Duel of the Masters: a #NaPoWriMo2020 / #GloPoWriMo2020 #haibun

The questions of how to begin and what to think are matters for one’s own heart to resolve. Of oneself, for oneself – you must be your own teacher.

Sen No Rikyu

An ever-twilight, midsummer wood, save for the towering, lakeside Pines and the Cherry blossoms. A meadow in the midst of this floral menagerie, entered by Oberon and Titania, followed by their Fey court. Entering the opposite end, the Dragon King and his kami court. Meeting at the center, these supernaturals stare each other down in formality, before both Lords break into laughter, and embrace. They came for leisure and sport, after all, not war. Above all, they came for a contest.

wind-swirled petals

even the Gods

honor poets

Their champions both hailed from obscure stock. Neither lay claim to formal education; both apprenticed in their arts until they mastered them. And their mastery changed their worlds, and the world. Now, from beyond the Veil, The Fey monarch and Kami king summon them to literary battle.

The victor of this battle? The poet judged so accomplished that he makes immortals weep for mortal death.

Evening star

the aroma

of myrr

William Shakespeare steps forth. With the practiced bow of a veteran of the stage, he greets the courts and his rival. Without delay, he delivers his best:

That time of year thou may’st in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by-and-by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire

Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,

   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Then Basho comes. With a simple bow of his own to courts and foil, He recites the apex of his masterpiece:

Here (Hiraizumi) three generations of the Fujiwara clan passed as though in a dream. The great outer gates lay in runis. Where Hidehira’s manor stood, rice fields grew. Only Mount Kinkei remained. I climbed the hill where Yoshitsune died; I saw the Kitakami, a broad stream flowing down through the Nambu plain, the Koromo River circling Isumi Castle below the hill before joining the Kitakami. The ancient ruins of Yasuhira–from the end of the Golden Era–lie out beyond the Koromo Barrier, where they stood guard against the Ainu people. The faithful elite remained bound to the castle–for all their valor, reduced to ordinary grass…

We sat a while, our hats for seat, seeing it all through tears.

summer grasses:

all that remains of great soldiers’

imperial dreams

The masters’ duel ends. The courts immortal, their eyes glistening with fresh tears, gaze expectantly upon the judge. They wait. Who is this, whom Fey and Kami trust to settle their sport? Who is this that decides which master moves the unmoved hearts of immortals?

Who else but you?

last breath

tea cooling

as ink dries

I’m hosting Haibun Monday today, where we experience the Master Poets Basho and Shakespeare. The Pub is open! Come Join us!

21 replies »

  1. A really interesting comparison Basho and Shakespear! Your haiku are wonderful.
    Liked this line….
    The victor of this battle? The poet judged so accomplished that he makes immortals weep for mortal death.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beyond incredible, Frank. Your research & knowledge are down stage center for this piece. Of all the classic forms we have studied at d’Verse, it is the haibun that has been integrated into my poetics, expanding my style. My first haiku and tanka were written for d’Verse prompts. Toni tell[s me most of my haiku are senryu. That’s fine with me; but I enjoy following the form, 5,7,5, and 5,7,5,7,7 syllables. It feels good to restrain my verbosity. Yet I keep encountering haiku that do not respect the syllable count. That’s cool, but it jars me limited expertise.


    • Glenn, many people, even in Japan, agree that English syllables are too long to approximate the brevity of a Japanese haiku, therefore it has become acceptable to write haiku in English in fewer syllables, in a short-long-short line pattern. (Similarly for tanka: short-long-short-long-long.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think what I’ve learned from this exercise is that all poets seek the same thing, through their different languages and traditions – it’s to speak to the reader/listener/s heart, to create an emotion, a moment of shared understanding. How can I choose between them?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love the way you set a Shakespearean scene with an ‘ever-twilight, midsummer wood’ and the contest of the supernaturals, Frank. The haiku scattered between are delicate and appeal to the senses. I especially love
    ‘Evening star
    the aroma
    of myrrh’
    ‘last breath
    tea cooling
    as ink dries’.
    Ultimately, it is the reader’s experience and imagination that decides.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is wonderful, To think of an imagined poetry slam between the giants set on the combined stage of their literary world is so inspired. But we are the judges aren’t we, and the best way to honor them is to read.

    and that last legacy captured in the dried ink.

    last breath
    tea cooling
    as ink dries’.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. An amazing, rich, literate piece of work. A Battle of the Bards on Olympus or Fuji.
    If we shadows have offended,
    Think but this and all is mended,
    That you have but slumber’d here
    While these visions did appear.

    Liked by 1 person

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