Carp Diem – Basho’s wrapped in a straw mat – May 26, 2015


walking down an empty street
lamp light in Venice

© G.s.k. ‘15


komo wo ki te tare bito imasu hana no haru

wrapped in a straw mat
who can this great one be?
flowers of spring

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

The above haiku is an example of a technique much-loved by the Japanese haiku poets, the riddle technique.  Here’s what our host, Chèvrefeuille tells us about the technique:

The riddle is probably one of the very oldest poetical techniques. It has been guessed that early spiritual knowledge was secretly preserved and passed along through riddles. Because poetry, as it is today, is the commercialization of religious prayers, incantations, and knowledge, it is no surprise that riddles still form a serious part of poetry’s transmission of ideas.The ‘trick’ is to state the riddle in as puzzling terms as possible. What can one say that the reader cannot figure out the answer? The more intriguing the ‘set-up’ and the bigger surprise the answer is, the better the haiku seems to work. As in anything, you can overextend the joke and lose the reader completely. The answer has to make sense to work and it should be realistic. Here is a case against desk haiku. If one has seen plastic bags caught on cacti, it is simple and safe to come to the conclusion I did. If I had never seen such an incident, it could be it only happened in my imagination and in that scary territory one can lose a reader. So keep it true, keep it simple and keep it accurate and make it weird.

Oh, the old masters favorite trick with riddles was the one of: is that a flower falling or is it a butterfly? or is that snow on the plum or blossoms and the all-time favorite – am I a butterfly dreaming I am a man or a man dreaming I am a butterfly. Again, if you wish to experiment (the ku may or may not be a keeper) you can ask yourself the question: if I saw snow on a branch, what else could it be? Or seeing a butterfly going by you ask yourself what else besides a butterfly could that be?
One famous haiku with this “riddle technique” I had to share here with you all. I think you all will know this haiku by Arakida Moritake (1473-1549):

A fallen blossom
Returning to the bough, I thought —
But no, a butterfly.

© Moritake

19 thoughts on “Carp Diem – Basho’s wrapped in a straw mat – May 26, 2015

    • Thanks very much Candy, but in truth, I just copied Chèvrefeuille’s prompt … to kind of help me write the haiku … Thanks for dropping by though, I enjoyed your visit!


    • LOL … I do so understand your allergy … I loved math until I discovered Algebra … I like wordplay and puns … and to tell the truth I didn’t understand either of the Japanese riddles … but that’s just between us … mums the word!


  1. That was all very interesting. I didn’t know any of that and had never read the haiku at the end. You have excelled at explaining riddles to me. My post for today was pretty lame. 🙂


in shadows light - walking under weeping pines - spring rain

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