Matsuo Basho

Robert Bly

Stanford Poetry Workshop 1
Margaret Jacks Hall, Room 334
Wed., April 2, 2008, 3:15-6:00 pm


translated by R.H. Blyth
The Genius of Haikus (1997)

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Issa Kobayashi

Preface: Today is Robert Bly's first workshop "The Occasions of Poetry" at Stanford. There are 16 students here. Bly asks everyone to introduce themselves and took notes in his journal about our background, our poetry instructors, even details on our parents. He tells the class that he'll be reading poets like Rilke and Neruda to us. "You must love a poet greater than yourself," Bly tells us, "Reaching to your side is OK, but you need to reach up. Part of you has to be a servant to another poet. You need to give back. Mary Oliver came to Minneapolis for the first time and 1000 people showed up. When she came the second time, 3000 people attended her reading. So this is a great time for poetry. My wife and our dog (golden retriever) came out here from Minneapolis. Eavan Boland invited me here as the Mohr Poet in the Spring Quarter since the weather is warmer here in California than Minnesota. I make a living reading poetry. I haven't done a class like this. So you may find me a jerk." However, when Bly talks about poets and poetry, you know it's coming from a master poet. He speaks about poetry with a passion and reverence to the great poets who have inspired him. Bly decides to cover the art of the haiku in his first class. He reads Basho and Issa haikus from The Genius of Haiku: R.H. Blyth on Poetry, Life, and Zen (1997) as well as Blyth's Volume 2 on Haiku: Spring (1950). Bly gave the class a 15-minutes break to write a few haikus. He tells us "You can't write haikus in your room. Need to be outdoors." I went outside to Memorial Court and wrote two haikus— one on the sun in a mist of clouds, another on the Viking ship drinking fountain. I took 8 pages of notes (6 pages of double columns) of some 20 haikus Bly read in class. However Blyth's Genius of Haiku is not at the Stanford Library or any of the local libraries. I had a nice meeting with Bly during his pre-class office hours (5/21/2008) and gave him my poem "What Nicodemus Came to Learn by Night" and also my Notes of Bly's Poetry Reading which he appreciated. When I asked to borrow his copy of Blyth's book so I could type the haikus he read, Bly looked in his bag and said that book is home and will bring it next week. As he was leaving the room, he gives me his personal Notebook with the Rembrandt Portrait cover, saying "I've copied all the haikus read in class in my Notebook. Here take it, and bring it back next week." I was surprised at his magnanimous gesture to part with his Notebook for my convenience. So I have completed this Haiku page on Bly's first class at Stanford. (Peter Y. Chou, May 21, 2008, Albrecht Dürer's 537th birthday)

(1) Haiku by Basho (p. 38)

It's fall in the evening
and no one is walking
along this road.

Bly's Commentary:

Need surprise in haikus. We suspect people in the image, but surprised there's none. Aim of the haiku is not Shakespearean. People may turn up. Think about the soul. The Soul is walking down the road.

(2) Haiku by Basho (p. 55)

The sea darkens.
The voices of the wild ducks
turn white.

Bly's Commentary:

Basho mixes the senses—
the auditory with the visual.

(3) Haiku by Kito (p. 97)

Green seaweed
in the rock hollows.
No one remembers the tide.

Bly's Commentary:

If you see the green seawood,
that's enough!
No need for the ocean.

(4) Haiku by Basho (p. 97)

Baby mice in their nest
squeak after they heard
the young sparrows.

Bly's Commentary:

Mice were squeaking all along. Getting rid
of human selfishness. Disney should've been
killed when he was 12 years old [Mickey Mouse?].

(5) Haiku by Basho (p. 36)

Winter seclusion:
once again I lean
against this post.

Bly's Commentary:

No one makes progress in winter. Family friend died. A frail human needs post to lean against, otherwise he may collapse. Repetition important. Good! Older person needs post for support.

(6) Haiku by Shika (p. 65)

White dew before dawn
over the potato field
is the Milky Way.

Bly's Commentary:

It's early morning. You close your eyes and BOOM! Potato field is not New York City, but the universe itself. Why not a girl friend's house? It's not expansive enough as the Milky Way.

(7) Haiku by Basho (p. 114)

Old pond. Frog
jumping in the
water— SOUND!

Bly's Translation:

The old pond—
The old frog jumps in—
Wahoo, Wahoo!

(8) Haiku by Basho (p. 107)

Grasshopper— you
be the cemetery watcher
after I die.

Bly's Commentary:

Even grasshopper is small.
The haiku always cuts down
human grandiosity.

(9) Haiku by Issa (p. 108)

It's not a big deal—
the poppy and I
are both alive.

Bly's Commentary:

You can't experience the
grandiose universe unless
you get rid of the ego.

(10) Haiku by Issa (Vol. 2, p. 149)

Two grinny dolls
in the corner also
are man and wife.

(11) Haiku by Issa (Vol. 2, p. 345)

The temple bells stop—
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.

(12) Haiku by Issa (Vol. 2, p. 12)

New Year's Day— my
tumble down hut
is about the same.

(13) Haiku by Issa (Vol. 2, p. 11)

Everyone congratulates!
But my spring
is nothing unusual.

(14) Haiku by Issa (Vol. 2, p. 355)

Cherry blossoms in evening.
Ah well, today also
belongs to the past.

(15) Haiku by Onitsura (Vol. 2, p. 4) (Web)

Great Morning to the New Year!
Winds of long ago
blow through the pine trees.

(16) Haiku by Issa (Vol. 2, p. 211)

A pheasant cries
when it hd just seen
the mountain.

(17) Haiku by Issa (Vol. 2, p. 253) (Web)

Near my house
from the first day, the frog
sang about old age.

(18) Haiku by Issa (Vol. 2, p. 50)

The older we get,
the more easily tears come
on a long day.

(19) Haiku by Issa (Vol. 2, p. 38)

The spring day lasts
a little longer
around water.

(20) Haiku by Buson (Vol. 2, p. 57)

The setting spring sun
has been treading on the tail
of the copper pheasant. (Web)

(21) Haiku by Buson (p. 146) (Web)

Moon at harvest time
is called master of the house.
He was digging potatoes.


Web Links to Basho

Wikipedia: Matsuo Basho
    (Early Life, Rise to Fame, Later Life, Influence, Works, Notes)
Basho Texts: Japanese & English
    (Authors, Translators, Texts, Translations, References)
Basho's Haiku
    (Translated by R.H.Blyth, Lucien Stryck, and Peter Beilenson)
Basho's Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel
    (from a translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa)
Haiku by Basho
    (Biography & Haikus by Basho. Buson, and Issa)
Basho's Frog Haiku
    (Original Japanese and 30 different translations in English)
Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North
    (Nine Translations of the Opening Paragraph)

Web Links to Issa

Haiku of Kobayashi Issa
    (About Haiku, About Issa, 9000 Issa Haiku Archive, Search)
Haiku by Issa
    (Biography & Haikus of Issa, Basho, and Buson)
Issa Archive
    (172 frog haikus by Issa translated by David G. Lanoue)
That Lovable Old Issa
    (Essay by Joshua Stone)
Wikipedia: Kobayashi Issa
    (Life, Death, Writings, References, Notes, Web Links)
Selected Haiku by Issa
    (Teacher's Domain, Teaching Tips, Robert Hass Reads Issa Video)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (5-21-2008)