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Friday, Oct. 5, 2001

BILINGUAL

Open your ears to nature's rainbow of sound


By TOSHIMI HORIUCHI

In Japan, autumn fills nature, not only with visual colors, but also with "colorful" sounds: blowing wind, birdsong, the chirping of insects and the crunching of leaves.

It is no wonder, then, that many Japanese haiku about autumn are painted with these aural "colors."

suzushisa no katamari nare ya yowa no tsuki -- Yasuhara Teishitsu (1610-73) night moon: a mass of coolness

This haiku contains two subjects: a tangible one -- a pale moon -- and an intangible one -- the cool air. The writer experiences these as through the sense of touch, the moon embodying coolness as it pours its rays onto the Earth.

inazuma ya yami no kata yuku goi no koe -- Matsuo Basho (1644-94) lightning -- into darkness a heron's scream melts

The interaction of lightning, which is both visual and acoustic, combined with a heron's scream, creates an unsettling scene in the autumn darkness. Both landscape and soundscape are one, creating a striking word-picture that lays bare the heart of loneliness.

mushi horo horo kusa ni koboruru neiro kana -- Miura Chora (1929-80) insects chirp: upon the leaves of grass sound color falls in drops

This poem is a synesthetic combination of the sense of sound with a tactile sense of fluidity. The chirping of insects seeps into the withering leaves of grass.

On most of the Japanese archipelago, winter sets forth its own intense beauty. The season abounds with sensual impressions, rich in sound, which resonate in a variety of haiku images.

patto hi ni naritaru kumo ya kusa o yaku -- Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959) in a flash a spider turns into a flame: withered grass on fire

The poet visually grasps the combustion of life in a single moment of time. In the flames of the grass fire, another burns still brighter -- the strong image of a spider's life being completely consumed.

This haiku is as aural as it is visual, as we conjure the sharp, momentary sound when the tiny living thing burns up. The sudden flash and crackle of flame is perhaps the last sound of the creature's life.

fuyugare ya yo wa hito iro ni kaze no oto -- Matsuo Basho a desolate winter: in a one-colored world wind resounds

In this poem, the tone of the wind emphasizes the desolation of the winter world. Visual sensation (the one-colored winter world), auditory sensation (the sound of the wind) and tactile sensation (coldness of the air) all unite in a complete whole. This is as it should be, every connection of the senses defined yet intertwined.

inochi tsukite yakuko samuku hanare keri -- Iida Dakotsu (1885-1962) life is gone -- smell of medicineleaves the body cold

Dakotsu "smells" coldness as the odor of medicine fades from a lifeless body, a superimposition that strongly evokes the writer's grief and emotional chill.

This poem seemingly contains no sound, yet is there perhaps the sound of ice forming within the poet's heart? Sometimes, deep meaning or feeling may lurk between lines.

The human senses do not work independently of one another, but are closely interconnected. By making a connection, these senses cooperate, like our two eyes seeing as one.

This close cooperation of the senses -- heard soundscapes blending with seen landscapes -- offers the opportunity to create richly textured poetic metaphors.

Toshimi Horiuchi is the author of "Minnesota Songs," "Journey to the Fire Flower," "Synesthesia in Haiku and Other Essays" and other books.


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