What is Eastern Poetry?


Basho – (1644 – 1694)


Chinese poetry, as I discovered on the Internet, is a literary genre with many forms, all which need not be mentioned here. And that is because I was seeking information about what a Japanese poet described as the “usual way” to compose a Chinese poem i.e. The first line contains the initial phrase; the second the continuation of that phrase; the third turns from that subject to a new one; and the fourth line ties the first three together.

But what I didn’t know was that the original Koans dating from around 770 BC were also four lines. However, with advent of Zen Buddhism, Koans have now taken on a quite different purpose and a quite different form.

I found two examples of this structure, the second being far more fun:


Three sons of a cotton miller live in Beijing.
The oldest son is seven, the middle son is five, the youngest son is three.
A tree grows quietly in the woods.
But the three boys are never quiet.

Two daughters of a silk merchant live in Kyoto.
The elder is twenty, the younger eighteen.
A soldier may kill with his sword.
But these girls slay men with their eyes.

And what took me down that road was that while I have never attempted to write English poetry ~ some of which I have had a lot of difficulty relating to ~ I do better with prose. But ever since I first saw them, in 2003, in a book called The Little Zen Companion ~ I have been much attracted to a Japanese poetic form called Haikus, which have a three line structure containing, in the modern English form, seventeen syllables: the first and third lines contain five syllables and the middle one seven. Here is one I wrote last week for a new friend:

Your jaw has a scar.
Your bicycle hit a chain.
You are beautiful.

 That little book declared that the greatest of the haiku poets was Basho who was best known for this, which, in Japanese, has seventeen on.

Old pond
A frog leaps in
Water’s sound 

And so presumably do these in their original form, which, thanks to Wikipedia, is something I did not know about before.