On Haiku

Oh, so many more quotations I could add here, not even counting favourite passages from all the excellent books written about haiku. Even when they dont actually mention haiku, I believe that the following quotations are all about haiku—perhaps you will too.

  • “Haiku has this rather fantasmagorical property: that we always suppose we ourselves can write such things easily.” —Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs
  • “To a clear eye the smallest fact is a window through which the infinite may be seen.”
    Thomas Henry Huxley
  • “The soul never thinks without an image.” —Aristotle
  • “Pleasure lies in being, not becoming.” —Thomas Aquinas
  • “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” —Rachel Carson
  • “A poem knows where you already are, and it nails you there.” —William Stafford
  • “Nature excels in the least things.” —Pliny the Elder
  • “A memory once clearly stated ceases to be a memory. It becomes perpetually present, because every time we experience something which recalls it, the clear and lucid original experience imposes its formal beauty on the new experience.” —Stephen Spender
  • “There is that rare poem spun from an image buried in the yellowing pages of a haphazard notebook, and I call such a poem a gift.” —Yusef Komunyakaa
  • “I’m sure that writing isn’t a craft, that is, something for which you learn the skills and go on turning out. It must come from some deep impulse, deep inspiration. That can’t be taught, it can’t be what you use in teaching.” —Robert Lowell
  • “The first discipline is the realization that there is a discipline—that all art begins and ends with discipline, that any art is first and foremost a craft.” —Archibald MacLeish
    [In haiku, this discipline has nothing to do with counting syllables.]
  • “When walking, just walk. When sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.” —Ummon
  • “One only arrives at a useful precision in spontaneous art if there’s been a lot of discipline in one’s life earlier.” —Richard Wilbur
  • “You run into people who want to write poetry who don’t want to read anything in the tradition. That’s like wanting to be a builder but not finding out what different kinds of wood you use.”
    —Gary Snyder
  • “In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and the future, which is precisely the present moment.” —Henry David Thoreau
  • “How fragile we are, between the few good moments.” —Jane Hirshfield, “Vinegar and Oil”
  • “When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.” —Alan Watts
  • “The idea for a poem comes in moments of personal excitement.” —W. B. Yeats
  • “The poet who writes ‘free’ verse is like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island: he must do all his cooking, laundry, and darning for himself.” —W. H. Auden
  • “No verse is libre for the man who wants to do a good job.” —T. S. Eliot
  • “Any work of art makes one very simple demand on anyone who genuinely wants to get in touch with it. And that is to stop. You’ve got to stop what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, and what you’re expecting and just be there for the poem for however long it takes.”
    —W. S. Merwin
  • “Those moments before a poem comes, when the heightened awareness comes over you, and you realize a poem is buried there somewhere, you prepare yourself. I run around, you know, kind of skipping around the house, marvelous elation. It’s as though I could fly.” —Anne Sexton
  • “The writing’s easy, it’s the living that is sometimes difficult.” —Charles Bukowski
  • “A poem always has elements of accident about it.” —Seamus Heaney
  • “In a poem dealing with my personal experience I do much better simply saying exactly what happened. That will usually carry more emotional depth. When I’m trying to get to what I really feel about something, I usually do better just sticking to the facts.” —W. D. Snodgrass
  • “A great poet does not express his or her self; he expresses all of our selves.” —Gary Snyder
  • “Images are probably the most important part of the poem. First of all you want to tell a story, but images are what are going to shore it up and get to the heart of the matter.” —Anne Sexton
  • “Write silences as actively as sounds.” —Robert Creeley
  • “To have written one good poem . . . it’s like sitting out in the yard in the evening and having a meteorite fall in one’s lap.” —Randall Jarrell
  • “Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.” —Henry Miller
  • “If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the Unconscious.”
    —D. T. Suzuki, in his introduction to Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery
  • “Rabbit,” said Pooh to himself. “I like talking to Rabbit. He talks about sensible things. He doesn’t use long, difficult words, like Owl. He uses short, easy words, like ‘What about lunch?’ and ‘Help yourself, Pooh.’ I suppose really, I ought to go and see Rabbit.” —A. A. Milne in The House at Pooh Corner, Chapter 4
  • “Rilke saw, in a flash of insight, that this is the real business of the poet: to raise himself to a level of mental intensity where everything in the world, even a rotting carcass, becomes fascinating.” —Colin Wilson
  • “That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. . . . Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.” —from the transcendent plastic bag scene in the movie American Beauty
  • “When the solution is simple, God is answering.” —Albert Einstein
  • “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” —Matthew 6:28–29
  • “The human mind is at its best when playing.” —J. L. Synge
  • “It’s not what you look at that matters, but what you see.” —Thoreau
  • “As man is now constituted, to be brief is almost a condition of being inspired.” —Santayana
  • “Multum in parvo” —Latin phrase (“Much in little”)
  • “Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what was seen during a moment.” —Carl Sandburg
  • “Any description of landscape has within it an elusiveness, an unobtainableness that goes beyond the seasonal cycles and what they mean, and that suggests something like the constant flourishing of a finality in which we are confronted with the limits of feeling.” —Mark Strand (from The Weather of Words)
  • “A poet can survive everything but a misprint.” —Oscar Wilde                                                                +
  • “Poetry in the English language at the present moment is probably the most interesting, and I see a great influence of Oriental poetry at the moment. It seems to me that beginning with the Sixties especially, the influence of old Chinese poetry, due to good translations into English, has been increasing. Some modernist experiments through which poetry has been going are mitigated by the Asian poetry influence. I take interest, for instance, in the American haiku movement. There is such. And echoes of some Buddhist poetry. For me this is a very interesting trend.” —Czeslaw Milosz, quoted in Poets & Writers, November/December 1993, page 45, in response to the question “What is your view on the current state of poetry, and where do you see it moving?”
  • Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” —A. A. Milne
  • “He on whom God’s vision falls sees the great within the small.” —Piet Hein
  • “Less is more!” —Robert Browning (in “Andrea del Sarto,” long before Mies van der Rohe)
  • Satori is the sudden flashing into consciousness of a new truth hitherto undreamed of. It is a sort of mental catastrophe taking place all at once, after much piling up of matters intellectual and demonstrative. The piling has reached a limit of stability and the whole edifice has come tumbling to the ground, when, behold, a new heaven is open to full survey.” —D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
  • “By the act of observation we may have selected a ‘real’ history out of the many realities, and once someone has seen a tree in our world it stays there even when nobody is looking at it.”
    —John Gribbon
  • “It’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold onto it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.” —last words spoken in the movie American Beauty
  • “This—the immediate, everyday, and present experience—is IT, the entire and ultimate point for the existence of a universe.” —Alan Watts

  • “Life is not made of the number of breaths we take, but of the moments that take our breath away.” —Source Unknown

  • “Each thing implies the universe.” —Jorge Luis Borges

  • “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, familiar things new.” —William Makepeace Thackeray

  • “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
    —Thomas Jefferson

  • “All art is knowing when to stop.” —Toni Morrison

  • “The solution to our problems comes not so much from what we start doing but from what we stop doing.” —Noah ben Shea, in Jacob’s Journey

  • “Do not say all that you know, but always know what you say.” —Gaius Caesar Claudius

  • “Family snapshots offer us something like what the French critic Roland Barthes called punctum. A punctum is something in the photograph, a detail, that stings or pierces the viewer into an emotional reassessment of what he has seen. It can be a necklace, a flawed smile, the position of a hand—a thing or gesture—that urges itself on us, compels our vision, with sudden, unexpected poignancy.” —Mark Strand (from The Weather of Words)

  • “My favorite piece of music is the one we hear all the time if we are quiet.” —John Cage

    “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” —Henry Miller

  • “When you really pay attention, everything is your teacher.” —Ezra Bayda

  • “Plainness, although simple, is not what I mean by simplicity. Simplicity is a clean, direct expression of that essential quality of the thing which is the nature of the thing itself.”
    —Frank Lloyd Wright

  • “Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are the more necessary it is to be plain.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  • “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” —George Orwell

  • “Now a skilled photographer can point his camera at almost any scene or object and create a marvellous composition by the way in which he frames and lights it. An unskilled photographer attempting the same thing creates only messes, for he does not know how to place the frame, the border of the picture, where it will be in relation to the contents. How eloquently this demonstrates that as soon as we introduce a frame anything does not go. But every work of art involves a frame. A frame is precisely what distinguishes a painting, a poem, a musical composition, a play, a dance, or a piece of sculpture from the rest of the world.” [same with haiku, too] —Alan Watts, from This Is It and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience (New York: Vintage, 1958, 1973), in his essay “Beat Zen, Square Zen, Zen”

  • “A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist.” —Leo Tolstoy     +     +

  • “The ‘first day of Spring’ is one thing, and the ‘first Spring day’ is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.” —Henry Van Dyke

  • “Enjoying each day as if it was a haiku takes away the need for so much materialism.”
    —said by Gary Snyder at a poetry reading at Benaroya Hall in Seattle on 27 May 2009

  • “The physical body is acknowledged as dust, the personal drama as delusion. It is as if the world we perceive through our senses, that whole gorgeous and terrible pageant, were the breath-thin surface of a bubble. . . . Both suffering and joy come then like a brief reflection, and death like a pin.” —Stephen Mitchell

  • “Say all that you have to say in the fewest possible words or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”
    —John Ruskin

  • “I believe that all poetry is formal in that it exists within limits, limits that are either inherited by tradition or limits that language itself imposes” —Mark Strand (from The Weather of Words)

  • “Don’t bring the ocean if I feel thirsty, nor heaven if I ask for a light; but bring a hint, some dew, a particle, as birds carry only drops away from water, and the wind a grain of salt.”
    —Olav H. Hauge

  • “A tree growing out of the ground is as wonderful today as it ever was. It does not need to adopt new and startling methods.” —Robert Henri

  • “The Japanese esthetic honors the asymmetrical, the natural, or the accidental: God is everywhere, and the crack in the cup is equal in value to the most exquisitely painted lotus flower.” —Source Unknown

  • “I am called to listen to the sound of my own heart—to write the story within myself that demands to be told at that particular point in my life. And if I do this faithfully, clothing that idea in the flesh of human experience and setting it in a true place, the sound from my heart will resound in the reader’s heart.” —Katherine Paterson

  • “Short words are best and the old words are best of all.” —Winston Churchill
  • “Gentle words, quiet words, are, after all, the most powerful words. They are the most convincing, more compelling, more prevailing.” —Washington Gladden

  • “It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.” —Carl Sagan

  • “One must know and recognize not merely the direct but the secret power of the word.”
    —Knut Hamsun

  • “Forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home!” —Chaung Tzu

  • “One instant is eternity; eternity is in the now. When you see through this one instant, you see through the one who sees.” —Wu-Men

  • “An eternity is any moment opened with patience.” —Noah ben Shea, in Jacob the Baker

  • “Our true home is the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment.”
    —Thich Nhat Hanh

  • “We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.” —The Talmud

  • “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” —Albert Einstein

  • “The only offering you can make to God is your increasing awareness.” —Lalla

  • “It is difficult to imagine a theme or experience of living more powerful, relevant, or as fundamental to life on earth as the four seasons. Indeed, as the earth journeys around the sun, we too, like the flora and fauna with whom we share this plant, ebb and flow to the rhythm of its terrestrial cycles. Imbedded deeply in our psyches are the sensory experiences of the seasons we gather as we move through our lives: the sweet, earthy fragrance of fresh cut hay; the piercing sting of cold air drawn into our lungs; the brilliance of an October hillside; the burst of sweetness from the bite of an apple picked fresh from the tree; the deafening roar of a snow-melt swollen river. Rooted as well, are the metaphorical notions of birth, death, renewal, and the continuum of life. . . . If there exists a subtle irony in the seasons, perhaps it is that our experience of them is as common and universal as they are personally unique.” —Bruce Heinemann, in the introduction to his photography book, The Four Seasons (Seattle: The Art of Nature, 1999)

  • “Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.” —Yoko Ono

  • “No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” —Ansel Adams

  • “Young people live in the future. Old people live in the past. Wise people live in the present.” [such is the realm of haiku] —John C. Maxwell, Success: One Day at a Time

  • “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” —Mark Twain

  • “The most important thing is to express your true nature in the simplest, most adequate way and to appreciate it in the smallest existence.” —Shunryu Suzuki, in the “Nothing Special” chapter of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

  • “Poetry is more than the shape of its verse, it’s more than its line-turnings, and its pirouettings. It’s a combination of some form of truth, wisdom, and a new way of seeing it, of saying it—as a refreshment of what you know.” —Seamus Heaney 

  • “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” —Anaïs Nin
  • “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.” —Joseph Conrad
  • “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” —Pablo Picasso [or as Bashō said, “Learn the rules and then forget them”]
  • “The best writing has no lace on its sleeves.” —Walt Whitman
  • “Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before.” —Edith Wharton
  • “Poetry will save nothing from oblivion, but I keep writing about the ordinary because for me it’s the home of the extraordinary, the only home.” —Philip Levine
  • “Has it ever struck you that life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going?” —Tennessee Williams
  • “A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.” —W. B. Yeats
  • “Thought will not be possible in your poem unless you give the feet a place to stand, the hands something to touch, the eyes a world to see.” —Wesley McNair
  • “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” —Brené Brown     +     +
  • “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson