Hokku are the shortest among the accepted forms of Japanese literary expressions. “A hokku in English is a brief, unrhymed, three-line verse about Nature and humans as a part of Nature, set within the context of a season. It is quite simply the art of putting seasonal sensory experiences into as few words as are necessary to clearly convey the experience without either confusing the reader with too few words or obscuring the experience with too many.”(1)
You may ask, “Don’t you mean haiku instead of hokku?” The term “haiku” was made-up by Masaoka Shiki, in the late 1800s. Haiku is derived from the ancient hokku. To learn more about the difference between these two terms, read David Coomler’s explanation here.
David Coomler, who writes and teaches the art of hokku, tells us that the old hokku verses “maintain the traditional aesthetic principles inherited from Daoism and meditative Buddhism.” (He has coined a word, “daoku,” which refers to verses written in accord with the Dao, the natural order of the universe.) “This kind of hokku is a way of both recognizing our vital connection to Nature, and of taking us out of busy intellection and into tranquil perception.” With his Mountain Water School he teaches this kind of hokku, or daoku, from which haiku is derived. This is the kind of verse that I enjoy reading most of all.
In the beginning of the Tokugawa era (1425-1625) the hokku was already well established, but in the hands of the rule-smiths it was already expiring in artificiality. Then came Basho (see my later post on Basho), who reinvigorated the basic form.(2) You can learn about the Basic Form of Hokku by clicking here.
The subject matter of hokku is very limited…it must be about Nature and the place of humans within/as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons. Read more, here.
The old hokku calendar, or the natural calendar, has the seasons beginning on cross-quarter days. Winter begins on Nov 1st, Spring on Feb. 1st, Summer on May 1st, and Autumn begins on Aug. 1st. For information about the natural or hokku calendar click here.
When reading good hokku you will notice how important the concept of yin and yang is. Read more about this relationship here.
When you get to the very bottom of this page, click “next, The Aging Pine” and take a leisurely walk in the Hokku Garden! If you wish to go through this Garden in chronological order, then click “next” at the bottom of each page.
(1)This quote, by David Coomler, can be found at this site.
(2) Basho – On Love and Barley, the Hokku of Basho, translated by Lucien Stryk.
The photos can be found at this site.