More Spring Haiku, Tanka, and Troubling Issues of Yugen and Mono-no-Aware


Watercolor:  Springtime Daffs, janekohut-bartels, 2006

(“Spring Daffs”, watercolor, janekohutbartels, 2006)

The plums, peach blossoms are done: the cherries and apple to come.  The pears are blooming and so are the roses. There is only what is outside, to see with eyes, as there is little energy right now with allergies.

I have struggled with terms in Japanese poetry such as yugen, mono-no-aware and other Zen and Zen-sounding concepts.  A poet strives for the quality of mono-no-aware; that the sense of a poem must reach beyond the words themselves, even to an ‘elegant sadness’.

As for yugen, an aesthetic feeling not explicitly expressed, rather a ‘ghostly’ presense.

These are noble and heady concepts, rich with cultural experience and a deeper study.  I believe you grow into this understanding only with time. For me, I am too new a poet to understand these things or to apply them with any honesty.

Saigyo says we start with direct observation and see where this takes us.  This spring, putting in my garden, suffering from a vertigo of unknown cause, being mostly on my back with plenty of time to stare out the window, to observe the passing of hours, well, these poems below are nothing more than that: they are a modest product of an attempt to get closer to an aesthetic I don’t really understand.

Lady Nyo


A pale crescent moon

The sky colored lavender

Nothing more to wish.


Acid green pollen

Stains the landscape of spring

Life-force of Nature.


Morning glories bloom

Entangling wrought-iron fence

Warms the cold metal.


Dawn east-sky moon glows

A thin half-cup spills on soil

Seeds stretch out their arms.


Under a crescent moon

The black soil of the garden

Anticipates life.


Tibetan earthworms

Bring a halt to all labor

Here? Feed lazy koi.




Smell of rose blossoms

Draws me around a corner.

A black cat sits there

The finest brocade can not

Equal this petal softness.




In the Garden at Dawn


Dawn east-sky moon gleam

A golden half-cup greets the garden,

Hands deep in soil

Planting tender shoots of life

With a reverence feeding the soul

As seedlings feed flesh later to come.


There is God in this black soil,

Earthworms and tiny bits of life

Independent of will or wishes.

Golden moonbeams spill on this tilled earth

Like a benediction or blessing,

And bathes plants and planter with promise.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

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26 Responses to “More Spring Haiku, Tanka, and Troubling Issues of Yugen and Mono-no-Aware”

  1. poemblaze Says:

    Beautiful, as usual.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Matt.


  3. claudia Says:

    oh very nice…the watercolor is awesome…and the poems just bring spring even more alive with….
    Seeds stretching out their arms…and esp. loved…

    Hands deep in soil
    Planting tender shoots of life….so much sensuality in the creation..isnt it…love it jane..


  4. brian miller Says:

    nice…i love the morning glories on the fence, warming it…very cool haiku…moon beams like a benediction to the god of the worms…so much life in the earth…and it will burst forth…smiles.


  5. Richard Cody Says:

    Nice reading, as always.


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Richard.

    Lady Nyo


  7. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Brian.



  8. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Claudia.

    Yes, so much sensuality in creation.



  9. hedgewitch Says:

    You are one of the few poets whose haiku I can stand to read any more–so much false haiku out there, and false haiku is empty with a bad emptiness, just as yours are full of dignity, beauty and thought. Never underestimate what you write Jane–none of us can know the minds of men and women dead for hundreds of years who birthed this form–you do it all honor in your writing. All of these are glowing, the tanka, especially, but for some reason the very first haiku really gets to me. Fine work.


  10. ladynyo Says:

    All I can do is thank you from the bottom of my heart, Joy. I have been so…depressed …with this illness….and it’s something that really hinders you from reading and of course understanding what you are attempting to learn.

    The issue of haiku is this to me: too many just use haiku form as a clip note form of freeverse, without any interest in what is behind the reasoning ‘for’ haiku. Now, I don’t know all of these issues, but I think IF we attempt to write these classical forms, we have to learn something about their early parts…just like tanka, there is pivot words, and seasonal words and all sorts of things I still violate in my own haiku, but I’m getting closer to the bone. I hope.

    At first, I thought haiku was very obscure..something so alien from our own culture and the only way was to imitate it to even get closer. But that is false. We have to proceed from our own experience, our own observations, the inner thoughts of ‘today’…not 1000 years ago. We have to learn the ‘rules’ and then we can mess around with them….

    I am more comfortable with tanka, Joy, but am getting my brain around haiku a bit. Reading Basho helps…especially a book like “Road to the Interior” where he gives ‘landscape’ to the thoughts and verse he is writing: it all proceeds from observation first. We have forgotten to use our eyes I believe. We rely too much on our brains….LOL!

    Thank you, dear friend. Your comment came at a time I really was despairing of what I was doing. Or attempting to do.



  11. Gay Reiser Cannon Says:

    Jane so sorry you’ve been suffering. But the payoff to the time in bed is this post today. These are some of the very best if not the very best modern haiku I have read. The first two are absolutely perfect, exquisite in their kigo and kireji. The tanka and their poem stand just as noble.

    Will visit with you more soon. Thank you for these. I echo what Joy said.


  12. ayala Says:

    Love this….Planting tender shoots of life

    With a reverence feeding the soul

    As seedlings feed flesh later to come.

    Beautiful, Jane.


  13. ManicDdaily Says:

    Dear Jane, I am breathing a sigh of – I don’t know what–peace, release? right now. My forehead is relaxing, unwrinkling–I don’t particularly feel like typing in that state, except that I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed these poems–haiku, tanka, poem. There is that stillness and life force in a kind of balance. I think among the haiku, I especially like the one about the black soil, and crescent moon. They are all very visual as well. The last feels like a compilation in some ways–but a beautiful one–a summing up. They are very lovely– you really capture the essence of not just this form, but this point of view.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your vertigo. I used to get something caused by an inner ear virus that would last a couple of days and be very debilitating, but then would recede. Thank goodness I have not gotten it in a long time, but for a while it seemed to cycle, and then I was just through with it. I was given meclazine, I think, which is the prescription form of bonine. Awful. And was also told to drink a lot of water. (Something I’m very resistant too, unless it has tea leaves floating in it.) At any rate, feel better soon. K.


  14. ladynyo Says:

    Dear K~!

    Your words are balm to my heart and mind. I was at a point of desperation when I wrote these….on the way to the hospital, actually…LOL~! Thinking they would be my last-last.

    Haiku are troubling to me because there are these issues; aware, yugen, etc. that we don’t delve into in our poetry…we kind of come up against these important factors in haiku, tanka, sideways…well, I do. LOL!

    What I have gleaned from reading (very recently, and reading him in some sort of desperation…) Basho is this: trust and rely on our observation of those things around us. Come out of our heads. Trust nature around us for not only inspiration (that’s pretty common and easy to do, actually) but rely more on what is in front of us….not so much what we concoct in our heads….especially our ‘modern’ heads…scrambled with too much information and agitation.

    As for point of view? well, reading what Basho and Saigyo and so many others went through to get to a place of understanding….and of course, they had the companionship of others who were studying these same things in poetry…these particular forms and also intentions….well, it will take a long time to do so for me. And that is the way of it, my friend. It doesn’t come fast or cheap…it’s a life long immersion, and when we (like you and I and others who love these forms) get away from them,…well, something essential is missing in our hearts.

    The first one to me is more of what haiku is..or what I think it should be: but then again, haiku is so much more than what we think. LOL!

    Vertigo: Thank you…it is comforting to know that others know this most disturbing condition. It is like being drunk and not drinking, with no control over your balance and it hinders you so much in your daily life. It’s only been a week and a half for me, but it has been misery. Yes, an inner ear virus, or the makings of a slight stroke. The jury is still out on this, but I am going with the virus. LOL! That can be cleared up with antibiotics.

    So glad that you haven’t had a case of this for a long time. Water? I wasn’t told this but it makes sense. Thank you, K.



  15. ManicDdaily Says:

    You do a great job. Feel better soon. K.


  16. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Ayala. I was deeply touched by your post about Jerusalem in the reading.

    Thank you for reading and your comment.



  17. ladynyo Says:

    Dear Gay. that is so lovely a comment, but my haiku are just in the beginning stages. I cringe at what I threw out on an unsuspecting public before…LOL! I am feeling better, and thank you. It will be a road back I am afraid because of circumstance…but I have lots of reference materials and I have about 5 copies of different editions of the Man’yoshu to linger over! LOL!



  18. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, K, I will work on it.


  19. Heaven (@asweetlust) Says:

    I hope you are feeling better Jane. I am writing haiku everyday and every week in my other blog to improve my writing. Yours are beautiful to read…you get the essence and form too. I agree that most haiku writers just chopped off the words to fit the count (I am guilty of it too), and even concentrate on the form instead of the essence of the form ~ Thanks for your sharing your lovely work ~


  20. ladynyo Says:

    Heaven, send me the addy of your other blog. My eyesight is not good right now because of what has passed, but I would like very much to read your haiku.

    It’s a snarly form, neh? LOL! As far as getting the essence and form, it’s something that is a constant struggle, but after a few (years!) you get a nose for it …sometimes, maybe.

    Basho said something that helps on this syllable count: “Don’t worry about a few more or less syllables. Just make the line reflect the truth of what you see and feel.” I think that good advice!

    Thank you, Heaven for reading and your lovely comment.



  21. leahJlynn Says:

    Like your style of writing. Haiku and any type of Japanese type writing is so difficult to me. but , you do it well.


  22. Rosemary Nissen-Wade Says:


    I think these are excellent sites about writing haiku:


  23. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Rosemary, for reading and these sites.

    Lady Nyo


  24. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Leah….it gets easier over time~! But there is a lot of reading to do, always~!

    Lady Nyo


  25. jenneandrews Says:

    Exquisite work. I have always, as you might expect, felt constricted in the Haiku form and that it is misunderstood by so many who attempt it. These are lovely– as is the tanka– xj


  26. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Jenne,

    I understand and think this issue with haiku for many of us is because we haven’t a clue as to the inners of the classical haiku form. We just use it as a shortcut freeverse, which it really isn’t. Or so I think. And I have done the same.

    There are things, like pivot words, seasonal words, etc…that lead us to a more ‘proper’ haiku form, but like Basho expresses, there is also humor, and not taking yourself too seriously. LOL!

    We get tied up in these things, but I think even a short study of the form can give us clues for the ‘reason’ of haiku. And this is something that takes some effort.

    But right now, I am thinking that getting out of our heads, and our immediate emotions…something like this…and using our eyes, direct observation of what is around us, and perhaps then how it impacts us, is a ‘road’ to haiku. Last night I came up with a few…

    “The koi are hungry
    Orange mouths gulping the water
    Good the algae grows.”

    LOL~ poor haiku, but something is cooking here. I have just ordered two more books on haiku, with Basho, Issa, and another Japanese poet. These of course are classical haiku poets, but we have to start somewhere. I am still struggling, and this is necessary with mono-no-aware and yugen, but these terms will become clearer. It’s all in the process.

    Thanks for reading and your comment, Jenne.



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