A Journey Through Japanese Haiku

Speechless at a “Sakura” Spectacle

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The beauty of Mount Yoshino’s cherry blossoms leaves haiku poet Teishitsu speechless.

これはこれはとばかり花の吉野山 貞室

Kore wa kore wa / to bakari hana no / Yoshinoyama

“Oh!” and “Oh!”—
lost for words at Mount
Yoshino’s blossoms

(Poem by Teishitsu, written in 1600.)

For writers of poetry in the Edo period (1603–1868), “blossoms” were always cherry blossoms—there was no need to specify. Poets exercised their literary skills to find the perfect way of expressing the admiration the flowers demanded.

In that context, this haiku takes a singular approach or deploys a trick—perhaps it is just cheating. At the sight of Mount Yoshino in the full glory of cherry blossom season, all the poet can say is “Oh!” and “Oh!” Rather than describe the beauties of the sakura or express his feelings, he gives us only these exclamations. To be lost for words is the highest compliment.

The Japanese phrase kore wa kore wa to bakari was well known from bunraku puppet theater, and the use of the familiar words also displays the wit of the Kyoto poet Teishitsu (1610–73).

Mount Yoshino in what is now Nara Prefecture has long been famous as a site for cherry blossom viewing. Matsuo Bashō himself visited and made a reference to Teishitsu’s haiku in his travel journal Oi no kobumi (trans. by Steven D. Carter as Knapsack Notes). The cherry trees in this location are wild yamazakura and bloom earlier than the more celebrated somei-yoshino variety. They are notable for displaying reddish leaves at the same time as their small, white flowers, providing a slightly different spring spectacle to enjoy.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

literature haiku Japanese language and literature