Something in the air today prompted me to pull three slim volumes off my bookshelf. These books ended up in my possession when I was a teenager, after a great uncle died and the extended family gathered to sort through his things. As a lover of poetry and occasional poet, I could not pass up charming Haiku books, translated from Japanese to English.
Besides being full of beautiful Haiku from some of the best-loved early Japanese poets, these books are delicately illustrated with woodblock prints, and are a pleasure to look at and hold. But what makes these particular books even more precious are the notes written inside, by my great uncle, and his brother who gave him the books as gifts.
I love that Mitchell described haiku as “word pictures of sensitive awareness of nature and life,” and that he trusted his brother would enjoy those very qualities in the poetry. In the same book, in Howard’s own hand are three haiku.
“The leaves never know
Which leaf will be first to fall
Does the wind know?”
Tucked into the first book there is a small slip of paper, carefully cut from a longer letter, typewritten on one side, and in blue ballpoint pen on the other:
“Howard: Thank you very much for the ‘Japanese Haiku.’ It is an unusually fine translation as it preserves a 5-7-5 syllable form and doesn’t attempt to rhyme. Efforts to rhyme in the translation often spoil the haiku.” In red ballpoint pen at the top of this note is written “FROM MBR JAN 1973,” another note from Mitchell, clearly cherished, and safely kept with his own haiku, by Howard.
And last, tucked into the back of one of the books is a folded piece a paper, some kind of photocopy with the exclamatory “A Few Thoughts on Birthdays!” written across the top.
At the bottom is the emphatically underlined phrase:
“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Be gentle with yourself!”
The fleeting, bittersweet quality of autumn has always moved me, and in looking to these books for a poem to mark the day, I am moved by the picture of two aging brothers who had room in their lives for poetry, and a love and sensitivity toward the nature that inspired it. I only hope for the same love of nature and poetry for my children, brothers all, and that they might also write letters and give books.
My boys know something about the knowing of the leaves and the knowing of the wind. A couple of weeks ago, the younger two were patiently watching for the signs of the first falling leaves in the back yard. For us, autumn comes slowly and less dramatically than in colder climates, but it does come in its way. We are lucky to have great old trees in our yard that lose their leaves and turn yellow, but it takes time. The boys decided to be prepared for that event. One afternoon I came out to a yard that looked like this:
When I asked what they were working on, the reply was “We’re making leaf traps!” The idea was to catch as many leaves as possible, just as they fell. Here the brothers demonstrate how the traps work:
Perhaps not the most efficient leaf-gathering technique, but I like the resourcefulness at work!
For my boys, a haiku for autumn:
Fall soon golden leaves
Empty buckets and rakes wait
For you to let go
Perhaps you will be inspired to write your comment as a haiku?