We have entered the micro-season of “The Swallows Leave”. This is the third micro-season of the mini-season of White Dew. The micro-seasons within White Dew are:
- White Dew on Grass (Sep 07 – Sep 11)
- The Wagtail Calls (Sep 12 – Sep 16)
- The Swallows Leave (Sep 17 – Sep 21)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
As a way to celebrate this season, we will investigate the swallow and its migration patterns. Then we will read haiku by Buson and Issa. This season, we also invite you to write your own migration-inspired haiku and share it with the community.
The term “swallow” refers to birds that are in the Hirundinidae family within the order of Passeriformes. The Hirundinidae family is separated into 19 different genera and around 90 different species.(1) The birds that fall into the Hirundinidae family are swallows, martins, and saw-wings.
Swallows are generally described as small birds “with pointed narrow wings, short bills, and small weak feet.”(2) Many swallows have forked tails with plain, or metallic blue or green, plumage. Swallows spend most of their time in the air hunting insects for food.
Swallows will nest in tree cavities, burrows into sandbanks, or make mud nests in man-made structures. Swallows will lay between 3 or 7 eggs per clutch.(2)
Swallows are considered long-distance migrators. A long-distant migrator is any bird that travels several hundred miles during its seasonal migration. Swallows, like most migratory birds, begin to head south when the temperature begins to drop and the daylight diminishes.
The Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Sand Martin, and Pacific Swallow all reside in Japan during the summer months. When autumn rolls around, these birds begin to migrate to warmer climates including parts of Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The graphic below comes from the Wild Bird Society of Japan and it provides a great illustration of their migrator patterns.
Some Fun Facts About Swallows
- The Barn Swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world. It breeds throughout the Northern Hemisphere and winters in much of the Southern Hemisphere.
- Barn Swallows once nested in caves throughout North America, but now build their nests almost exclusively on human-made structures.
- Swallows always drink on the wing, flying low to sip the water.
- Before the mysteries of migration were understood, it was thought that swallows spent the winter buried in the mud of ponds and lakes.
Swallows in Haiku
The World Kigo Database tells us that the swallow has the potential to be a multi-season kigo.(7) For example, if you say “first swallow of the season” you are talking about spring. If your haiku references baby swallows, then your haiku is in the summer. Migrating swallows place the haiku in autumn. “Swallows over winter” or “swallows left behind” become winter kigo. It should be noted that these references to the swallow’s movement have a lot to do with your location. So it is possible that the first swallow of the season might reference the winter months if you live in the tropics.
With this in mind, let’s read some haiku!
These first few haiku by Buson were translated into single-line poems that mirror the traditional Japanese style. Because this is how the haiku were originally translated, I decided to keep them in this form instead of trying to make the translation fit into the common three-lined form.
Fluttering it leaves the gold-screened room, a swallow (Translated by Yuki Sawa & Edith Marcombe Shiffert)
Behind the warehouse row, a road busy with the back-and-forth of barn swallows. (Translated by H. G. Henderson)
Against the sunset Swallows Returning home (Translated by William R. Nelson & Takafumi)
Issa provides us with our nest few swallow-inspired haiku
blades of grass swish in the tide... a swallow flies (Translated David Lanoue)
when did they go? all the swallows' nests empty (Translated David Lanoue)
when you return don't forget my house! departing swallows (Translated David Lanoue)
A Haiku Invitation
This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references the migration of birds. Feel free to use whatever bird fits best with your environment.
Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!
- “Swallow”; Wikipedia
- “Swallow”; Britannica
- “The Basics Of Bird Migration: How, Why, And Where”; All About Birds
- “Barn Swallows Observation Guide”; Wild Bird Society of Japan
- “Barn Swallow”; All About Birds
- “21 Facts on Swallow”; Living with Birds
- “Swallow (tsubame)”; World Kigo Database
- “Haiku of Yosa Buson”; Terebess Asia Online: Word Document
- David Lanoue; Haiku Guy
- Buson’s haiku were found on “Haiku of Yosa Buson” and file found on Terebess Asia Online.
- Issa’s haiku were found on the World Kigo Database and David Lanoue’s Haiku of Kobauashi Issa page.
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