Vol. 8, No. 14, Summer 2011
Robert D. Wilson, Philippines
Kigo – The Heathbeat of Haiku
Kigo is the heart beat and essence of haiku. The Japanese cultural memory is one entwined with Zen Buddhism, Daoism, Shinto, and the ancient shamanic animism handed down by the indigenous Ainu, the original inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago. There are those who claim that Japan is a Zen Buddhist country, but fact and a closer look negate this Blythian cogitation.
Shinto and shamanic animism both believe that animism is an actuality, which to the West is superstition and thought, relegated to heathens and uneducated people. In the West, Judeo- Christian thought has permeated the geoscape as has their German-based educational system, which places man above nature. Nature is not a force but the product of the Creator who controls its every expression and who assigns nature to be below and for humankind.
The Japanese mindset sees everything in life as its equal. Nature is constantly changing and is never static. It cannot be controlled by man, and is unpredictable. The four seasons and the transformations they bring about are the flourishing of life, give rise to deep feeling and artistic catharsis. Via all forms of Japanese art, every cultured person is taught to return to the cosmic, recognize its beauty and follow its movements.
Shinkei in the epilogue to Iwahashi Batsubun wrote:
"A man who is ignorant of the Way [of poetry] is blind to the shifting of the four seasons, unaware of the deeply fascinating Principle coursing through the forms and colors of the ten thousand realms. He spends his whole life before a blank wall with a jar pulled over his head." (p. 347)
Nothing is what it appears to be. Nature is not predictable. It is never stagnant or subjective. It is the zoka, what David Barnhill describes as "the creative force of nature that has the spontaneous tendency and ability to exhibit transformations that are beautiful. These transformations occur at different levels, from the four seasons to the changes in a scene that occur from moment to moment." Zoka is the transmutability of time and nature of intangible artists whose brush never stops.
Nature is always in a state of metamorphosis. A poet has within his or her ability to perform as nature performs. To find the essence of creativity, one must differentiate between the disposition of nature and the creative force (zoka) of nature. This is not to be confused with a spiritual deity. To understand haiku, one must understand zoka, which is a concatenate of Daoism, Zen Buddhism, Shinto, shamanic animism, and more. Zoka is beyond man's ability to define, categorize or predict.
We don't need to be a member of any religion or sect, nor do we need to be Japanese to acknowledge and see the value of the kigo in haiku. It is the essence of a haiku, the tool most adept at giving a voice to the unsaid. Kigo embodies haiku as it is its creative force (zoka). Nature, as in the artistic mind, gives a voice to the unsaid, paints a continuum that's objective, and is event-biased versus object-biased. A true haiku is not focused on an object. Objects are impermanent and external. The process is more important than the object: the unseen and unheard, the internal, when melded to the external, bring the poet to the floating world where intuition and perception are teachers.
The Chinese painter, Zhu Yunming (1460-1526), wrote:
"Everything in the universe has some kind of life and that the mystery of creation, changing and unsettled, cannot be described in forms."
As haiku poets, we can easily write haiku using a kigo, and the short/long/short metric schemata indigenous to haiku. We also need to understand and see the value of using Japanese aesthetics as tools or styles, remembering that as poets, we are dealing with an economy of words which, out of necessity, must hint at, suggest and bring to life the unsaid. It's an easy poem to write, but one of the hardest to write well. Kigo is nature unbridled. We can learn from Nature, by doing what Buson did when composing haiku: observe the zoka, the creative unpredictable force of nature that constructs and deconstructs all objects. Once this is understood, a poet's haiku takes on new depth.
Republished from haijinx IV:1 (March 2011) by the author's permission.