–or eleven–simple syllables, be? A single Haiku can have hundreds of translations and thousands of interpretations. Accurate translation requires the proper cultural framework, in space and in time. Welcome to Sociolinguistics.

The Haiku’s meaning filters through our cultural biases and current emotional state. Read a verse today, and one set of images jumps into mind. Read the same verse on a different day in a different mood and a new, equally valid picture presents itself. Does the translation have to be perfect to appreciate the poem? No. And that is why I love Haiku so much.

Even with all the proper referents, I may never grasp the full import of

The old pond-
A frog jumps in,
Sound of water.
(Matsuo Basho, translation by Robert Hass)

Bridge wrapped in fogBut some feelings, some experiences transcend all cultures. Or, to Quote Issa:

Through a telescope:
ten cents worth of fog.

Want more? Tired of the old 5 7 5? There is an entire world of micropoetry out there. Try the Micropoetry Society or Gogyohka Junction. On Twitter , look up @pssms and @gjunction, and hashtags #haiku, #gogyohka, and #micropoetry.