I think it would be valuable to spend some time looking at the four greatest names in haiku: Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki. These haijin shaped haiku and set many of the standards we live by today. We’ll look at them chronologically.
First is Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). The link goes to a short biography and you can click through to some of his haiku at the top of the page.
In his indispensable book An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki, Harold G. Henderson tells us Basho created a new style of the poetry form renga. His first poem in this style set the stage for modern haiku:
on a withered branch
a crow has settled –
This gives us what Henderson calls “the principle of internal comparison” and invites the reader to think beyond a simple autumn night and a crow on a branch.
Basho wrote what has become the most famous haiku, about the sound of a frog jumping into an old pond. Here are thirty translations of that haiku. This reminds us of the perils of translation and what may be gained and lost in the process. After reading the poems at the link provided, it would be well worth your time to find other translations for comparison.
A well-known story is told of Basho and one of his students, Kikaku, who was later also a famous poet. Kikaku came to Basho with a haiku he had just composed:
red dragonflies –
take off their wings
and they are pepper pods
Basho corrected his pupil:
pepper pods –
and they become dragonflies
That view of both life and poetry continues to inform haiku today.
Next week: Buson.