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Haiku: Eastern Culture v. 1 Paperback – 1 Sep 1985

4.8 out of 5 stars
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4.8 out of 5 stars 6 reviews from Amazon.com

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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars 6 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Precious 25 Mar. 2009
By AeroEngineer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I first knew of this set of books in college when I checked out a hardcover set over 10 years ago and I still think this is one of the best compilations of any genre. I had to special order my new paperback set from the Japanese publisher around 9 years ago from the 1992 reprinting. The best word for this set of books is precious.

Mr. Blyth not only translated the Japanese Haiku for the Western mass market but really has produced a deep and meaningful view of the world from a profound and poetic viewpoint that is supported by his numerous citing of other authors such as Shakespeare, Thoreau, the Bible, Zen, Chinese mystics, Spengler, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Homer as well as excerpts from the prose writings of the Haiku poets themselves and other poets and thinkers. He does this in the book side by side the Haiku as a sort of guide and attempt at explanation through the universal poetic language. Japanese culture primarily became a fascination with artists like Van Gogh and other artists of the time in Paris in the late nineteenth century. Japanese woodblock prints, Ukiyo-e, by Utamaro, Hiroshige, Hokusai and others influenced Van Gogh and his small group of friends and supporters(Gauguin and others) and I would say that Matisse' work seems to be influenced as well.

He attempts to explain the unexplainable in an admirable manner with these volumes and his translations of the Haiku are second to none. Also included is the original Japanese of each poem as well as the original language versions of his cited non-English poetry/prose that is presented alongside selected Haiku for comparison and explanation purposes. Also included is the occasional paintings done by the Haku poets themselves and some in which they wrote their haiku directly on the painting.

Being both a fine artist and a trained engineer I have found this set to be a good fit for my natural admiration for Haiku. Haiku is the most direct way through words to an instant realization of the hidden meaning of our everyday circumstances, you don't need to think that only what happened far away in time or distance is what is "holy" or important. This moment in time we move through is just as magical if you only break out of the delusion that we must live in most of the time either knowingly or otherwise.

On the practical level this is a 4 volume set that follows the pattern of the poets themselves who lived in poverty by choice and were very sensitive to the seasons around them. Most of the poets traveled around Japan endlessly. So therefore the seasons are how this is arranged in volumes for each of the 4 seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter and Autumn and sub-categories like humans, various festivals and holidays in Japan, Fora/Fauna focused poems, Trees and Flowers, Birds and Beasts, Human Affairs, Skies and Elements, Mountains are examples of the sub categories in each season.

The first volume gives a good extended history and background of Eastern Culture as well as each volume having a decent length preface. At the end of the last volume there is a comprehensive English language index to all four volumes as well as a Japanese language appendix. The whole set is 1300 pages, it would be nice to see these all put together in one volume for convenience.

There are many poets presented here with an emphasis on Blyth's favorites, now the classics, Basho, Issa, Buson of the older poets and Shiki of the newer poets. Shiki died around 1900 and that's about when Blyth cuts off the Haiku poets as we know them. My personal favorite is Issa but as I read the volumes continuously on and off I've noticed that Shiki is probably my next favorite.

If you are interested in Japanese art or culture in general this will be an excellent set to get as well if you are into poetry as the works of these poets are just as valuable and important as those of Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Goethe or any other of the major poets in Western or World culture. I would recommend Blyth's Senryu as well, which are more humorous in nature.

Let me say that it's a shame that such a set of work has become so hard to find and expensive but it is perhaps an honor to be rare and not popular and ubiquitous in this American Idol world we live in. It's a nice limiter to those who are the rarest themselves and capable of appreciating creative endeavor properly and not as some frivolous distraction the majority think of it as.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peerless. THE Master. 23 Feb. 2009
By Edwin J. Firmage - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
One of the first and still the best and most comprehensive introduction to haiku in any language other than Japanese, and I'm not sure you'd getting anything better in Japanese. Blyth was the source from which the flower children and other early lovers of the art form derived their knowledge of it. He is also the gold standard by which other translators are judged, and from which many still borrow heavily. The world owes him an incalculable debt of gratitude. If you own no other books of haiku than these (this volume and its three sisters), you'll want for little. I make a habit of rereading Blyth every year, and I'm never disappointed.

If you would like more of Blyth's translations and commentary, his two-volume A History of Haiku is equally good.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provides The Cultural Context For a Great Series 8 Feb. 2005
By M. Hori - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I took this book, and Burton Watson's translation of Chuang Tsu with me when I first traveled to Japan in 1992 and they were all I needed to begin to understand the who what when and why of where I was and where I still am! I was even introduced to the Japanese name for the venerable Taoist sage mentioned above (they call him Roshi) as well as the Zen background of much of the classic haiku. I learned about Kappa, the Japanese man-like water monster in these pages, fox spirits (or Kitsune), the concept of aware, or the mutability of things, and how haiku is this concept's best expression, although it can be found in Genji Monogatari and other works of Japanese literature. I was given a useful introduction to Shinto and Buddhism in these pages as well. My Japanese co-workers continued to ask me where I had learned of these things, because they themselves were unsure of them. Above all, I was treated to great translations of Zen koans and poems as well as haiku, so I could see how the traditions over-lapped. Finally, there are useful reproductions of Japanese haiga and scroll art in this book so you can see how the traditions translate into visual art. If you're seriously interested in learning about haiku and Japanese thought, then this is the book with which to begin. Blyth lived in Japan for many years, was fluent in Japanese and much else besides and knew his subject. Forget other recent "guides" written by the ignorant for the ignorant and go to a master.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A seminal work on haiku, but not for easy reading. 11 Feb. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Anywhere you go to find out more about Haiku, this series of books is mentioned. Book One focuses mainly on the philosophy behind Japanese haiku - Zen, worship of nature etc - giving plenty of examples from masters like Buson, Issa and of course Basho. If you want to learn about the history and philosophical significance of haiku, then this book is an excellent, even essential starting point. If you want to learn more about the practice of haiku in the west, or even in modern Japan, then this is NOT the book for you.
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent overview of Asian poetry, and thought 5 Aug. 2012
By Emilio D. Gironda Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I found about the series written by Mr Blyth from a suggested reading list drawn up by Allen Ginsberg. Just a great, clearheaded, review of all things poetical. Not just Haiku. For anyone interested in loving the life you live.
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