Haiku: Nightingale

harbinger of spring
I’ve never heard nightingales
roadrunners streak by

haiku by M. Nakazato LaFreniere

Tuesday Platform presented an audio reading of an Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats as a prompt.  Sanaa Rizvi said “Please share a poem of your choice and enjoy the company of your fellow scribes. ” So I thought I’d share a nightingale haiku and an excerpt from a 1903 novel as well as posting one of my own poems.

I’ve never seen a nightingale or heard one, I don’t think, so I found one on youtube to go with the lit.

Warning: might make your cats go crazy looking for the bird.

uploaded by TheSilentWatcher

Basho’s Nightingale

From Basho:

Uguisu ya
Yanagi no ushiro
Yabu no mae

The nightingales are singing sweet
Behind willows, before the grove

Uguisu is the Japanese bush warbler but was once commonly known as the Japanese nightingale for its beautiful song. However it is larger than the European nightingale and sings during the day. In haiku, it is a kigo associated with early spring.  Interestingly enough, the nightingale’s droppings’ enzyme has been used as a skin whitening agent dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868).  Buddhist monks used the droppings to clean and polish their bald heads. Uguisu no fun translated directly means nightingale feces but is also known as the “geisha’s facial” as it whitens skin and evens out blemishes like scars and acne.  Hyakusuke still sells it in Tokyo and Victoria Beckham due to a problem with acne tried it out as a skin treatment.

“A Japanese Nightingale”

“Suddenly out of the gloaming soared out one long, thrilling note of sheer ecstasy and bliss, that quivered and quavered a moment, and then floated away into the maddest peals of melody, ending in a sob that was excruciating in its intense humanness. The nightingale had returned!”
From “A Japanese Nightingale” by Onoto Watanna, 1903

While a romance, the novel A Japanese Nightingale was unusual for it’s time.  The American meets a Eurasian raised in Japan.  He considered her Japanese despite her blue eyes and she would have been considered so by Americans.  Japanese would have looked down on her for having mixed blood. To have a main character be of mixed heritage during that time period was extremely unusual although Watanna did that often as she herself was British and Chinese.

At that time in the USA, first many western states passed laws making it a felony for Asians and whites to marry.  In 1882, nationwide the Chinese Exclusion Act banned marriage between Asians and whites.  In 1907, the federal Expatriation Act meant provided that American women who married aliens lost their citizenship — this was at a time when Asians were not allowed to become citizens.  The Cable Act of 1922 codified that those who married Asian aliens lost their citizenship but did change it to allow spouses married to aliens to keep their citizenship if their spouse came from other continents.  In 1931, the Naturalization Act of 1906 was finally amended to allow citizens to keep their citizenship upon marriage to aliens, including Asians.

This romance novel was published during this time period.  It was so popular, it became a Broadway play and then a silent movie. So while it is a “mere” romance novel and doesn’t translate well to current times as far as how the characters and dialogues play out, at the time it was written, it was probably groundbreaking with it’s cross-cultural relationship and mixed-ancestry main character.

A Japanese Nightingale was written by Onoto Watanna who was born Winnifred Eaton of a British father and a Chinese mother, the adopted daughter of English missionaries. From England, her parents immigrated to Montreal after as short stay in New York.  Eaton moved to Jamaica then Chicago working as a stenographer while writing short stories and articles for magazines including the Ladies Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post.  She went on and had a successful career writing novels.  She used her pseudonym even in her day-to-day life and most people believed she was Japanese American.  She eventually became a scriptwriter for the new film industry and split her time between New York, Hollywood and her husband in Calgary, Canada.


Nightingale (uguisu), WKD (NEWSLETTER) … World Kigo Database

Japanese bush warbler, Wikipedia

Uguisu no fun, Wikipedia

It’s been hailed as a beauty wonder product and Victoria Beckham loves it… but would you put bird poo on your face?, Daily Mail, January 26, 2011

Winnifred Eaton, Wikipedia

Interracial Marriage Laws History & Timeline by Tom Head, ThoughtCo, August 12, 2017

Image: The Nightingale By A. W. Seaby, from the book Birds through the year, by W. Beach Thomas and A. K. Collett, illustrated in colour by G. E. Lodge, A. W. Seaby, G. E. Collins, and Winifred Austen.[1922], Biodiversity Heritage Library, http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/34650 via Wikimedia Commons