The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Photo Haibun

A haibun, a form developed in the classical period of Japanese literature, is essentially a prose haiku: a short essay often followed by an actual haiku in the more familiar 17-syllable form. Matsuo Basho is the poet most associated with the form, advancing its use in his travel-related writings (such as The Narrow Road to the Far North) in the late 17th century.

[Photo: Passarelle St. Georges, Saone River]

I happen to have been reading Basho recently as my slim volume of his work (found by chance in a rental-house basement in Chapel Hill) is the only book in English I have that fits in the pocket of my overcoat, and as such is useful for reading in fits and starts while riding the Metro to work or waiting for the laundromat dryer to finish.

[Photo: Light snow on my little terrace]

Classical haiku are of course strongly associated with nature, in particular the seasons, so the coincidence of a brutal, hobo-killing cold snap across Europe (dig the pix of people skiing in Marseilles) providing beautiful-but-bleak photo opportunities while I read Basho's ruminations on cold, journeying and solitude led to this ungainly mashing together of photos of 21st-century France and 17th-century Japanese poetics. [Click photos to enlarge; some of 'em are pretty good.]

[Photo: frozen tree out my window]

"Anyone can write that on such and such a day it was rainy in the morning and cleared in the afternoon, that a pine tree stood in such and such a place, or that such and such a river flowed through such and such district. Indeed, it is not worthwhile writing a journal unless there is something new to say, as in the poems of Huang Shan-Ku or Su Tung-P'o. Nevertheless I must say that the scenes I came upon during the journey and the hardships I encountered still provide me with topics of conversation today... I hope my readers will forgive me doing this, considering it nothing more than a drunkard's raving or a sleeper's muttering."
--Matsuo Basho, Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, 1687

[photo: Terraces at the Berges du Rhone with lonely seagull over reflecting pool; nobody wading today]

On New Year's Day
each thought a loneliness

as winter dusk

Awake at night--
the sound of the water jar
cracking in the cold.

[Photo: skating rink and Grande Roue in Place Bellecour]

First snow
on the half-finished bridge

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
there's nothing to write about

but radishes.

Through frozen rice fields,
moving slowly on horseback,
my shadow creeps by

[photo: Pont de la Guillotiere and Hotel-Dieu; cathedral nearly invisible in mist]

Winter seclusion –

sitting propped
the same worn post.

[all haiku by Basho; photos by me]

[Photo: cold dawn in Clos Vendome; on my way to work]


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