Bashō

      by Campbell McGrath

        Coolness of the melons
        flecked with mud
        in the morning dew.

What is the subject of this poem by Bash
ō?
Melons, dew, farming, food, human existence
and its inextricable enmeshing with the cycles
of the seasons and of night and day?
What is the subject of Bashō’s haiku taken
collectively? The world or the observer,
that which is perceived or the act of perception?
Or the act of depiction? Or, complexly,
their interaction? Or, somehow: language?
The medium is both subject and object,
the medium is the message? Is this not akin
to saying that ice skating is all about the ice?
But then, what else is ice skating about—
bodies in motion, escaping winter boredom?
What can it mean to call any image “objective”?
Of what would an utterly egoless art consist
except silence? Does refusing to create negate
the self or condemn it to the gulag of the interior?
Where does the poetry voice go when it goes?
I don’t know. I only hope it comes back.


From Seven Notebooks, New York: Ecco/HarperColllins, 2008, page 27. Haiku translation by Robert Hass.