shouji-wa ie-no komaku-zo momiji-no oto-ga ippai
rice paper windows
must be a house's eardrums ... the sounds
of yellow leaves fill the air
Narao Yamamoto, from "Rose Mallow" (1996, Winter)
The first thing that strikes us in this Japanese haiku is the length (7-8-7 onji, or syllables) and the rhythm, or lack thereof. It is just as if the incessant brushing of leaves together and on the shoji screens has been transposed into word-sounds. Why should they be yellow leaves and not just autumn leaves (kareha)? What caused the poet to make this distinction? Whatever the answer, we are left feeling that it simply has to be so. Neither red leaves nor brown leaves would fit as well. The poet takes us to a magical world where even houses are conscious beings. One can almost see the quaint wooden house nestled between pillows of yellow leaves and quietly listening to the whispers of its entourage.
Selected, translated and commented on by Dhugal J. Lindsay