a small space
between wit and wonder
left vacant

Friday, April 11, 2014


In English Language Haiku (ELH) the main structural focus seems to be upon “juxtaposition,” a term which describes a fragment and phrase verse-arrangement of opposites. Though this terminology loosely describes many verses written by the great Japanese haiku masters, it is by no means the only technique the masters employed and certainly not the only viable one today. All of the classic Japanese masters varied their verses.

In Matsuo Basho's verses we find that there are at least three distinct haiku structures detectable by both the kireji (cutting word/cut markers) used in them and the content, which work together to make his intended meaning clearer to the reader. All of these structures continue to be viable forms, offering options that expand the scope of contemporary haiku: 

1. The verse with a Two-Part Contrast:

Examples: high/low; dark/light; full moon/bowl of rice, etc.; a comparison between opposites or differing things

A Two-Part Contrast indicates a comparison by using a specific kireji (cut marker), indicating to the reader that the author intends it to be read as a 'cut and turn.' The punctuation most used as the equivalents for cut and turn are represented as follows: 

a DASH: an en-dash (­­ – ) or em-dash ( — ), can be used to signify the pause that separates the two parts of the verse from one another. 
(Note that a hyphen is not a dash. When a hyphen is used after a word without leaving a space it signifies that the word or compound word is being split between the end of one line and the beginning of the next line. It does not signify a cut marker.)

Contrasting parts of a verse may also be separated by a question mark ( ? ) or an exclamation mark ( ! ) at the end of line 1 or line 2 (1L or 2L).

Basho Example :

yama mo niwa mo ugokihairuru natsu zashiki

summer sitting room —
the mountains and the garden
seem to move in too

(Translation by Gabi Greve)

For keyboard shortcuts on making en-dash and em-dash on Mac and PC:

2. The verse with a Two-Part Single Theme:

Examples: light/light causing squinting; walking/continuing on down the road; rose bush/its leaves and canes, etc.

When we wish to indicate a ‘pause and continue’ a different type of kireji is used than those used to signify contrast. The author provides the reader with a clear indication of the intended reading, similarly to the way things are grouped in declining or ascending order. A theme may be stated and then details that come to bear on the theme fill out the imagery or vice-versa. (A good analogy might be the movie or photo 'wide shot' and then the 'close-up' or the 'close-up' followed by the 'wide shot'.) 

The cut marker used as kireji to create a pause and continue between connected thoughts is the ellipsis:  ( … ) or ( . . . )

Basho Example:

irozuku ya toofu ni ochite usumomiji

they are starting to change color . . .
a slightly red maple leaf
falls on my tofu

(Translation by Gabi Greve)

3. The verse with a Single Theme (Ichibutsu Jitate):

The Single Theme verse may or may not be a sentence, ending with an ellipsis (kana), question mark (ka) or exclamation mark (ya). 

When an ellipsis is used as the cut marker at the end of 3L it can convey several possible meanings: something left unsaid, a thought trailing off, a sigh, a sense of awe or of wonder.

Basho Example:

momo tose no keshiki o niwa no ochiba kana / momotose

a hundred years
of the view of this garden
with fallen leaves . . .

My modified version of Gabi Greve's translation based on Basho's prose portion, which Jane Reichhold provides: 
In the tenth month of the fourth year of Genroku's reign, I am staying over at the honorable Riyu's place at Menshoji Temple. It has been a hundred years since this temple was moved here from the village. As recorded in the records of contributions to the temple: Bamboo and trees grow densely, and the earth and rocks are aged moss." Here is a truly venerable grove, deeply moving in its appearance of great age.

Greve's original version: hundreds of years | of the view of this garden | with fallen leaves . . .

Alternate version by Helen Shigeko Isaccson:

a hundred years'
landscape in the garden's
fallen leaves kana

(Isaacson fails to render 'kana' at the end of the translated verse with an equivalent punctuation in English, but writes the romaji of its pronunciation instead.)

Traces of Dreams by Haruo Shirane
The Single Object Poem, page 111
~ For Study Purposes Only ~

In response to Kyoriku’s emphasis on the “combination poem” and his claim that combining separate topics was the central technique of the Basho style, Kyorai argued that, although combining was certainly important, it did not take precedence over other techniques and that Basho also composed “single-object” (ichibutsu shitate) poems, which focused on a single topic and in which the hokku flowed smoothly from start to finish, without the leap or gap found in the combination poem. In Kyoraisho, he noted:

The Master said: “A hokku that moves smoothly from the opening five syllables to the end is a superb verse.”

Shado remarked: “The master once told me, ‘The hokku is not, as you believe, something that brings together two or three different things. Compose the hokku so that it flows like gold being hit and flattened by a hammer.’” . . . 

Kyorai: “If a poet composes by combining separate things, he can compose many verses and composed them quickly. Beginning poets should know this. But when one becomes an accomplished poet, it is no longer a question of combining or not combining. (NKBZ 51: 498)29

Bonus Example: There are also some verses by Basho that have a cut marker at the center of 2L. Here is one of them:

tootogaru namida ya somete chiru momiji 

my respectful
tears — coloring
the falling red leaves 

(Translation by Gabi Greve)

For further information about Basho’s verses and their translations, 

For a more in-depth study of the use of kireji, see:

For 202 Translations of Basho Verses by Dr. Gabi Greve, see my blog for June 2014:

See Wikipedia link for general usage of kireji: