Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Spring 2006, vol 4 no 1

A column by Robin D. Gill

Blossoms In Heat - hanazakari
Or, the Spring of the Flowering Cherry


Introductory remarks

This is one of over fifty chapters in my upcoming (long-delayed) book, Cherry Blossom Epiphany (chapter 10, to be precise). That book, like all my books of translated poetry, demonstrates the art of multiple translation of single ku (haiku/hokku/jiku/senryu). The poems are centered, use no capital letters, and are attractively arranged in clusters using double and triple columns. That is too much work for html. As it would be boring to see the poems in serial, I present them here in single line format, with apologies.

Let me also add some things not explained below because the readers would already be familiar with them. First, unlike English, where "cherry" implies the fruit, in Japanese sakura refers to the tree, the blossom or more generally the tree in full blossom, though it can, in suitable context, even refer to the falling petals! Second, the common word hana, meaning either "blossom" or "flower" - which is to say that in Japanese, flowering trees are simply flowers - or anything precious or gorgeous, in the poetic context, unless otherwise indicated, is understood to mean "cherry blossoms." Third, blossom-viewing is not what many Occidentals think it is. They imagine the pink or white clouds of blossoms but forget the bloom of the drunken crowds. The B-side title of The Cherry Blossom Epiphany is The Cherry Blossom Bash, and there are entire chapters on both soulful inebriation and pure drunkenness which also include many hana-zakari ku. In case that troubles you, let me say one thing: if you have not gotten good and drunk seated under a flowering tree under the blue sky in mid-day or earlier, you must.


hana mo yo mo sakari wa hito no kokoro kana   sougi (d.1502)
(blossoms and world full-bloom/frenzy-as-for peoples' heart/mind!/?/'tis)

This full bloom / of cherries and the world? / The mind of man.
Cherry blossoms / and the world blooming / from our hearts!
It is our mind, / this frenzy of flowers / this rutting world.

With plants, sakari suggests rampant growth or gorgeous masses of blossoms in full bloom; with animals, cats in heat or bucks rutting; with humans, one might expect it to refer to horny men and women running amuck, but such is not the case. It usually indicates what English might refer to as being "in the flower of his/her wo/manhood." For towns, businesses and other nonliving entities, it means "flourishing, thriving, prospering." In haiku about cherry blossoms and blossom viewing, it can signify nothing more than full-bloom, or a wild state of affairs with petals and spittle flying, a frenzy.

hanazakari dare ga oboyuru hikazu kana   souchou (d.1532)
(blossom-full/frenzy who remember-can day-number!/?/'tis)

In the bloom-heat / who could remember / to count the days!

There was an idea that cherries blossom for so many days - usually seven - and the poet marvels that anyone can remain cool enough to actually count. Bloom-heat is my neologism. In the later Edo era, seven-days was identified with the menses, but it is unlikely this renga poet was making that allusion.

koronde mo okite mo hana no sakari kana   gochuu (d.1733)
(falling/stumbling or getting up blossom's frenzy/full-bloom!/?/'tis)

Falling down / or getting up, the bloom / peak of cherry!
Stumbling / or bumbling, the full bloom / of the cherry!
On your back / or on your feet, blossoms / in full bloom!

Usually, it would be "standing or lying" or "awake or asleep." Koronde means falling by tripping. In senryű, it almost always applied to dancing girls who tripped on purpose, i.e., slept with men for money, but, here, I think it just means: "Fall on your face, / get up and race, cherry's / in full bloom!"

wakisashi wa kyo mo sasanu ka hanazakari   kasanjo (d.1830)
(dagger-as-for today-too stab-not? blossom-acme/frenzy)

My hidden dirk: / today, too, i'd use it! / The bloom-heat.
This full bloom / today, too, i feel like / stabbing myself.

Women carried a dagger more to protect their own honor by killing or threatening to kill themselves in the face of a would-be violator, than to injure others. The original is ambiguous, but I think the poet whose nome de plume is literally "blossom-praise," means she is in a-stab-herself level of excitement. The "too" is puzzling. Does it mean she has been out for several days running? Or, like Shiki, does she also get that feeling (from a different mood) on the New Year? Or, do I miss something?

yasekokeru mi o ukitatou(?) hanazakari   shara (d.1715?)
(skinny/emaciated body/self[+obj] floating-stand/rise bloom-acme/frenzy)

Skin and bones / my body still floats high / bloom-frenzy.
The full bloom / even this skeleton / floats upward.

Does the poet know from experience that thin men tend to sink? In Japanese, "floating" means "giddy" or "high." The original float is transitive: the bloom raises/floats the bean-pole.

rainen wa naki mono no y˘ ni sakura kana   issa
(coming-year-as-for not thing-as cherry[blossoms]!/?/'tis)

As if the year / to come will not come, / cherry trees.
Cherry blooms / like there is no such thing / as next year.
We party like / there is no next year / cherry blossoms.

Sakura can mean anything here. Issa probably means the profusion of bloom and the tree/s that do it.

konogoro ya neko shizumarite hana ni hito   ouemaru? (1801)
(this time [of year]: cats quiet up, blossoms and people)

A New Sakari // Now's the season / when cats quiet down for / men and flowers!

The blossom (hana) is a cherry because the koi-zakari, (love/sex-peak/heat) of cats comes at the start of spring, coinciding with the flowering plum, and that is supplanted by the sakari of humans and cherry blossoms. The plum bloomed alone in the first-month; cherries "When the trees / bearing flowers are busy: / the second month" (hana no saku ki wa isogashiki nigatsu kana shikou (d.1731)) ).

nodokasa wa yoru ni koso are hanazakari   ryouta (d.1787)
(quiet-as-for, night-in especially be! bloom/blossom-acme)

Blossom-heat: / let tranquility at least / reign at night!

I like to think that a contrast with cat's in heat (where sleep is disturbed) is implied, but an equally likely reading is that the tranquility stereotypically marking the morning in early spring could not be hoped for in cherry-time, so the night was this poet's only refuge. In this case, "heat" might be replaced by "frenzy."

nanigoto ni hito hashiruran hanazakari   yuushi? (1698)
(what thing-for people run[+emphatic] blossom-acme/frenzy)

People run about / for practically anything / it's bloom-peak!
What the hell / makes people run about? / flower frenzy.

I favor my first reading: a perfect picture of excitement. Who doesn't tend to run or skip after being treated kindly by a beautiful member of their favored sex? Beautiful blossoms have the same effect on us. I repeat myself, but English has no single word for this sakari, this explosion of eros that applies across the plant and animal kingdom.(*1) "Full bloom" is close, but the expression lacks the raw power of the original, and Japanese has a word for "full bloom" (mankai). So sakari in translation requires improvisation. Hence my "heat," "bloom-peak," etc. Readers who dislike my new-English may substitute their own expression or use the Japanese as is: "hana-zakari!"

kururu iro wa oto naki hana no arashi kana   shoushitsu (d.1603)
(crazing color/s-as-for, sound-not blossom-storm!/?/'tis)

Swirling color: / the silent blossom storm!
Rioting colors: / the silent tempest / of the blossoms?
swirling color / it is the blossoms' / silent storm.

The storm metaphor will be discussed in the chapter on the wind in Book III, but the ku fits this chapter too, for movement is at the heart of the frenzy. I wish I could jump into a time-machine and take a slow-motion photograph of 17c kimono-clad people moving among the cherry trees. The sequence of genitive conjunction "no's" in Japanese makes it impossible to determine whether the blossoms or the storm are silent; but, in the original Japanese the problem does not arise, for, in a sense, it is both. More movement:

hana no koro tare ni mo tsuku ya arikigami   soutei (1656)
(blossom-time who-to/with-even attaches!/: walking-god)

When they bloom / everyone is saddled by / the walking god.

Wandering about is associated with the condition of sakari. Cats in heat do it, Japanese "night-crawling" lovers did it and so do people turned on by Spring in general and our flowering tree in particular. I borrowed the saddle from Zora Neale Hurston's Tell It To My Horse (spirit-possession in Haiti was described as being ridden by a horse). A senryuu put it like this "You can see / people fluttering about / on cherry hill" (hirari hirari to mai-asobu hananoyama yanagidaru 62-3). The mimesis hirari should apply to petals or butterflies, but we know that senryuu do not care for them. So it is the giddy people that you see. (Cherry-mountain, or "cherry hill" is defined earlier in Cherry Blossom Epiphany as a place full of blossoming cherries which can mean an urban park, rather than a real mountain.)

hanazakari fukube fumiwaru hito mo ari   kikaku (d.1706)
(blossom-peak/frenzy gourd tread-break people even are)

The bloom rages / there are men stepping / upon their gourds.
The bloompeak / i step on my gourd / and break it.

If only English could make compound verbs such as "step-break" . . . Let us hope the content of the gourd has already been drunk.

hitogokoro hyoutan nare ya hana no nami   seishou (1656)
(person-heart gourd become!/: blossom-wave/s)

Ye hearts of men, / become gourds upon / the blossom sea!
The human heart, / a gourd bobbing on waves / of cherry blossom.

I translated the same kokoro as "mind" in the case of Sougi's poem at the head of the chapter, but a mind seems less suitable than heart for this poem. The gourd in the Sinosphere holds wine and has connotations of sage worlds (and god knows what else), but the wave/s suggest/s that here it is first of all a float (In olde English poetry, the bladder of Hudibras, right?). Floating is part of the sakari. Indeed, a person in love or a cat in heat is said to be "floating" (ukarete-iru). But that is only part of it. The connotations of floating in Japanese span the gamut from the joyfully bouyant uki-uki to helpless and hopeless un-anchored drifting symbolized by floating-weeds (uki-gusa). The "floating world" is both that of the senses, where nothing is permanent and all is, in that sense, an illusion, i.e., the Buddhist maya, and what the so-called "water trades" such as gambling, prostitution and acting were called.

hanazakari ware mo ukiyo no hitori kana   shouhei? (1773)
(blossom-acme/frenzy i-too floating-world's one [man]!/'tis)

Pink Anomie // The full bloom: / today, i, too, feel part of / the floating world.
In bloom-peak, / i find that i belong to / the floating world.
Flower frenzy: / i join others, alone / in this world!

Who can say for certain how this poet feels when he says "floating world," but I think he means he feels a sweet sorrow for the world of woe (including that of people who live the low, even criminal, life) to which he suddenly feels both more attached and at the same time suffers from feeling alone. This is the adult equivalent to the fear of death intensely felt by the child. The latter feeling did not translate in the first two readings because the Japanese expression "I too am one [one person] of the floating world" in English wants to become "part of" which emphasizes belonging, something which is soothing, whereas the original's "one of" has a lonelier nuance. Hence the title and last reading.

hana saite hon no ukiyo to narinikeri   issa (d.1827)
(blossoms blooming real floating-world becomes [+finality.])

Cherries bloom / and the floating world / becomes real!
Cherries bloom / and it becomes reality: / the floating world.

Camping out under the bloom, the poet shares the experience of many in the water trades, and feels what is for most of the year merely catechism: that this world is maya, illusion. In other words, Issa's ku is identical to the last one, but written in a more sophisticated style, not bringing the self into it in an obvious way. Being of the blunt persuasion, I prefer the older poem with its "I, too" (ware mo), though I think Issa's more clever for making the reality of the maya real and a better window on the earthy blossom-viewing, the muddy Woodstock we shall return to in a later chapter.

waga toshi no yoru to mo shirazu hanazakari   chigetsu-ni (d.1703?1708?)
(my years age even know-not blossom-acme/frenzy)

If i am aging / i cannot feel it now: / this full bloom!
Bloom-peak: / i do not at all / feel my age.

If women were identified with cherry trees (subject of another chapter), how do they view the bloom-heat? Here, we see Chigetsu gets carried away by it.

tsukimatou naigi no sata ya hanazakari   taigi (d.1772)
(stick-close wife-difficulties/happenings: blossom-acme/frenzy)

The bloom-heat! / i just cannot escape / from my wife
Never-ending / wife problems, she's / a blooming sexpot!
By the time / the bloom peaks, lots of / wife problems.

Here, we suddenly come down to earth! The cherries are in full bloom and the poet's wife upset about something has insisted upon following him to the blossom-viewing. Blyth introduces a relevant senryuu: "The cherry-flowers blooming, / The moon shining, - / These are the wife's agony." (nyoubo no ku wa hana ga saki tsuki ga sashi), and comments "The most poetical things of the spring and autumn seasons are the cause of all her woes, for this is the excuse for her husband to go out and enjoy himself with other women." I think the drinking and consequent heavy expenditures are as much a problem as philandering, but a problem it was. Blyth's books on senryuu are still, after fifty years, the best we have.

kosegare wa chi ni naku hana[no] sakari kana   issa (d.1827)
(small-son-as-for, milk-for cries blossom-acme!/'tis)

Blossoms, Blossoms, Everywhere // My little son / crying for milk while / cherries bloom.

Issa gave his boy to a wet-nurse when his wife fell mortally sick. As it turned out, she was dry. By the time Issa discovered the fraud, his son was too weak to be nursed back to health. The title, besides bringing more heat/frenzy to the bloom, reflects the fact that, in Japanese, the dark pink bud of the cherry blossom symbolizes the nipple of a woman with child or nursing a child. The contrast between the powerful life-force of the bloom-peak and the crying of the baby thirsty for life is horrific.

sakikomete hana ni eda naki sakari kana   anon. (16c?)
(blooming-filling blossoms-on branches-not acme!/'tis)

Filled by blossoms, / all the cherries lack limbs: / the full bloom.

I started the chapter with psychological takes on the bloom-peak rather than description. This old ku provides the latter. The trees' bones are completely fleshed in pink petals. We are not in a blossom blizzard but surrounded by trees gorged with bloom. The ku may be hyperbolic; it antedates the appearance of the Somei-yoshino cherry that became synonymous with solid bloom. Should we note that typically beautiful women in East Asia, though not necessarily curvaceous by Occidental standards, generally are full-fleshed and do not show collarbones?

sukoshi chire iro waku hodo no hanazakari   sougi (d.1502)
(a bit fall! color boils amount of blossom-acme/peak)

The Ideal Bloompeak //
Fall a little! / let the blossom's pink / bubble over!
Let eros boil! / A bloom heat that spills / over a little.
Let petals spill: / i'll take a bloompeak / with passion.
Spill some! / Full bloom should bubble / passionately.

sukoshi chire iro naki hodo no hanazakari   sougi (d.1502)
(a bit fall! color-not amount of blossom-acme/peak)

spill a few petals! / the bloom is so full / it lacks passion
drop some petals / passion has no play / in bloom so full!

The bloom feels most alive when full to the brim and spilling a little. A few marginal blossoms are caught by the breeze, others bumped by the birds and the bees. I have experienced this and can vouch for Sougi's sense. I do not know if the above ku is a miscopy of the other or a different version.

yamazakura sakari ni yama wa nakarikeri   somaru (1795)
(mountain cherry acme-in mountain-as-for not [+emphatic])

Mountain cherries / in full bloom there is / no mountain here!

kenbutsu ni yama mienu hana no sakari kana   shouchou (1651)
(sight-seeing-by mountain see-not blossom's acme!/'tis)

The bloom-peak! / Cherry hill is buried by / the sightseers

The first ku seems to mean the blossoms are all that can be seen. The second, humans. As we will discuss later, one can never tell when a mountain is a real one or a synonym for a park with cherry trees. The second ku may concern the latter, which has also been described critically: "A drunk mountain, / blossoms empty the dregs / of the capital" (yama eiri hana ni miyako no sokotataki hitomi (p.19c?))

chikamichi ya ko no mata t˘ru hanazakari   douboku (p.19c?)
(shortcut:/! tree-fork/crotch pass/ing blossom-acme/frenzy)

What shortcuts! / Right through tree-crotches: / blossom frenzy.
Full bloom: / Shortcuts right through / cherry crotches.

Branches are low in many viewing spots and sag down further in the bloom-peak, so making a beeline for a certain tree, one might find climbing through tree crotches (the lowest forks of the trunk) easier than ducking under the limbs. Still, the eros is not unintended, for we have ku like this:

hananoyama dochira muite mo yogarikeri   zekei (1773)
(blossom-mountain whichever-way facing-even groans/cries/yelps [+emph.])

An Orgy of Blossoms //
On cherry hill, / no matter where you face: / moans of pleasure!
Cherry hill / no matter where i look/ i cry out!

My Japanese-English dictionary defines yogaru as "to be pleased with," "to express one's pleasure," "to be elated." What it fails to write is that by far the most common usage is for sex, i.e., the cries made by women (yogari-goe). While the ku probably plays on a famous ku where the poet could only say "This! Oh, this!" (i.e., My, oh, my!) about the cherry blossoms of Yoshino (Note: there is a chapter about this mecca of blossom-viewing), what makes it good to me is that I imagine not only the excitement of the poet and other spectators but the cherry trees in a love-frenzy crying I'm coming! I'm coming! (or, Ooh, aaahh! I'm dying! I'm dying! etc.)

kanete minu sawari mo ureshi hanazakari   sougi (d.1502)
(previously, see touch OR obstacle/problem too delightful blossom-acme)

Before, i saw / now touching touches me / the full bloom.
This full bloom / we view, of course, but what / a joy to touch!
Cherries in Full Bloom // A fine sight / but their touch is also / my delight!

Cherries in Full Bloom // Once viewed / bad weather is good / enough for me.
Once i've seen it, / even rain delights me: / the full bloom.

The last two readings are completely different from the first few because sawari, unless written in Chinese characters (which it is not, here) can mean two completely different things. While I like the idea of touch, the existence of another ku by Sougi which says even the waiting time is a joy (note: it is in the first chapter of the book) suggests that sawari-as-obstacle (i.e., rain, business, or, a woman's period) is the likely intent of the ku.

chiru mono to omowanu hito no hanazakari   yanagidaru 67 (19c?)
(fall/scatter thing as consider-not person's/peoples' blossom-acme)

Fall? not even / in their dreams: men / in full flower.
Who even dreams / that those who flourish / are really flowers.
You can't imagine / they'll scatter: a flower / frenzy of people!

This senryuu plays upon the lyrical poetic conceit who can imagine that flourishing flowers will ever fall! People in the flower of their knighthood or the acme of their beauty are as stunning as the peak of the bloom. Who could imagine they would soon be gone? When you think about it, almost all Western poetry is senryuu, in the sense that the blossoms always stand for us rather than vice-versa. Or could the senryű be an observation of people blossom-viewing like there is no tomorrow, as per the last reading? ("They'll scatter" might also be rewritten: "they'll ever leave.") If so, it is also haiku.

katsu saki? saku? o hana wa miru hito no sakari kana   souseki? (d.1533)
(before blooming[+obj.] blossom-as-for see people's/s'acme/frenzy!/'tis)

The blossoms seen, / now, we view ourselves / in rampant bloom!
Once we viewed / the blossoms but now / people bloom.
Once the bloom / was it: now the blossoms / view manpeak.

This is even older than Moritake's ku of the blossom mountains around the capital (Kyoto) as bars [note: Moritake, who died in 1549 is often the first poet given in haiku saijiki, the ku is in a different chapter]. In the early16c, it would seem that both haiku as we know it and the bash were already on.

namayoi mo sakari sakura mo sakari nari   igyuu (early senryuu)
(drunk[person] too acme/frenzy, cherries too acme/frenzy is/are)

Drunken louts / in full bloom and the cherries / in full bloom, too.

sakuragi ya onaji sakari mo ohizamoto   issa (d.1827)
(cherry-tree/s:/!/and same acme/frenzy-too lap/s-origin)

The cherry trees: / the same heat, the same flush / below, with us.
The cherry trees, / and the place we sit the same / acme of bloom.

Issa's "lap" meant where the blossom-viewers sat. Issa does not make the sakari move from blossom to man, but describes a simultaneous excitement above and below. The older senryuu is indirectly critical whereas Issa's ku seems positive about the bash.

eda eda ni warau koe ari hanzakari   shuugyou (1759)
(branch branch-on/in laughing voice/s is/are blossom-acme)

Every limb / has a laughing voice: / full-bloom

As we have already seen [in the book], people did literally climb the trees, but chances are this refers to the din of merriment coming from all directions.

hito wa saite [sakite?] ukaburu? abura yamazakura   tantan (d.1761)
(people-as-for blooming, float-up fat/oil mountain-cherry)

People blooming, / the cream comes to the top: / mountain cherries!

The "cream" in the original is oil/grease. In Japan, tasty fish (once the main animal protein) are described as "fat/oil-ridden" (abura-ga-notte) and this is identified with being "sweet," i.e., delicious. Cream is full of fat and it is sweet, but we no longer describe it so, at least not in a positive way, for modern Occidental culture is enthralled by muscles and hardness and laughs at the sweet and the soft that were once synonymous with beauty, excellence and all that sane people wished for. But, why, specifically mountain cherry? Because it is literally high, because people "floating/rising" are high in the sense of late 20c Usanian slang that spread in said country's all-too-short decade of sanity, the 60's, and because hiking up into the mountains is the highest form of blossom-viewing.

makkuro ni hana miru hito no sakari kana   kyoshi or shiki (1895?)
(pure-black-as blossom viewing peoples' acme/frenzy!/'tis)

Burned black / blossom-viewing men / in full rut.
Burned black / men who never lost sight / of the blossoms?
And what a party / of humans, their eyeballs / pinned to the bloom!

Even in bloomshade [another of my neologisms], a man would tan. By the peak of the bloom, real cherry-lovers would have already had days to bake. Makkuro, or "pure black," has the idiomatic meaning of intent, maniacal concentration upon a single aim.

hanazakari chiru yori hoka wa nakarikeri   chodou (d.1814)
(blosom-acme falling rather-different-as-for not[+emphatic])

Bloom-peak:/ What is left to do / but fall!

As Chodou also wrote, "This bloom-peak! / Today can only happen / once a year" (kyo no hi no toshi ni nido nashi hanazakari). Ah, but one can look further ahead, as my man Sougi did:

nao iku yo sakari ni kaeru harunohana   sougi (d.1502)
(still how-many eras flourish/frenzy-to return spring's blossoms)

Spring blossoms: / Just how long will they keep / coming into heat?
Ah, but count / the years they bloom afresh: / spring blossoms

We cannot come back to life and the blossom cannot return to the branch, but cherries can not only blossom time and time again but peak each time. My first reading crudely conveys that fine point.

daibutsu ushiro ni hana no sakari kana   rotsuu (d.1738)
(great buddha [collosal statue] behind-at blossoms' acme/frenzy!/'tis)

Behind the back / of the colossal, blossoms / in full bloom
Blossoms rutting / behind the back of the / great Buddha!

Nothing so calm, nothing so cool as the colossal seated Buddha. The "rutting" in my first reading may be a bit too much, but I vaguely recall seeing other ku with cats in heat near Buddhist statues and could not resist.

asobe to no ukiyo no min ni sakura kana   somaru (d.1795)
(play! saying floating-world's people/folk-to cherry[blossoms]!/'tis)

Cherry blossoms! / for those in the floating world / who tell us "play!"
They say "play!" / and show us their example / cherry blossoms

I am not certain whether the original is meant as an example or a warning but I vaguely recall a Piet Hein grook (*2): "We ought to live / each day as though / it were our last one / here below. / The years have passed / and now I know / it would have killed me / long ago." Amen. No sakari, or bloom frenzy, is mentioned here, but I feel it in the sakura kana!

miru hito o kaesanu hana no sakari kana   shinsh˘ (16c?)
(viewing-person[+obj] return-not blossoms' acme/rut/frenzy!/'tis)

Blooming cherries! / they just won't release / those who watch!
They just won't / let their viewers go: / rutting blossoms.

In a popular country song by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, spouses are begged to release the cheaters for the sake of the ultimate value of true love (as opposed to that run cold); here we see the reverse: the blossomy mistress refusing to allow her lovers, the blossom viewers to go home.

oozakura tada hitotsu moto no sakari kana   shiki (1894?)
(big-cherry/cherries just one base/origin's acme/heat!/'tis)

A large cherry: / this heat, this rut, around / a single trunk

It is good to feel not only the beauty but the draw, the power to attract of a mighty tree. Or, at least, I feel that sakari includes that connotation.

wakabusha no ima zo gunp˘ hanazakari   shoushi? (1680)
(young warrior's now[+emph.] strategy blossom-peak/frenzy)

Young samurai, / now, this is martial art! / cherry explosion

In this case, and only this case, I translate the s/zakari as an "explosion." We will return to martial metaphor elsewhere [in the book]. The poet knows his readers are familiar with the term hana-ikusa, or "blossom-battle/uprising."

mankai no sakura ni oshiro ga yureteiru   kisaki morio sixth-grade (kodomo haiku saijiki: 1997)
(full-open/bloom's cherry/cherries-to/with/by/at castle's shaking/quivering)

Cherry blossoms / in full bloom are making / the castle shake!
The castle trembles / at the cherry blossoms / in full bloom.

This is not a hana-zakari poem per se, but what a fine description of the power of a cherry tree in full bloom! I would not hesitate to include ku such as this one by a contemporary child in any saijiki, but Japanese only do so for juvenilia by famous old poets. My first reading preserves the word order but the second is closer to the original's spirit which is subtle because ni can mean many things: "at/to/with/by."

kou iru mo taisetsuna hi zo hanazakari   izen (d.1711)
(this-way be/sit-even, important day [+emph.] blossom-acme)

An important day / just to be and be here / in the bloompeak


*1. A Shell in Heat! To give you an idea of how crazy this sakari thing can go, here is an old ku: "The cherry shell: / when its mouth is open / it's in heat" (sakuragai wa kuchi no hiraku o sakari kana chokuchi(1651)). This scallop-like shell is one of a few considered the closest mimics of a vulva. The dictionary calls it a "carpenter's tellin" Nitidotellina nitidula). Since this was in a haiku, not senryu, collection, "it's in heat" presumably refers to the shellfish itself, but still . . .

*2. Piet Hein's grook: Piet Hein, also well known for mathematically squaring the circle, or the oval, at any rate, and inventing the super-egg which could be balanced on end without salt or the proverbial solution of Columbus, is best known for the thousands of short poems he wrote, which he called "grooks," the shortest of which is probably this: Co-existence, or No existence [I forget the parsing and I think it had a title]. A dozen or so little books of grooks sold by the hundreds of thousands in English translation in the 1970s and I have long thought that every literate person ion the English-speaking world was familiar with them [Thanks to JS for teaching me this wasn't so!]. For, like Belloc, Chesterton or Nash, to name a few, his is a wit for all ages. There is no particular form to his poems other than brevity--most are 4-12 lines. But, one cannot find any other body of poetry so persistently logical, and even hyper-logical (other than in Silverstein's books for children), so, I would propose that Piet Hein's grooks are a genre and all epigrammatic short poems should be so-called.


Closing remarks

The reason why I introduced this chapter instead of my favorite ones (on the maligned and praised late-blossoming cherry and that villain, the wind) in Cherry Blossom Epiphany is this: I wanted to call your attention to the translation of the word sakari(~zakari). Because the connotations of this word span a range unmatched by anything found in English, I found it necessary to coin new terms. Since I have not published anything using them to date, I have no idea how they read. In other words, I welcome your opinion. If you (contrary to me) think every instance of hanazakari should simply be translated as "the full-bloom," please let me know. If you think particular usages are successful or horrid, let me know. The input of readers is part of the context of haiku translation, or, should be.

For readers whose interest is more in writing haiku than reading it in translation, I would venture to say that consciousness of the presence or absence of vocabulary for something stimulates the creation of good poetry. It may be one reason why we find much of the best poetry written by poets who have studied languages other than their own.

All translations are tentative: they have not yet been run by specialists in Japan.


Robin D. Gill's books may be found at Amazon, Google Books and other on-line stores. Reviews of Rise, Ye Sea Slugs! (480 pgs. $25), with almost a thousand translations of haiku about the sea cucumber and the self-explanatory Fly-ku! (240 pgs. $15) may be found at The Fifth Season (New Year Haiku) and Cherry Blossom Epiphany will come out this year. (I know I said that last year, but hurricanes and family matters slowed me down. Apologies.)