Sunday, December 11, 2005

Buson and Chinese Poetry III

Some more thinking about Buson and Chinese poetry. I'm giving a paper at the upcoming MLA conference about the topic, and these are some of the things I'm thinking about.

I'm going to be talking not about Buson's hokku (i.e. 5-7-5 syllable poems, what is normally called haiku today). Rather, I'm going to concentrate on his haishi, free-form verse in a haikai style.
I'm still working out the details yet, and I will try to write them out on the blog as I do. For the moment, here's what I know:

A. Buson wrote three haishi.

  1. Mourning for the Sage Hokuju
  2. Song of the Spring Wind on the Kema Embankment
  3. Yodo River Songs

B. All of these focus on longing and loss; nostalgia, for a better word. (1) is an elegy for an older friend/patron who died when Buson was in his late 20s. It's not clear when he wrote it--perhaps at the time, perhaps years later. (2) and (3) are especially interesting insofar as he takes a female point of view to write them. In (2) he describes meeting a servant-girl who is on the way home for her one holiday a year; moved by her charm, he composes a poem series as if was speaking in her voice. (3) is a dialogue between a courtesan and her client; the courtesan urges her client/lover to stay with her, the client/lover demurs, the courtesan speaks of her sadness.

I say (2) and (3) are "especially interesting" but in fact all three are equally interesting--and extraordinarily powerful, too. They have a haikai-esque quality to them, that's certain, but they also owe a great deal in their form and their evocativeness to Chinese poetry.

It's my job to somehow make sense of this.

More to follow.