A Journey Through Japanese Haiku

The Dawn Bell

Culture Lifestyle

The sound of a bell ringing on a cool morning seems to offer respite from the heat of summer in Buson’s haiku.

涼しさや鐘をはなるるかねの声 蕪村

Suzushisa ya / kane o hanaruru / kane no koe

the sound of the bell
leaving the bell

(Poem written by Buson in 1777.)

It may seem surprising that “coolness” is a season word for summer, but the heat of the day makes the lower temperatures in the early morning and late evening all the more precious. There is also a version of this haiku with the opening as mijikayo ya, or “short night,” so it is likely set at dawn. Thus, in the coolness of the morning, we hear the sound of a temple bell. Buson’s artistry is such that we seem to see the fading reverberations as it gently disturbs the air.

The word suzushi, or “cool,” also has a religious meaning, describing a state of mind free of delusions. One can see Buson’s suzushisa in this haiku as representing a purifying of the soul through Buddhism, sparked by the sound of the temple bell. Listening to the bell on a summer morning, the body seems to feel cooler and the spirit is refreshed.

The phrase, “the sound of the bell / leaving the bell” may appear overly technical to some. At the time of writing in the late eighteenth century, there were many understated descriptive pieces, superficially following Bashō’s style. Buson reacted against this trend with a haiku that focused on technique. An extant letter to his followers makes his choice explicit: “This is a little different from the style that is currently popular.”

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

literature haiku Japanese language and literature