Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Summer Moon

Last night the moon was rising in the trees behind my house. There are too many leaves out there to see it distinctly, but even that was nice. The light was all milky, refracted by the hundreds of separate, slightly glossy surfaces. On nights like last night, the moonlight looks very ancient and distant, even though it's coming in from where astronomers would tell us is very close and recent. And it gets very gold and warm from the haze in the humid summer sky.

In haiku the moon is a seasonal word for autumn, unless you specify another one. Oborozuki 朧月, the misty moon, is in spring; the summer moon, natsu no tsuki, is something different altogether. Buson has some summer moon hokku, but this is the one I thought of last night:

growing distant from the bell
the sound of the bell

suzushisa ya
kane o hanaruru
kane no oto

A hokku without a moon at all. I thought of it because I was reminded of fûrin 風鈴, little bells you hang up from the eaves in the summer so that the tinkly sound can make you feel cool. I don't have a fûrin, and even if I did it wouldn't help because there is no wind. Just the sound of insects in the garden, buzzing in quiet conversations. Which in itself is pleasant.

The bell in Buson's poem isn't a fûrin; it's a kane 鐘, something bigger and more dark and powerful, like one you'd hear at a temple. Imagine a rich, deep sound that seems hang motionless in the air, not quite leaving the place where it started. If a fûrin feels cool, the ringing coming off Buson's bell in this hokku must be almost cold: a deep, refreshing pool of sound to float in.

Another summer hokku--this one comes from Kyorai, Bashô's disciple.

the very rocks and trees
blazing to the sight--

ishi mo ki mo
manako ni hikaru
atsusa kana

If Kyorai were here, he'd have mentioned pavements and windshields too, I'm sure.

Where did that cool moon go?