Fly-ku! translates and essays about 1000 haiku about flies and our relationship with them, including the question found in the subtitle used on the cover (not the same as the official one on the copyright page -- as an author-publisher, i can do that): To Swat of Not to Swat. Translations of Issa's famous fly-ku, where the fly rubs(=prays with) his hands and feet to entreat the poet not to swat him (or her, but not "it," for no "it" can appeal to us), demonstrate that English forces its users to either ruin the poem or make it seem absurdly anthropomorphic in translation. At the same time, the author thinks the critics' concern for infractions of the so-called "pathetic fallacy is itself based on a fallacy. This is the best thing written about this since Blyth argued the same, on the same page, or near to where he explained why the sparrow had to shoot the arrow. I trace fly "hands" back to the maidenhair fern (something even scholars in Japan have not done) and introduce a senryu that I hypothesize inspired Issa's haiku (that, too, is new, for Japanese haiku scholars read as much senryu as our opera stars listen to country music). I have no idea if the book works as a whole, but it is cheap and the first few chapters introduce more analysis to haiku than I have ever seen, and in language anyone can read.
Robin gives an overview of the book:
Sorry to put a quote up front, but i love john clare
- "house or window flies"of john clare -
These little indoor dwellers, in cottages and halls, were always entertaining to me; after dancing in the window all day from sunrise to sunset they would sip of the tea, drink of the beer, and eat of the sugar, and be welcome all summer long. They look like things of the mind or fairies, and seem pleased or dull as the weather permits. In many clean cottages and genteel houses, they are allowed every liberty to creep, fly, or do as they like; and seldom or ever do wrong. In fact they are the small or dwarfish portion of our own family, and so many fairy familiars that we know and treat as one of ourselves.
IN MY BOOK THE ABOVE IS BEAUTIFULLY ARRANGED -- TOO BAD IT DOES NOT COPY RIGHT HERE!
1. John Clare (1793-1864) Today, this English poet, who was driven insane by poverty, hopeless love and regret for nature lost to development is no longer as well known as the top Japanese haiku poets. While many of his nature poems have an overly precious "I love this, I love that" style, they are deeply ecological at heart and many are seasonally oriented. Little Trotty Wagtail may be the best bird poem for children, ever, and one long poem, the name of which I can not recall, is a remarkable indictment of land "development" and a lament from the perspective of a once wild place. In a letter, old Clare wrote "If life had a second edition, how I would correct the proofs." Amen.
AND THIS IS AN EG OF THE NOTES I HAVE IN ALL MY BKS
To swat or not to swat: that is the question posed by many if not most of the thousands of haiku written about flies over the past four or five hundred years. The answer, if there is an answer, is not simple. Most Japanese poets did not share John Muir's sense of kinship for "our horizontal brothers," who "make all dead flesh fly," much less John Clare's gushy affection for "our fairy familiars." Even the haiku of the most merciful poet of all, Kobayashi Issa (d.1827), whose feeling for flies comes closest to that of the American naturalist and English nature poet, did not really condemn swatting as most of his Western and, for that matter, Japanese readers, usually imagine.
Not only were the pre-modern Japanese (including Issa) less precious than we would have it today, but they reveled in poems about killing the little beasties. Hae-uchi - "fly-swatting" or "fly-swatter" - has long been a bona fide seasonal term in haiku. While house-flies lack the aesthetic appeal of fire-flies (the latter boasting over 6x more old haiku), are less powerful than the strident cicada (over 4x more), and less troublesome than mosquitoes (2x), they enjoy a respectable presence (150 haiku in Shiki's Categorical, the source of the above figures). I believe the heart of that respectable presence is this: flies present poets with a personal dilemma. On the one hand, the Japanese poets feel a strong compulsion to swat; on the other hand, they believe, or once professed to believe, that the wanton taking of animal life is sinful and would endanger their own soul's future.
NEXT, FROM THE INTRODUCTION = BELIEVE ME, IT IS BEAUTIFUL IN THE BK BUT FAILS TO COPY HERE!
I exaggerate, for the samurai class from which most haiku poets came was not deeply religious but what Captain Golownin (a Russian imprisoned in Japan from 1812-14) described as "free-thinkers." But, even then, as poets of a tradition centered on seasonal phenomena, their questionable Buddhism was shored up by their special connection with and affection for nature. So it is doubtful that any Japanese poet felt entirely good about taking any life. If I may be pardoned a somewhat tasteless analogy, hae-uchi, or fly-swatting, did and still does for haiku what cheating songs - by pitching emotion against morals - does for country music and enka (the Japanese equivalent to country): it provides stimulating tension.
That does not entirely explain the undying popularity of Issa's poem, which is by far the most famous fly-ku; and ranks within the most well-known dozen or so haiku of all time. But, I think it is a start.
Musca maledicta is not a universal concept. There are many cultures where flies are not maligned. We see photographs of people, alive and healthy, yet utterly unconcerned with the flies upon them. They stand there smiling. The flies make as much of an impression on them as the movement of the corpuscles through our blood vessels makes on us. Why in the world do so many Westerners and Japanese dislike them so much? In the West, it goes without saying that living things not servant to man, and therefore indirectly under God's rule, were all too often relegated to the side of the Devil. Not surprisingly, we swatted flies - known to serve witches as imps - long before hygiene based on germ theory gave us a scientific excuse to do so. In the East, where wild creatures were not demonized by religion, the justification for fly-swatting is not so simple, but this we know: if anything, the Japanese revulsion for flies may be more deeply seated than ours. Japanese not only killed flies, but, as Luis Frois, a Jesuit with a reputation for accurate detail noted in 1585, "princes and lords" pulled off their wings!
How could this come to pass in a Buddhist country?
THERE ARE NOTES TO THE ABOVE, SO IF ANYTHING PUZZLES YOU, PLEASE DO NOT DESPAIR
I have myself written far more haiku about mosquitoes than flies, but finding something no one had found about Issa's haiku titillated my self-pride, i guess, so i did this book first. In retrospect, the fly is ideal in one way. While I may joke about the female mosquito being kind to men, for when she sucks blood she de-chelates us, and if we do not catch brain fever we live longer for it, the fly is pretty much the tiniest creature most of us are tempted to humanize. The mosquito is just too damn small for us to notice its eyes.
Robin D. Gill (1951-). Well-known in Japan for seven erudite yet fun books deconstructing stereotypes about national character (environmental reductionism, linguistic determinism etc.) in the 1980s. All develop and demonstrate his hypothesis that difference properly...
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ORIGINAL IS FIVE PAGES AND EASILY FOUND ONLINE Those who think of haiku as simple little poems should certainly get out and read “Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!,” with its title quoted from one of...
THE ORIGINAL IS FIVE PAGES AND EASILY FOUND ONLINE
Those who think of haiku as simple little poems should certainly get out and read “Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!,” with its title quoted from one of...