by Campbell McGrath

Coolness of the melons

flecked with mud

in the morning dew.

What is the subject of this poem by Bashō?

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.