Haibun Road : a haibun weekly challenge (wk 7)

This week’s Basho’s Road Haibun Challenge (week 7)

A haibun is one paragraph followed by one haiku. This week we start the journey with Basho’s ninth paragraph with a haiku (my paragraph numbering changes with the translation as the number of paragraphs depends on the translations –surprised me too!). Use any bit (word, phrase, concept) as the inspiration of your own haibun (one paragraph and a haibun). To participate pingback or paste your haibun link in the comments and tag your contribution “Haibun Road.”

Helen Craig McCullough translated the haiku and ninth paragraph (Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology) :

There is a waterfall half a league or so up the mountain. The stream leaps with tremendous force over outthrust rocks at the top and descends 100 feet into a dark green pool strewn with 1,000 rocks. Visitors squeeze into the space between the rocks and the cascade to view it from the rear, which is why it is called Urami-no-take (Rearview Falls).

shibaraku wa
taki no komoru ya
ge no hajime
In brief seclusion
at a waterfall — the start
of a summer retreat

Other versions of the same haiku. (translator in parenthesis)

for a while
I meditate inside the falls—
summer retreat begins
(Haider A. Khan, Tadashi Kondo)
Secluded for a while
In a waterfall —
beginning of summer austerities*
(Haruo Shirane)
Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900 (Abridged Edition) (Translations from the Asian Classics (Paperback))
For a while
Secluded at a waterfall —
Start of the summer retreat
(David Landis Barnhill)
Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho
For just a moment
I’m cloistered behind the falls—
the start of summer.
(David Bowles)
“Behind the Falls” by Matsuo Bashō.

*Haruo Shirane had some knowledge of Japanese Buddhist practices which influenced his reading of the last line.  In haiku and senryu, because the syllable count is so short for each line, Japanese can read double meanings into a sound be it may be written in kanji as the main word, but another word with the same sound but different meaning will give it a secondary understanding. Here is his explanation (from Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900 (Abridged Edition) (Translations from the Asian Classics (Paperback))):

Ge no hajime refers both to the beginning (hajime) of summer (ge is the Sino-Japanese reading for natsu) and to the Buddhist austerities of summer (ge or georomi), in which Buddhist practitioners remained indoors from the sixteenth day of the Fourth Month to the sixteenth day of the Seventh Month, fasting reciting sutras, and carrying out such ascetic and purification practices as standing under a waterfall. The traveler stands behind the waterfall, which gives him, at least for a while, the cool, pure feeling of being cleansed of the dirt of the world, as in a gegomori.”

Haibun Challenge parameters

There is no right or wrong although there are a couple rules.

  • One paragraph followed by one haiku/senryu.
  • Paragraphs can be short or long (but please don’t make one paragraph book length!)
  • Haiku/senryu should be 5/7/5 syllables or pretty close. 3, 5 and 7 are numbers with special meaning in Japanese culture so that’s probably how the form arose.
  • To share what you’ve written, add a pingback or paste your link in the comments and tag your post “haibun road”. My blog is moderated due to spam and to avoid people’s contribution ending up in the spam folder. Your link may not show up right away but should show up within 24 hours. I will check regularly for pingbacks/comments but I have a real life too so be patient please.

Each week I do a round up of everyone’s contributions. I post this on Mondays (late Mondays, not early! so look for it in the evenings Arizona time between 11pm and midnight. I am not a morning person. ). I was going to do it on Saturdays but it turns out it’s not a good evening for me. The writing prompt is for the week, so that you’ll have a week to come up with a haibun.

I’ll write a haibun for this challenge too tomorrow. I figure why write haibun alone? It’s always more fun to share a journey with companions.I hope you will join me and look forward to your writing.

Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho

What is a haibun?

A haibun is a short prose paragraph followed by a haiku/senryu. The paragraph can be one’s thoughts, a travel journal, a diary entry, an essay or even a short story. Basho, a monk in Japan, wrote the first haibun in 1690. I liken it to impressionism: it’s something you capture in the moment through writing, fleeting as the moment changes, imperfect but authentic.

I’m inviting you to write a short paragraph and a haiku inspired by the prompt. The inspiration may be a word, a phrase, a sentence or the whole paragraph from the prompt. One person might take “time to sweep the cobwebs from my broken house” and write about an abandoned building.
Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900 (Abridged Edition) (Translations from the Asian Classics (Paperback))

Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology
Another person may be inspired by the haiku. Another person may take the word “rambling” to describe their most recent travel. Go with whatever inspires you.

In case you are interested this is a audio reading from Basho’s “Narrow Road to the North” in Japanese by kaseumin (first audio of 5; Chapters 1 thru 9) made available through the Gutenberg Project


Matsuo Bashô: Oku no Hosomichi (Nine Translations of the Opening Paragraph), Bureau of Public Secrets

Narrow Road to the Interior: And Other Writings (Shambhala Classics) (translator Sam Hamill)

Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho (translator David Landis Barnhill )

Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (translator: Helen Craig McCullough)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (translator Nobuyuki Yuasa)

Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations. pdf file. (varied translators. Editor: Gábor Terebess)

奥の細道発句英訳 . pdf file. in kanji, romanji and English (Translators: Haider A. Khan Tadashi Kondo)

“Behind the Falls” by Matsuo Bashō. (translator: David Bowles)

Links are to the books on Amazon (I’m an affiliate but it’s also easy to find book titles there).

You can use the Amazon search bar to do any search at Amazon. This time I plopped in “japanese travel poetry” as “waterfall haibun” didn’t return any results.

Amazon disclosure: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.” Your price remains the same.