There is something of the seasonal about haiku. Or there will be in it some hint of nature as it defines the seasons. It is a lesson Hasnat Abdul Hye learnt in a brief yet instructive manner in the time he spent in Japan, in Kyoto to be precise, in the mid-1990s. What began as a tentative effort at composing haiku poetry was soon to instill the idea in him that haiku, that particularly Japanese way of compressing thought and imagery in core imagination was something more than a bringing together of seventeen syllables. There is another truth which dawned on Hye. And he enlightens the reader about it. A composition of haiku in English, followed by its translation into Bangla, he notes, is somewhat of a hard job seeing that what comes with facility in Japanese may not exactly be replicated in those two or other languages.

And yet Hye knows, as do so many others excited about poetic diction and variation, that haiku is not merely an interesting literary phenomenon, in that pedestrian way of speaking, but is also a focused exercise of the intellect. The temptation to go for haiku, in languages other than the one it sprouted in, is therefore quite irresistible. And that is what Hye has done in this work he calls Kyoto Haiku. But he comes forth with a caveat lest the reader mistake the title for a form of haiku. It is merely the fact of the poet’s stay in Kyoto that has gone into the title of the work. Beyond that, it is haiku as it is meant to be. Note the first entry:

Flame above the pond

Flame below


The rules are assiduously kept. More significantly, the seasonal is truly upheld. Look beyond, a little deeper. Water and fire, in the imagery of pond and flame, effectively come together to snake their way into the imagination. Hye tries out a new imagery. The chrysanthemum takes his fancy. It is khiku in Japanese, the flower that is. There is a soaring quality which Hye brings into his haiku here:

Wilting Khiku

Rises with the wind

Saying Sayonara.

The moral ought not to be missed. The death of a flower is also occasion for it to transcend its surroundings. The farewell is poignant.

Hasnat Abdul Hye stays true, or almost, to the principle of the things. It is now the momiji or the maple tree which draws his poetic attention:

Sun has set

Evening is shy

Momiji aglow.

The atmosphere is resplendent with transience, with all the permanence of tranquility pouring, in drops, into the sensibilities. But with that sense of peace comes a moment of the worrying. It is palpable in the following:

A homeless man

Looking at maples

Counting days.

Life is being measured by the turning of the seasons and the ageing of the leaves. And home is what once might have been to the one who watches that symbol of nature. In Hye’s haiku, his trails reflect themselves in a rather conspicuous way. The river Kamo often mingles with his thoughts, and when it does, he cannot resist the urge to go for one more stab at a new poem. The result:

Unnoticed hedge

Along Kawabatadori

Now red camellias.

A somewhat fascinating feature of Kyoto Haiku is the offering of the poems in not merely English but also Bangla and Japanese. It is a measure of Hye’s enduring attachment to haiku that almost three decades after he first developed an interest in the poetic form (and that was in his twilight times at university), he rediscovers the field and then goes on to people it with his own shoots of nature.

Kyoto Haiku made its way into Bangladesh’s literary circles six years ago. Its appeal as it was then has not quite dimmed. Wonder, simply wonder, at the loud silence of winter:

Full moon

Frozen on a lake

Moves without trembling.

Review of Kyoto Haiku, New Age January, 2004.

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