Friday, December 28, 2012

Haiku Astronomy

Haiku poets of the past were frequently amateur astronomers. References abound in the works of the masters, to hashizukiyo - starry nights; ama-no-gawa - the milky way; and to tsuki - the moon, in all manner of phases; and tsukimi, the popular moon-viewing outings. These seasonal references usually speak in haiku of autumn.

Who can be surprised that the master haiku poets were so sensitive to the moon and stars - universally they speak to the human spirit, and even in an age of science and exploration, the enchantment of astronomy is enhanced, not lessened, by the discoveries made concerning the moon, the planets and the stars. My own bookshelf is lined with astronomy texts and picture books. Our household possesses several telescopes, and my youngest son, after viewing the moons of Jupiter with me through a small telescope several years ago, still aspires to become a professional astronomer.

Astronomy is not only poetry, it is also spirituality, and the heavens literally adorn the myths and symbols of all religions. So aspiring poets - especially haiku poets - have every reason to look skyward for inspiration. Or inward, to the poetic memory - perhaps resonating through ancestral heritage, from times when our forebears sat around campfires and looked upward - truly looked, truly saw the cosmic theatre unfolding over them.

A little over a week ago, the world lost a great soul - Sir Patrick Moore. With his rotund frame and trademark monocle, and with his moonlike beaming face and greeting, for two generations he was the face of popular astronomy in the English speaking world. I had been faintly acquainted with the works of Sir Patrick for years, through books on amateur and popular astronomy. However in recent years the enthusiasm of my son, and glossy magazines such as BBC "The Sky at Night" - the title of his monthly TV astronomy program, hosted almost without a single break for over 50 years - brought him as a regular visitor into our household. And a very welcome visitor he was. The jovial uncle my children never had. Always interesting, always enthusiastic, always encouraging, always humble before other people's knowledge. He seemed virtually a force of nature itself, a tree in the ancient forest, a star in the heavens. My son wept when I had to break the news to him that Sir Patrick had passed away. I composed this poem in his honour:

Light across the dark
Turns eyes and minds to the sky;
Vale Sir Patrick

Tonight my son and I watched the latest episode of Sky at Night, which was recorded and hosted by Sir Patrick only a few days before he died. His manner was so unafflicated, his delight and enthusiasm unfailing. As he spoke to the camera, promising the topics of next month's program, I could not help but be moved and recall another poem of Basho:

Nothing in the song
Of cicadas suggests they
Are about to die

yagate shinu / keshiki wa miezu / semi no koe
(# 663 JR)

(It is summer now, where I live, and cicada song is almost an anthem of the season. In Japan, the songs of insects are highly prized and considered beautiful, and insects are even kept in cages, the same way some in the West keep birds like canaries, for their singing. For this reason, although my translation is based on Sam Hamill, but I have chosen to use "song" for "koe", where he has used "cry")

Copyright © 2013 The Haiku Apprentice

1 comment:

  1. Cool and cloudless night -
    A moon-man, smiling, drops a star
    On my brother's cheek.


Thank you for your interest in my blog. You are clearly a thoughtful and poetic soul!

Constructive comments are always welcome. However, as I am frequently out and about living and being inspired by the Cosmos, I may not immediately be able to moderate comments for 24 hours.

Remember, patience is a poetic virtue!