Haikus from the End of the World Hôsai

- through Henry Oudin

Published on

“Sea, nothing but a ribbon – very cramped the single window. With a stroke of the pen, the poet traces a perspective. A way for Hôsai to escape from this existence which played many tricks on him. If, today, the famous haikist of the Meiji era has a special place in the hearts of the Japanese, it was not always so. What a strange destiny that of this cursed poet who took the pen name Hôsai (“the one who let go”).

Born in 1885 on the outskirts of Kyoto, into a respectable family who introduced him to Taoist philosophy, Ozaki Shuyu, whose real name is, is destined for a rich literary career. His beginnings were flamboyant: at the age of 15, he founded the Kinzei poetry club ("Parsley and shepherd's purse"), met Ogiwara Seisensui, pioneer of haiku in free verse, with whom he helped to free these short poems from the shackles of SO. Rejection of metrics, of the obligatory word of the season, of caesura… Under their minimalist brushstrokes, the genre is revolutionized to move away from literary mannerism and touch more directly, more surely, the hearts of men. His will be irretrievably broken: at the age of 21, Ozaki falls in love with his cousin Yoshie, but his brother, after giving his consent, withdraws and opposes the marriage. A heartbreak for the disillusioned young man, who from then on sank into alcohol (addiction to sake, “that thing that chases away worries”) and became a lay mendicant monk.

“Sea, nothing but a ribbon – very cramped the single window. »

In the winter of his life, he exiled himself to Nangô-an, a hermitage located on the island of Shôdoshima, in the Inland Sea, to end his days, far from men: "If I had to leave this hermitage, I I would give up feeding myself in order to hasten my death… The society of men is repugnant to me, I want to die in the middle of nature, all alone, in silence. It was there, however, that he wrote his last haiku, the simplest, the rawest, the rawest and most profound at the same time. Lover of nature even in its most innocuous aspects (“In the neighboring field, leeks in the rain”), Hôsai illustrates it without trying to magnify it, without chatter, fleeing metaphors and figures of speech. The only contemplation is enough to reveal all the beauty, the hand of the man like the pen of the poet must be erased at the risk of spoiling it. Through his haikus of the moment, "the one who has let go" watches for the evanescence of each thing, while disqualifying, for a time, their fatal outcome. This collection, accompanied by a few notes from the author on the last months of his life, is similar to the poet's memoirs in every word (“A superb chest and there, a mosquito”). He died on April 7, 1926, at the age of 41, under the Buddhist name of Hôsai Taiku Koji ("Hôsai the layman Great Void").

The publisher entrusted the illustrations for this book to Manda, a specialist in Sumi-e (a movement of Japanese painters, characterized by the use of black ink wash, and close to Zen Buddhism) and Haiga (style of painting Japanese incorporating the aesthetics of haiku). Residing in Alsace, this painter and calligrapher is one of the rare Westerners to have received, in 2007, the Order of the Rising Sun – Rayon d'Or et d'Argent (the equivalent of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres). Monochrome plates, minimal illustrations, layout of an elegant sobriety... Manda walks with grace and restraint in the footsteps of Hôsai to engrave these timeless moments.

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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