HAIKU for An Autumn Afternoon Tea
The Japanese form of three-line poetry, the haiku, is deceptively simple and endlessly challenging to create. Haiku about tea are not that common, (it was wine that led the poets to wax rhapsodic) but a few about tea and the venerable tearoom have become classics:
They speak no words.
The visitor. The host.
And the white chrysanthemums.
Even without the lushness of a fine Sencha, or the stimulation of a crisp autumnal Darjeeling, the ancient haiku poets’ aim was to pay homage to the seasons, write charmingly about the moon and the stars, and all things related to the passing scenes nature provides: falling leaves, rushing rivers, flowers blooming and fading, a sky of stars, and even the lowly mosquito or cicada chirping in the night. Haiku also can capture the perfect, the inexplicable moment of everyday life. The triumvirate of “poet-stars” of the form remain Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa, who lived during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries respectively. They are generally known only by their surnames, and we list a few of their more exquisite examples below:
Washing the saucepans—
the moon glows on her hands
in the shallow river.
Note: Issa means a cup of tea or a single bubble in steeping tea. He wrote of bugs from crickets to lice, and captured moments with people as the above poem demonstrates so beautifully.
Robert Haas’s seminal work, “The Essential Haiku,” is a wonderful introduction to the form and to these poets, and others, whose work, even translated by the very American, witty Haas, resonates centuries later. Haiku are easily understandable over the centuries and by those of wildly different cultures.
Wrapping the rice cakes,
with one hand
she fingers back her hair.
You certainly don’t have to be a seasoned haiku lover to try your hand at this poetic form. After all, the very word amateur means to love what you are doing. To that end, we encourage you to invite friends for a haiku tea party, providing them with your finest green tea selections,* a small notepad and pen to create their own haiku.
Basically, the three lines are divided by syllables, even in English, so that the first line has 5 syllables, and sets the scene; the second has 7, and the third and final line, has 5 and are generally commentaries on the first line. As noted among these examples, there are many variations of syllable counts, but almost always, only three lines for Japanese forms.
White blossoms of the pear
and a woman in moonlight
reading a letter.
To use the old adage, “If I can, so can you.” I feel confident you and your friends will have fun creating a few haiku to make you smile, feel nostalgic or dream. Here are a few attempts of my attempts:
Black ink, white paper,
red chop mark. Calligraphy
Enter a tearoom
clean of the world’s detritus.
Sweet green tea awaits.
The table now bare,
echoes murmurs of happy
guests saying, thank you!
Some haiku poets used the three-line form to write stanzas for use in longer pieces. Here’s one stanza from Basho that he wrote, joined by other poets, that ended in a 36-line poem. Any collaborative poem with at least two stanzas is called a renga.
Through the lush ivy
crawling over the lattice door
an evening moon.
Use the above three lines to kick off an effort to create your own renga, or write an opening stanza yourself, then have the next person in your party create another stanza, then the next person, and so forth around the table until you have a finished poem, whether it’s 36 lines or not. You’ll be delighted how the finished poem wends its way in and out of various ideas when you ignore the “rules” let your imagination fly.
You and your guests could each also try your hand at writing a three-line poem ala Emily Dickinson or like the one below written by Ezra Pound, throwing caution to the wind regarding syllable count:
As cool as the pale wet leaves
She lay beside me in the dawn.
*Whether you’re brewing up an elegant Japanese green tea or a Chinese black, this glass teapot adds a spectacular visual element to a Japanese tea-themed party.
Want to serve the finest green tea for your guests? Go for Gyokuro ! It has everything to please all the senses: a deep dark color matched by an intense flavor that slides across the tongue like silk.
NOTE: Visit your local library for more information about writing Japanese forms of poetry and reading classic and contemporary poets of the form. The people of Oaxaca write a style of haiku in their native dialects and short form poems are popular in French, Spanish, and English, among other languages.