sa-ico-1.gifHomesa-ico-1.gifArticles About Haiku

One Haiku, Several Authors

Rosa Clement

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Haiku, this small poem of Japanese origin, has become not only a source for expressing a sensation but also a challenge for Westerners´ creativity. Based on an observation of nature that must be accommodated in three short lines, it is surprising how small the world becomes when converted into a haiku. Perhaps this is why we can find haiku written by different authors but which are quite similar. On the other hand, it is not rare to find two almost identical haiku whose images are not common.

Who has not read a haiku with the traditional image of a puddle of rain reflecting a leaf, cloud, moon, sky, kite, flower, frog? It is easy to understand why this type of haiku is so common, since it holds a scene that a writer can find anywhere. Not even Afrânio Peixoto and Millôr Fernandes, two great Brazilian poets and writers, resisted the mirror of a puddle of water:

In the mud puddle
as in the the holy sky,
The moon also passes.

Na poça de lama
como no divino céu,
Também passa a lua.

          Afrânio Peixoto

in the street puddle
the street dog
licks the moon

Na poça da rua
O vira-lata
Lambe a lua

          Millôr

Sometimes, when turning pages of books or of electronic sites, we come across haiku that contain images identical to those we used in our own haiku or that somehow look familiar. Usually, this surprises us. However, scenes that we register in our poems today can reflect those that the eyes of Bashô, Buson, Kerouac and many others observed in the past. Nature is like that, she decorates with similar figures her different corners as if to offer equal chances to all her admirers, especially poets and haiku writers. Fortunately, this same nature also provides a combination of images that favors the writer´s creativity, giving one the chance to write a unique poem that makes others wish to have been the one who wrote it.

The probability of a haiku being repeated in the same environment or in a different environment may cause surprise. This occurrence can even be considered plagiarism, or suggest that the author in question acted in bad faith. Usually when this happens, the subject comes up, and he(r) is kindly (not always) interrogated by someone interested in unmasking the mystery. Unfortunately, in this confusion of good intentions, criticisms and doubts, plagiarism can really happen. However, believe it or not, casualty also exists.This is the reason we also find quite similar haiku by different writers and our trust in these writers should not be affected.

Nonetheless, paraphrasing a haiku that we like is also one more practice common in haiku writing. Higginson (1985), an American student of haiku, mentions two respected authors, where the second paraphrased the first using similar words in his haiku but giving a quite different idea:

an empty elevator
opens
closes
          Jack Cain

the elevator
opens...
vacant masks
... closes
          Frank K. Robinson

Such a short poem allows the repetition of one of the lines also. This is natural, because the use of traditional terms or phrases indicates the season where the haiku belongs (kigo). Thus, to start or to finish a haiku with “summer afternoon” or “winter morning” is very common and acceptable in the world where three lines must say so much, as in these haiku by the masters Bashô and Buson:

Harvest moon--
the tide rises
almost to my door
          Bashô

Harvest moon--
called in his house,
he was digging potatoes.
          Buson

If it were possible to create a data base of all haiku already written, we could consult the various images that a snail or a dragonfly, for example, offers to us. This could prevent us from writing a haiku that somebody else has already written. As this database is fiction, we will continue in our search to perpetuate the authenticity of the infinite moments that nature offers us, even if nature repeats herself.

Bibliography:

Available in Influência da Poesia Oriental na Literatura Luso-Brasileira: O HAI-KAI. www.instituto-camoes.pt/cvc/bvc/revistaicalp/haikai.pdf.

Available in Jornal de Poesia: Millôr Fernandes. http://www.secrel.com.br/jpoesia/millor08.html.

1. HASS, Robert. The Essential Haiku - Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa. New Jersey, USA: The Eco Press. 1994, 330p.

2. HIGGINSON, William J. The Haiku Handbook. Japan: Kodansha International, 1985, 338p.