In the 19th century, through an artistic and literary movement
known as Japonisme, French poets appear to have
been solely attracted by the evocation and illustration
of Japanese works of art such as color-prints or curios,
which they usually transcribed in the sonnet form. Therefore
the exotic curiosity for Japanese culture was limited to
art and did not seem to have yet had penetrated the arcane
of Japanese poetry. The poems do not show any interest in
the condensed Japanese poetical form or any real knowledge
of the Japanese customs and traditions. The fairly recent
economic and political opening of Japan to the West, its
cultural and geographic remoteness, the difficulty of its
language, the lack of translations did not allow for any
deep and sustained approach of Japanese letters.(1) Indeed,
if one excepts Leon de Rosnys Anthologie japonaise
published in 1871, which apparently is the first translation
of Japanese tanka into French (2) and Judith Gauthiers
(1850-1917) Poèmes de la Libellule (1884)
(3), French translations of Japanese poetry were rare and
remained confined to the limited circle of linguists and
In the second half of the 19th C., the French poetical
scene was dominated by two main movements the Parnasse and
Symbolism. the Parnasse was a reaction against sentimental
and confidential Romanticism. Th. Gautier became the undisputed
master, the champion of art for arts sake.
According to Gautier, by nature art is disinterested, has
no useful aim. It is its very own end: Anything useful
is ugly. (4) Art is the cult of beauty as a means
to appease the artists worry. In order to conquer
beauty, the poet must work on the form. Facility must be
banned. The door was then opened to the plastic, impassible
poetry of the Parnasse that sees poetical work as an acrobatic
and skilled activity. Poetry was reduced to a game of rime
riche (rich rhyme), which lead Banville to affirm
that the rhyme is the verse (5). As opposed
to the Parnasse, Symbolism is based on the sense of mystery
that is in and around us. Therefore poetry cannot be descriptive
and will use symbols to reach the soul of things. The unknown
and the subconscious are at the crux of this poetry that
is also characterized by the use of free verse. Gerard de
Nerval and Baudelaire had been the initiators of symbolism,
the first one with his experience of the surreal and the
second one with his theory of correspondances
between real life and dream. Later, Lautréamond,
Verlaine, Rimbaud, and more particularly Mallarmé
contributed to the development of the movement.
At the beginning of the 20th C., the most influential or
the most celebrated poets are, on the one hand, the old
beginners of the years 1880-1890 who exploit and diversify
the double heritage of the Symbolists and the Roman School.
On the other hand, they are the newcomers who, through these
mixed currents, push further the poetic investigation. It
is a period of evolution. Reviews, manifestos, schools have
never been so numerous. Poetry is still a dominated chant
but where traditional meters, cuts and rhymes find a lot
of equivalents. Since Gérard de Nerval, the poetic
vocation had been one of interpretation and overstepping
of appearances towards an approximation of the Being. Poetry
tended to be isolated from real life. But Moréas
and the Roman School had brought poets back to the concrete
spectacle of the world and to a more direct way of treating
the themes. The tone adopted testifies to the abandonment
of a cerebral and only dreamed universe. In 1909, the Unanimist
movement attempted to rejoin, behind the fragmentary spectacle
of daily life, not the mysterious essences, but the felt
presence of a collective soul. At the same time, Futurism
calling for mechanical tumult and material violence confirmed
a more general recourse to the vision of the modern world
modified by speed, the ubiquity of the new born cinema and
the simultaneous interpretation of concrete form toward
which painting tended.
It is in this context that the haiku penetrated the French
It would be an obvious mistake not to include Jules Renard
(1864-1910) as a serious precursor of the French haiku.
His Histoires naturelles (first published in 1896)
are definitely not directly influenced by Japanese poetry.
However, in his own way, Renards sense of brevity,
objectivity, suggestiveness and terseness is evidently reminiscent
of the haiku and will undoubtedly contribute to the popularity
of Renard among the new generation of French poets at the
beginning of the 20th C.
LE VER LUISANT
Cette goutte de lune dans lherbe!
THE GLOW WORM
This moon drop in the grass! (6)
Let us quote from Renards journal where the authors
art of poetry not only conforms to some of the rules of
haiku writing but denotes an evident environmental preoccupation:
Tout est beau. Il faut parler dun cochon comme
Everything is beautiful. A pig should be spoken of just
as a flower.
Je prétends quune description qui dépasse
dix mots nest plus visible.
I believe that a description of more than ten words is
not visible anymore.
De presque toute la littérature, on peut dire
que cest trop long.
Of nearly all literature, one can say that it is too long.
Réduire la vie à sa plus simple expression.
Reduce life to its simplest expression.
Jules Renard (7)
A) Form experimentation and assimilation.
With the early 20th C., begins the form experimentation
period of French language haiku. This period can be divided
into two stages running from 1903 to 1925.
I) 1903-1917, Form Experimentation
The French intellectuals and poets were not the first to
write about haiku, but they were the first Westerners to
attempt to adapt the poetic principles of the Japanese genre
to a Western language and culture. According to Gary L.
Brower, an interest in Japanese literature had been
evolving in England, based on influences of French exoticism
and the translations and studies of a group of scholarly
orientalists.(8). In his article on Basho (9) from
1902, Basil Hall Chamberlain, an eminent British specialist
of Japan, was the first to coin the term lyric epigram
for what was then technically called a haikai.
In his turn, in 1903, Claude Maitre, a French scholar, translated
some of Bashos haiku while reporting on basil Hall
Chamberlains substantial article on his epigrams(10).
Later in 1905, Louis Aubert quoted several hokku
from Chamberlains article in his Sur le paysage
japonais (11). During the same year, Noel Péri
translated haiku and uta for a paper delivered at the Alliance
française in Yokohama (12).
Undoubtedly, these articles must have had an influence
on the French intellectuals and poets who were interested
in Japanese literature and were looking for new modes of
poetic expression. However it is only with the publication
of Au fil de leau in 1905 that a first serious
attempt was made to compose haiku in French. During a canal-boat
cruise in 1903, the authors, Paul-Louis Couchoud, Albert
Poncin and André Faure composed 72 haikai that were
compiled into a collection privately published. Couchoud
who taught his friends the Japanese genre, was a professor
of philosophy and doctor of medicine. He had traveled to
Japan and had been seduced by Japanese poetry and the haiku.
Without any doubt not only did he initiate French language
haiku but he also became the first true French expounder
and initiator of the genre in a series of two articles entitled
Les épigrammes lyriques du Japon in 1906.
Couchoud kept Chamberlains appellation of lyric
epigram to designate haikai. Indeed, this appellation
is not really adapted to the genre. An epigram is a short,
witty statement which may be complimentary, satiric or aphoristic.
Chamberlain was wise enough to add the adjective lyrical
to it in order to avoid confusion. The epigram being the
shortest literary form in Europe, it was only natural that
this designation be used in the first definitions of the
Japanese genre. Perhaps this appellation was too misleading
for in their attempts to approximate the haiku form, a few
poets after Couchoud used the epigram in the form of quatrains,
which were still the commonest stanzaic form in European
poetry at the end of the 19th century.
Couchoud himself said: A haiku can be compared neither
to a Greek or Latin distich, nor to a French quatrain. It
is neither a thought, nor a word,
nor a proverb; an epigram in neither the modern
sense nor in the antique, which is rather an inscription.
It is the simplest picture, in three movements of the brush,
a sketch which is a brief touch or impression
study of the haikai, Mr Basil Hall Chamberlain calls them
the lyric epigrams of Japan. This title defines
two of their essential qualities brevity and the
power of suggestion. (13)
In the first two poems of the following selection by Couchoud,
the influence of both Bashô and Buson is evident:
Dans le soir brûlant
Nous cherchons une auberge.
O ces capucines!
In the hot evening
Looking for an inn.
O the nasturtium!
A la recherche dune auberge
Ah! Ces fleurs de glycines.
I arrive tired
Looking for an inn
Ah! The wisteria
Une simple fleur de papier
Dans un vase
A simple paper flower
In a vase
An anemone in a pot
Sur le bord du bateau
Je me hazarde à quatre pattes
Que me veut cette libellule?
On the boats deck
I venture on all fours
What does this dragonfly want?
The borrowings only prove how much Couchoud desired to
nurture the genre and assimilate it. As a student and a
practitioner of haiku, Couchoud must also have been aware
that it was not unusual for some poets to borrow a haiku
from someone else and only change a few syllables.
Although Couchouds poems are experimental and far
from being masterpieces, they more or less follow the rules
of haiku composition. They are brief and terse, not rimed
and remote from the lyrical, wordy effusion common to the
French poetic tradition. The 5/7/5 structure is used in
an approximate manner but each line never includes more
than 8 syllables. Most of the poems contain a reference
to the season and concretely are associated with nature.
Note also that Couchoud carefully uses the themes of flowers,
insects and trees such as dragonfly, nasturtia, willow,
which are traditional Japanese themes. The result is a series
of interesting pictures of French rustic life.
The interest of such attempts in French, Couchoud
declares, is that it shows what an effort of limitation
the Western artist must impose on his receptivity in order
to condense his feeling into a unique sensation. . . . In
the work of all French poets it would be possible to trace
passages which, if isolated, would exist as haikai. (15)
Both his attempt to practice haiku and his knowledgeable
literary and cultural explanations made him the first real
originator of French language haiku and lead the way to
a growing and continued interest until World War II.
Following Couchoud and his friends, Fernand Gregh published
Quatrains a la facon des haikai japonais in
1906. Fernand Gregh could not resist the French tradition
of the rimed quatrain and tried to find a compromise between
the haikus connection with nature and the French poetic
usage of construction. Although he cites Moritake and Busson,
and quotes Couchouds definition of the haikai as being
a sketch, sometimes only one line, a note whose harmonies
die out slowly within us (16), Greghs poems
are far from being haiku.
Nuit. Les blancs bouleaux, diffus
Parmi lombre verte et brune,
Semblent garder sur leur fûts
Un éternel clair de lune . . .
Night. The white birch trees, diffuse
Among the dark green shade
Seem to hold to their trunks
An eternal moonlight
Fernand Gregh (17)
Here we have a heptasyllabic quatrain. Some of his other
poems were composed in classic alexandrines. These two poems
central theme is the moon, a traditional Japanese theme,
but Gregh relies too much on the effect of versification
and lyricism. Furthermore, the formulation is too verbose,
therefore avoiding the immediacy and suggestiveness of the
Soon after, in 1908, Albert de Neuville, also influenced
by Couchouds article, published 163 Haikais
et tankas, Epigrammes à la japonaise(18). Contrary
to Greghs poems, they are free rimed quatrains.
Lhiver est parti;
Le pêcher en fleur menvoie
The blooming peach tree
Sends me confetti.
Affublée en juin dun boa
La rose a-t-elle la berlue?
Cest une chenille poilue.
In June rigged out with a boa
Does the rose see things wrong?
Its a hairy caterpillar.
The free stanza form allows the poems to be closer to haiku
as far as brevity is concerned. Neuvilles poems are
still wordy but their lyricism is more moderate than Greghs.
Nature is omnipresent and its vegetable and animal elements
are treated in a humorous way reminiscent of Jules Renards
In 1910, the publication of Michel Revons Anthologie
de la littérature japonaise, des orgines au XXe siecle
greatly influenced the adepts of the haikai. Revon who had
been a professor at the Law School of Tokyo, was adjunct
professor of the History of Far Eastern Civilizations at
the Sorbonne. His anthology was one more step into the understanding
of Japanese literature. According to Schwarz, the
influence of this very practical introduction to Japanese
aesthetics can be proved by the disappearance of long pseudo-Japanese
poems. (20) Interestingly enough, the word haiku
is mentioned for the first time in this voluminous anthology.
In 1912 and 1914, Gilbert de Voisins, a novelist who had
visited Japan, published Vingt-cinq quatrains sur
un même motif and Cinquante quatrains dans le
gout japonais. Schwartz says of him that he
has a gift for the epigram, developed by the teaching of
the Japanese poets. (22) The following poem is in
La lune éclaire tout le ciel: soufflons la
Oh! Voici que le mont Fuli paraît, doublant,
Par des traits élégants et délicats
En leau verte du lac son profil rose et blanc.
The moon lights the whole sky: lets blow out
O! Here appears Mount Fuji, twinning,
With elegant and delicate print-like traits
In the green water of the lake its pink and white
Gilbert de Voisins (23)
Moon, Mount Fuji, water are used here in carefully crafted
quatrains. As Bernadette Guilmette points out, it
is obviously the themes and vocabulary of Japanese poetry
rather than the form that impressed Gregh and de Voisins.
Their voice, expressed in four lines, approached, it must
be admitted, the concise manner of Oriental art. (24)
It is obvious that some French writers and poets were not
ready yet to thoroughly succumb to the classic 5/7/5 structure
of haiku or simply to brevity. The period of exoticism had
not yet totally disappeared. Indeed in 1914, poets were
still in the process of discovering the various facets of
Japanese poetry. French language haiku was simply a curiosity.
It was something that had to be tried because it was in
the air of time. Both the Japanese themes and brief poetic
form had not seduced to the point of radically changing
the French artistic mentality and the resolutely intellectual
approach that were still characteristic of most of the literary
production at the time. Even the Dadaist and Surrealist
movements that were then beginning to flourish and bring
a new type of perception could not help being intellectual
and therefore remote from artistic simplicity. As a matter
of fact only a few of the great figures of French literature
will venture to tackle the Japanese genre. The haiku remained
limited in scope among the poetic establishment. It was
only beginning to plant its seeds.
In 1916, Julien Vocance published Cent visions de
guerre followed in 1917 by ninety haikai in La Grande
revue. In the middle of World War I, this soldier decided
to materialize his emotions and impressions of life in the
trenches in the form of haiku.
Ma tête à peine rentrée,
Un moustique siffle et soudain
La crête de terre séboule.
My head hardly inside
A mosquito whizzes and suddenly
The tuft of earth falls in.
Des croix de bois blanc
Surgissent du sol,
Chaque jour, ça et là.
White wooden crosses
Surging from the soil,
Each day, here and there.
Dans les vertebres
Du cheval mal enfoui
Mon pied fait: floche
Among the vertebrae
Of the badly buried horse
My foot goes: flosh
Julien Vocance (25)
His poems are more faithful to the rules of haiku composition.
His hundred Visions of War will be immediately acclaimed
by the critics. Emile Vuillermoz in Le Temps called
it a spiritual lesson of tact and poetry. (26)
Charles-Henri Hirsch in La Grande Revue thought Vocances
work was a meticulous work of fine chiselling.
(27) When Couchoud republished his essay on the Lyrical
Japanese Epigrams in Sages et poètes dAsie
in 1917, he included some commentary on Vocances work:
In my opinion, these haikai of Julien Vocance are
worthy to be placed beside the Japanese models, as one of
our prints is sometimes hung beside the Japanese example
which has inspired so much of its beauty. (28)
Vocances haiku will put an end to the period of exoticism.
He had known Couchoud in 1900 and read Au fil de leau.
In the midst of the tragic war, he realized how much the
haiku was better adapted to these terrible conditions than
any other longer poetic or prose genre. The war haiku will
have many followers among the young poets.
It is true that as William J. Higginson said, many of Vocances
visions are rather grandiose and sentimental.
(29) Nevertheless the emotion is not as diffuse as in many
of his predecessors poems. Furthermore, his haiku
are terse and concrete, less verbose. Vocance had only one
aim: to suggest in 3 lines, as he will later expose in his
Art Poétique, the impassibility of things with all
the pain underneath. (30) Leaving war aside, Vocance will
explore other themes:
Sur le sable qui crissotte,
Ses petits pieds trottent,
Trottent menu, menu.
On the creeshing sand,
Her little feet scampering,
Comme le derrière dun macaque
Les fesses du nouveau-né
Like a macaques behind
The new-borns buttocks
Julien Vocance (31)
Here nature is more present than in the war haiku. From
the sound of feet in the sand to the senryu-like poem on
the macaques behind, Vocance gets closer to natural
phenomena while expressing the outline of things in a variety
of moods: gaiety, charm, and humor in a non-intellectual
way.II) The flourishing period (1920-1926)
In 1920, the Nouvelle Revue Francaise printed a
selection of haikai by several poets including Couchoud
and Vocance. This article could be considered as an attempt
to begin a school or a movement. In addition to Couchoud
and Vocance, one can find the names of well-known poets
such as Jean Paulhan, Paul Eluard and Jean-Richard Bloch.
As Bernadette Guilmette remarks, the movement had
been gaining momentum from its very beginning and was now
important enough to attract some truly great writers.
George Sabirons poem has a Zen tint to it for its
serenity and its philosophical image on reality:
Flaque deau sans un pli.
Le coq qui boît et son image
Se prennent le bec.
Puddle without a ripple.
The drinking rooster and its image
Catch each others beaks.
More accomplished is Jean-Richard Blochs haiku with
its 5/7/5 structure and its concreteness and movement:
Contre le sein nu
Lenfant rit, tourne la tête
Et le lait déborde.
Against the naked breast
The child laughs, turns his head
And the milk overflows.
Bretons poem is delicate but it is rimed, which results
in French lyricism. However the movement of the heart associated
with that of water is interesting:
Au fil de leau, rapprochés, separés,
Ce bouquet de roses fanées,
Et cette lettre déchirée.
With the stream, together, separate,
This bouquet of wilted roses,
And this torn letter.
Paul Eluards haiku, which are the only ones he ever
published, are not necessarily of the best kind. As Rene
Maublanc noted in 1923, all are equally mysterious
Due to the absence of a common discipline
of thought, symbolism tends in us to a simple individual
dream, a la Mallarmé, difficult to grasp for any
one but the author. (33) As a matter of fact, the
two following poems lack a certain objectivity or direct
observation of life:
Le coeur à ce quelle chante
Elle fait fondre la neige
La nourrice des oiseaux.
The heart to that which she sings
She melts the snow
The birds nursemaid.
In the next one, the scene is delineated with verbal economy,
and the image is more evident:
A moitié petite,
Montée sur un bamc.
The little girl
Set on a bench.
Jean Paulhan contributed a few haiku. The following one
has 17 syllables arranged in 7/7/3 structure.
La fumée senvole au Nord
Le papillon blanc vers lEst
Smoke flying to the North
A white butterfly to the East
Jean Paulhan (34)
According to Etiemble: the problem is
that one cannot construct haiku in French following the
Japanese 5/7/5 structure without it determining an alexandrine
purr: 5+7 or 7+5, thus falsifying the feeling which this
sequence gives to the Japanese. Paulhan had found a solution:
7+7+3, which provides the 17 syllables, and manages to avoid
the epic or lyric verse. (35)
This first minimal anthology attracted the
attention of some personalities, among them, Jules Romains
who in 1920 discussed the attempt to found the French haiku.
He insists on the question, raised in La Gerbe, of
an amateur art, and asserts the necessity of
a poetic rule. (36)
Julien Vocances Art poétique
was published in La Connaissance in 1921. Although
it does not absolutely answer the question raised by Jules
Romains and is reminiscent of Rimbauds theory, it
enumerates a few basic rules hostile to rhetorical
eloquence in poets (37), but in favor of suggestiveness,
concreteness and terseness:
Le poète japonais
Essuie son couteau:
Cette fois léloquence est morte.
The Japanese poet
Wipes his blade:
This time eloquence is dead.
Chaud comme une caille
Quon tient dans le creux de la main,
Naissance du haï-kaï.
Warm as a quail
In the palm of ones hand,
Birth of the haikai.
Evoque, suggère. En trois lignes
Montre-moi ce masque impassible,
Mais toute la douleur par-dessous.
Evoke, suggest. In three lines
Show me this impassible mask,
But all the pain underneath.
Julien Vocance (38)
In 1923, a new stage in the evolution of French
haiku will appear. Rene Maublanc, a friend of Couchoud will
be the initiator of it. He had already published haikais
in 1919 and a critical study in 1920. His articles entitled
Un mouvement japonisant dans la littérature
contemporaine: le haïkaï francais published
in La grande revue of February and March 1923 discussed
the principles, the tendencies and the technique of French
Rene Maublanc lived in Reims where he started
a regional review of literature and art called Le pampre.
It is in this review that he published an article entitled
Le haïkaï français in which
he shared the belief of Jules Romains that the French
haikais form is very irregular, so free that it could
not follow any rule. However we have not forgotten the warning
which Jules Romain gave us in lHumanité.
(39) On the other hand Le pampre was extremely instrumental
in propagating the haiku among French people. Rene Maublancs
democratic belief was that the haiku was a genre that should
be practiced by a greater mass of people and not be relegated
to the circles of Parisian poets: If this movement
can be transmitted and enlarged, if a greater and greater
number of shrewd amateurs take pleasure in composing the
lines of a haikai, one can expect, not only a complete renewal
of our poetry, but also on the one hand an anthology of
delicate works, and on the other hand, an elevation and
a refining of the public taste. (40).
Around Maublanc, who published numerous tercets
by amateurs, three poets, Roger Gilbert-Lecomte and the
Druart brothers contributed to create the Ecole Reimoise
whose organ will be Le pampre.
Roger Gilbert-Lecomte (1907-1943) was only
16 when he wrote the following haiku:
Les yeux du chat:
Deux lunes jumelles
Dans la nuit.
The eyes of the cat:
Two twin moons
In the night.
Dans le ciel de cendre
Comme un dernier tison
La petite étoile.
In the ash-grey sky
Like a last ember
The little star.
Roger Gilbert-Lecomte (41) A sense of observation
and economy characterizes the haiku of this young poet.
Rene Maublancs major haiku work is Cent
Haikais from which the following selection was taken:
Surgit de lherbe verte,
Des coquelicots à la main,
Le major ventru.
Rising from the green grass,
Poppies in his hand,
The portly major.
Rangées par ordre de grosseur,
Une collection de fesses
Cueillent les haricots.
Standing by size,
A collection of buttocks
Rene Maublanc (42)
Maublancs haiku are classic in their
composition except for the number of syllables. It is obvious
from their construction, themes and even humour that they
were written by a man who had studied haiku and its principles.
In the introduction, Maublanc humbly remarked that these
little pieces are therefore not at all the spontaneous product
of a poetic inspiration. They simply represent the modest
but thoughtful effort of a man who, by taste as by profession,
is used to analysis, and who scrupulously applied himself
to take down, as sincerely and accurately as he could, a
few spare details of things and men that he observed around
himself and in himself. (43)
The last poet from Reims worthy of praise
is René Druart (44). His collection of haiku, Lépingleur
de haïkaï was published in 1929 with a preface
by Paul Fort himself.
Est-ce un bourdon à la vitre
Ou leau du thé
Is it a bumblebee on the window
Or the tea water
Dun tilleul jauni,
Une feuille tombe à pic,
Lourde de tout lété.
From a yellowed lime tree,
A leaf falls sheer,
Heavy with the whole Summer.
René Druart (45)
René Druart was very knowledgeable
in Japanese art and his delicate inspiration is narrowly
connected to the Japanese state of mind with a sure taste
for the microcosmic elements of life.
In 1924, Benjamin Crémieux published
an article in the Nouvelles littéraires on
the French haikai in which he invited the readers to
compete with our best haijin. (46). In another article,
two weeks later, Crémieux declared: I received
about a thousand haiku from Paris, from the province, from
Belgium, from the closest colonies. I also received a certain
number of interesting communications on the subject.
Sur lestrade le lutteur
Faillit rêver en écoutant
Lallegro de la vieille valse.
On the platform the wrestler
Almost dreamt listening to
The allegro of the old waltz.
Sur lépaule du novice
Tanguant vers la ruelle chaude,
La guenon grelottante ferme les yeux.
On the apprentices shoulder
Pitching towards the hot lane,
The shivering she-monkey closes her eyes.
P. Enard (48)
Again in the same year, Marc Adolphe Guégans
Trois petits tours et puis sen vont
In the introduction, the author stated that I therefore
did not compose haikai: I only composed tercets, tercets
perhaps vivified by the contact with a foreign literature;
undoubtedly stylized by the original contribution of the
authentic haikai. Yet nothing other than simple tercets.
Giraffe. grand escargot
Qui a perdu sa coquille
Et la cherche à lhorizon.
Giraffe. Tall snail
That lost its shell
And looks for it in the horizon.
Marc-Adolphe Guégan (50)
The publications that followed are characterized
by an irregular poetic production in quality and construction.
Perhaps this was due to the growing popularity of the genre
Two other major figures of French literature
will also leave their mark in the history of French haiku.
Francis Jammes produced several collections of quatrains
between 1923 and 1925. Although these are not haiku, Jammess
poems are brief and concrete and close to the Japanese print
Un ciel de soie
Un chien aboie
Sur le coteau.
A silky sky
Bluing the water.
A dog barks
On the hillock.
Francis Jammes (51)
Paul Claudels interest in Japanese culture
and literature is a well-known fact. In 1921 he was named
ambassador to Japan. There he familiarized himself with
the haiku. His journal is full of simple sentences reminiscent
of the haiku spirit:
Une libellule atterit sur une tige de plantain.
A dragonfly lands on a plantain stem.
There are haiku too:
La grenouille au fond du
Puits: toute les étoiles
The frog at the bottom of
The well: all the stars
Are blurred. (52)
Claudels Cent phrases pour éventail
first published in Tokyo in 1927, are his main poetic contribution
to the French haiku movement. His poems are sometimes too
long to be real haiku but they are written in an unusual
scattered and detached fashion and show a rare sense of
the Japanese way of perceiving the world.
sur mes j essaie
sandales d attraper
de bois le
premier flocon de neige
On my I
Paul Claudel (53)
From the 30s to the end of World War II, there
was a noticeable decrease in the interest in haiku in France.
As mentioned earlier, the beginning of the 20th century
gave way to a few influential intellectual movements that
penetrated the literary establishment and maintained it
in its tradition of elaborateness. Also the new linguistic
research (Saussure) and the Freudian studies rather engaged
writers and poets in complex and often wordy introspections.
Finally when Japan got involved in World War II, France
began to lose its interest in the frail and delicate Japanese
Nonetheless, it clearly appears that between 1859 and 1926,
Japanese art and literature gradually settled down in France
and influenced the world of letters, opening the way to
a flourishing assimilation of haiku between 1905 and 1926.
Undoubtedly, the haiku movement in France started as a reaction
against poetic eloquence, with a period of experimentation
and adaptation of the haiku form to the French poetic rules
and traditional short genres. More daring and captivating
was the movement which Maublanc, Crémieux and Romain
successfully launched, culminating in a democratic and popular
development of the haiku in France. The seed was planted.
Beyond the historical and literary reasons preventing haiku
from being definitely established as a genre among the belles
lettres, one can invoke the lack of awareness of the
spiritual currents that pervade haiku. Very few people in
Western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century knew
about Zen and Taoism, and the impact of these currents on
Japanese arts and letters. Only after World War II in the
50s and 60s will the Eastern spiritual development be strong
enough to favor the rise of a new type of philosophical
consciousness thanks to Blyth, Henderson, Suzuky, Watts,
Kerouac and Snyder among others. These essayists, novelists
and poets lead the way to the long-awaited East-West interconnection
in which hailu stands as a unique way of reaching a true
communion with our environment.
(1) In his Le Japon, Aimé Humbert, a Swiss plenipotentiary
in Japan from 1863 to 1864, realistically declared: We
are still exploring Japan
Now in order to integrate
Japanese literature into the street stall of the civilized
world, the work of more than a generation is needed.
See Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle: Approche du haiku
de chez nous, Editions la voix du crapaud, 1995, p. 26.
(2) Léon de Rosny (1837-1914) was the first French
scholar to have started the study of the Japanese language
and eventually taught it. In 1837, he published Anthologie
Japonaise de poésies anciennes et modernes de Nippon.
Although the bibliography mentions a few titles on haikai,
the book does not include any translation. See Patrick Blanche,
Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit.
(3) Judith Gautier was the daughter of Théophile
Gautier. She adapted with the help of Prince Saionji Kinemochi
a selection of tanka published in the 9th C.. She became
successful at the end of the 19th C. and was one of the
leading figures of japonisme.
(4) Théophile Gauthier, Mademoiselle de Maupin, preface
p. 21, Charpentier et Cie, Libraires-Editeurs, 1871, Paris.
According to Patrick Blanche, Théophile Gauthier,
in a long poem entitled le grillon (1845) sometimes
practices haiku without knowing it: Look at the branches,/How
white they are!/It is snowing flowers. See Le chat
a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit. pp. 16-17.
(5) Théodore de Banville, Petit traité de
versification française, 1872.
(6) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit. pp. 35-37.
(7) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., pp. 43-44.
(8) Gary L. Brower, Haiku in Western Languages, 1972, pp.
(9) B.H. Chamberlain, Basho and the Japanese Poetical
Epigram, Transaction of the Asiatic Society of Japan,
1902, Vol. XXX, part II.
(10) Claude E. Maitre, Bulletin de lEcole Française
(11) Louis Aubert, Sur le paysage japonais,
Revue de Paris, 15 sept. 1905. Even though Shiki started
using the word haiku towards the end of the
19th C., only the words haikai or hokku
were used in France.
(12) Noël Péri, Au Japon, Fleurs de cerisiers,
Revue de Paris, 1er sept 1905.
(13) The salt of French epigrams is almost always
in their play of words; they are very justly called mots
are light lashes of the tongue. The haikai is a coup doeil
(a rapid glance). Paul-Louis Couchoud, Japanese Impressions,
1921, pp. 35-36; 56-57; 68-69.
(14) Paul-Louis Couchoud et al., Haï-kaïs,
Nouvelle Revue Francaise, Sept. 1, 1920, pp. 331-32.
(15) Paul-Louis Couchoud, Japanese Impressions, op. cit.
(17) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., p. 67.
(18) Schwartz mentions a first edition in 1908 with 163
poems, a preface and a bibligraphy (unknown publisher),
followed by a second one in 1921 under the title Epigrammes
à la japonaise, enlarged to 249 items
but without the preface and bibliography of the first edition.
W. L. Schwartz, Japan in French Poetry, PMLA,
vol. XL, pp. 443.
(19) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., pp. 68-69.
(20) Japan in French Poetry, op cit., p. 443.
(21) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., p. 84.
(22) Japan in French Poetry, op cit., p. 444.
(23) Gilbert de Voisins, Cinquante quatrains dans
le goût japonais, Mercure de France, I-III-1914,
p. 26, 28.
(24) Haiku, Anthologie Canadienne/Canadian Anthology, Editions
asticou, 1985, p. 38. [Edited by Dorothy Howard and André Duhaime.]
(25) Julien Vocance, Cent visions de guerre,
La Grande Revue, May 1, 1916, p. 425, 427, 429.
(26) Haiku, Anthologie Canadienne/Canadian Anthology, op
cit, p. 38. [Edited by Dorothy Howard and André Duhaime.]
(27) Ibid., p. 39.
(28) Japanese Impressions, op cit. , p. 71.
(29) William J. Higginson, The haiku Handbook, 1985, p.
(30) William L. Schwartz, Linfluence de la poésie
japonaise sur la poésie française contemporaine,
Revue de littérature comparee, VI, vi, Oct-Nov. 1926,
(31) Julien Vocance, Fantômes dhier et
daujourdhui, La Grande Revue, May 1917,
(32) Haiku, anthologie canadienne/Canadian Anthology, op
cit., p. 40.
(33) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., p. 112.
(34) Haï-kaïs, op cit., pp. 331-345.
(35) Etiemble, Le coeur et la cendre 60 ans de poésie,
Editions les deux animaux, Paris, 1984, p.
(36) Rene Maublanc, Le Haïkaï français,
Le pampre, no. 10/11, 1923, p. 13.
(37) Japan in French Poetry, op cit., p. 446.
(38) William Schwartz, Linfluence de la poésie
japonaise sur la poésie française contemporaine,
Revue de Litterature Comparee, VI, vi, Oct.-Nov. 1926, pp.
(39) Le haïkaï français, op
cit, p. 4.
(40) Ibid. p. 6.
(41) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., pp. 135-36.
(42) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., pp. 139-41.
(43) Ibid. p. 138.
(44) His brother, Henri Druart, also wrote haiku. See Pincements
de cordes, Editions du Pampre, 1929. His haiku are of a
(45) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., pp. 143-45.
(46) Benjamin Crémieux, du haïkaï
français, Les nouvelles littéraires,
(48) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., p. 158.
(49) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., p. 159.
(51) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., p. 164.
(52) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., p. 174.
(53) Le chat a des souvenirs de jungle, op cit., p. 169-71.