Haibun Road : a haibun weekly challenge (wk 11)

This week’s Basho’s Road Haibun Challenge (week 11)

Great Spotted Woodpecker on Japanese Cypress by Watanabe Seitei (Watanabe Shotei), c. 1906, color on silk, Tokyo National Museum, circa 1906, from Wikipedia Commons

A haibun is one paragraph followed by one haiku. I’m leaving off numbering the paragraphs as they change quite a lot between translations but each week is the next paragraph(s) and a haiku from Basho’s journey. Back in Basho’s day, a “haiku” was called a “hokku” so that is the word that might appear in the text like it did today.

I show different translations week to week. Today is two framing paragraphs around a hokku. 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.” Pingbacks work for WordPress blogs but if you write your haibun on other blogs, Instagram, Facebook or wherever, just paste the link in the comments. I moderate everything to avoid spam so it may take a day to show.

This translation is from Hiroaki Sato’s Basho’s Narrow Road: Spring and Autumn Passages :

So, where is it? — wondering, we climbed the mountain from the other side and found on a boulder a small hut leaning on a cave. It was like looking at the “death barrier” of Zen Master Miao* or the rock room of Monk Fa-yun.
kitsutsuki* mo
io wa yaburazu
natsu kodachi
Even woodpeckers*
don’t tear at the hut
in summer trees
I left this impromptu hokku on a post

Footnotes on this passage by Hiroaki Sato:
*A zen monk of Southern sung (1238-95). He is known for having confined himself in a cave to meditate for 15 years. A frame with the inscription “Death Barrier” hung at the entrance.
*Kitsutsuki, woodpecker, is also called teratsutuki, “templepecker.” According to Gempei Seisui Ki (Record of the Rise and Decline of the Minamoto and Taira), the name derives frot he legend that Monobe no Moriya (d. 587), who wanted to eliminate Buddhism, turned into a bird after he was killed and pecked at and damaged the high parts of Buddhist temples. The suggestion of the hokku is that even a bird that pecks at a temple has left this hut alone. Basho had to use the weak phrase, “summer trees,” to clarify the season because the woodpecker is a kigo for autumn.

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

Even the woodpeckers
Have left it untouched,
This tiny cottage
In a summer grove.
(Nobuyuki Yuasa)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches
Even woodpeckers
leave it alone–hermitage
in a summer grove
(Sam Hamill)
Narrow Road to the Interior: And Other Writings
Even woodpeckers
— don’t damage this hut:
summer grove
(David Landis Barnhill)
Basho’s Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho

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 )

Basho’s Haiku: Selected Poems 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)

Basho’s Narrow Road: Spring and Autumn Passages (Rock Spring Collection of Japanese Literature) (translator: Hiroaki Sato)

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 tried “hut” with weird results: an episode from “Hunted”, a crystal coat for wood, a tiki umbrella and a hat. Weird right? On another day, the results will be different.

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.