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Cherry Blossom Epiphany – the poetry and philosophy of a flowering tree –
a selection, translation and lengthy explication of 3000 haiku, waka, senryû and kyôka about a major theme from I.P.O.O.H. (In Praise Of Olde Haiku) by robin d. gill
1. Haiku –Translation from Japanese to English
ISBN# 0-9742618-6-6 (pbk); 13 digit 978-0-9742618-6-7. 740 pp $39
A Little Summary and Big Question
Robin D. Gill’s previous anthologies of translated haiku and natural history were highly acclaimed for raising the bar of translation (Japanese-English) while being fun to read for all who love ideas. Yet, he remains unknown outside of narrow haiku and scientific circles, either for lack of publicity or because few book-buyers were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the warty sea cucumber and bothersome bug, respective protagonists of Rise, Ye Sea Slugs! and Fly-ku! With his latest work, Cherry Blossom Epiphany, Gill takes up a subject that is not only less grotesque but lyrical if not romantic. Anyone who appreciates flowers, drinking (blossom-viewings are not tea-parties) and thinking is a potential reader. It remains to be seen, however, whether 740 pages with 3000+ poems and multiple translations will prove the exception and sell in a culture where short books rule.
740-page volume contains 3 books, complete with their own forewords,
Book I The Cherry Blossom Epiphany
1 – Waiting for the bloom 2 – Dog
cherry, defend thy bark!
Book II Drinking in the Bloomshade
21 – Medicine for the soul 22 –
Blossom-viewing in general
Book III Scattering Petals & People
47 – Falling blossoms, scattering petals
48 – Wind, the perennial bad guy
A Long Appraisal
If the solemn yet happy New Year’s is the most important celebration of Japanese (Yamato) ethnic culture, and the quiet aesthetic practice of Moon-viewing in the fall the most elegant expression of Pan-Asian Buddhism=religion, the subject of this book, Blossom-viewing – which generally means sitting down together in vast crowds to drink, dance, sing and otherwise enjoy the flowering cherry in full-bloom – is less a rite than a riot (a word originally meaning an “uproar”). The major carnival of the year, it is unusual for being held on a date that is not determined by astronomy, astrology or the accidents of history as most such events are in literate cultures. It takes place whenever the cherry trees are good and ready. Enjoyed in the flesh, the blossom-viewing, or hanami, is also of the mind, so much so, in fact, that poetry is often credited with the spread of the practice over the centuries from the Imperial courts to the maids of Edo. Nobles enjoyed link-verse contests presided over by famous poet-judges. Hermits hung poems feting this flower of flowers (to say the generic “flower”= hana in Japanese connotes “cherry!”) on strips of paper from the branches of lone trees where only the wind would read them. In the Occident, too, flowers embody beauty and serve as reminders of mortality, but there is no flower that, like the cherry blossom, stands for all flowers. Even the rose, by any name, cannot compare with the sakura in depth and breadth of poetic trope or viewing practice. In Cherry Blossom Epiphany, Robin D. Gill hopes to help readers experience, metaphysically, some of this alternative world.
Haiku is a hyper-short (17-syllabet or 7-beat) Japanese poem directly or indirectly touching upon seasonal phenomena, natural or cultural. Literally millions of these ku have been written, some, perhaps, many times, about the flowering cherry (sakura), and the human activity associated with it, blossom-viewing (hanami). As the most popular theme in traditional haiku (haikai), cherry-blossom ku tend to be overlooked by modern critics more interested in creativity expressed with fresh subjects; but this embarrassment of riches has much to offer the poet who is pushed to come up with something, anything, different from the rest and allows the editor to select from what is, for all practical purposes, an infinite number of ku.
The standard measure for selection in haiku, as in any literary art, is
excellence; but excellence by itself can be terribly boring.
The ku in this book have been selected for the information and
evidence of natural or cultural history they provide, their rarity value
in filling out a poorly exampled sub-theme, suitability for translation
and/or explanation, wit, precedence and dozens of other reasons among
which excellence is only one of many. The practical challenge was not to
sort ku on a scale from best-to-worst, but to find a way to
organize thousands of them – and hundreds of older 13-beat waka
(unlike, sea cucumber, which became a subject for poetry with haikai,
cherry blossom poems go back over a thousand years). The main
categories developed are 1) The blossom-viewing sequence
(waiting-for-the-bloom, the viewing, return-trip, etc.; 2)
Environmental phenomena (cold, rain, wind, etc.); 3) Types of
cherries (single-petal, double-petal, pendulant, etc.); 4) Types of
people (blossom guards, vendors, children, etc.); 5) Activities
(drinking, singing, eating, etc.); and 6) Concepts (patriotism,
woman-as-blossom (and vice-versa), conservation, etc.). The plot loosely
follows the first category, chronology, with other categories woven in as
needed to treat the reader to variety and complement the neighboring
To see the sakura in flower for the first time is to experience a new sensation.
Percival Lowell The Soul of the Far East (1888).
to all who have
sat in the bloomshade
of the sakura under a blue sky
and shivered, though not from the cold.
Forget the fruit!
This book is about the flower.
hana ôkarakuri no ukiyo kana issa 1762-1827
all those men
A “mountain” – often meaning only a large park – of cherry blossoms in full bloom is a sensory experience as grand as Niagara. We are thrilled, more alive than ever; yet, sitting with hearts thumping below the pink cataract, glimpsing the blue sky beyond, we also feel the chilly breath of eternity (death) and shiver. For this reason, as well as the blossoms’ ephemeral beauty, there are more philosophical haiku about these tree flowers than about any other subject except the fall moon, whose Buddhist baggage encourages a different sort of metaphysical musing.
If, as not a few have claimed, a haiku must be an “objective” description of “what is” and avoid “intellectualizing,” no haiku theme is so corrupt as the cherry-blossom. But, if we do not choose to banish philosophy from poetry, the opposite might be claimed: cherry-blossom haiku are proof that haiku may be many things and still be haiku. Issa’s ku, one of about 800 (!) he wrote about cherry blossoms, is a prime example of this. It does not simply observe what is out there but records a subjective experience of the type one might call an epiphany. Please note: Issa’s metaphor is not so outlandish as one might think. Automata were popular in Japan and common in senryû. Experiencing the world as an automaton, i.e., a sort of mechanized maya, is another matter. Only a mountain of cherry blossoms swarming with revelers could have evoked it.
|The above is a sample of a foreword minus the Japanese and notes which are half the charm of the book.|
|For today, this will do. Readers are welcome to send their favorite haiku or passages from the book -- that is, what they think should be shown to people who have not read the book to let them sense what it does -- to the author=press for inclusion in this page. Try info at paraverse dot org, or uncoolwabin at hotmail dot com. Thank you. - rdg|
|While the book is available now, its official publishing date is Spring Equinox, 2007|