Sep 11 2013
To the one breaking it
by Fukuda Chiyo-ni
English version by Patricia Donegan & Yoshie Ishibashi
To the one breaking it —
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 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.