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Haibun

Haibun is short prose with haiku poems mixed in. It often has a light and humorous tone and imagistic descriptions of beauty.

Like the haiku, it does not rely on complex literary devices to achieve its expression.

The word roughly translates as 'haiku prose',they can be journals, diaries or descriptive sketches. Here is an excerpt from a famous example by Basho that is titled 'Narrow road to the Interior.'

The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.

Last year I spent wandering along the seacoast. In autumn I returned to my cottage on the river and swept away the cobwebs. Gradually the year drew to its close. When spring came and there was mist in the air, I thought of crossing the Barrier of Shirakawa into Oku. I seemed to be possessed by the spirits of wanderlust, and they all but deprived me of my senses. The guardian spirits of the road beckoned, and I could not settle down to work.

I patched my torn trousers and changed the cord on my bamboo hat. To strengthen my legs for the journey I had moxa burned on my shins. By then I could think of nothing but the moon at Matsushima. When I sold my cottage and moved to Sampū’s villa, to stay until I started on my journey, I hung this poem on a post in my hut:

Even a thatched hut

May change with a new owner

Into a doll’s house.

This became the first of an eight-verse sequence

Shiki also wrote an autobiographical haibun called 'My Spring'

Few writers in the west have attempted anything like it, but Jack Kerouac came close with his more experimental work.

The basic principles of haiku are clearly reflected in haibun. Haibun also have a tendency to adopt a detached tone that focuses on the action of living rather than the underlying emotions. This focus on aesthetics is complemented by the classic attitude of economy of expression that permeates all haikai.

To learn more about other styles of Japanese Poetry like Haibun, click here



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