book was published on St. Patricks Day last year.
There is no significance to that, except for the fact that
Japanese books always give the day of publication most precisely.
I acquired it several months later, having had it recommended
to me twice by different people. Both knew of my interest
in haiku, though only one of them was aware that I had met
Professor Haga. His subjects are comparative literature
and French, and since he retired from the University of
Tokyo, he has been president of another institution in Kyoto.
of Hagas responsibilities in recent years has been
to help coordinate and institute the Masaoka Shiki International
Haiku Awards, a new set of prizes being made in Matsuyama,
Shikis birthplace. As readers of this journal know,
one of the first awards was made to the late Robert Spiess.
Another one was made to the French poet Yves Bonnefoy (b.
1923), who gave a lecture, Haiku, Short Verse and
French Poets. After the lecture, there was a symposium
discussion, picking up on some of the points that Bonnefoy
made. These events, in which Professor Haga played an important
role, took place in September 2000. This book is one of
the varied offshoots from all of that.
the title, the word hibikiau means to echo or reverberate,
while shishin means poetic sentiment or feeling. The subtitle
refers to Haiku and French Poets. So the idea
is of an interplay of feelings and ideas focused particularly
on haiku, and exemplified in the work of French poets who
have had contact with that form. The prologue or opening
chapter gives some examples of short poems from a book by
Paul Claudel. It was published, in the format of a Japanese
book, in Tokyo in 1927, with the title Cents phrases
pour éventails, and the poems in it reflected
Claudels sojourn in Japan. It has since been translated
into English, by Andrew Harvey and Iain Watson, as A
Hundred Movements for a Fan (London: Quartet, 1992).
Claudel, an important poet who was sent to Japan as the
French ambassador in the middle of his diplomatic career,
occupies the center of this account. When he arrived in
1921, Claudel was already fifty-three years old, and had
served previously in China. He stayed in Japan until 1927,
when he left for Washington. The small haiku-influenced
book that he issued in his final year, was the fruit of
his contact with the arts of his host country. Haga invites
the reader into this world with samples of the poems, given
in French and his graceful Japanese translations. There
are also illustrations at the beginning of the book, of
the original volume, of fans that Claudel inscribed with
poems, and of a notebook that he kept with musings on certain
traces the background to this, from the early English versions
of haiku done by Basil Hall Chamberlain and W.G. Aston,
on through the discovery and imitation of haiku by Paul
Louis Couchoud (1879 1956), most of which happened
around the turn of the century. In this he covers much the
same ground as Jeffrey Johnson did in the last issue of
this journal, with some minor differences in detail. There
is an important difference in approach, however, in that
Haga is more concerned to fill in the circumstances in which
the poems were composed. He suggests what pictures Claudel
might have seen, or what poems he might have read, and even
what he might have been thinking when he composed a poem.
Now and then the author indulges in conjecture, though what
he says is usually helpful, and enhances our appreciation
of the work itself.
Claudel is the biggest star in the small firmament of French
poets who have come under the influence of haiku, he is
by not by any means the only one. There have been others,
particularly since the war, and these too Haga introduces,
to bring the story up to the present time. The most notable
of them is probably the poet Phillippe Jaccottet (b. 1925),
whom Haga deals with next. Once more, samples of the poems,
drawn from Jaccottets several collections, are provided.
All of these are very brief, like much of this poets
plus rien que des montagnes miroitantes
Plus rien que dardents regards
qui se croisent
Merles et ramiers
nothing but shimmering peaks
Nothing but ardent glances
Blackbirds and doves
lyrical, almost ethereal, quality of this, both in the original
and in this translation by the Irish poet Derek Mahon, is
typical of Jaccottets style and method. Its evocativeness
has something akin to haiku, about which Jaccottet has written.
More specifically, he has written on the work of R.H. Blyth,
of whom he has for decades been a dedicated reader. Indeed,
he has produced an elegant slim volume, Haïku
(Fata Morgana, 1996), made up entirely of versions from
Blyth retranslated into French. Though the haiku are beautifully
presented in it, one to a page, the poet curiously retains
capitals at the beginning of each line, and a final period,
features that his own short poems have abandoned.
bibliography includes the English Claudel, but it overlooks
the English Jaccottet, which is nonetheless worth searching
out. Derek Mahons translation of the Selected Poems
was given an award when it came out from Penguin in 1988.
Though no longer available, a further selection from this
appeared as Words in the Air from Gallery Books in
Ireland a decade after. Both editions are bilingual. Similarly
influenced by Blyth was the poet Louis Callaferte (19281994),
who published a more markedly haiku-like collection of his
own work, which Haga discusses next in his estimable account
of these writers and their work.
has to be said that Haga does not take any particular critical
line in his discussion, and that his book is mainly written
to inform the reader about, and to celebrate, the work of
the poets he describes. It performs these tasks admirably.
In the closing chapter, he acquaints us with the background
to the Masaoka Shiki Prize, and the inaugural presentation.
The first Grand Prize went to Bonnefoy, whose commemorative
lecture has already been published, in Japanese and English,
in Matsuyama, as was the symposium that followed it. Haga
closes with some afterthoughts on the exchanges that took
place at the symposium, for which he acted as the chair.
Still keen to make suggestive parallels, he sets some extracts
from the prose poetry of Arthur Rimbaud against certain
verses by modern Japanese haiku poets, and leaves us with