Saturday, 14 March 2009

Hamlet's haiku

Here is a fairly normal Poet-in-Residence haiku:

the bee leaves
the snowdrop
shakes its head

This haiku can be read and understood in many different ways. It has a multitude of meanings. It embodies nature. It is a riddle with no solution. It's fun. And it's quite funny too. And so now to Shakespeare,-

What he himself might his quietus° make
With a bare bodkin°? Who would fardels° bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life

The three words marked ° are interpreted for us in a side-margin of the book from which the text is taken:

small dagger / burdens

And there is our Hamlet haiku; we must only make a minor adjustment and hey presto!,-

small dagger /

Make of it what you will. It's a haiku from Hamlet that has been around for years; but nobody ever noticed it before. Now you know the trick you may spend a happy hour or two unearthing some Shakespearian haiku of your own. Good luck and do not lose the name of action.


  1. Very interesting - I shall try it sitting by the fire this evening - if I come up with anything as good as the one you have posted I will let you know.

  2. I can almost hear the crackle of the log.

    One could take the Hamlet haiku game a step further and add a Jack Kerouac reply,-

    Why explain?
    bear burdens
    in silence

    (from p119 of the Jack Kerouac Book of Haikus edited by Regina Weinreich)

    Is there no end to this madness? :)

  3. Well spotted. Shakespeare is full of haiku! This took 20 seconds (Antony and Cleopatra):

    tawny-finn'd fishes
    my bended hook

    Why didn't anyone notice before? :)

    Imagine the size of the Shakespeare haiku edition.

    I'm reminded for some reason of the man who didn't know what prose was until he realised he'd been talking it all his life. (And I can't think where that's from).

  4. Dominic! The axe-wielding Viking from Geordieland, or some other honest publsiher, who would never dream of pinching our excellent idea, will forthwith invite us to make a 200-page book: The Best of Shakespeare's Haiku (Vol 1). Like the bard himself we'll now become immortal!

    Here's my latest:

    the thousand noises
    - the twangling instruments
    the sleepless voices

    re-jigged from Caliban (Tempest ActIII / ii) "Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises..."

  5. Can you explain the haiku for me - you don't seem to adhere to the 5/7/5 rule - is this poetic licence or what?
    Glad you seem to have got the church plaque in Clitheroe sorted with the help of Carol. Happy haikuing!

  6. I don't claim to be an expert on haiku but I'll be glad to explain my thinking process. Let's get the sylbl count out of the way first! This 5-7-5 rule is the classic Japanese system. Now, I hear Japanese people speaking almost every day here in Vienna and the way they speak with this kind of very quick and short, and to our ears strange rapid almost birdlike sound , is quite different from the way, say a Yorkshire farmer leaning on a gate at springtime telling you about his prize bull might speak. So to my mind to put this 5-7-5 Japanese rule into the mouth of a Grassington rustic would be quite ridiculous. Rules, are anyway made to be broken, and you may remember that not long ago we had a variety of poem on here called a 'prolonged sonnet'. Now the term a 'prolonged sonnet' merely means that the poet has taken the liberty of extending the sonnet form to 16 lines. You can think of it this way for haiku - that a 4 sylbl phrase like 'yon/der mea/dow' covers the same distance as a 5 or 7 sylbl Japanese phrase. And therefore for these kind of technical reasons it's very good that we get should away from this idea of writing as if we are doing an algebra test and come to the essence of the thing.
    Take the haiku:

    the thousand noises
    - the twangling instruments
    the sleepless voices

    The phrase 'the thousand' is a classic Taoist way of saying 'a lot'. 'The twangling instruments' suggests for one thing our bad nerves when we can't sleep at night because our brain is still running around at full speed which brings us neatly to the last line.
    We see that the idea comes from The Tempest by Shakespeare and that he uses the word 'isle' in Caliban's speech. Now for us, considering our haiku, this is good because 'isle' is a good metaphor for sleep; the isle of dreams and so on. If you study the haiku you might find more curiosities, like why I've put a dash in there, in that particular place, for instance. But I think this is enough to be going on with. Hope this was some help. Perhaps helped other readers too?

  7. I forgot to say why 'twangling instruments' is good. It's because we speak of our frayed nerves and so on in these kind of string-like musical way which you'd probably already figured out anyway.

  8. I enjoyed the bee and snowdrop haiku. AS you say, it's open to almost any interpretation - which is why it's art.


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