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Japanese Haiku and Western Haiku - Who Wins the Fight?
Edward A. Weiss
You know, I've read many poems by the Japanese haiku masters. Some I like, but most I don't. Why? Because I just can't completely relate to their aesthetic. Sure, nature is nature throughout the world. It's just their way of writing about it that doesn't do it for me. For instance, look at this haiku poem by the Japanese haiku master Basho:
Don't imitate me;
it's as boring
as the two halves of a melon.
Now this haiku isn't bad. And I'm not saying that Japanese haiku is bad. It's just different. And this difference has to do with culture. Perhaps if I lived in Japan for 10 years, I'd understand the many hidden meaning in many of their haiku poet's work. In fact, the Japanese have hundreds of words to describe the nuance in seasonal change. We here in the west don't. We're more straightforward and in my mind, even more zen like. For example, look at this poem by Canadian haiku poet Bruce Ross:
on a high branch the crow
opens and closes its beak
Notice how direct this is. And simple too! There are no hidden meanings or allusions to something other than what this haiku portrays which is a crow performing a simple act of moving its beak. The real beauty of this particular poem is the contrast between "winter stillness" and lines 2 and 3. Using juxtaposition, we get a sense of "nothing special" happening here. Yet it is exactly this sense of nothing special that produces that beautiful Zen-like effect!
Japanese haiku also have this quality and I suppose it's just a matter of taste. The west has learned much from the Japanese haiku poet and has developed its own unique way of expression.
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