Haikai linked verse, which
emerged from the tradition of renga
linked verse, acquired its position as an independent literary genre to which
Matsuo Bashô (1640-1694) and his students contributed. Compared to traditional
linked verse, which demands that a poet depict hon'i, the essential nature of things, using only the vocabulary of the traditional court poetry based on highly meticulous rules, haikai linked verse gives more freedom to a poet in vocabulary and themes, and in expressing his own emotions and
feelings. As renga reached stagnation
because of oppressive rules, haikai
linked verse gained popularity among wealthy townsmen as well as intellectuals
in the urban cities of the Edo period (1603-1868).
However, the departure of haikai linked verse from renga
did not mean its total divorce from the traditional genre, because haikai linked verse also operates on rules adopted from linked verse. Following the rules of haikai linked verse, poetry masters, their students, and guests gathered for haikai sessions called za, and spontaneously composed poems.
This nature of linked verse as a literary genre, which requires spontaneity
with performers in the za operating
within the framework of the rules, was inherited by haikai linked verse.
verse has a unique feature in that each participant in the session
simultaneously plays roles of both author and reader in the process of
composition. After one poet composes a verse, the next interprets the meaning,
and composes the following verse. The other participants also ponder over
possible links to the verse. In this paper, I will examine one of the
representative sequences, Susuki mitsu
(having seen pampas grass), written by Yosa Buson (1716-1783), Takai Kitô
(1741-1789), Wada Ranzan (d.1773), and Miura Chora (1729-1780)1,
and attempt to explain issues associated with the reading of haikai linked verse--namely, how the
poets respond to the verse to which they must link, especially within the
framework of very demanding rules, and how the rules affect the readers in the
past and today when they read a sequence as a written text.
II. The Rules of Haikai Linked Verse and The Susuki mitsu Sequence
Following the tradition in renga, the one hundred verse sequence, or the hyakuin, had been considered the formal length of one sequence. It
was not until the time of Bashô that the kasen,
thirty-six verses, becomes the most prominent length of a sequence. When a
session begins, the shuhitsu, the
referee, records verses on sheets of paper called kaishi. On the first page of the kaishi, six verses are recorded, on the second page, twelve verses,
on the third page, twelve verses and on the fourth page, the final six verses
The entire operation of linking a verse to the previous
verse is made possible by following rules. Like renga, the life of haikai
linked verse is in the harmony and progression of ideas and images. In order to
accomplish the task, the idea of category plays an important role in the
process of composing a sequence. Categories include a variety of objects and
aspects, in both the natural and human worlds. The major categories, which have
thematic emphasis, are the four seasons and miscellaneous. Sub-categories
include Love, Travel, Lamentation, Buddhism and Shintô. Minor categories,
characterized by lexical content, are mountains, dwellings, and waters.
Consequently, the rules governing the operation of the entire sequence are
mainly formed by the seriation of thematic and lexical categories, and the
restriction on recurrence of these categories, and on the repetition of certain
words in a sequence.
Following are the general rules of haikai linked verse which the poets in the Edo period, such as
Bashô and Buson, followed.2
The rule of seriation serves the principle variety and
harmony of imagery. (1) Spring and Autumn (These categories must continue at
least three verses, and may continue up to five verses.)
(2) Love (This category
must continue at least two verses and may continue up to five verses.)
(3) Summer, Winter, Travel,
Shinto, Buddhism, Lamentation, Nocturnal Things, Mountains, Waters and
Dwellings (These categories may continue up to three verses.)
(4) Falling Things, Plants,
Famous Places and other things. (These lexical categories may continue up to
Appreciation of verses in Spring, Autumn and Love
categories, which is no different from the time of renga, indicates the inheritance of traditional ideals of beauty.
Rule #2: Restriction on
It is considered that three verses in a sequence is the
basic unit of one sequence. The second verse should never be too close to the
first one in its meaning, reference, pronunciation or association, and the
third should never return to the first. As in the case of renga, avoidance of repetition is the most fundamental rule.3
Renga rules list things that may
appear only once, twice, three, four, five times in hyakuin.4
These listed words invoke strong imagery, and therefore, are permitted to
appear only a set of number of times in a sequence. Haikai rules, however, are less strict, and generally allow one
more appearance in a sequence. As a kasen
is approximately one third of a hyakuin,
things which are allowed to appear three times in a hyakuin may appear only once in a kasen. Therefore, in a kasen,
it is advisable to avoid using the same word.5
The following is an example of the restriction on
The words such as peony,
crimson leaves, daffodils, dragon, blood, ghost and other things may appear
only once in a sequence as they give striking images.
Rule 3: Intermission
The rules of intermission also serve the principle of
creating various patterns, and avoiding one verse clashing with the previous.
(1) Spring, Summer, Autumn,
Winter, boat, dream, tears, moon, pillow, smoke, inn, house, rain, man, woman
etc. (These categories and words must be separated by more than five verses.)
(2) hand, mouth, mountain,
river, bird, blue, yellow, red, white, black, love, transitoriness,
lamentation, etc. (These words must be separated by more than three verses.)
(3) Shinto, Buddhism, the
same living things, trees, grasses, nocturnal things, falling things, famous
places, etc. (These words must be separated by more than two verses.)
Rule #4: Hokku, the first verse; wakiku, the second verse; [daisan], the third verse; and ageku, the last verse of a sequence
Conventionally, topics such as Shinto, Buddhism, and Love
may not appear on the first side of the first sheet. However, hokku can have any topic so long as it
has a kigo, seasonal word, which
accords with the season of the session. And it is customary that the main guest
greets the master of the session, incorporating the time, the place, and the
occasion into the verse. A hokku must
also have a kireji, cutting word, an
expression to mark ending of a line, and must stand as an independent verse. In
the wakiku, the poet must respond to
the greeting, and link with the verse in the same thematic category with hokku. While wakiku has a supplementary nature to hokku, the third verse diverts from the first topic, and sets the
direction of the following sequence.
The last verse must end with the same season as the previous
verse, and may not introduce a new topic.
Rule #5: The places of
images of the moon and cherry-blossoms in a kasen
Appreciation of the beauty of the moon and of cherry
blossoms is deeply rooted in Japanese
traditional poetry, and by the time of haikai
linked verse, one kasen always
contained three images of the moon and two of cherry blossoms, and these images
came to have fixed places in a sequence as the representative images. The
places of the moon are generally accepted as follows: the fifth verse of sheet
1 side 1, the eighth verse of sheet 1 side 2, and the eleventh verse of sheet 2
side 1, and the places of the cherry blossoms are the eleventh verse of sheet 1
side 2, and the fifth verse of sheet 2 the side 1.
These rules, which emerged from the renga tradition, all serve the principle of haikai linked-verse: harmony and progression of ideas and images.
As Bashô states in Sanzôshi, "Kasen has thirty-six steps to go forward
and not even one step backward.”6
The movement of haikai linked verse
is always forward, as In the case of renga.
How, then, are these rules applied to the actual composition
of a text? In the case of the Susuki mitsu
sequence, Spring and Autumn continue at least for more than three verses,
except for the one case of verse 35 and 36, and continue for up to four verses.
Winter, Summer and Travel continue up to three, and Love up to two. Except in
one case of Spring, these examples fulfill the rule of seriation. The text also
fulfills the rule of repetition as no striking image is repeated throughout the
sequence. For example, the nightingale, which is permitted to appear twice in a
sequence, appears only once in verse 11, and money, which is also permitted to
appear twice, appears only once in verse 25.
The rule of intermission is also applied to the text. The
following words, which must be separated by five verses, actually appear only
once. The word autumn appears in verse 2, ferry in verse 3, lodging in verse 3
and rain in verse 6.
The wind, which must be separated by three verses, appears
only once in verse 2, and the color black also appears only once in verse 27.
The moon appears three times, and cherry blossoms twice.
Although they do not appear exactly at fixed places, they are distributed
according to the rules: the first moon appears in sheet 1 side 1, the second
moon in sheet 1 side 2, and the third moon in sheet 2 side 1, and the first
cherry blossoms appear in sheet 1 side 2, and the second in sheet 2 and side 2.
Compared to renga,
haikai linked verse has fewer rules
and the surviving rules function loosely in the case of haikai. However, that does not mean that the rules are completely
ignored. The above examples prove that the text is composed within the
framework of rules of the renga
tradition, and consequently confirms that the rules form a part of the common
grounding of the four poets who composed respective verses of this kasen.
III. Rule-Based Reading of the Text
The unique characteristics of haikai linked verse is in the performative nature of za, the haikai linked verse session, where all the authors play the role of
readers in the course of composing a sequence. The task of each participant is
interpreting one verse as a reader, and linking a new verse as an author based
on the rules. When the readers of Buson's time read a text composed by other
poets on a different occasion, it is doubtful that they read the text for the
sole reason of pure artistic appreciation. They had a specific purpose when
they read, namely, to read the text as a part of their training as a poet and
to improve their technique of linking. Therefore, it is inevitable that when
they read, they constantly question how they can link to the specific verse,
searching for other linking possibilities within the framework of the rules.
They actively read each verse in a sequence, and the rules function as the
common grounding between the poets in the session and the readers in those
When present-day readers read haikai texts, the majority of them read for artistic appreciation
but there are those who read for the purpose of training as a poet. No matter
what the purpose of their reading may be, it is not possible to read and
understand the entire operation by Buson and his school without knowledge of
the rules. The rules, forming the common grounding between the poets in the
past and the readers today, function to encourage interpretive exercises in the
mind of the readers and help them to reconstruct the meaning of the text.
Now, we shall consider how the rules influence the reading
of the text. For example, the rule of seriation of the category of Winter,
affects the interpretation of verse 11. 'A little bird comes' is a seasonal
word [sic] of autumn. However, because of its relationship with the previous
verse that belongs to the category of Winter, verse 11 also may belong to the
category of Winter. Therefore the reader can interpret the verse as the
speaker's waiting for the arrival of a nightingale in winter, not in autumn.7
However, in the case of verse 34, the rule of seriation is
superseded by another rule that prohibits putting a verse of Love before a
verse of Spring.8 Verse 32 and
33 belong to the category of Love, and if the rule of seriation is applied,
verse 34 could belong to Love; however, as it is placed before verse 35, which
belongs to Spring, it is determined to be a verse of Miscellaneous. Another
problem of this verse belonging to the category of Love is its lack of explicit
reference to Love, although the word 'conceal' implies a verse of Love. As in
the case of renga, verses of abstract
nature cause a problem in categorization.9
The rule of distancing between two verses also affects the
reader's interpretation. The rule, which must enact changes, makes the reader
aware of the difference between two verses, even if these two may be closely
linked. For example, verse 1 and verse 2 both belong to the category of Autumn,
and describe the same scene; therefore, the reader without the knowledge of the
rule of distancing would tend to read these two verses as a unity. However, the
reader with knowledge of the rule focuses on the minute difference between the
two, and finds the temporal setting is added in verse 2. Verse 20 and verse 21
present a similar case. Both belong to the category of Summer, describing the
same scene in the same context. However, the rule makes the reader aware that
the focal point is shifted from the white clouds in the distance to the purple
flower of wisteria near at hand. What Carter states, "the aim of the
principle of distancing is to concentrate interpretive energy on the spaces
between verses and to allow for the minute distinctions that create a constant
change and variety in hyakuin", is definitely applicable to haikai
linked verse texts.10
Compared to renga,
haikai is given more freedom in its
choice of vocabulary and theme, and is known for its comic nature. However,
this sequence by Buson and his students presents a similar feature by alluding
to the classical texts. Verse 5 alludes to The
Diary of Tosa (ca.935), and verse
25 to Chinese classics. One of the purposes of allusion to classical texts is
to elevate the vulgarized haikai to
the level of Bashô's style. Another purpose of allusion is to add variety to
the text. Here the rule to move forward reminds the reader that the images
evoked from allusion remain of a changing situation, and never dominate the
progression in a sequence.
The rule to link a verse only to the previous verse makes
the reader focus only on that verse and to interpret it in its relation to the
previous verse, and to understand how the poet could develop the sequence in a
very unexpected direction. For example, if the reader had no knowledge of the
rule, he could not understand how the unexpected shift from verse 8 to verse 9
is made possible. From verse 5 to verse 8, the context continues to be the
world of Heian courtiers, but suddenly Buson introduces the completely
unexpected image of an 'old brazier covered with a hood'. Here, the reader is
reminded of the rule to link only to the previous verse. In other words, verse
9 is made possible because of verse 8, not because of the other previous
verses. This kind of unexpected verse also reveals the other unrecorded
possible interpretations of one verse.
By reading a verse linked to the previous verse, one meaning
emerges within a given situation. Then if the verse is read with the following
verse, another meaning of the verse emerges within another situation. For
example, 'the window feels heavy' (in verse 6) because it is 'the daughter of
Tsurayuki' (in verse 5) who attempts to open it. However, when verse 6 is read
with verse 7, the meaning of verse 6 in the new context is completely
different. Because of the sickness of a courtier (in verse 7), the window feels
heavy, and the rainfall (in verse 6) enhances the gloomy atmosphere of the
night (in verse 7). This example confirms that the rule of reading with the
previous verse makes the reader aware of the plurality of meaning of each
The hokku, the
initial verse, has a unique place in a sequence as it has no previous verse
with which to link, and it stands as an independent verse with a seasonal word
of the time of composition. The reader with knowledge of the rule of the hokku can also recognize both surface
meaning and another meaning as a greeting of the poet to the new guest of the
session. Taking the aspect of greeting in the hokku into consideration, Nakamura Yukihiko, a scholar of Japanese
literature, interprets that pampas grass is a metaphor for the aged poet
Ranzan, who participates in this session at his house in spite of his illness,
and bush clover a metaphor for a guest poet, Chora. Buson, the reader of the group, welcomes Chora, joining them for
the first time, in the first verse, and in the second verse, Chora responds to
Buson's greeting, in which the rising wind is a metaphor for the role of Buson
and his students in the beginning of the “back to Bashô” movement.11
All of these
examples of rule-based reading attest that the rules govern the reading of the
text, and these rules make the readers realize that each verse waits for the
readers' interpretation as an open text.
IV. The Role of the Readers in Reading Haikai Linked Verse
In a rule-based reading of a text of haikai linked verse, the reader plays an active role in
constructing the meaning from a given verse. The reader who actively reads the
text based on the rules does not extract the meaning input by the author as if
it were a permanently fixed object. There are always passive readers who read a
text as a closed text to establish a final meaning to it. However, this means
neither that their interpretation is the permanent meaning of the text, nor
that each verse is open for other interpretations. The meanings of the verses
vary depending upon the reader, and one reader can construct more than one
meaning. The readers play an active role in the process of reading haikai linked verse.
Another claim that the meaning of one utterance depends upon
a situation also proves to be valid when the reader focuses on three
consecutive verses. A verse is linked with the previous one, and one meaning
emerges in one context; and if it is linked with the following verse, another
meaning emerges in another context--that is, the meaning of the second verse depends
upon the given situation.
As thematic unity as a whole is not the goal of the genre,
one cannot expect to find a unified theme in reading one sequence of haikai linked verse. However, the
experience of reading one sequence never ends in chaos and the reader can
appreciate changing ideas and images in the process of reading. This is because
the rules and conventions operate throughout the composition of a sequence, and
the readers share the reading strategies--that is, the knowledge of rules and
conventions. These ‘informed readers’ of haikai
linked verse do belong to an ‘interpretive community.’12 The interpretive community in the genre of haikai linked verse exists as a real community of readers who share the knowledge of
rules and conventions, and they interpret the text, applying the reading
strategy to the text.
The preceding examination of the thematic lexical categories
of the Susuki- mitsu sequence
demonstrates that the sequence is composed based on the haikai rules, which are inherited from the renga rules. Four poets could leave a kasen as one text because of their common knowledge of rules. The
rules function to form a common grounding for the poets in za. Within the framework of the rules, each poet interprets a given
verse as an open text, and links a new verse to it.
When the text is read as written, both by the readers in the
past and today, the rules function not only as the tools for superficial
decoding of the text, but as entrance to interpretive exercises on a deeper level.
With the help of the rules, the readers, as active participants, can construct
a meaning of each verse in the sequence, and at the same time, they are made
aware of other possible meanings of each verse nor recorded in the text.
The rule-based reading of a sequence of haikai linked verse reveals the active role of the readers in
constructing the meaning of the text, and shows that a reading is a phenomenon
occurring in the minds of readers. Based on rules--that is, the common grounding
of the reading strategies--both the readers in the past and the present form an
interpretive community and interpret the open text as educated readers.
1 Buson played the principle role in elevating vulgarized haikai poetry after the death of Bashô. This work marks their return to the Basho movement. See Cheryl Crowley, "Collaboration in the Back to Bashô Movement: The Susuki mitsu Sequence of Buson's Yahantei School" for the detailed information.
2 For detailed information on the haiki rules, see Imoto Nôichi, Renku dokuhon, pp.211-221.
3 See Steven D. Carter, The Road to Komatsubara, pp.38-39.
4 Carter, pp.43-52.
5 Hiroyuki Isui, Renku e no shôtai, p.69.
6 Cited in Imoto, p.184.
7 Yukihiko Nakamura adopts this rule for interpreting this verse. See Nakamura, Kono hotori ichi-ya shi-kasen hyôshaku, p.50.
8 Nakamura, pp.82-83.
9 See Carter, p.77.
10 Carter, p.84.
11 See, Nakamura, pp.35-37.
12 See Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in this Class?, p.171. Fish presents the notion of interpretive community, that is, a group of readers who share the same reading strategy which governs their reading operations.
Carter, Steven D. The Road to Komatsubara. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1987.
Crowley, Cheryl. “Collaboration
in the Back to Bashô Movement: The Susuki Mitsu Sequence of Buson’s Yahantei
School” in Early Modern Japan, Fall
Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in This Class?
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980.
Horton, H. Mack. “Renga
Unbound: Performative Aspects of Japanese Linked Verse.” Harvard Journal of Asian Studies, 1993.
Imoto, Nôichi. Renku dokuhon. Tokyo: Taishûkan Shoten,
Inui, Hiroyuki and
Shiraishi Teizô. Renku e no shôtai.
Tokyo: Izumi shoin, 1989.
Nakamura, Yukihiko. Kono hotori ichi-ya shi-kasen hyôshaku.
Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1980.
Ogata, Tsutomu. “Hairon” in
Haiku hairon. Vol. 33 of Kanshô nihon koten bungaku. Tokyo:
Kadokawa shoten, 1975.
Sakurai, Teizô. Renku bungei no nagare. Tokyo: Izumi
Yokota, Toshiko. Buson as Bunjin: The Literary Field of
Eighteenth-Century Japan. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of California,
(The translation of the Susuki mitsu sequence of Kono
hotori ichi-ya shi-kasen)
mitsu hagi ya nakaran kono hotoriBuson
I saw pampas grass. Isn't there a bush clover around here?
yori okoru aki no yu niChora
rises in the autumn evening.
taete yado toru nomi no futsuka zukiKitô
ferry halts, I must see an inn, the second-day moon.
no moyô ippo ippen Ranzan
traveling, landscape changes with each step.
ga musume osanaki koro nare ya Chora
that the time when the daughter of Tsurayuki was little?
omoku ame no furereba Buson
half-panel shutters feel heavy as rain is falling.
fukete yûzuru naraseru on'nayami Ranzan
in the night, the sound of bow strings for an ailing noble.
mo isoji no shunju o shiru Kitô
also came to realize that I have reached fifty years old.
ni mo zukin kishô zo furubioke Buson
brazier, shall I put a hood on you, too?
10. aiseshi hachisu wa karete ato naki Chora
lotus flower I loved has withered away.
11. kotori kite yayo uguisu no natsukashiki Kitô
bird, I tell you that I miss a nightingale.
12. sakazuki saseba nigeru agatame Ranzan
I offer a cup of wine, the country woman shyly turns away.
13. wakaki mi no Hitachi no suke ni hoserarete Buson
young man is appointed to an office in the province of Hitachi.
14. yae no sakura no rakka ippen Kitô
fallen petal of multi-layered cherry blossoms.
15. ya o oishi ojika kete fusu kasumu yo ni Chora
by an arrow, a stag lies down on a hazy evening.
16. haru mo oku aru tsuki no yama dera Buson
comes late at a mountain temple under the moon.
17. ôgame no sake wa itsushika su ni narinu Kitô
sake wine has turned to vinegar without being noticed.
18. goshaku no tsurugi uchi osetari Chora
have finished forging a five-foot sword.
19. manjû no Tada no watamashi hiyori yoki Buson
moving of Mitsunaka to the Tada castle on a fine day.
20. wakaba ga sue ni oki no shirakumo Kitô
the young leaves, I see white clouds offshore.
21. matsuga e wa fuji no murasaki saki nokori Chora
a branch of a pine tree, the purple of wisteria remains.
22. nen'butsu môshite shinu bakari nari Buson
have nothing else but to chant the holy name and die.
23. waga yama ni gokô no mukashi shinobarete Kitô
the mountain I reside, I reminiscence of the Emperor's visit in the past.
24. nigetaru tsuru no matedo kaerazu Chora
escaped crane never returns even if I wait.
25. zeni nakute hekijô ni shi o daishikeri Buson
I wrote a poem on the wall.
26. hi o mochi izuru on'na uruwashi Kitô
woman bringing out a light is beautiful.
27. kurokami ni chirachira kakaru yoru no yuki Chora
black hair falls night snow.
28. utae ni makete shoryô owaruru Buson
lost a lawsuit, a man is expelled from his land.
29. hiyae da mo kotoshi wa ine no tachi nobishi Kitô
in the dry rice field, this year the rice grows steadily.
30. matsuri no zen o narabetaru tsuki Chora
dishes are arranged under the moon.
31. koakindo aki ureshisa ni tobi aruki Buson
humble merchant joyfully runs around on an autumn day.
32. aigasa shô to uba ni tawarete Kitô
I invite an old woman to share my umbrella.
33. inishie mo ima mo kawaranu koigusa ya Chora
of love never change in ancient times and now.
34. nani monogatari zo himete misezaru Buson
the story, she hides and does not show.
35. Kisagata no hana omoiyaru yûmagure Ranzan
contemplate upon the cherry blossoms of Kisagata at dusk.
36. oboro ni Shiga no yama hototogisu Kitô
mountain cuckoo cries in the haze of dawn in Shiga.
Toshiko Yokota is an assistant professor of Japanese language and
literature at California State University, Los Angeles. She has taught
many courses on a variety of subjects in Japanese language,
civilization and literature. Her current research focuses on cultural
production in 18th-century Japan, peace education and Japanese