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Poems, Stories, Plays in the Scots Language by David Purves
Haiku by Japanese Masters

The haiku format is a form of poetic expression based on Zen Buddhism.  This was developed from ancient Chinese models in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Haiku are normally restricted to three lines with a maximum number of seventeen syllables in a 5-7-9 syllabic pattern.  There are no contrived rhymes, no metrical shackles and no title.  Japanese artists, under the influence of  Zen philosophy, have tended to use as few words as possible to express their feelings, and the resultant precise focus (being closer to the complete silence of cosmic consciousness)  intensifies insight into the heart of experience.  Dr Suzuki, Zen’s distinguished historian, tells us, ‘When a feeling reaches its highest pitch, even seventeen syllables may be too many.’

Early authentic examples of haiku occur in the writing of  Sogi (1421-1502), but  Matsuo Basho (1644-94) is regarded by many Japanese as their finest exponent of haiku.  The following 36 examples of haiku illustrate the use of this format until the beginning of the 20th century, when haiku were first introduced into the West, through the medium of English translations.  Haiku have since become internationally fashionable, although the extent to which many haiku currently published in English, embody the quality of consciousness in the Japanese tradition, is open to question.  Authentic Japanese haiku have never been concerned with wit, rhetoric, gimmickry, exhibitionism or pretension.

Unfortunately, contemporary English may not now be a satisfactory register for haiku, since English has become detached from its social roots in any particular community, as a result of globalisation.  It has been argued by some poets that English has now become spiritually exhausted as a poetic language, as a result of its adaptation for utilitarian purposes.  Comparisons between renderings in Scots and English of haiku by Japanese masters suggest that versions in literary Scots have an energy and frisson that harmonise well with the true spirit of haiku.  Accordingly, the following 36 haiku have been rendered in Scots, a register which has a long record  for poetry of a high order.

Click here to read the poems (.pdf file)

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