Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hekigoto and Pound

from Modern Japanese Haiku, by Makoto Ueda:

[Kawahigashi] Hekigoto . . . was a tireless experimenter, and restlessly went from one experiment to another throughout his career.

Of all his experiments [one of the most] controversial [was his] idea of 'haiku without a center of interest,' which he began to advocate in 1910.  [This concept] was based on his belief that a poem should come as close as possible to its subject matter, which is part of life or nature.  He thought that if the poet tried to create a center of interest in his poem he would inevitably have to distort his subject matter for the sake of that interest.

Hekigoto said: 

"To do away with a center of interest and to discard the process of poeticizing reality would help the poet to approach things in nature as close as he can, without being sidetracked by man-made rules.''

Hekigoto also challenged traditional syllabic rules:

as Donald Keene writes in Dawn to the West,

"By 1915 Hekigoto had come to oppose a fixed form for the haiku. . . . [His] free haiku no longer had the familiar haiku shape, but tended to run on to prosaic lengths. He himself preferred to call them 'short poems' (tanshi). This poem, written in 1918, was typical of his new manner:

ringo wo tsumami
kurikaesaneba naranu

I pick up an apple;
I've said everything that was to be said,
But still must repeat.

[Keene notes:] The poem has twenty-four syllables . . . [T]his is hardly a haiku. Konishi Jin'ichi wrote of such poems, 'When one reaches this point . . . haiku disappear[s], both in name and in reality. . . . Hekigoto valiantly forged ahead on his own road, [and came] finally to destroy the road before him.' "

(An interesting metaphor: by advancing on his own road, he destroyed the road before him.)

Ueda again:

"An example of 'haiku without a center of interest' which was cited by Hekigoto himself" is the following:

Sumo / noseshi / binsen-no / nado / shike / to / nari
Wrestlers / aboard / ferry's / why / storm / thus / becoming

Ueda's translation:

Wrestlers are aboard
the ferry; why has it become
stormy weather?

If even the strongest among us must take the ferry in obeisance to the obstacles presented by the physical world, why is it necessary for Nature to present still more signs of its ruthless power? Will none of our submissions and sacrifices appease that deity?

Remember that T.S. Eliot (looking back in a 1953 lecture) asserted that "[T]he starting-point of modern poetry is the group denominated 'imagist' in London about 1910."

Compare the Wrestlers haiku above to Pound's "In a Station of the Metro":

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Pound's note on this poem quotes an unattributed Japanese haiku ('The fallen blossom flies back to its branch: A butterfly.'), and then says:

"The 'one-image' poem is a form of super-position, that is to say it is one idea set on top of another."

Both poems, to use Pound's phrases, set an idea (or representation) of the human 'on top of' an idea (or image) of nature.

Wrestlers/ferry : storm.

Faces/subway : spring petals on a wet [rained-on] branch.

Note that both present the human idea in transit, in modes of transportation (ferry, train), in linear (singular/irrevocable) passage as opposed to the perennial recurrent manifestations of nature.

The human idea is an apparition compared to the ever-embodied, ever-physical presence of the environment.

Thought as opposed to substance.

(Of course rainstorms and petals are more transitory forms of nature than mountains or oceans, but doesn't this heighten the poignancy of the "super-position"?)

Isn't Pound's poem really a simile which refuses to use its "like": the pale European faces seen against the badly-lit gloom of the subway terminal are like white petals on a black branch.

The Hekigoto is not comparing the wrestlers to the storm, or is it?

—Are the sumo here on the ferry when they should be in the sky struggling with the elemental forces to which they seem most akin?

Apples ripen and fall yearly, the human picks one up and says he's picking one up, and then says that's all there is to be said about the matter, though in response to the repetitive patterns of nature he acknowledges that he too must repeat himself.

Donald Keene: 

"Hekigoto [advocates] in 1910 the principle of "no-centeredness" (muchushin-ron), by which he meant that natural phenomena should be described exactly as they are without imposing any human standards."

In 1912 Pound writes: "I believe that the proper and perfect symbol is the natural object. . . ."

A year later, in 'A few Don'ts of an Imagiste,' he insists that "the natural object is always the adequate symbol."

I've taken these quotes from William Pratt's introduction to The Imagist Poem. Pratt comments:

"Pound [is making a] distinction between the image and the symbol . . . the symbolic meaning must have its source in the literal meaning, and not be imposed upon it."

Here, at the "starting-point of modern poetry," Hekigoto and Pound seem to be of one mind:

"Super-position," yes; imposition, no.


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