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Walden by Haiku

Ian Marshall

Publication Year: 2009

In this intriguing literary experiment, Ian Marshall presents a collection of nearly three hundred haiku that he extracted from Henry David Thoreau's Walden and documents the underlying similarities between Thoreau's prose and the art of haiku.

Although Thoreau would never have encountered the Japanese haiku tradition, the way in which the most important ideas in Walden find expression in the most haikulike language suggests that Thoreau at Walden Pond and the haiku master Basho at his "old pond" might have drunk at the same well. Walden and the tradition of haiku share an aesthetic that embodies ideas in natural images, dissolves boundaries between self and world, emphasizes simplicity, and honors both solitude and humble, familiar objects. Marshall examines each of these aesthetic principles and offers a relevant collection of "found" haiku. In the second part of the book, he explains his process of finding the haiku in the text, breaking down each chapter of Walden to highlight the imagery and poetic language embedded in the most powerful passages.

Marshall's exploration not only provides a fresh perspective on haiku, but also sheds new light on Thoreau's much-studied text and lays the foundation for a clearer understanding of the aesthetics of American nature writing.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-

I am grateful to the friends, scholars, and colleagues who read parts or all of this manuscript at various stages of its development and generously shared their suggestions, ideas, expertise, encouragement, and enthusiasm about haiku, Thoreau, and/or nature writing. Specifically, I’d like to thank David Barnhill, Mike Branch, John Elder...

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Introduction: To Be Content with Less

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pp. xiii-xxix

The Poet stands by a pond, looking, listening. He lingers long and long, sees the seasons change, thinks of our lives in nature, finds contact, connection. He hears the sound of water and visualizes the jump of a frog, sees the surface of the pond dimple and imagines the busy lives of fish. Swallows skim the surface, a loon...

PART ONE. Walden by Haiku

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Economy

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pp. 3-7

What better point to initiate a discussion of haiku aesthetics than “economy”? If haiku is the essence of poetry, economy is the essence of haiku. Make do with less, make less count for more, make every word count. In haiku the concept of hosomi, usually translated as “spareness” or “slenderness” or “underemphasis,” is roughly...

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Where I Lived, and What I Lived For

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pp. 8-11

Clearly what Thoreau lived for has a whole lot in common with what haiku tries to convey. Actually, the first two chapters of Walden, “Economy” and “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” are lighter in haiku moments, at least on a per-page basis, than the rest of the book. That’s not surprising, really, since it is in these opening...

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Reading

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pp. 12-16

Given the topic of this chapter, it may be pertinent to note what other readers have made of the connection between Thoreau and haiku, for both practitioners and critics of haiku have certainly sensed a connection. R. H. Blyth first popularized haiku in North America with his four-volume study Haiku (the source of...

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Sounds

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pp. 17-22

Interesting—“Sounds” has, according to my findings, the most haiku moments of any chapter so far (twenty-four), more than any other until we get to the last two, “Spring” and “Conclusion” (with thirty-one and twenty-nine, respectively). The last two chapters, perhaps, indicate where Thoreau is heading: more and...

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Solitude

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pp. 23-27

Another of the defining characteristics of haiku is sabi, which roughly translates as “aloneness” or, as Sam Hamill has called it, “existential Zen loneliness” (169). In the sort of paradoxical turn that we might expect of haiku aesthetics, sabi is tied in with the idea of compassion, a kind of sensitivity called aware. It constitutes...

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Visitors

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pp. 28-30

The railroad men strolling to the pond on a Sunday—I think of another of Blyth’s thirteen Zen qualities that he says are evident in haiku. Blyth speaks of freedom as a trait of haiku. He defines it, however, not as freedom to do something, but as freedom from something. Freedom from convention, traditions, and expectations...

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The Bean-Field

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pp. 31-35

I said earlier that few readers would find much of the Blythian ideal of Zen “non-intellectuality” in Thoreau, and those of us who teach Walden can attest that undergraduates certainly find Thoreau’s sentences and style and vocabulary—in truth, his whole philosophy of life—intellectually challenging enough. And yet...

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The Village

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pp. 36-41

In my introduction I spoke of the emphasis on solitude as a motif in both nature writing and haiku. Perhaps a chapter dedicated to the goings-on of “The Village” might be an appropriate place to qualify that claim somewhat. Recently ecocritics have sought to correct the impression that nature writing’s sole narrative...

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The Ponds

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pp. 42-47

Haiku is traditionally viewed as being built out of pure image. Blyth called this tendency “materiality,” meaning that haiku focuses on the physical world in concrete language, not on ideas expressed in abstract language, and that it looks at the natural world on its own terms rather than as symbol. But clearly the ponds...

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Baker Farm

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pp. 48-50

In Kawamoto’s study of haiku aesthetics, he notes that much of the appeal of a haiku—because it is a poem, after all, and not just an expression of a Zen psyche—stems from some “rhetorical anomaly,” or distinctiveness in the expression, usually found in the base section (127). The rhetorical anomaly can come in the form of pun, paradox...

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Higher Laws

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pp. 51-53

Perhaps a chapter that is entitled “Higher Laws” and that opens with a yearning to devour a woodchuck raw is a good place to discuss the trait of haiku aesthetics that Blyth describes as “non-morality.” The reference is to haiku’s tendency to avoid judgment and preconception according to any moral code, so that something...

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Brute Neighbors

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pp. 54-56

Thoreau asks, “Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world?” (225). What is Walden but a collection of objects beheld— and wondered at? What is the nature of this world? The smoothness of water, the call of a loon, the dive of a loon below the surface, ants in a battle, clouds, a loaf of bread—Walden is full...

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House-Warming

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pp. 57-60

One of the rhetorical anomalies that catches the attention in Japanese haiku is the use of sound devices—rhyme is avoided, but alliteration and assonance are frequently employed. These are often lost in translation, of course, but in the best contemporary English-language haiku, there is clearly an attention to sound...

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Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors

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pp. 61-65

Emerson’s eulogy for Thoreau singled out for criticism Thoreau’s indulgence in paradox, “a habit of antagonism” and “a trick of rhetoric,” Emerson called it, “of substituting for the obvious word and thought its diametrical opposite” (“Thoreau” 973). It’s a fair charge, I suppose, highlighting Thoreau’s strain of contrariety...

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Winter Animals

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pp. 66-69

One of the subtle mysteries of haiku is how something so slight—a breath’s worth of image, expressed in language that is marked by simplicity and karumi, or “lightness”—can at the same time suggest dimensions of meaning worth meditating upon. How does a haiku manage to be both light and heavy?...

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The Pond in Winter

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pp. 70-76

“The Pond in Winter” is the chapter I usually choose to show students the transcendental method of deriving spiritual lessons from natural facts. It’s the place where Thoreau is most meticulous about gathering data, and where the spiritual as well as physical depths of the pond, the book’s central symbol...

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Spring

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pp. 77-83

In “Spring” Thoreau makes the case for living in the present. “We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it” (314). Thoreau’s attempt to capture the presentness of each moment, at the same...

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Conclusion

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pp. 84-95

Now that I’ve offered a haiku version of Thoreau’s “Conclusion,” perhaps it is time for mine. What results from a reading of Walden by haiku? How does a discovery of Walden’s inner haiku contribute to our understanding of Thoreau’s accomplishment? What conclusions might be drawn from this literary thought experiment...

PART TWO. Sources and Commentary

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Introduction

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pp. 99-101

In each paragraph-length entry below I reproduce the haiku presented in part 1, followed first by the original source passage in Walden from which the haiku was extracted, and then by a note offering some quick critical commentary on the phrasing or content of the haiku or the passage it came from. In part 1, I presented...

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Economy

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pp. 102-106

farms, houses, barns, cattle— / easily acquired / hard to get rid of “I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of” (5). This may be a little too moralistic and explanatory for a good haiku, but that’s...

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Where I Lived, and What I Lived For

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pp. 107-110

the landscape retained / its yield carried off / without a wheelbarrow “I found thus that I had been a rich man without any damage to my poverty. But I retained the landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow . . . I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed...

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Reading

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pp. 111-113

Iliad on the table / my house to finish / my beans to hoe “I kept Homer’s Iliad on my table through the summer, though I looked at his page only now and then. Incessant labor with my hands, at first, for I had my house to finish and my beans to hoe at the same time, made more study impossible” (99–100). Haiku...

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Sounds

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pp. 114-123

much published, little printed / the rays which stream / through the shutters “But while we are confined to books, though the most select and classic, and read only particular written languages . . . we are in danger of forgetting the language which all things and events speak without metaphor, which alone is copious...

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Solitude

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pp. 124-129

a delicious evening / the whole body / one sense “This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore” (129). Here is the sense of oneness—the interpenetration of self and world. Thoreau expresses, too, grateful—no, absolutely delighted— acceptance of the...

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Visitors

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pp. 130-133

three chairs in my house / not much room to utter / the big thoughts in big words “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society . . . One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest...

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The Bean-Field

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pp. 134-141

beans / impatient to be hoed / attach me to the earth “Meanwhile my beans, the length of whose rows, added together, was seven miles already planted, were impatient to be hoed, for the earliest had grown considerably before the latest were in the ground; indeed they were not easily to be put off. What was the meaning...

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The Village

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pp. 142-145

village gossip / the rustle of leaves / the peeping of frogs “Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle...

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The Ponds

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pp. 146-156

huckleberries / to know the flavor / ask the partridge “The fruits do not yield their true flavor to the purchaser of them, nor to him who raises them for market. There is but one way to obtain it, yet few take that way. If you would know the flavor of huckleberries, ask the cow-boy or the partridge” (173). Lots of Japanese...

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Baker Farm

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pp. 157-161

cedar trees beyond Flint’s Pond / hoary blue berries / spiring higher and higher “Sometimes I rambled to pine groves, standing like temples, or like fleets at sea, full-rigged, with wavy boughs, and rippling with light, so soft and green and shady that the Druids would have forsaken their oaks to worship in...

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Higher Laws

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pp. 162-166

an impulse to eat woodchuck / not for my hunger / but for his wildness “As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted...

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Brute Neighbors

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pp. 167-171

keeping house / keeping bright / the devil’s door-knobs “Why will men worry themselves so? He that does not eat need not work . . . And O, the housekeeping! to keep bright the devil’s door-knobs, and scour his tubs this bright day! Better not keep a house” (223). This harks back to the lessons of “Economy” (make...

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House-Warming

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pp. 172-178

a-graping / to the river meadows / beauty and fragrance and food “In October I went a-graping to the river meadows, and loaded myself with clusters more precious for their beauty and fragrance than for food” (238). I have changed the sense of this, I suppose, by suggesting that the “beauty and fragrance and food” are...

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Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors

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pp. 179-186

evenings by my fireside / snow whirls wildly / without “I weathered some merry snow storms, and spent some cheerful winter evenings by my fire-side, while the snow whirled wildly without, and even the hooting of the owl was hushed” (256). Once again, a chapter opens with a strong image. The alliteration of...

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Winter Animals

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pp. 187-194

Walden frozen / overhung by pines / bristling with icicles “When the ponds were firmly frozen, they afforded not only new and shorter routes to many points, but new views from their surfaces of the familiar landscapes around them . . . Walden, being like the rest usually bare of snow, or with only shallow...

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The Pond in Winter

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pp. 195-201

a still winter night / some question / has been put to me “After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question has been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what—how—when—where?” (282). Again, Thoreau begins with a provocative chapter-opening...

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Spring

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pp. 202-212

after a cold night / my axe on the ice / resounding “One pleasant morning after a cold night, February 24th, 1850, having gone to Flint’s Pond to spend the day, I noticed with surprise, that when I struck the ice with the head of the axe, it resounded like a gong for many rods around, or as if I had struck on...

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Conclusion

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pp. 213-225

the wild goose / breakfast in Canada / lunch on the Ohio “The wild goose is more of a cosmopolite than we; he breaks his fast in Canada, takes a luncheon in the Ohio, and plumes himself for the night in a southern bayou” (320). Thoreau’s strain of contrariety, his love of paradox, is evident here as he takes an...

Notes

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pp. 227-230

Works Cited

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pp. 231-234

Index

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pp. 235-239


E-ISBN-13: 9780820336152
E-ISBN-10: 0820336157
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820332888
Print-ISBN-10: 0820332887

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Natural history -- Massachusetts -- Walden Woods -- Poetry.
  • Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Walden Woods (Mass.) -- Poetry.
  • Haiku, American.
  • Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862. Walden -- Poetry.
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