Feb '04 [Home]

Poetry: Haiku Masters

Eighteen Haiku by Kikaku, translated by Michael K. Bourdaghs
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Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707, also known as Enomoto Kikaku) was one of Basho's leading disciples. He edited two of the major anthologies through which the Basho School earned its reputation, including Minashiguri (Shriveled Chestnuts, 1683), and wrote the preface for a third—Saruminosho (Monkey's Straw Raincoat, 1691). But his relations with his master were often tense—he is often the butt of anecdotal lore handed down among the disciples—and there seems to have been a final falling out. He is nowhere mentioned, for example, in Basho's last great work, Oku no hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Back Country). Kikaku's poetry is known for its wit and for its difficulty. Whereas Basho, especially in his later years, focused on the countryside and espoused an aesthetic of simplicity, Kikaku preferred the city and the opportunities it provided for extravagant play. He also preferred a more demanding form of poetry, one laced with wordplay, allusions, and juxtapositions of images that defy easy explanation. At the time of his death, he was perhaps the leading poet in Edo (today's Tokyo), which then had a population of around one million, making it perhaps the largest city in the world at the time.—MB

Nightingale's body
hanging upside down
first song of the new year

banging on a taiko drum
blossom-viewing party

Such a beautiful face
the pheasant scratches it
with jagged spurs

Unwrap the cotton
they are older too
faces on the hina dolls
        [Hina dolls are set out each spring to celebrate Girl's Day.]

In Kyomachi
a cat prowling for love
heads for Ageyamachi
        [Kyomachi and Ageyamachi were districts inside the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters of Edo.]

A waterfall of sake
and cool barley noodles rain down
from heaven!

Tonic for summer-heat
a dog licks it up
and climbs the cloud peaks

Pillars of mosquitoes
a floating bridge of dreams
spans across

As a fine horse gallops
20,000 poems are houseflies
scattered in the wind
        [Written to commemorate Ihara Saikaku's composition of 23,500 poems on a single day in 1684, with Kikaku in attendance.]

If a rich man
is what you mean to be.… Then
forget the autumn evening too

The full autumn moon
on this straw mat
pine tree shadow

The hoarse voice of
a monkey, but its teeth are shiny white
mountain peak and moon

Kagura dance at night
the performer's breath white
inside his mask
        [Kagura is a kind of ritual dance performed at Shinto temples.]

This snow is mine
thinking that way it seems lighter
on your sedge hat

This wooden gate
shuts me out for the night
winter moon

Above the sea
a rainbow, erased by
a flock of swallows

A summer storm suddenly
the one who peers outside
the woman

A single bell
you sell at least one each day
spring in Edo

Michael K. Bourdaghs teaches modern Japanese literature at UCLA. His fiction has appeared in Hawaii Pacific Review, Colere, Elysian Fields Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Dawn That Never Comes:  Shimazaki Toson and Japanese Nationalism.