Vol. 11, No 18, Spring 2014
Vol. 10, No 17, Summer 2013
Vol. 9, No. 16, Summer 2012
Vol. 8, No. 15, Winter 2011
Vol. 8, No. 14, Summer 2011
Klaus-Dieter Wirth, Germany
The Haiku in Europe
In the following paper, I will first explain the circumstances, which helped the haiku to be discovered in the Western hemisphere, and then show how differently people got aware of it in our countries. The next step may be called the phase of adoption from timid beginnings to a greater general attention. And finally, I will touch the latest phase, the one of adaptation we are dealing with right now.
There were two basic prerequisites, which helped the haiku to find its way into European literature:
Looked at from Japan, it was the end of Nippon's self-imposed policy of total isolation (sakoku) under the Tokugawa shogunate for about 200 years, only given up by pressure from abroad in 1854, and the more open-minded orientation shown by the following Meiji dynasty from 1868 to 1912. This new contact with the West also prompted, for instance, Masaoka Shiki, the fourth classical author after Matsuo Bashô, Kobayashi Issa, and Yosa Buson to redefine the haiku, which had meanwhile rather degenerated into some popular plaything.
On the other hand, focusing our attention on Europe the ground had already been well prepared since the 18th century by a vogue of exoticism molding, however, quite an idyllic view of far-away cultures and countries. Think, e.g., of Daniel Defoe's “Robinson Crusoe” in England (1719) or „Les lettres persanes “ (“The Persian Letters”) written by the French author Montesquieu in 1721. Rather soon, the movement was reinforced by a variant during the epoch of Romanticism (1789-1848), i.e. by the so-called orientalism extending the interest on the Middle East, the Islamic North of Africa and even Spain. Here the “West-Eastern Divan” (1819) of the great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe may serve as an example. At the same time this very enthusiasm also infected applied arts, architecture – imagine, e.g., the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (1815-22) as well as music – e.g., Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's “The Abduction from the Seraglio” (1782) or Giuseppe Verdi's “Rigoletto” (1851) – and last but not least also painting, as, e.g., with the French artists Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (*1780), Eugène Delacroix (*1798), and Paul Gauguin (*1848). To sum up, it was not at all a real surprise that Katsushika Hokusai's “Great Wave of Kanagawa” could come flooding over to Europe and that the even more inconspicuous little plant of haiku was detected as well towards the end of the 19th century. People had developed a natural curiosity about “the charm of the unfamiliar”, the “newfound otherness”. Well, these were the basic conditions at the so-called “fin de siècle”.
The definite discovery of the haiku in the Western hemisphere, however, was brought about by “British gentlemen scholars and other Westerners who had mastered the Japanese language. In 1877, the diplomat and scholar W. G. Aston published the first translations of haiku into English. Three years later, (…) Basil Hall Chamberlain, a British professor of Japanese in Tokyo, published Classical Poetry of the Japanese, and in 1888 A Handbook of Colloquial Japanese, which contains more haiku translations. The watershed publications, however, were Aston's A History of Japanese Literature in 1899, a comprehensive treatment of Japanese literature that was widely read worldwide, and Chamberlain's 1902 essay Bashô and the Japanese Poetical Epigram, the first works to discuss haiku in a language other than Japanese.” As we can see from this last title, already these first Western haiku pioneers looked out at once for points of reference, of familiar tune enabling them to find some suitable literary assignment. As a consequence, the haiku was – understandably enough – soon associated even by these translators with the epigram or aphorism, rendered into a rhymed form or given a title in addition. Allow me in this place a short digression to the art of painting, especially of graphics, for I think that there are some important visible basic parallels with the art of haiku. Comparing the colour woodblock prints of, e.g., Henri de Toulouse Lautrec or Mary Cassatt, a born American living and working in Paris with the impressionists, to the examples set by their Japanese colleagues Kitagawa Utamaro and the already mentioned Katsushika Hokusai, we clearly recognize that they already used just these elements of combined patterns, flat planes and shifting perspectives usually applied in the Japanese prints. And instead of the traditional interplay of shadow and light, the angle of incidence, effects of depth asymmetry became a topic of discussion. Don't forget the uneven number of parts and syllables or - more precisely - of morae in the classical haiku. Besides these artists also foresaw in some way the significance of mu, the empty space, and ma, an even more difficult concept, long before it was studied by the haijin. Nevertheless, Hasegawa Kai tried to describe it as follows: “It is the abyss which only instinct can overlap. It is not predictable when or in what shape ma appears. Ma hides outside of human control or operation; a condensed vacuity which cannot be converted into words.” In other words, this was another essential criterion a Western mind generally prepared only to listen to reason had to realize and learn to accept. Yet this first encounter with the genre did not, of course, automatically result in its adoption by indigenous people in Europe.
Back to real poetry at the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. It was more a matter of chance that Paul-Louis Couchoud, a professor of philosophy and medicine, got to stumble across the haiku during his visit to Japan. Anyway, he at once felt attracted by its special charm, and – more importantly - also showed a strong personal sense of it. Shortly after, in 1905, he made that famous boat trip on the Seine and its connected canals accompanied by his friends Albert Poncin and André Faure, during which they composed seventy-two haikai, original works of theirs, a compilation bearing the title Au fil de l'eau ('With the Current'), the first book of haiku published in a Western language!
Comparing how the transition from the phase of discovery of the haiku to that of its adoption turned out in the other European countries we come to the conclusion that the development in France remained quite exceptional. Okay, we meet here as well that uncertainty about how to classify the genre, for Paul-Louis Couchoud himself entitled his further more or less theoretical inventory of the Japanese haiku which appeared only one year later in 1906 Les épigrammes lyriques du Japon ('The Lyrical Epigrams of Japan'), for its part the first dedicated discussion of haiku to appear in France. And he, too, certainly knew Henry D. Davory's French translation of Aston's (cf. above) A History of Japanese Literature accomplished in 1902, i.e. already three years after the publication of its original, and probably as well Basil Hall Chamberlain's essay Bashô and the Japanese Poetical Epigram reviewed in 1903 by French scholar Claude Maître. And yet, it is obvious that Couchoud already skipped the usual first stage of adoption to a considerable extent, since he did not just copy or imitate Japanese examples but tried - right from the start - to find his own personal way of writing. Moreover, it seems that this basic attitude of his also served as a guide to the majority of enthusiasts that followed. It even entailed another remarkably radical change in the reception of the haiku, an indigenous-rooted utilization of the imported genre. Otherwise, it would have been hardly imaginable that Julien Vocance could write haiku even from the trenches of World War I. His Cent visions de guerre ('A Hundred Visions of War') in 1916, as subject matter a clear departure from the “birds and flowers” of standard Japanese haiku, putting at the same time an end to the age of exoticism. Another extraordinary result: Haiku soon became so popular that, in 1923, René Maublanc could publish Le haïkaï français what seems to be the first bibliography and the first anthology of Western haiku presenting no less than 48 authors and 283 poems collected into 24 given themes. Allow me another short digression: Dominique Chipot, the first president of the AFH (Association francophone de haïku) had the idea to address contemporary haiku poets conditioning the same 24 given themes and confronting the outcome with samples of Maublanc's ancient anthology. It resulted in the publication Seulement l'écho ('Only the Echo'), anthologie de haïkus francophones , in 2010, a highly charming experiment.
Back to this phase of adoption, seen from the general European perspective, it is amazing in which particular ways and just in which countries the haiku became known in the end. Mostly the first approach was taken by translations of Japanese originals, often collected in anthologies, or in a broader context by histories of literature all predominantly done by scholars. This was, e.g., the case – would you believe it? - in Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Serbia or Sweden.
Other single attempts were made by mainstream poets emulating the newly discovered genre, such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Blei, Ivan Goll and Klabund in Germany; Jean Paulhan, Paul Éluard, Paul Valéry, Paul Claudel in France; Antonio Machado, the Nobel prize winner Juan Ramón Jiménez, Rafael Alberti, Luis Cernuda in Spain or later Giorgos Seferis, another Nobel prize winner, in Greece.
Of course, there were as well some other occasional native approaches to the genre every here and there, especially in combination with translations of Japanese poetry. May Hungary serve as a representative in this respect with its haikuists Dezsö Kosztolányi and Sándor Kányádi.
In general, however, we must keep in mind that the first half of the 20th century with its two world wars and the political turmoil in between was hardly conducive to the promotion of the interests in haiku. As a consequence, the enthusiasm flagged to such an extent that it almost died out even in France for about forty years.
The decisive revival came about with the editions of Reginald Horatio Blyth's four volumes of haiku translations and commentaries, published between 1949 and 1952 in Hokuseido. Blyth's great advantage, he was authentic: a university professor married to a Japanese woman, nevertheless soon after interned as an enemy alien when Japan entered the war, and yet managed to accustom himself single-mindedly to all aspects of Japanese life and culture, even becoming a private tutor to the Crown Prince Akihito and continued to live in the country for 25 years until his death. There is no doubt that this outstanding work of Blyth's initiated the definite popularization of the haiku all over in the Western hemisphere. Yet for the time being postwar problems still delayed its immediate positive repercussions. They finally came into effect during the seventies, when other promoters joined up to get the whole thing going concentrating on their smaller national scale. Among these I think of the Fleming Bart Mesotten who - significantly enough - called his first haiku book, published in 1972, Dag, haikoe ('Hello, Haiku') as his personal welcome to the genre, determining its development at all events in his surroundings for exactly 40 years, publishing no less than 12 books apart from founding the HCV (Haikoe Centrum Vlaanderen / 'Haiku Centre of Flanders') in 1976 and the oldest, still existing European haiku magazine Vuursteen ('Flint') in 1980. Shortly after, in 1973, J. van Tooren presented her landmark publication Haiku – Een jonge maan ('Haiku – a Young Moon'), the evergreen primer of all Dutch-speaking haiku enthusiasts. And another one, the grand old man of the Balkans, Vladimir Devidé wrote a similar ABC of haiku in 1975 entitling it 'Japanese Haiku Poetry and its Cultural -Historical Setting'.
Besides a second wave of translations set in, e.g., France with Maurice Coyaud, Alain Kervern, René Sieffert, ou Joan Titus-Carmel. At the same time, more national haiku societies came into existence. Here is a selection: in 1980 the HKN (Haiku Kring Nederland), in 1988 the DHG (Deutsche Haiku Gesellschaft), in 1990 the BHS (British Haiku Society), in 1991 the “Romanian Haiku Society”, in 1992 the “Croatian Haiku Association”, in 1993 the “Haiku Club 'Masaoka Shiki' Niš, Yugoslavia”, in 2000 the “Bulgarian Haiku Club”, but only in 2003 the AFH (Association francophone de haïku). Yet up to now no official umbrella organization exists, for example, either in Spain or in Italy. On the other hand, smaller circles or regional groups generally proved to be no less ambitious. In the case of the two last-mentioned countries, e.g., there is the AGHA (Asociación de la gente del haiku en Albacete) astonishingly academical, and the “Cascina Macondo Centre” near Turin.
After all, this second phase of adoption stood out conspicuously due to its diverse and new activities: founding of haiku journals, publishing haiku books, organizing haiku meetings (kukai), haiku walks (ginko), haiku competitions, and even international festivals, such as the first two in Constantia (Romania) in 1992 and 1994 or the all-European ones in Bad Nauheim (Germany) in 2005 with 61 participants from 17 countries, next in Vadstena (Sweden) in 2007 with 56 participants from 15 countries, and then in Ghent (Belgium) in 2010 with 33 participants from 20 countries, bringing together the cream of haiku poets, founders, editors and publishers aiming at the same time at drawing greater public attention to the significance of haiku. To be honest, there had been a previous international meeting already in 1997 on Britain's National Poetry Day, the so-called Shuttle Event, a gathering of British and other haiku friends from 6 more countries, a total of 42 participants who met in Calais (France) and Folkestone (England).
Crucial, however, for this essential step towards internationalization were the new possibilities of communication opened up by the growing importance of the Internet towards the turn of the millennium. It is true again that there had been earlier attempts in this regard, too: Ion Codrescu edited his bilingual international magazine Albatross in Romanian and English from 1992 to 2002, and Willem Lofvers & Milivoj Objedović their Woodpecker from 1995 as well to 2002, presenting any original version with its Dutch and English translation. Yet it cannot be doubted that the advent of the Internet marked the real shift in the further promulgation of the haiku. It even helped enormously to enable comprehensive national haiku compendiums such as An Unmown Sky – An Anthology of Croatian Haiku Poetry 1996-2007 edited by Đurđa Vukelić-Rožić in 2011 or already on a greater scale Knots – The Anthology of Southeastern European Haiku Poetry edited by Dimitar Anakiev & Jim Kacian in 1999 up to the World Haiku Anthology “Haiku – the leaves are back on the tree” - edited by the Greek Zoe Savina in 2002 featuring 186 poets from 50 countries. Definitely European projects were D'un ciel à l'autre ('From one Sky to another') - Haiku Anthology of the European Union, a quadilingual publication in French, English, Japanese + the original in its native language edited by the AFH, Seichamps, (France) in 2006, containing 221 haiku composed by 66 authors from 16 countries comprising 296 pages, and EURO-HAIKU, A Bi-Lingual Anthology, quite a small booklet of 63 pages edited by David Cobb, published by IRON Press in 2007, yet offering 80 haiku from 26 countries. Certainly of greater importance, however, were the multiple ways of direct interchange by emails, chatrooms, forums, blogs, websites, etc. As another result, digital magazines have come into being, such as H.E.L.A. (Hojas en la acera / 'Leaves on the Pavement') in Spain or the bilingual Chrysanthemum published in German and English. Or since spring 2013, the Polish co-editors Krzysztof Kokot & Robert Kania have organized a European Quarterly Kukai succeeding in gathering in its first four editions as many as 284 individual participants from 51 countries! In this way, sharing haiku has really got a new dimension, and before we could say Jack Robinson, we are in addition deeply involved in the next phase, the definite adaptation of the genre.