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Frogpond 43.2 • 2020

Museum of Haiku
Literature Award

Haiku & Senryu

Essay 1 - "The Transcendent Function of Haiku"

Essay 2 - "Two Very Early Haiku Contests"




Book Reviews


The Transcendent Function of Haiku

by Robert Epstein

"The Transcendent Function of Haiku"
(complete PDF version)

Here is a sample excerpt from the opening page of this essay:

Itʼs the best free medicine in the world.
~ Roberta Beary

Like most poets, I think of haiku, first and foremost, as an art form with a distinct aesthetic. Poets and critics may debate the nature of the aesthetic, which can mutate by country and era, but haiku as art is indisputable.

I deeply appreciate the art form as well as the sensibility I associate with haiku, but thatʼs not all. For me, haiku also serves an important instrumental function that has been of inestimable value. I have turned to haiku, again and again, as a means of expressing the inexpressible. It is evident to me that this instrumental function was as true for the Japanese masters—Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki—as it is for contemporary English-language poets.

For illustrative purposes, let me take a brief detour here to offer a few examples from the masters. One poignant poem by Bashō comes readily to mind. It also happens to be Bashoʼs last poem:

Sick on a journey,
Yet over withered fields
Dreams wander on.

Basho is not just writing about an illness; it is his final illness, which gives the poem that much more intensity. I am eternally grateful to the father of haiku for summoning the energy to write such a moving poem. I feel a kinship with Basho and feel less alone when ill as well as in facing my own mortality.


[essay continues for several more pages] . . .

. . .

Epstein, Robert. "The Transcendent Function of Haiku." Frogpond 43.2, Spring-Summer 2020, 126-133.

This excerpt inclues the first page of the essay: page 126. The complete essay includes pages 126-133. To read the complete essay, click on the link to the PDF version:

"The Transcendent Function of Haiku"
(complete PDF version)