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Rewriting the Saijiki

Adapting Haiku Traditions in the Anthropocene

By Geoffrey Philp Published 2 months ago 2 min read

According to scientists such as Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer, we are now in the Anthropocene, a proposed geological epoch defined by human impacts on the environment. In an article published last year in The Guardian, the effects of climate change on the traditional Japanese poetic form of haiku highlighted the challenges and opportunities faced by contemporary haiku poets ("Lost to the Climate Crisis: Japan Haiku Poets," The Guardian, 2023).

Traditionally, haiku relies on the predictable patterns of the seasons to frame its imagery. However, with the onset of climate change, these patterns shift unpredictably, forcing poets to adjust their approach to writing haiku. Cherry blossoms arrive earlier, and typhoons at unexpected times illustrate the dissonance between traditional seasonal cues and current ecological realities.

The Saijiki, an almanac of seasonal words essential for haiku, faces the risk of becoming obsolete as the natural events it describes grow increasingly rare or altered. This represents a profound shift in how poets engage with nature through language.

Despite these challenges, haiku remains vital for capturing human-nature interaction in a changing world. Toshio Kimura, quoted in the article, emphasizes that haiku's purpose "is not to praise seasons themselves but to try to see the human essence through nature." This approach suggests that even amidst environmental upheaval, haiku can still fulfill its role by focusing on the interconnectedness of life and offering insights into the relationships between humans and the non-human world.

The article also highlights the use of imagery and sensory language as tools for poets to convey the impacts of climate change. These elements help illustrate the effects of environmental shifts, such as melting glaciers, disruption of pollination cycles, and the migration patterns of animals.

Noteworthy examples from the article include a haiku by Namiko Yamamoto that reflects the altered timing of seasons:

Spring in the mind

if not actually

in the air

This poem captures the psychological impact of expecting spring, which fails to materialize as anticipated, and illustrates the gap between human expectations and climatic reality.

Another haiku, reinterpreted in the context of the Anthropocene, is from Matsuo Bashō:

Red on red on red

unrelenting the sun yet

the wind of autumn

Originally describing the rare warmth of early autumn, this haiku now frequently describes extended summers due to global warming.

In the Anthropocene, haiku offers a means to reflect on the emotions and experiences related to environmental change. By adapting to the challenges of climate change and capturing the beauties that appear with each sunrise, we can raise awareness about this crucial moment in Earth's history.

Reference: "Lost to the Climate Crisis: Japan Haiku Poets," The Guardian, 2023: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/nov/14/lost-to-the-climate-crisis-japan-haiku-poets


About the Creator

Geoffrey Philp

I am a Jamaican writer. I write poems (haiku & haibun), stories & essays about climate change, Marcus Garvey, music icons such as Bob Marley, and the craft of writing. For more info, visit my webpage: https://www.geoffreyphilp.com/

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Comments (1)

  • Matthew Fromm2 months ago

    Wonderfully insightful and something I had not thought about…

Geoffrey Philp Written by Geoffrey Philp

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