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Court Poetry and the Roots of Haiku

Over the holidays, I found a wonderful book at the BookMill: An Introduction to Court Poetry by Earl Miner. I've read much of the English language literature about haiku and have been aware for a long time that the roots of haiku derive from the earlier court poetry and this book provided some interesting insights.

Most of the court poetry takes the form of waka (tanka or longer poems termed chōka) and the simplistic description I had seen of tanka was not far off: a 5-7-5 part that sets the scene (from which haiku is derived) and a 7-7 part that offers an emotional response. Many of the tanka also use pillow-words (or Makurakotoba) and pivot-words (Kakekotoba) that represent idiomatic devices to express certain ideas, themes, or moods. To really understand the poetry, you need to also understand what these represent. Or, perhaps more importantly, who had used those terms previously.

From reading Bashō's haibun, A Narrow Road to the Interior, I had been aware of how many haiku were a reflection on some earlier poet or poem. Many of the places Basho visited were inspired by poems written centuries before and often echoed the subjects and language of those poets. I remember particularly, Bashō stopping by a willow tree known to Saigyō. The book acknowledges that his aesthetic was particularly important to the writers of haiku and haikai that followed. He also must have had a wicked sense of humor.

I suppose it should not be a surprise to realize that many, if not most, Japanese poems, need to show awareness of the previous literature to be taken seriously. With a well-documented literature that goes back hundreds and hundreds of years, the trick is not only to experience something meaningful, but to say something new about it.

It reminds me a bit of the epiphany described in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. You can spend your whole career pursuing some fundamental question only discover that it was answered more than a thousand years ago — and more elegantly and definitively than you could ever have stated it. It could be enough to drive anyone crazy.

A small book can only do so much to survey a thousand years of literature, especially in the absence of the history, geography, language, and culture necessary to make sense of it all. But it was very helpful to me to articulate with what I already understood and help me fill in some gaps and add just a little bit more.

Poŝtamikoj el pasinteco

Hodiaŭ mi ricevis epoŝton de ulo en Connecticut kiu sendis al mi bildojn de letero kiun li trovis inter la paperoj de sia avo. Li klarigis ke sia avo parolis Esperanton kaj biciklis tra Eŭropo en 1931. La letero estis de 1956 kaj li tre volis scii pri kio temas kaj petis min traduki. Jen tio, kion mi tradukis:

  Dolni Kounice 21/8/1956

  Estimata sinjoro!

  Mi ricevis vian leteron 20/8, sed tia por kiu vi lin 
  adresatis, jam efektive neloĝis al adreso Dolni Kounice, 
  sed forlasis tian malĝojan monaton 6/3/55 kaj iradis de 
  sian gepatroj en la ĉielo. Kun ŝi fortiris mia lasta 
  bela punkto de mia vivo. Mia fratino estis jam multe 
  jaron malsana kun la galo, kaj maltrankvilo de 
  lastan jaron rapidis ŝia morto.

  Ŝi ofte rememoris vin kio vi faras kaj ĉu vi vivas. Ho, 
  kia ĝojo havis fratino ĉe via memoro!

  Mi estas ankaŭ jam maljuna kaj mi sopiras baldaŭ kunveni 
  de mian karan.

  Pardonu, ke mia letero neestas bone skribita, mi konas 
  malmulte Esperanto, sed mi pensas, vi komprenos tion.

  Salutas vin kore,

Li dankis min pro la traduko kaj diris ke sia avino ĉiam diris ke la avo estis la originala hipio, kiu volis unuigi la mondon per Esperanto kaj arto post la unua mondmilito.

Vojaĝo al LK2012

Mi vojaĝis hodiaŭ al Dallas por la usona landa kongreso. La vojaĝo estis longa, sed senproblema kaj mi alvenis sufiĉe frue por enskribiĝi kaj paradi kun la aliaj al la manĝejo por kune vespermanĝi.

Ni loĝas en sufiĉe nova universitata loĝejo kiu estas simpla, sed bela. La manĝejo havis multajn elektojn. Mi ankoraŭ ne vidis la kongresejon, sed la tuta universitato ŝajnas nova kaj moda.

Ĝis nun, venas nur la malmolŝelaj esperantistoj por la estrarkunsido, kiu okazos morgaŭ. Mi konas ĉiujn. Filipo, Lusi, Hoss, Liĉjo, Bill, ktp. Estas ankaŭ kelkaj ne-estraranoj kiuj venis frue. Ilin mi jam konas ankaŭ. Esperantujo en usono estas malgranda.

Morgaŭ, kiel sekretario, mi devos fari detalan raporton de la decidoj. Mi fakte ŝatas fari tion ĉiaokaze kaj ofte faris simile eĉ kiam mi ne estis sektretario — mi tiel certigas ke mi atentas ĉion, kio okazas.

Post la estrarkunsido, la interkona vespero okazos kiel "teksasa barbekuo" kaj la kongreso vere komenciĝas sabate.

Esperanto is...

Shortly after I wrote my last article at Libera Folio, I realized another article I wanted to write. Unfortunately, it was too late: I had to get back to work and work like a dog for weeks to manage the server migration for my facility and get resources built for the spring. But I had my notes and I kept seeing more thing to stick in the article. I just needed an hour or two to actually pull it all together. With the few minutes I had yesterday morning, I finished drafting the article and sent it off to Libera Folio. It should appear in the next day or two. (I'll link to it when it comes out).

The basic idea is a simple one: when the media covers Esperanto, they talk about "Esperanto was..." or "Esperanto might have been..." They rarely talk about "Esperanto is..." and never talk about "Esperanto will be..."

Esperanto is strong -- it's probably never been stronger. The internet has provide a fertile ground for Esperanto take root. There are more people learning Esperanto now than ever before. Does that mean that Esperanto will suddenly become "the second language for everyone"? No, it doesn't. But Esperanto isn't going away. Everyone (who matters) is learning English now. But English isn't replacing anyone's native language -- each generation will have to choose whether to learn English. Or not. With the rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), and a multipolar world, it may be that in many places, people decide that learning Portuguese or Chinese makes more sense than English. As the world becomes multilingual, the idea of a neutral International Language might come up again -- and Esperanto might make a lot more sense with 100 years of history behind it. And a dynamic, vibrant speaker community already in place.


I'm back from Brazil. It was an intense trip that got off to a rough start: from the tickets on a bankrupt airline, the visa that never came, and the last-minute frantic drive through Boston due to the collapsed big-dig tunnel, it looked for a while like I might not make it. But I did and I had a tremendous experience.

I spent several days in São Paulo. Its a huge, incredibly polluted city absolutely wracked with fear over a criminal insurgency that conducted around 150 attacks during the week I was there. More than a dozen buses were burned, a fact I was painfully aware of everytime I rode a bus. Many houses and buildings had two, three, or four layers of security to prevent attacks: One house I visited had a huge barred fence, topped with razor wire, topped with an electric fence -- you had to be buzzed through one gate, enter a small barred space and, only after closing the first gate would the second be opened. It is a different sort of place than the Happy Valley.

The congress was fantastic -- Esperanto in the US is often treated as a joke, but people in Brazil really love Esperanto and it really shows. I met scores of people and had very interesting conversations with everyone regarding everything from US foreign policy to showerheads to pets. Next year's congress is in Rio. It would be worth learning Esperanto just to attend a Brazilian conference -- it was a wonderful atmosphere and a tremendous experience. You can read more about the trip in Esperanto.

Coming home has been rough, though. Plato, my beloved dog, was diagnosed with canine lymphoma just before I left and succumbed yesterday. He collapsed in the early morning and we rushed him to the animal hospital unconcious. They got some fluids into and brought him around, but we decided it was better to let him go. We got a few good minutes with him to pet him and say goodbye and then we had them come in and help him go. It was hard, but I feel better knowing that he won't have to go through something like that again.

On the way home, I also strained my shoulder -- the rotator cuff is inflamed and extremely painful. I got a shot of cortisone (with the longest needle I've ever seen) and some painkillers to take the edge off. It's very distracting, however, and hard to get work done.


For a few months, the ELNA folks have been talking about trying various outreach methods to do outreach and publicity about Esperanto. Some of the people talk about buying advertising -- I've been more inclined to think about what we can for little or no money. One thing that Rob Read said was that we ought to focus on a small market and try to penetrate deeply. Mostly, people have been talking about science fiction enthusiasts and teachers-of-latin. I realized that the community I was most interested in were bloggers. Bloggers are interested in communication -- are communicating with a world-wide audience -- and are increasingly influential. That's part one.

Part two was remembering blog day from last year. For blog day, bloggers were encouraged to participate by posting an entry that described 5 blogs they didn't usually read. It was interesting to me see the idea gain traction and generate a lot of buzz last year.

So I'm hoping to generate similar excitement by getting people to celebrate Esperanto Day, December 15, 2006, by crafting a bilingual post in their native language and in Esperanto that describes the "language problem" from their perspective: maybe that there isn't a language problem, or that their language is being threatened, or that miscommunication creates friction in their community, or the costs of trying to maintain their language in an increasingly monolingual world. I'll be fascinated to read what people write!

Esperanto day... Pass it on!

Amherst Paca Solenaĵo

Amherst Paca SolenaĵoHodiaŭ Lucy kaj mi iris al la Amherst urbocentro por partopreni la Amherst Paca Solenaĵo. Ni portis niajn ŝildojn kiuj diras "ESPERANTISTOJ KONTRAŬ MILITO" kaj oni bonvole akceptis nin. Kelkaj homoj interesiĝis pri Esperanto. Multaj ŝoforistoj rigardis dufoje kiam ili vidis kaj ne tuj komprenis la ŝildojn. Ŝajne neniu kredis ke ni varbis por Esperantan Armeon. La reago de la plejmulto estas subtena: oni svingis la manon, indikis supren, aŭ blekigis siajn aŭtojn.

Amherst Paca SolenaĵoLa solenaĵon oni okazigas dimanĉe ekde 1979 -- preskaŭ tridek jarojn. La diraĵo de la grupo kiu kunordigas la solenaĵon estas "Se vi deziras pacon, laboru por justecon".

Estis eble dudek homoj kiuj venis entute (oni faris la bildojn ĉe la komenco kiam estis nur dekdu aŭ dektri). Mi pasis la plejmulton de la tempo babilante kun aktivuloj pri Esperanto kaj pri la politiko de la venontaj loka kaj ŝtata balotado.

Mi iom timis ke oni malakceptus ke oni portu ŝildon en alia lingvo, sed tio tute ne estis problemo. Oni tre volis kompreni kion ĝi diras kaj, se ili ne kredus ke ĝi povus diri tion, eble ili plendus.

Lucy kaj mi restis tie proksimume unu horo kaj, kun malvarmaj piedoj, ni iris hejmen por tagmanĝi. Ĝi estis facila kaj agrabla horo kaj mi atendas fari same estontece.

Cox Grammar and Commentary

Cox Grammar and CommentaryI wrote about learning Esperanto with this book and wanting to make it available via Project Gutenberg. Our first request was denied because the laws make the rights unclear, so we solicited a letter from the publisher that would establish the work as public domain. We got a reply, forwarded the letter to PG and, on Christmas morning, the email giving us clearance was in my in-box! The project is on!

I'm about half-done with scanning -- I'll head back down to the basement tomorrow and see if I can get it finished. I expect another 4 to 6 hours will finish it off. I'm really pleased that this book is going to be available to the public again. In some ways, it is a bit dated (as it was published in 1906. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of Esperanto haven't changed a bit and the commentary that describes the grammar is exceedingly well-written.


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