the great lord
forced off his horse…
the great lord’s wood fire
by Kobayashi Issa,
translated by David G. Lanoue
Steve Minor of SW Va Law Blog salvaged a far-too-serious Saturday night for me,
with an email concerning our 43rd President’s love of haiku.
It may already be widely known, but it was news to me that George W. Bush studied haiku at
Yale and shared his interest and expertise in a commencement address there in 2001. This is not
a Yalie prank, ala Ann Landers. The source is a White House Press Release (May 21, 2001). Here’s
the relevant excerpt (hear the entirety here):
Remarks by the President in Commencement Address Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
. . . . I loved history, and pursued a diversified course of study. I like to think of it as
the academic road less traveled. (Laughter.)
For example, I took a class that studied Japanese Haiku. Haiku, for the uninitiated, is a
15th century form of poetry, each poem having 17 syllables. Haiku is fully understood
only by the Zen masters. As I recall, one of my academic advisers was worried about
my selection of such a specialized course. He said I should focus on English. (Laughter.)
I still hear that quite often. (Laughter.) But my critics don’t realize I don’t make verbal
gaffes. I’m speaking in the perfect forms and rhythms of ancient Haiku. (Applause.)
I’m thinking of sending the President a copy of Global Haiku: Twenty-Five Poets World-Wide,
(George Swede & Randy Brooks, editors, 2000), one of my favorite anthologies, which contains
the work of some of the best English-language haiku poets, plus an essay on haiku history and
its definition. Have I discovered a reason to vote for G.W.?
p.s. to the President’s Speech Writers and Fact-Checkers: If your boss wants to talk about
haiku again during the campaign or once retired, please remember:
It wasn’t until the second half of the 17th Century that haiku as we know it — stand-alone poems of
5-7-5 “syllables” was established in Japan. See The Classic Tradition of Haiku. (Ed., Faubion Bowers, Dover Press, 1996).
Yes, the originators of haiku were Buddhists, but the role of zen has been highly “overvalued” in haiku. You do not have to be a zen Master to appreciate or understand haiku (see Chapt. 3 of the Kacian Haiku Primer).
There may be a pop quiz before the first debate.