Haiga and Haiku. Part 6.

The images and text are from Haiku, Volume 1, Eastern Culture by R. H. Blyth, published by Hokuseido in Japan. No year of copyright.

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The Zenga, by Hakuin, 1683-1768 (below), has strangely enough, a haiku added to it:

Spreading out
The reeds of good and evil,–
Cooling in the evening.


This picture has a concentration and intensity quite alien to haiga. It is a spiritual portrait, in the style of (William) Blake, of Daito Kokushi, 1282-1337, one of the greatest of early Zen priests in Japan.

A remarkably good haiga (though it may be called a Zenga) by Hakuin, who is perhaps the greatest of later Zen monks, is the painting of a misosazai, or wren (below); the tailless bird has the peculiar Zen flavour about it.


The verse runs:

Its appearance
Is that of a nightingale,–
But it’s a wren!

The verse is a kind of criticism of his own painting; it prevents the whole thing from being too lyrical, for the bough that is used for stirring the miso in the earthenware mortar seems to have a few leaves remaining on it, denoting a person of artistic sensibilities. The mortar is painted with great skill. Its irregular shape, the six dots that represent the grating inner surface, the white patches on the outside that represent the reflection of light on the glazed surface, the open beak of the tailless bird, all these things are well done. But it is a fact, the bird is too slender for a wren, and Hakuin rectifies this in this verse. The whole thing is an aiming at something of more value than perfection, through imperfection willingly chosen.

Basho’s sketch of the morning-glories (below) is real haiga.


We feel the morning freshness; the dew is still on the leaves, and glistening down the slender reed that supports them. The verse is:

I am one
Who eats his breakfast
Gazing at the morning-glories


4 thoughts on “Haiga and Haiku. Part 6.

  1. la luna

    ‘A Wren’ is such a lovely verse on imperfection as beauty. There is no such thing as a perfect offering…

    “Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.”
    ~ Leonard Cohen

    Thank you for sharing.


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