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:


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).