Yuku ware ni
Todomaru nare ni
For I who go
For you who stay
This haiku’s authorship is posthumously disputed between Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) and the much earlier Buson (1716-1784). My knowledge of Japanese is not enough to understand why over a century’s distance cannot be ascertained from the choice and the use of the words. But then, that may be one of the wonders of the genre; its sheer bareness of superfluity and its tightness of expression probably give the language a timeless quality that defies dating even by the experts in the field.
Ever since I discovered this haiku, back in Komagane-shi in 1983, and had it explained by Mizawa Sensei, a teacher at the local middle school (is he still alive, I wonder?), it has always struck me as a miracle of conciseness. Pithiness, of course, is a quality common to all great haiku. But this particular haiku has a special immediacy, an urgency that is propelled by the contrast between the wrench of a difficult farewell and the restraint of the utterance. Emotion is contained by deflecting it away from the two subjects towards the land, the landscape, the season. This is a device that Shiki or Buson uses to maximum effect, deflecting our response away from his deflection and back to the two characters, the subjects of the painful separation. In this way nature is turned into a mirror of the inner world, and vice versa. I wish I had that mastery; it would come in useful right now.
However poignant this haiku may have seemed to me in the past, at no time has it been more poignant than now, in the autumn of 2018. My centre of gravity is firmly in the autumn of Redesdale, with all it contains, while my eyes see and my nostrils smell an altogether different world.
For the first time in many years, the reality that matters to me is not in my surroundings. Instead, I must resort to an inner gaze to conjure up the autumn that fills my thoughts. The turning colours, the shorter days, the edgier chill, the warier drives, the slippier paths, the stiller birds, the homier cats, the fluffier dog, the thicker clothes, the heartier meals, the cosier fires, the falling leaves. All the jobs I’m not there to do, all the warmth I’m not there to give, all the needs I’m not there to meet. Two autumns indeed. One of them is not even an autumn, but that is a different story.
Though the season is so achingly fractured, wholeheartedly my heart is with you, land of my loved ones. Not a minute goes by when I don’t hope, yearn, pray, trust. Sooner or later life must make sense again, and the world must be one again, one season at a time.