A Net of Fireflies: Japanese Haiku and Haiku Paintings

A Net of Fireflies: Japanese Haiku and Haiku Paintings

A Net of Fireflies: Japanese Haiku and Haiku Paintings

A Net of Fireflies: Japanese Haiku and Haiku Paintings

Excerpt

It is generally conceded that the artistic genius of the Japanese touches perfection in little things. Carved ivories for the girdle (netsuke), metal-inlaid sword-guards (tsuba), dwarfed trees (bonsai), and other minor crafts -- the exquisite workmanship and patient detail of these have won ready appreciation abroad. But on first encountering the poetry of Japan, the Western reader is often disappointed or puzzled to find that many of its greatest masterpieces are enshrined within that most diminutive of poetic forms: the haiku. For although, as he soon learns to his astonishment, the haiku is but seventeen syllables in length, at least four major poets have devoted their whole lives to composing nothing else.

Yet epic length is not necessarily an indication of poetic quality, however much the modern devotees of mass production and its "reign of quantity" may believe in the pseudo-gospel of statistics and worship sheer size. The huge or numerous is not always the great. To those discerning of spiritual values and the physical qualities consonant with them, one simple haiku by a master like Matsuo Bashô is worth more than a whole loudly acclaimed volume of verse with a merely contemporary appeal, just as a silk fan painted in monochrome by a Sesshû surpasses many a large canvas by some fashionable but ephemeral modernist. Thus many of the remarks made here apply equally well, mutatis mutandis, to the haiga, the haiku's pictorial counterpart, which is discussed in the following section.

Although in outer form so minute, the inner scope of the haiku may become immense in inverse ratio. As a nature . . .

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