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THE KING'S VESTEMENT IN A SHELL

Aleksandar Prokopiev

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Even on my first contact with haiku poetry, a small selection in the heavy Anthology of World Lyric Poetry, a present from my parents on my Junior Graduation from primary school, I felt "an immediate symphaty" (at that time, a phrase we used about a girl or the newest pop hit): not because of its exoticism - although that existed, in stories of geishas and samurais - but because of that recognition a young reader feels for some types of literature. And then the triptychs of Basho, Buson, Isa and Shiki entered the select company of my favourite reading, together with Iesenin, negro's poetry, Dostoievski, Les Grands Meaulnes and with a dozen pages in particular of Miller's Sexus. Now, after three and half decades, except for Dostoievski, the haiku masters are the only ones of these favourites I read with the same pleasure. As you might expect, during this time I've acquired more awareness of that calm which is part of the creation of haiku: and at the same time of the calm of the reader.

In some way this releases and frees the reader:

What silence!
The voice of the cicada
hidden in the rooks.

It's also possible to accept and love haiku as a kind of mental exercise in which you direct rigorous attention to the detail of inner synchronicity between things which, in conventional Western classification, are far apart. Many of these, even shadowy moments of life, become visible and imporant. In haiku, nature refreshes the innocence of the senses and conducts lightening into every mind. To quote John Cowper Powys, the smiling philosopher:

The light in the sky, the sussuration of leaves, travelling clouds and roofs against sunrise and shadow: these are things which make us look - consciously or unconsciously - with an inner struggle to gaze directly and exactly and not to be absorbed by our personal tragedies. Moralists aren't used, even in a small degree, to the influence of these inanimate objects on our mind.

This gaze at the difference between Western and Eastern ways of thinking is illustrated by many charming anecdotes. One of these is about the profilic scribophile Hrizipus (280-207 BC) who, during his lifetime, wrote 750 books, with a daily doze of 500 lines; he died from laughing watching a monkey eat a fig. This man, prisoner of his private factory of writing, was so confused by nature. And, the opposite of the hardworking Hrizipus, one group of Buddhist monks sponteneously demonstrated their respect for nature even in times of famine, when a gift, a great goose, fell from the sky. To express their gratitude, instead of eating it, the monks burnt the goose and later built the Pagoda of the Great Wild Goose in the same place.

Behind its vulnerability and tendrness, as of a young twig which seems to flourish independently, haiku containes a concentrated wide-awakeness, unforced and sometimes invisible: the same invisibility of movement which encourages the flower to open before our eyes:

Dragonfly!
Catching his shadow
above the stream.

Haiku guards strength in its fragility, the eternal in the ephermeral, and does so without confrontation, without imbalance. Just like a "Bagrayanka" shell, its small gland guards the secret of the most expensive colour in the world: imperial purple, in which rulers from Ancient Egypt and the Phoenicians until the present are arrayed.

Doing the same with a few usual words, haiku can free our oppressed feelings or our Great Unity, no matter in what synchronos form it appears:

This small beetle
doesn't jump far.
Why is it more dear to me.

 

 

© Aleksandar Prokopiev
© Aleksandar Prokopiev, Banya Natsuishi, translated
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© E-magazine LiterNet, 25.11.2005, № 11 (72)