Bonsai & Haiku Dave Burke

Bonsai & Haiku
by Dave Burke, Plymouth, Indiana

Here is an example of a haiku about bonsai. It expresses what I saw and felt one autumn afternoon and helps me remember the experience.

leaves yellow and red
float downward toward the earth
rest in my bonsai

A few years ago I ran across an article about bonsai and haiku in an back issue of the BONSAI Clubs International magazine (September/October 1992 - "Haiku and Bonsai: Complementary Arts" by George Knox). This article, with its discussion and examples, encouraged me to give haiku a try just as an article about bonsai in a 1989 issue of Scientific American encouraged me to give bonsai a try. (My thanks goes to those who stimulate enquiry.) Haiku is a Japanese poetry form traditionally adhering to strict rules requiring 17 syllables arranged in 3 lines having 5, 7,and 5 sounds respectively. Many haiku, however, do not quite follow these rules, form being less important than content and language, with the result that the syllable count might differ somewhat from 5, 7, 5. Content is focused on a single, simple idea, often relating to some aspect of nature that has moved the poet. Language is sparse, simple, and direct, free of metaphors and similes, with few adjectives, incomplete sentences, and no rhyme.

One evening, when Willie, our miniature Schnauzer, was exhibiting his strong inclination as a pack animal, I composed this non-bonsai example:

draped over my lap
paw resting on my wrist
Willie sleeps

One of the challenges of bonsai for many of us is working out design strategy. Faced with the irreversibility of pruning cuts, we struggle with indecision.

pruning my bonsai
which to keep, which to lop ...
(sigh) can't decide

Before wiring a branch, we often move it about a bit to find the best position.

positioning the branch
bending it here ... now there
Oops! ... accidental pruning

Last fall as I was looking through my plants, there was a little frog sitting beside my bald cypress bonsai in the humidity tray enjoying the same water that I provided to bottom-water the bald cypress. It was a delightful sight that I later regretted not photographing. However, I did write a haiku to remember the moment.

beside my bonsai
completing the composition
sits my accent frog

Bonsai and haiku have some distinct similarities, it seems to me.

pruning the tree / pruning the verse
removing unneeded twigs / removing unneeded words
creating bonsai / creating haiku

Some things in nature can't be improved by design techniques.

Japanese maples
five finger leaves, red or green
delicate beauty

My bonsai are put into covered pits in the ground for winter protection.

safe beneath the ground
my bonsai hide from winter
resting until spring

I am always very happy to see them again in the spring.

I greet my bonsai
after their long winter's rest
“Oh frabjous day!”*

My hope in this article is that you who read this find some enjoyment in doing so and that you are inspired to write some haiku yourself. Also, just as you exhibit only your best bonsai, you can share only those haiku you really like.

*Borrowed from Lewis Carrol’s poem, Jabbewocky, from his book, Alice in Wonderland.