Haiku at the Gates of the East

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We are here at the Gates of the East, where everything is lighter“*. So they say, so it is.
I’ve always understood it, the lightness, like suppleness of the thought, like eternal movement of the spirit and action, like tolerance of the opposites and acceptance of paradoxes.
I’ve also understood the lightness like a wish to seek for infinite variants of given fixed model.
And as today we are all here to attend a celebration of the Haiku, we shall look upon it as the model, the received, accepted and adopted model. However, it is not passive adoption on our side, but quite the contrary, a continuously active adoption which makes me feel at liberty when faced to this model, that is lightness.
I shall no go into debt. I shall pay all duties against such (study or exercise) and then I’ll be free to write Haiku.
For this, I believe that our being at the Gates of the East (in a geographical, spiritual and cultural way) gives me the hope that I as a Romanian poet shall write a beautiful Haiku, as any beautiful Japanese Haiku, while respecting not only its canon but also my poetical being. It is not betrayal at all to anyone.
I’ve always thought this eastern component (otherwise infinitesimal yet still there, this light elastic fibre to be a poetical advantage. And I shall take it benefit.

Let me start from Roland Barthe’s “zero degree of the writing”. This “emperor of the sign”, this taster of linguistic assets had for some time been a professor at the University of Bucharest, so he too probably tasted the refined savor of the lightness.
On starting from this assumption I fell the Haiku as a poem of the zero point. But zero just like purity, or holiness, or the beginning.

…guilty is all fated
and holy only the wedding, the beginning” wrote Ion Barbu, a poet as well as mathematician.

Pure zero. yet not any sterile, barren zero, any linguistic zero, a “lopa” (=scission) from Panini’s grammar, or any western zero meaning a bound limit or collapse.
The Haiku is a pure poem itself. It is written at one, in a single breath. It does not suffer any alteration, addenda, resumption. It would be a counterfeit for those seventeen syllables. You cannot add or wipe out anything. The images, the writings, the strata do not overlap. They do no adhere not with another.
Even if you scratched with your nail, you would discover just one. It contains the purest fragment from an image, reality, thought or philosophy.
A paradox comes here, a paradox cherished for with the delight of a Haiku, through its philosophy, puns and turn of the meanings.


The Haiku as pure poetry is written forever, that is you cannot alter or take away any of those seventeen syllables. Apparently the Haiku is a closed poem, devouring itself. purity leads to laconic formulae and never explains, describes, puts words at the full stop. This too is an aspect of the lightness, of the denial of silence which does not have fixed values. Suggestion and free interpretations avoid self-consumption.
Those seventeen syllables are exactly the time for one breathing. Nothing more or less. Breathing is pure action. It is of the newly born but of the dead too. Our life carries between these two moments of the breathing. We ought to say that our life carries on between two Haikus.
In saying that a Haiku is a pure poem, we do not mean that any other poetry could be impure. This statement is not exclusive. Purity needs no opposite for the sake of demonstration.
Today, we chose the Haiku because we are celebrating it **. Its purity is natural, raw, just in the realism of those seventeen syllables. You would hardly have the time to ask why one breathes, how one does it,how long one must breathe, what one breathes. One breathes, and that is all.
The sonnet too is a pure poem, but its purity is assembled. You have time to process it by breathing in, you may also ask for poetical assistance.
The Haiku is a poem of the speed, while the sonnet is a poem of the marathon.
And for this, I consider the Haiku as a pure poem. I chose two examples from Basho :

This hovel
The wood-packer will hollow
often the pillars

Kimono at dry –
I’m looking the sleeve
of the dead child

No comment, no explanation, no purpose. The pure image, the nude, free light facts. Perhaps only “like a sentiment, a crystal“***.

Clelia Ifrim

Notes :

* Raymond Poincaré

** This text has been written on the occasion of Bashô Matsuo death’s tercentenary (1644 ~ 1694).

*** Odysseas Elytis


Photos and notes : Nicole Pottier.


Pulished in “The Mie Times“, nr 41, 2000.


Original text in romanian :

Haiku la porţile Orientului

French translation :

Le Haiku aux portes de l’Orient


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