Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoreau Meets Basho

Happy Poetry Friday! Diane Mayer is rounding up the poetry at Random Noodling

The pines still stand here older than I. Sentries of the acres I tread. The bones of the dead stand with their comrades. Knobby roots push through earth. Cones crunch underfoot. A lone beech has slipped in. Wind rattles its yellowed leaves. The caw of a crow penetrates the grove. I shiver. I look up at green branches sweeping the sky blue. When I look down, a turkey feather.

surprise slips
into a pine symphony …

This morning a flock of turkeys meandered around my yard! It seems they like the pine grove. I began my haibun with a Thoreau quote from Walden: “The pines still stand here older than I.” That’s a great quote to remember when you’re feeling like your body’s not cooperating!

This month our library is promoting a town-wide read of Thoreau’s Walden. Haiku master Basho also kept journals about his experiences, so I thought I’d compare Thoreau with Basho and host a writing activity for my library during poetry month. We used Walden quotes to jump-start our own haibun.

Basho was pretty objective in his descriptions, telling it as he saw it without embellishment. Thoreau used evocative language to describe his environment while weaving in his philosophy. Basho’s subjective comments came at the end in a haiku. His combination of poetic prose and haiku is called haibun.

Here is a Basho haibun from The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling written in 1690:
I too gave up city life some ten years ago, and now I'm approaching fifty. I'm like a bagworm that's lost its bag, a snail without its shell. I've tanned my face in the hot sun of Kisakata in Ou, and bruised my heels on the rough beaches of the northern sea, where tall dunes make walking so hard. And now this year here I am drifting by the waves of Lake Biwa. The grebe attaches its floating nest to a single strand of reed, counting on the reed to keep it from washing away in the current. With a similar thought, I mended the thatch on the eaves of the hut, patched up the gaps in the fence, and at the beginning of the fourth month, the first month of summer, moved in for what I thought would be no more than a brief stay. Now, though, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever want to leave.

Among these summer trees,
a pasania-
something to count on

I had to Google pasania to learn it is a Japanese evergreen tree. Now the last line makes perfect sense.


  1. Love thinking about the different approaches of these two masters- thanks for sharing. And I can smell that sharp/sweet pine from here!

  2. I love how you have brought Thoreau together with Basho! What a great combo. Your haibun is quite lovely too. I have been exploring the form this month, writing a haibun every day. I expect to get a better grasp of the way the parts work together by the end of the month. I'm struggling with the prose part currently; not sure how objective or direct I want to be. Trying to keep it all specific, in the moment, and sharp. Have you written more haibun?

  3. Thanks for your comments, Robyn and Andromeda. Sounds like you've written lots of haibun, Andromeda. I'm just beginning, really. I have another about my experience with the Japanese tea ceremony. But I want to explore this form some more. I really like the challenge of wrapping up one's experience with lines that keep the feeling moving forward rather than summarizing it. At least, that's what I'm getting from my haibun reading.


Comments welcome.