Oct 18 2019
This cold winter night
English version by Sam Hamill
This cold winter night,
that old wooden-head Buddha
would make a nice fire
— from The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library), Edited by Sam Hamill / Edited by J. P. Seaton
/ Image by thanapat /
Chilly weather this morning. Makes a person cast about for a source of warmth… Hmm…
Every time I come across this haiku it makes me laugh. It works beautifully on several levels and can suggest almost opposite meanings. Superficially, we are contemplating an act of sacrilegious vandalism — hungrily looking at a large wooden Buddha head, perhaps it is neglected or fallen, and fantasizing about setting it on fire for a little comfort. On the other hand, the head engulfed in flames is a common image in Asian iconography to represent enlightenment, a variation on the nimbus or halo — so the haiku can just as easily be saying something about warming oneself through spiritual illumination.
The haiku shocks, it even offends, at the same time that it inspires awakening — a masterful joke!
|Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter||The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library)||The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson|
Taniguchi Buson (or Yosa Buson) was known in his day primarily as an excellent painter, but today he is often grouped with Basho and Issa as among the finest writers of haiku poetry.
He was born outside of Osaka, Japan, but lost both parents while still young. He moved to Edo (Tokyo) to study painting and haiku. He later settled in Kyoto, making a name for himself as a painter.
When we compare Buson with Basho, Buson’s haiku are more crafted than Basho’s, showing the precision of a painter’s eye.