There is something about haiku poetry that appeals to me very much. I’m sure it’s the austerity of it, and the careful word choice required in order to depict a thought that evokes a feeling that then inspires us to think about life, all in just 17 syllables. I have a book of haiku poems that my daughter, Wendy, gave me as a gift. The three poets in it write in the traditional Japanese style, and their work is believed to be essential to understanding the origin of haiku and its fundamental components. Traditional haiku insisted on attention to time and place, and either of those elements linked the poem to a particular season. It also contained a reference to nature and a Buddhist reflection on whatever that reference was. Buddhists believe that nature brings enlightenment, but not because it was created by an omnipotent deity, or because we have dominion over it, but simply because a powerful interconnectness and interdependency exists between us and the world in which we live. This belief infused traditional haiku with a sense of clarity and presence that makes us feel as though we are actually in the moment of the poem. We find enlightenment not from analysis, but rather from simply being. Does it sound zen-like? That’s because it is!
The three poets in my book are Matsuō Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa, and their work spans the time period from the latter half of the seventeenth century through the beginning of the nineteenth. The following poems are examples from each of them that are centered around the idea of autumn.
the tide rises
almost to my door. Bashō
there’s joy also
in loneliness. Buson
a small boat
drifting down the tide. Issa
All three of these poems evoke the feeling of autumn, and can be read that simply, yet if we sit with them long enough, we find ourselves thinking about life. Autumn suddenly becomes a metaphor for arriving at that point when we take stock of our accomplishments, and consider what we’ll be leaving behind one day. It may be related to age, but it doesn’t have to be. The tide in the first and third poems is an inevitable force, and it calls to mind what little control we have, yet it ebbs and flows in the same way the seasons come and go, so there is reason for hope. We may have a moment where our mortality looms large, but there is always the possibility of a new beginning. The second haiku speaks to that certain loneliness we all feel in autumn, thinking back on the long days of summer when it felt like we had all the time in the world to spend with those we love. Isn’t this also metaphorical in terms of the way we view life, and love, and the passing of time? Of course it is, but Buson also finds joy in this season, perhaps because the loneliness we feel is a reflection of the abundance we have, or once had, in our lives. What I love the most about these poems is that they are related to only one season, implying that there is more beyond just this moment. Life has a cycle to it that is echoed in nature, and there is such enlightenment and comfort in knowing that we are constantly in the process of surrendering to whatever is next for us. It removes the element of control and allows us to just be.
For today’s cocktail, I decided on a three ingredient drink to go with the three-line format that is standard for haiku. I began with Bluecoat Barrel Finished gin as my base because I felt like the time spent in barrels gives this spirit a depth and smoothness that can only come with with age. It’s like a sense of maturity. I used a late-harvest riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle in a very similar way. The grapes are left on the vines longer, and their sweetness increases in the extra time they are given. I chose Bigallet’s China China (SHEE-na SHEE-na) for its bitter orange and anise flavors, as well as its cardamom, cinnamon, and black pepper notes. I finished the drink off with two dashes of Bittercube’s Blackstrap bitters to further intensify these typically autumn spices. Their distinct molasses flavor also added depth. The end result was a cocktail that did have a definite sense of fall to it, and it accompanied the poems in just the way I hoped. Cheers everyone. Happy Monday. Happy October!
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir until very cold. Strain into an old-fashioned glass. Express an orange peel over the drink, twist, and garnish. Enjoy!