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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
2.  Japanese poetry – 8c-20c – waka, haiku and senryû
3.  Natural History – flowering cherries 
4. Japan – Culture –  Edo Era
5.  Nonfiction – Literature
6. Translation – applied
7. You tell me!

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.


The 740-page volume contains 3 books, complete with their own forewords,
which will eventually divide and multiply.

Book I   The Cherry Blossom Epiphany

1 – Waiting for the bloom     2 – Dog cherry, defend thy bark! 
3 – Cherry hunting, or, finding your tree    4 – First blossoms of the tree or the spring
5 – Cold cherries and  blossom-chill   6 – Rain, the wet-nurse    
7 – Old lady cherry: i call her babushka     8 – In/equality in the bloomshade
9 – Cherry blossom intoxication    10–The full-bloom, or cherries in heat! 
11 – Infant/boy cherries    12 –  Late cherry, despised or admired?   
13 – While bells b(l)oom    14 – Dusk, or cherry as time-machine   
15 – Night cherries come in two varieties    16 – Cherry zoo, from horse to horse-fly 
17 – How to tell the clouds from the blossoms  18 –  Cherry-time overcast 
19 –  What do other trees do?  20 –  Miscellany   + Sakura etymology 


Book II    Drinking in the Bloomshade

21 –  Medicine for the soul     22  – Blossom-viewing in general
23 – Companions, or blossom buddies  24 – People-viewing  
25 – House-sitting while others view  26 – Drinking up a storm
27 – The Cherry Bash     28 – Song  and Poetry 
29 – Thread cherries (upside-down trees)    30 – Life laundry, or cherry catharsis 
31 – Fighting, or the Edoite hanami    32 – Eating, or food for the mouth, too
33 – Vendors      34 – Blossom guards     35 – Single trees 
36 – Dying in the bloomshade      37 – Ise, or, divine native cherries      
38 – Buddhism and blossoms   39 – Sacred white elephant cherries  
40 – Breaking one off, or stealing blossoms    41 – Equinox Cherry Trees
42 – Mountain means wild cherries     43 – Country  cherries    
44 – Cherry snapper, the fish    45 –  Scent as glow and smell  
46 – Soul/mind/heart and cherry blossoms


Book III   Scattering Petals & People

47 – Falling blossoms, scattering petals     48 – Wind, the perennial bad guy 
49 – Cataracts of blossoms    50 – Whither go the petals and for what
51 – Snow of petals, blizzard and drift    52 – Petal rafts  
53 – Women-as-blossoms 54 – Woman as blossom or vice versa  
55 – Blossoms-as-women 56 – House cherry    57 – Children at the hanami 
58 –Yoshino, a place beyond words   59 – Sexual blossoms  
60 – Old people at the hanami 61 – Patriotism and sakura    
62 – Eightfold: the double-blossom debate  63 – Conserving cherry 
64 –  Return from the viewing     65 –  Sundry cherries
Postscript  Bibliotica    Poet index   Poem index


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 chapters.  

Literary critics, take note: Like Rise, Ye Sea Slugs! (2003) and Fly-ku! (2004), this book not only explores new ways to anthologize poetry but demonstrates the practice of multiple readings (an average of two per ku) as part of a composite translation turned into an object of art by innovative clustering.  Book-collectors might further note that while Cherry Blossom Epiphany may not be hardback, it takes advantage of the many symbols included with Japanese font to introduce design ornamentation (the circle within the circle, the reverse (Buddhist) swastika, etc.) hitherto not found in English language print.  It is a one-of-a-kind work of design by the author.



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.


hito ni hana ôkarakuri no ukiyo kana     issa  1762-1827
(people-and/with blossoms: big automaton’sfloating-world!/?/‘tis)

hanami epiphany

all those men
and blossoms: the world’s
an automaton

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 senryûExperiencing 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