Byobu— Tokugawa Period

Samurai swords,

the warrior’s métier

in halcyon time.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been enamored of poetry, and from time to time like to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and compose it.

My favorite poets are Dante Alighieri and Pablo Neruda. Perhaps no one will ever top Dante for the profundity of his poetry in the Divine Comedy, and Neruda, the so-called surrealist poet, is inimitable in his ability to capture in poetic language the beauty of natural things. Both poets wrote natively in phonetic languages, enabling them to capture sound with a certain rhythm that speaks for itself, a kind of beautiful music to the ears, even without understanding the lyrics that go along with it.

Consider the opening lines in Dante’s The Inferno, translated by Robert Pinsky:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura

Che la diritta via era smarrita.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura

Esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte

che nel pensier rinova la paura!

Tant’ è amara che poco è più morte…

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself

In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell

About those woods is hard—so tangled and rough

And savage that thinking of it now, I feel

The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.

Or the verse of Pablo Neruda in Being Born in the Woods, translated by W. S. Merwin:

Llevo en mi mano la paloma que duerme reclinada en la semilla

y en su fermento espeso de cal y sangre

vive Agosto,

vive el mes extraído de su copa profunda:

con mi mano rodeo la neuva sombra del ala que crece:

la raíz y la pluma que mañana formarán la espesura.

I carry in my hand the dove that sleeps recumbent in the seed

and in its dense ferment of lime and blood

August lives,

raised out of its deep goblet the month lives:

with my hand I encircle the new shadow of the wing that is growing:

the root and the feather that will form the thicket of tomorrow.

I’ve appreciated Japanese haiku ever since I came to Japan, most particularly that of the masters Bashô, Buson, Issa (technically haikai artists) and Shiki, who coined the term haiku.

Haiku also benefits from the phonetic characteristic of the Japanese language.

Feel the rhythm in this haiku of Kobayashi Issa, translated by David C. Lanoue:


yûgure wo hetana shigure no tôri keri

passing through evening
the winter rain

Like most things in Japan there is a strict form for composing haiku, classically, 17 mora, or units of sound, in three praises of 5, 7, and 5 moras each. Traditional haiku also contain a kigo, or seasonal reference.

In English, this traditional structure is not strictly observed. For one reason, more meaning can sometimes be captured in a single English word consisting of one syllable than in its Japanese equivalent with more units of sound. For example, dance (noun) is one syllable; its Japanese equivalent is odori (3 syllables) or dansu. In a free-form style English haiku writers may not include a seasonal word either.

As I am just a beginner in haiku, I generally stick to a 5-7-5 structure or a 3-5-3 structure. The beauty of haiku is that they are concisely expressed short poems that lend themselves to twitter, which limits messaging to 140 characters. It’s fun to write haiku, playing with words to evoke something with special meaning. Much more fun for me than solving a cross-word puzzle.

Northern Thailand

What does Buddha think

of all the tourists

in the skyline bliss?

Kamogawa Kyoto

Under the delft sky

the heron glances northward

to Shimogamo

Looking towards Myanmar

Golden triangle

where burnished poppies temper

discordant feeling

Kyoto Ryoanji

Across a pale moon

snow clouds drifting in the night

nature’s dreamscape

Vegetable shop in Kyoto

A farmer’s bounty

makes its way to the market

radiating warmth

Japanese Theater Mask

Who is it really

joining the masquerade ball

with transparency?

Kurama-Kibune Trail Kyoto

Marathon runner

aloft on a lonely path

greets his nemesis

Himalayas near Nepal border

On pristine waters

song was born dancing

to flamenco rhythm

Shoren-in Kyoto

In the temple pond

the carp bows graciously

to distinguished guests

El Arrayan, Chile

Whether or not, or

not whether, rather weather,

the skies are fairer


All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier