Dewdrops on a blade of grass, Having so little time Before the sun rises Let not the autumn wind Blow so quickly on the field --Dogen Zenji
Dogen Zenji is the founder of Soto Zen School of Buddhism and provides us with a perfect reflection on the mini season of White Dew.
The mini seasons were originally created by the ancient Chinese and then adapted by the Japanese in 1685.(1)
The White Dew season runs from September 7 until September 21 and is made up of three micro-seasons. These micro-seasons are:
- White Dew on Grass (Sep. 7-Sep 11)
- The Wagtail Calls (Sep. 12-Sep 16)
- The Swallows Leave (Sep 17 -Sep 21)
White Dew marks the transition from summer to autumn. It is a time where the days are still hot, but there can be a chill in the air. The name White Dew originated because people thought that the dew forming on the plants at this time of year had a cloudy appearance.(2)
The haiku and kigo
One way that I like to honor and celebrate the ever changing seasons is through the writing of haiku.
Haiku, which originated in Japan in the 17th century, is described as “one breath poetry”. (3) Traditional Haikus are short in form, concise in their wording, and have a seasonal reference known as a “kigo”. The role of the kigo is to place your haiku in a certain time of year.
The potential list of seasonal words is vast and can be tailored to your own location. The New Zealand Poetry Society’s article, “Seasoning Your Haiku” provides links to a couple of kigo databases that can be very helpful when writing a haiku. These databases separate the kigo into different categories including: Seasons, Earth, Humanity, Plants, Animals, and Observances. One database is aptly titled “Five Hundred Essential Japanese Seasonal Worlds”. So there are a lot of words to choose from when writing of a seasonal haiku.
The producers of the Season by Season podcast provide us with a somewhat shorter list of words related to the mini season of White Dew. There list includes:
Autumn grasses, the seven flowers of autumn, quail, dew, traveling, journeys, new beginnings, back to school, darkening days, autumn sunsets, autumn vigor, crows, ripening fruits, mushrooms, grapes, the harvest moon, horse chestnuts, roadside flowers of cosmos and goldenrod, respect for the aged day, Bilbo Baggins’s and Frodo’s birthday, grapes.
As you can see from this list, some of these kigo are tailored to a certain location or culture. As a result, I might not get the Bilbo Baggins birthday reference, but I do understand the use of goldenrod as a kigo.
The kigo in haiku
Using the kigos of crow, moon and wind as a guide, I found several haikus from the early masters that correspond with the season of White Dew.
On a withered branch A crow is perched An autumn evening. --Basho
They end their flight one by one-- crows at dusk --Buson
Really fragile The old mother cries alone. The friend of the moon. --Basho
Yellow autumn moon . . . Unimpressed the scarecrow stands Simply looking bored --Issa
Cruel autumn wind cutting to the very bones . . . Of my poor scarecrow --Issa
One by one Everyone has left Autumn Wind --Issa
I am really drawn to Issa’s haiku about wind. These two examples convey a bit of sadness with the changing season. These haikus offer a different tone than what is found in spring or summer haiku.
Do you have a favorite haiku that might fit this season? Feel free to share below.
- Noticing the 72 Seasons
- 72 Seasons App
- Haiku: A Short Introduction – An Old Pond Comic by Jessica Tremblay
- NZPS: Seasoning your Haiku
- Season by Season
- Poetry Foundation: Basho
- Poetry Foundation: Kobayashi Issa
- Poetry Foundation: Yosa Buson
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