Apr 06 2008

Haiku, and the Art of Disappearing

Published by at 9:52 am under Other Voices,Poetry

Would you like to disappear? Haiku can show you the way!

‘How painful it is to see people all wrapped up in themselves,’ commented Ryokan. Well, it’s unwrapping time, for all of us now, time to let go. How? Let’s see!

Haiku is an ardent, inspired and inspiring engagement with everyday life, an intercourse with nature-centred events, mainly, events that are happening around us all the time but which we perceive more keenly on the haiku path. Read true haiku with reverence, write true haiku – do it right and you can disappear, happily, now — and over and over again in the course of your life.


There’s a professor in Chicago who has been studying happiness. What is happiness? It’s all about flow, maintains Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life: ‘The metaphor of ‘flow’ is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives …’


Catechism… Sometimes it appears that the cat knows more than we do, learning from experience, fitting into the world, and disappearing from it, more gracefully than we can:

      the cat
            walks into the autumn wind –
                  extended whiskers

                  Murayama Kokyō
                  (Version: GR)

      she doesn’t know –
            the cat on the stove

      (Version: GR)

/ Photo by fazen /

      from darkness
            and back into the dark
                  the affairs of the cat!

                  (Version: GR)

from what unknowable universe
      beyond Hubble –
            the cat’s green stare


Disappearing in the haiku moment… Think about moments of flow, ordinary or extraordinary events in your life in which you have experienced flow: it may have been entering another dimension while dancing, or when engaged in some aesthetic pursuit – music, pottery or painting; it may have been lovemaking, or the highlight of some athletic activity, or simply watching the dawn, or the stars, in some exotic location. You needn’t strip fitter as athlete, hill-walker or lover, no need to book a trip to Kerala or Kerry. You can flow now with haiku, like water, like a cloud.

Wandering monks were called unsui in Japan, literally ‘cloud and water’.

Bashō moved about quite a bit and caught the beauty of flow and stillness, the intermingling textures of life:

      The squid seller’s call
      mingles with the voice
            of the cuckoo

(Matsuo Basho, Poems, trans. Robert Hass, PoemHunter.com, 2004)

It is your static, self-conscious, unflowing self which makes you so stolidly visible, so permanently present to others and to yourself. Disappear for a while. True haikuists will show you the way because they have developed a magnetic capacity to attract the haiku moment.


Disappearing in the flame… Mystics will show you what true haikuists already know:

Hildegard of Bingen, Hildegard of Bingen poetry, Christian poetry ‘I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars … I awaken everything to life.’

It was Hildegard von Bingen who uttered those magnificent words. What a haikuist she would have made, had she known of the technique, given her life-long engagement with the secret life of plants and stones. Another German mystic, Angelus Silesius, was a master of minimalist verse; though his strange couplets are generally too abstract to resemble haiku, he presents us with a fine, if cryptic, reason for disappearing:

      God, whose love and joy are present everywhere,
            Can’t come to visit you unless you aren’t there!

                        (Version: GR)


Disappearing in the ordinary… Haiku poems focus on ordinary, seasonal goings on around us. Some form of brain synchronization happens in the haiku moment and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. We do not need a magic wand, or magic mushrooms, to disappear. A turnip can take us there, a tree, a crow, a shadow on a lake, the hissing of geese.

Meher Baba reminds us: ‘The best way to cleanse the heart and prepare for the stilling of the mind is to lead a normal, worldly life .’

            i m’aonar anocht
                  leis na torbáin
                        leis an gcruinne

alone tonight
      with the tadpoles
            with the universe


Kobayashi Issa, Kobayashi Issa poetry, Buddhist poetry in the silver dewdrops
      vanishing …
            my house

                  (Trans. David G. Lanoue)

The haikuist can disappear first thing in the morning, last thing at night, each haiku moment being a cleansing of the heart, a stilling of the mind, a vanishing.

Excerpted by permission from Haiku: the gentle art of disappearing, by Gabriel Rosenstock.

Gabriel Rosenstock is the author/translator of over 100 books, including 12 volumes of poetry in Irish and a number of volumes of bilingual haiku. A member of Aosdana, the Irish Academy of Arts and Letters, he has given readings in Europe, the US, India, Australia and Japan. He has translated into Irish the selected poems of, among others, Francisco X. Alarcon, S. Heaney, G. Grass, W M Roggeman, Said, M. Augustin, P. Huchel, G. Trakl, G. Heym, H. Schertenleib and his Irish-language versions of haiku masters Issa, Buson, Shiki, Santoka and others are much loved in his native country.

His books of poetry include:

Bliain an Bhande – Year of the Goddess
by Gabriel Rosenstock
Cold Moon: The Erotic Haiku of Gabriel Rosenstock
by Gabriel Rosenstock

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Haiku, and the Art of Disappearing”

  1. Omaon 09 Apr 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing all that wonderful info on haiku and the lovely actual poems. Here in Port Townsend, Washington (state) we have a haiku group that meets monthly with some very dedicated and adept writers. We enjoy sharing our sychronistic insights. Peace, Oma

  2. Omaon 09 Apr 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Very special, and enjoyable!

  3. marionon 14 Apr 2008 at 6:10 am

    The choice of Haiku poems is delightful here, thank you for bringing this disappearance of the self to celebratory light. I hadn't realised Haiku could be so exciting. At times I thought haiku were rather self conscious and mannered, but this has helped me experience them so vividly. Must buy Gabriel Rosenstock's book on Haiku. thank you for this revelation!

  4. Gabriel Rosenstockon 14 Apr 2008 at 9:27 pm

    It should be noted, please, that

    the haiku manuscripts HAIKU ENLIGHTENMENT and its sequel HAIKU, THE GENTLE ART OF DISAPPEARING are unpublished.

    Sections have appeared in the

    e-journal World Haiku Review.

    Am currently looking for an agent or book publisher.



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