Sep 11 2013

Fukuda Chiyo-ni – To the one breaking it

Published by at 8:48 am under Poetry

To the one breaking it
by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

English version by Patricia Donegan & Yoshie Ishibashi

To the one breaking it —
the fragrance
of the plum.

— from Chiyo-ni: Woman Hiaku Master, Translated by Patricia Donegan / Translated by Yoshie Ishibashi

/ Photo by Schnittke /

This is such an interesting haiku to me. I have several contrary reactions when I read it.

On the most literal level, we have this idyllic moment in which we open a ripe plum and enjoy its sweet fragrance. It is a private moment of enjoyment, intimate. It anticipates the taste of the fruit. But there is also a hint of violence. We are breaking it open. The plum is a complete, perfect thing that we have torn in two in order to get at the sweet, vulnerable fruit. At the same time, the plum only fulfills itself by being opened, offering its sustenance to the world, and perhaps even finding new life emerging from its center. If it remains comfortably a whole plum, it will only know decay.

Associations quickly build in the mind. This could be an erotic image, suggesting sex. Or the plum could be the human heart in love, or full of hope. The haiku makes us ask, is there something inherently violent about human relationships, about love, about intimacy? Whether a love affair or a lifelong friendship, there is always some negotiation and crossing of boundaries. Even healthy relationships can have a feeling of violation at vulnerable moments.

Or could it be that the plum is our whole awareness? Every experience and encounter in life in some sense tears us open, makes us feel, makes us more vulnerable, yet those experiences are necessary to open us up and help us to recognize our inherent sweetness, releasing it out into the world.

Disturbance and delight in this little haiku, in such delicate balance…

Fukuda Chiyo-ni, Fukuda Chiyo-ni poetry, Buddhist poetry Fukuda Chiyo-ni

Japan (1703 – 1775) Timeline

Fukuda Chiyo-ni is considered one of the greatest haiku poets.

The daughter of a picture framer, she showed a childhood gift for poetry and had already gained fame for her haiku while she was still a teenager.

Her early haiku were influenced by Basho and his students, though she developed her own unique shofu (style) over her career as a haikuist.

She was a nun of the Pure Land Buddhist sect.

More poetry by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Fukuda Chiyo-ni – To the one breaking it”

  1. Yewtreeon 11 Sep 2013 at 9:50 am

    Great commentary, Ivan – really illuminated the many possible meanings of the poem for me.

    Thank you!

  2. Alexon 11 Sep 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Love the poem and your comments!

    Completely feel what you said about the plum containing our whole awareness. As a seed it has the potential to grow into a tree, so can our personalities blossom.

  3. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 11 Sep 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Ivan, you broke open this tightlly compressed haiku
    so beautifully. Oh yes some encounters tear us open to vulnerability–helping us to recognize our inherent sweetness. You said it so well. Thank you.

  4. rosellen littleon 11 Sep 2013 at 6:08 pm

    love your interpretation love the poem love the plum.
    it is indeed like a lot of friendships and life.
    i feel your interpretation helps me with an ongoing “problem” i have
    reminds me of that famous poem i have stolen or eated the plums
    they were so cold
    and so deliciious by william carlos williams
    something like that.

    thank-you again

  5. Aravindaon 11 Sep 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Such a beautiful haiku. Thank you, Ivan, for sharing it and giving your wonderful interpretation.

  6. Pegon 12 Sep 2013 at 7:55 am

    Extending from your lovely thoughts Ivan, I see wholeness, divine purpose, though I would argue that I see no vulnerability. For the person breaking apart the plum, there is the “fragrance” or the scent, the exact replica of the plum but not from sight but smell. This is the perfect fragrance, not the scent of the outside skin but its inside perfection–its plum truth. The outside skin is what the plum presents to the world, its window dressing. It’s what we see from a distance. The inside is wholeness, perfection, truth, the extravagant, sovereign, audacious immediate plumness. There is no distance no separation and subsequently no vulnerability because there is union.

    I so enjoy reading everyone’s individual perceptions of these poems.

  7. Elizabethon 13 Sep 2013 at 5:43 pm

    “There is no distance no separation and subsequently no vulnerability because there is union.”

    beautiful, Peg ….. I very much resonate with this view.

    “Completeness” and “perfection” belong only to the Divine — to the seamless fabric of all-that-is.

    The moth dancing around the flame may very well feel vulnerable to it. For the moth wholly (& holy!) consumed, what boundary is there left, to perceive as being violated?

    Ah the fragrance …. of our True Self 🙂

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply