Classic Haiku: A New Zealand Perspective

      by Nola Borrell

They broke our rules all the time,
those haijin.

We like a glimpse of eternity
but philosophical statements
are not for us.

We’re cagey about imagery:
our dew seldom sparkles like diamonds,[1]
our butterflies are never spirits.[2]

Bashō’s skylark may be free
and disengaged from all things
;[3]
our skylarks go about their business.

Issa can encourage a lean frog[4]
and invite a sparrow to play[5]
but we stay out of it.

And when our hearts teem
with cares and anxieties[6]
we never actually say.

As for go to the pine,[7]
look at Ernie who can write
forty haiku without leaving his desk

and wins all the competitions.
We’ve had enough of cherry trees,
we’d like a flash of rata or pohutakawa.

We censor wild imagination;
our bathing women
are never coveted by crows.[8]

Life may be brief as morning glory[9]
—some things we don’t want to hear,
but some:

Coolness!
     The sound of the bell
          Leaving the bell.
[10]

we can’t forget.


From Waking Echoes, Aotearoa, New Zealand: Korimako Press, 2013, pages 71–74. First published in Kokako #1 in 2003.



[1] “A drop of dew / Sits on a rock / Like a diamond.” —Bosha
[2] “Butterfly in my hand / As if it were a spirit / Unearthly, insubstantial.” —Buson
[3] “Amidst the grassland / Sings a skylark / Free and disengaged from all things.” —Bashō
[4] “Lean frog, / Don’t be defeated! / Issa is here cheering you.” —Issa
[5] “Toddling orphan sparrow, / Come and play! / I’m always your playmate.” —Issa
[6] “Oh evening swallow! / My heart teems with cares and anxieties / About tomorrow.” —Issa
[7] “Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo . . .” —Bashō
[8] “A woman / Taking a bath in a tub / Is coveted by a crow.” —Kyoshi
[9] “I love the rest of my life / Though it is transitory / Like a light azure morning glory.” —Fusei
[10] Buson

Footnote poems quoted from Classic Haiku, selected and translated by Yuzuru Miura (Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1991).