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Songs of Water: A Critical Study on A.H. Baqui’s Haiku Poems

 


Songs of Water: A Critical Study on A.H. Baqui’s Haiku Poems

Manfath Jabin Haque

Assistant Professor

Department of English

Leading University

Sylhet, Bangladesh

 

Abstract:

Songs of Water (2018) is the conglomeration of English ‘haiku’ poems crafted by Gazi Abdulla- hel Baqui (1951- ). Haiku is the shortest form of poetic composition originated in Japan consisting of three lines with distinct prosodic pattern of five- seven-five syllables. Through the gradual development in the history of haiku poems, it has undergone a lot of experiments by the poets of different countries. Haiku is not commonplace form of poetry known to the readers of Bangladesh. Now, it is a pioneering venture of A.H. Baqui to write and publish haiku poems in English. Though he is a Bangladeshi poet, he has several times been awarded internationally for his accomplishment in English poems, especially on ‘Peace’. He has crafted total two hundred twelve haiku poems maintaining the traditional haiku pattern on various themes. He has followed the modern concept of haiku writing without restriction to nature and season as its subject matter. This paper is an attempt to examine the writing paradigm, creativity and sensitivity of the themes of haiku poems presented in Songs of Water. It also aims to explore the worth of the poet’s exposure to a new field of exercise.

Keywords: Baqui; Haiku; Life; Nature; Syllables

Introduction

To venture newer things is one of the instincts of human nature. From the dawn of civilization, the world is progressively going forward and getting rich in every field as the outcome of inquisitive and creative human endeavor.  Literature is the instance of such an arena which witnesses human’s intellectual progression. Literature is itself a vast world altogether; whether it is written in English, French, Bangla or in any other language. Poetry is very ancient form of literature which handles with the thoughts and emotions of inner psyche. It has been flourishing through various forms like epic, ballad, sonnet, limerick and the like. Each form varies from another on the basis of stylistic pattern, literary characteristics and inherent content.

Haiku is the shortest form of poetry originated in Japan and is familiarized throughout the world. Generally it follows three lines metrical arrangement of five-seven-five syllables in each line respectively. A haiku can convey the meaning touching the intellectual faculty of the poem lovers.  In Bangla literature Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore introduces haiku by translating Matsuo Basho’s two pieces of haiku. He includes these in his travelogue 'Japan Jaatri'. Surendranath Moitra and a few others are the followers of Tagore in writing haiku in Bangla language. A lot of changes have come to the restrictions of subject matters in haiku but the maintenance of distinct prosodic pattern is still followed to give it a special status and original flavour.

Transgressing the border, A. H. Baqui’s introduction of haiku in English is an adventurous mission of experimenting readers’ response to the new mode of expressing thoughts maintaining the technical purity. Baqui has done a brilliant job of writing and publishing his book Songs of Water, written in lofty thoughts and in conventional form. It is the creative production of beauty of his imagination. Scope of discussion rests on technical and thematic sides. He has walked through a variety of subjects with depth of thought and insight.

In the past hundred years, haiku has gone far beyond its Japanese origins to become a worldwide phenomenon—with the classic poetic form growing and evolving as it has adapted to the needs of the whole range of languages and cultures that have embraced it. This proliferation of the joy of haiku is cause for celebration. (Addiss)

For the effective conveyance of meaning of any poem, the proper tie between approach, content and structure is necessary. History on the traditional style of haiku writing shows that a number of modern haiku poets disagree to follow the old model; rather they have taken a kind of freedom in composing haiku.  Poet Baqui also breaks away from the tradition and has composed haiku on various themes while traditional haiku were mainly written on ‘nature’ and ‘season’, but he has maintained the technical form strictly. His collection of haiku poems are usually metaphorical expression of thoughts containing different literary elements.

A critical study is a subjective approach to any literary genre. The purpose of critical study considers what idea the poet is conveying and how he is presenting. It mainly considers to what extent the poet’s attempt is effective in conveying meaning. This study examines Baqui’s haiku poems in Songs of Water. It is an attempt to find out to what extent Baqui’s attempt to familiarize and to entertain the poem lovers (especially of Bangladesh) with a new expression of thought and emotion is worth reading. This study considers the following research questions to reach to the objectives:

i.                    What is the history and background of haiku?

ii.                  What are the contents of Baqui’ haiku poems?

iii.                Do the contents comply with the tradition of haiku themes?

iv.                What is the form or pattern of haiku poem and is the poet following it?

v.                  What is the context of the poet’s haiku poems?

vi.                What literary elements is the poet using?

vii.              What is the approach or tone of the poet’s writing? Is there any inconsistency?

History and Nature of Haiku

Encyclopedia Britannica defines haiku as:

Unrhymed Japanese poetic form consisting of 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each. The term haiku is derived from the first element of the word haikai (a humorous form of renga, or linked-verse poem) and the second element of the word hokku (the initial stanza of a renga). The hokku, which set the tone of a renga, had to mention in its three lines such subjects as the season, time of day, and the dominant features of the landscape, making it almost an independent poem. The hokku (often interchangeably called haikai) became known as the haiku late in the 19th century, when it was entirely divested of its original function of opening a sequence of verse; today even the earlier hokku are usually called haiku. (Vol. 5, p. 619)

The history of haiku dates back to almost four hundred years. Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is regarded as the foremost poet of haiku in Japan:

It is generally considered that Bashō was the poet who brought haiku into full flowering, deepening and enriching it and also utilizing haiku in accounts of his travels such as Oku no hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Interior). Bashō’s pupils then continued his tradition of infusing seemingly simple haiku with evocative undertones, while continuing a sense of play that kept haiku from becoming the least bit ponderous. The next two of the “three great masters” were Buson (1716–83), a major painter as well as poet who developed haiku-painting (haiga) to its height, and Issa (1763–1827), whose profound empathy with all living beings was a major feature of his poetry. With the abrupt advent of Western civilization to Japan in the late nineteenth century, haiku seemed to be facing an uncertain future, but it was revived by Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902) and his followers, and it has continued unabated until the present day. (Addiss, et al.)

Haiku travelled to the West in the hands of imagist poets. In English, the Imagists (1912- 30) and a few other poets have written haiku or imitated the form. Ezra Pound, Carl Sandberg, Marian Moore, Amy Lowell, and William Carlos Williams tried to write haiku in English maintaining the original form of 5-7-5 syllables:

Many, including Ezra Pound himself, argued that every language has its own rules of prosody and it is never possible to adhere to the Japanese metrical arrangement of 5-7-5 metres in English compositions because phonetics of Japanese language cannot be applied to English language compositions! Amidst these chaos and confusions, an American poet and literary scholar Richard Wright, much junior to Pound, startled the Anglo-American arena by writing the first piece of a real haiku with a strict prosodic purity of the original Japanese haiku thus:

Coming from the woods

A bull has a lilac sprig

Dangling from a horn. (“Bangla haiku”)

Though contemporary English poets are not always maintaining the pattern, at present many writers are composing haiku in English.

Contents

Poet Baqui has written on various forms of literature both in Bangla and in English. He has been writing since 1997as a Bangladeshi poet, writer, translator, researcher and critic. He has already authored twenty books both in Bangla and in English. His poetic genius has got expression through the publication of his two books of poetry in English: Peace Lost and Regained (1995) and Melodies of Hieroglyphs (2006). He has the inquisitive mind to venture new forms. He has composed a large number of Bangla ‘Rubaiyat’--a Persian verse form consisting of four lines generally rhyming aaba, Songs of Water (2018) is the collection of haiku poems many of which have been published during 1995- 2000 in The Daily Bangladesh Observer.

Baqui has chosen eleven specific themes and on every theme he has composed a number of haiku poems. Other than these eleven particular areas, he has also covered some more aspects in twelfth section. Thus the total number stands 212 haiku poems. The sections are arranged serially as “On Haiku”, “On Best”, “on Love”, “On Conflicts”, “On Seasons”, “On Nature”, “On Life”, “On Philosophy”, “On Subjects”, “On Culture”, “On Twenty first Century” and “On Other Themes”. His haiku can be divided into two categories according to the themes: materialistic and metaphysical. The rhythm of water flows through eleven distinct areas mentioned earlier. He has approached the areas with various literary elements like sensuousness, imagery, simile, metaphor etc.

In the beginning section of the haiku poems in Songs of Water, the poet starts with the introduction to haiku. His first seven haiku poems in the section “On Haiku” are set as a kind of foreword to the rest of the journey of presenting haiku. The poet’s intense passion for haiku poems is discernible in this section. He very passionately utters with a reflective tone:

My/ mind/ pens/ hai/ku

as/ hai/ku/ haunts/ the/ heart/ to/

bloom/ and/ to/ co/lour/.         

 

Use of imagery makes haiku more appealing and conveys deeper worth to the expression.

In this haiku the poet maintains the metrical pattern of haiku. In haiku the impressionistic approach is found; it is concise but precise in conveying meaning. In other poems of this section, the poet shows the analogy of the appeal of haiku with the light of stars, waves of seas, perfume and peacock dance etc. In haiku no. 6, he introduces the ‘parentage’ of haiku like:

Haiku is Japan’s

heart; others enjoy its limbs,

not its living beat.

 

In the very first section of his haiku poems, along with exposing his love and admiration towards haiku, the poet introduces the origin and importance of it in Japan. Though the poet says that others cannot enjoy its living beat, he takes the adventurous steps to compose haiku and ‘jostle newer feelings’. Use of strong imagery in haiku makes both sensory and intellectual perception deep and vital:

 

One magnet is the paradox of haiku’s scale and speed. In the moment of haiku perception, something outer is seen, heard, tasted, felt and emplaced in a scene or context. That new perception then seeds an inner response beyond paraphrase, name, or any other form of containment. (Hirshfield)

He deals with manifold subjects and contemplates as if he is transported to the spiritual world while walking in the material world. He says in haiku no. 3:                             

When a haiku smiles,

peacock dances with plumes spread

and mirth rains on me.           

 

A total of 25 haiku poems are composed “On Life”. These are both transitory and eternal concepts of life. The doom of life comes because of a marked reason as expressed in haiku no. 14:

 

My total life is

torn between when I love you

and when I hate you.

 

In haiku no. 22, the poet summarizes the core fact of life. In life, human beings hanker after gaining something and they either gain or lose. If they gain, their lives are ‘great’; if they do not gain; their lives are ‘small’. These gain and loss may be regarding acquiring wealth or fame:

 

Life is between or

within loss and profit or

great and small or none.

 

In ‘On Love’ Baqui simultaneously goes on talking about sensuous love, divine love, conjugal love, material love etc. through the poems in this section. The poet discovers different frontiers of love with their various shades of meanings and newer dimensions. He sees love as it is the case in reality; not too much obsessed, optimistic or pessimistic. His emotion exhibits balanced measurement of love in haiku no. 20:

Love is in fact some

rosy blooms, thorny bowers

and young metaphors.

 

From this small span of expression true nature of men-women love comes out. His characteristic feature is apparent from his love for knowledge in haiku no. 13:

Love for knowledge earns

concentration on the theme

of differences.

 

Writing haiku and publishing them ensures his love and concentration on the theme of differences. He heightens the power of holy love that transcends everything and renders divine purity in haiku no. 19 and 27:

Before holy love

passion burns, spell is broken

but cool fragrance flows.

And,

True love is the lamp,

earthly love is its fire and

divine love its light.

 

Utility of love for humanity is very concretely exposed in his haiku. He is a poet who ponders on the humanitarian love. Absence of love shatters the relationship and brings chaos in society as presented in haiku no. 30:

 

Universe is bound

by a strong single love-chord

whose tearing brings doom.

 

In a number of chosen words, the poet focuses on the ultimate power of love that can act on soul for its development; it can dispel darkness. He, possibly points to the Creator’s love which turns ‘mud into man’.

 

Baqui’s haiku can stimulate the emotions of readers as a full length poem can do. Choice and Use of imagery plays prime role. There is an inseparable relation between humans and Nature. The poet handles this theme with various curious dimensions. The poet consciously or unconsciously or willfully deals with two types of nature; nature as a vast creation and secondly human nature as the poet pen forth very aptly in haiku no. 21 and 25 in the section “On Nature”:

 

Nature has no face,

no body, nothing to love,

but transparency

And,

Home of true nature

is man’s heart where world finds her

doom or victory. 

 

Nature is the sole witness of ups and downs of human life and all the ‘ancient tales’ over the ages. This is expressed through the haiku no. 17:

 

Hills often whisper

ancient tales that dwell in

vales, caves, rocks and peaks.

 

Simple reminder of the father of haiku Matsuo Basho is “if you see for yourself, hear for yourself, and enter deeply enough this seeing and hearing, all things will speak with and through you.” (Hirshfield)The same apprehension of poet Baqui is seen when he says in haiku no. 16:

Light of the woods falls

on the young buds, sweetens them,

to check death in life.

 

Light is the integral part of nature which helps buds to bloom and ‘sweeten’. It keeps the blooming buds fresh and prevent from withering before its time. Though written in few words, the in-depth imagery renders the reader wide scope of interpretation.

 

Life is projected through various colours. In the section “On Philosophy”, the poet invents and touches a good number of ideas on matters like earth, civilization, witches, stone, memories, falsehood, water, fortune, oblivion, Creator, beauty, time, dance etc. Various philosophic concepts are embedded in these haiku poems. To mention the last one:

 

Follow one true track

without counting the countless

common beaten tracks.

 

A luminous haiku bursts forth from the heart of poet Baqui that values above all contrasting import between war and peace in haiku no. 1  in the section on ‘On Conflicts’:

 

Peace goes without war

but war cannot go without

peace and harmony. 

 

In fact, war is no more required; its damaging consequences are unquestionably tremendous. This section contains 10 haiku in which the extensive picture of conflicts is portrayed in briefest possible way.

 

Five haiku poems are shaped on five subjects: Literature, History, Science, Commerce and Medical Science. The first haiku can enhance our knowledge thus in the section ‘On Subjects’, haiku no. 1:

 

Literature tells

lies that give at times great truths

better than real truths.

 

The poet mainly focuses on the role of the subjects but even their merits and demerits.

 

In ‘Culture’ section, only 6 haiku are treasured in which true meaning of culture is reflected like haiku no. 6:

 

Cautiously walk on,

steps will never slip from you

towards victory.

 

‘On Other Themes’ is the last section where 55 haiku poems appear. Opulent expressions on multiple themes of life and world are enumerated in these brief poems where the poet’s newer feelings, moods and thoughts are beautifully reflected. Some of the haiku are replete with advices and good councils that are essentially required for the success and uplift of human life as lived on earth. In all these short poems, one thing is quite evident that the poet always tries to uphold the truth whatever be his expression on a theme. e. g. in haiku no.16:

 

Nobody wants to

be defeated, so the ruin

is victorious.

 

Literary Contents

Haiku poems in Songs of Water are packed with literary elements to convey more ideas with small number of words. We see the use of figures of speech like simile, metaphor, personification, imagery etc. in Baqui’s haiku. His haiku holds the status of epigrammatic and aphoristic style if rearranged in one line. In the section “On philosophy” haiku no. 6 and in the section “On Life” haiku no. 11, 19 and 21 convey paradoxical meaning:

Man likes to enjoy

tragedy but in real life

avoids its sharp sting.

 

Dead meat gives vigour

to living flesh that withers

heading to graveyard.

 

 

Life’s first lesson is

to learn to love by loving

most of which is lost.

 

Eyes float and touch things

but closed eyes touch the unseen

vanishing distance.

 

Again in “On Life” haiku no. 25 conveys very concrete metaphor of life as a ‘large sentence’. Certainties and uncertainties of life take different turn in different stages but when the living breath stops, there is end of everything- the ‘full stop at last’:

Life, a large sentence,

is full of punctuation

with full stop at last.

 

Example of splendid simile we see in haiku no. 6 of the section “On Nature”. The poet compares the vegetation on earth with ‘a sweet kiss’ ‘on the vile grey earth’ which indicates the bright and revitalizing fact of nature:

Look greens upon greens

and it is like a sweet kiss

on the vile grey earth.

 

Context

The context of his writing ranges from regional to cosmopolitan setting. Earlier, it was a restriction to write haiku about seasons and nature. Though this concept has been modified through ages, the poet does not forget to touch the ancient themes. Marvelously he depicts the picture of six seasons of his own country Bangladesh. He has identified different seasons with their most prominent features like Sun season, Rain season, Dew season, Peace season, Chill season and Rose season.

Use of proper images brings deeper significance to the theme. He has pictured six seasons serially in the section “On Seasons”. In attributing the characteristic picture of the season summer, he simply calls it ‘sun-season’. This picture of summer with excessive heat on earth that makes life weary becomes visible in the mind’s eyes of the readers:

 

In the Sun-season

heat heavily touches life

enervating steps.

 

Rainy season is one of the vital seasons among the six seasons. The earth takes shower of rain and revitalizes its soil to help in growth of vegetation:

 

In the Rain- season

fertility makes all life

multiply and thrive.

 

Autumn is the season when dew drops are seen in the leaves of plants. It is the season of richness and ripeness on earth:

 

In the Dew-season

soft grace and coolness wet life

for harvest galore.

 

He shows Late Autumn as ‘peace season’:

In the Peace- season

life grows wealthy and tranquil

and mellows to thrive.

 

In winter life arranges warmth but leaves fall heavily and make the nature dry and bare:

 

In the Chill- season

intrinsic warmth overwhelms life

but nature withers.

 

Nature blooms in spring season with its vitality and makes the life colourful and joyous:

 

In the Rose-season

beauty and loud joys make life

a pearl in the castle.

 

In Songs of Water Baqui’s prime focus is on cosmopolitan context rather than particular. He talks about the feelings and experiences of all human beings irrespective of time, place or class. In the section “On Other Themes” haiku no. 9, he contrasts the blessings and vastness of nature with the narrowness of human mind:

 

Green grass grows on black

dirty soil but no humbleness

grows in dirty soul

 

In haiku no. 10, the poet contrasts servitude with kingship:

 

Servitude has one

pore but kingship has many

deep pores unrepaired.

 

Pattern

The poet has met the challenge of adhering to the metrical pattern of five-seven-five syllables in all the haiku poems. Other than following this rule, he has crafted all his haiku in blank verse. There is no maintenance of any particular prosodic pattern. However, from the section “On Nature”, haiku no. 1 and from the section “On Love” haiku no. 21 are analyzed:

                /          /            /       U    U

Spring thrives /what na-ture

U      /     U       /   U  /      U

can do/ with its /a-fflu-ence

U    U                   U

for the/ dry poor /world.

 

This haiku poem does not have any regular rhythm. There are variations in all three lines. The first foot of the first line is spondee, followed by a dactyl. The first two feet are iambic followed by an amphibrach. The first foot of the last line is pyrrhic, followed by a spondee with hypermetrical.

 

       U     /   U       U

Love en-nob-les/ soul,

 U        /         /      U      UU  

trans-forms/ dark-ness/ in-to /light

U        /     U   /      U

and mud/ in-to /man.

 

In the first line, the first two feet are trochaic with hypermetrical. In the second line, the first foot is an iamb followed by a trochee, a dibrach with catalectic. In the last line, the first two feet are trochaic with hypermetrical.

 

Inconsistency

 

A number of haiku written on the teasing theme ‘Twenty First Century’ in which mainly horrors, awesome steps of man and the lurid account of the present period of time are elaborated when the poet regretfully pronounces in haiku no.3, 4, 7 and 11: 

 

Civilization

and knowledge remain dead mute

to enjoy fresh ruins.

 

This century fails

to go ahead strongly to

distribute graces.

 

killers and robbers

Elongate fangs to poison

The modernists’ souls.

 

Morality and

ethics are now replaced by

whims and mixed sweet will.

 

In “Twenty First Century”, the poet shows the depressing picture of civilization. He has written eleven haiku poems on the prevailing situations of twenty first century, but in this section he has not shown anything good about the civilization. I think in this section, there is an inconsistency in poet’s thought process. Because, this is the century where he is living; and no age totally suffers from curse, or enjoy blessings. Of course, there are blessings in this modern century though it has a lot of depressing scenes. The poet’s tone is totally pessimistic here.

In Victorian Era of English literature, Tennyson presents the picture with a compromising perspective as the age was the age of simultaneous progression and depression.  In this twenty first century that stream runs parallel. There is tremendous progression in every sector but human value and emotion are deteriorating in most of the cases.

Though the poet does not show an iota of positive in this particular section, a positive approach of the poet cannot be denied when he says very hopefully in the section “On Nature” haiku no. 2:

How nice the world is!

We pass thorny rosy days

with tears, mirth and death.

 

If we consider the poet’s approach summarizing all the poems, we can see a kind of compromising and positive approach he possesses towards life.

 

Conclusion

In the words of W. H. Hudson in his An Introduction to The Study of English Literature:

A great book is born of the brain and heart of its author; he has put himself into

its pages;…for what we call genius is only another name for freshness and

originality of outlook upon the world, of insight, and of thought. The mark of a

really great book is that it has something fresh and original to say, and that it says

this in a fresh and independent way.(15)

 

A.H. Baqui, a modern haiku composer, has exposed his thoughts in a fresh and independent way in Songs of Water. His perspective to life is clear and transparent like water:

            Waters gleam, I gleam,

            waters dance, I dance and fall;

            how life is water!

 

 As long as life is there, gleam, dance, fall--everything is there. So he talks about every side of life in his haiku poems. One thing is clear that his life song will continue with the continuation of breath:

Water is life and

where there are water and life,

there are songs no doubt.

 

However, Aya Shinozaki Dougherty of Akita Prefectural University, Japan, asserts in her ‘Preface’ to Songs of Water that:

 

Depths of questions assail us on occasion in the beautiful forests of Dr. Baqui’s poetry. I encourage you (readers) to stroll through the good professor’s poetry, stopping to wonder and ponder. The journey, with all of its beauty and puzzlement, is worth the toil.

 

Aya Dougherty, possibly a haiku lover, contributes a brief ‘Preface’ to Baqui’s Songs of Water. She has been able to capture the essentials of Baqui’s haiku and asks the readers to enjoy the eternal charm and to explore the endless meanings, embedded in his ‘wordless’ poems.

Though many contemporary poets have discarded the traditional pattern of haiku, I think haiku’s beauty and specialty depends on its characteristic maintenance of five-seven-five syllables in three lines. So, Songs of water will bear the stamp of Baqui’s supremacy in the realm of haiku in English as he has exhibited his superb artistry in his utmost endeavour. He exhibits the power of controlling in language. He breaks away from following the very beginning tradition of writing haiku only on nature and season. Baqui’s new approach is commendable because he has tried to dissect life through various perspectives. Nature cannot be the only factor of life. But, he is very careful in measuring the syllables which has made the poems unique as haiku.

Adhering to the characteristic pattern of haiku, in both regional and cosmopolitan contexts, the poet has crafted a number of haiku poems on various themes most of the time in reflective and optimistic tone and sometimes in pessimistic tone. In this regard, Baqui’s Songs of Water is worth reading for the poem lovers.

Works Cited

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Addiss, Stephen, et al. Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems. Shambhala Publications, 2011.

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Baqui, Gazi Abdullah-hel.Songs of Water: Haiku Poems. Nahar Publications, 2018.

Dougherty, A. S. “Preface”. Songs of Water: Haiku Poems. Nahar Publications, 2018.

Evans, Ifor. A Short History of English Literature. Penguin Books, 1990.

Hirshfield, Jane. The Heart of Haiku. 2011.

Hudson, W.H. An Introduction to the Study of English Literature. A.I.T.B.S. Publishers & Distributors, 2000.

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