Beginner’s fingers / follow bristles lengthening / and thickening breaths.
For Basho (1644-1694), in whose hands the haiku form achieves its essence, the poet must
submerge himself within a natural object, to perceive its delicate life and feel its feelings, out of which a poem forms itself. A poem may skillfully delineate an object; but, unless it embodies feelings which have been naturally emerged out of the object, the poem will fall short of the true poetic sentiment, since it presents the object and the poet as two separate things. (quoted in Makoto Ueda, ‘Basho and the Poetics of “Haiku,”‘ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 21.4 (Summer 1963), 424)
Haiku is a spiritual exercise (ascesis) in the way of communing with ordinary things. It is not that one wishes to spend one’s days writing haiku. On the contrary, it is that one seeks to adopt the true poetic spirit, to come to a mode of spontaneous living, and it is out of such spontaneity that a poem may pour itself forth. By endeavoring to make one’s mind clear as the cloud passing over the redwoods, by bending one’s ear, first thing in the morning, to hear the copper face of the wind chime, one may be limbered up for ‘inspiration, in Basho’s sense.
Composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a woodcutter feeling a huge tree or a swordsman leaping at a dangerous foe. It is also like cutting a ripe watermelon with a sharp knife, or taking a large bite of a pear. (Ibid, 427)
The haiku, a mode of radiance’s appearance, invokes goodness and beauty but makes no clean distinction between the two. Humble, simple, delicate, light: remember these. Be these.
‘The brevity of haiku,’ writes R.H. Blyth in Haiku: Volume III–Summer/Autumn, ‘is not something different from, but a part of the poetical life; it is not only a form of expression but a mode of living more immediately, more closely to life.’
Here is Arakida Moritake, a sixteenth century Japanese poet cited in Alan Watts’ The Way of Zen:
The haiku, as form, uniquely combines concision with precision, enjambs one-pointedness with a dilation of consciousness, turns the changing seasons into piquant quiverings.
My own, less beautiful than Moritake’s, from earlier this morning:
(One would, upon further reflection, have thought it better to have written: ‘by noon, a deck on fire.’) To live more immediately, more closely, more in the way of surprise.