Monday, March 7, 2011


rowing through
out of the mist
the wide sea

This haiku, written by Masaoka Shiki (1867 - 1902), came to mind when a friend told me she was taking her father's ashes to the sea. To me, this poem is both mournful and transcendent.

Shiki suffered from spinal tuberculosis most of his adult life and he wrote an especially poignant poem, a tanka, from his sick bed. It seems like an appropriate companion to the poem above.

stuck in a vase
clusters of wisteria
blossoms hanging,
in the sick-bed
spring begins to darken

Shiki is the last of the Four Great Masters of Haiku. Others in the pantheon may be more familiar names: Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa.

These two poems were translated from the Japanese by William J. Higginson and are from his book (with Penny Harter) The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku (Kodansha International 1985).