Friday, March 20, 2009


    The dragonfly
   can't quite land
   on that blade of grass.


Haiku is an unrhymed, syllabic form adapted from the Japanese: three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. Because it is so brief, a haiku is necessarily imagistic, concrete and pithy, capturing a single moment in a very few words. Because the form has been brought into English from a language written in characters, in which a haiku appears on a single line, many poets writing haiku in English are flexible about the syllable and line counts, focusing more on the brevity, condensed form and “Zen” attitude of haiku. The traditional Japanese haiku requires some reference to nature or the season; thus the related short form of senryu is distinguished from haiku as being concerned with “human nature” or social and personal relationships.

In this particular Haiku, Basho analyzes nature through the imagery of a dragonfly. He delineates a creature that can't find a way to land on a certain blade of grass. It is important to note that it is this specific blade of grass that perplexes the dragonfly, like an obstacle he cannot overcome. The dragonfly "can't quite" accomplish this task, showing that he is continually falling barely short of his goals. Also the use of the dragonfly itself introduces the element of a dignified insect, one that should be able to simply land on a blade of grass, increasing the magnitude of it's failure.

Basho is covering the idea of failure through this Haiku, analyzing the actual actions of failure. He depicts an unexpected failure that is important only because of its contrast with the dragonfly. I was wondering what you guys thought about this Haiku in terms of the relationship Basho draws between nature and failure? Also how does this Haiku analyze human nature in juxtaposition with adversity?


Lauren said...

I think it's saying that in terms of human nature people can never really achieve what they want. The dragonfly wants to land on the blade of grass but for some reason it can't do it. It's also like how people are always striving to achieve things and some times they just can quite do it.

nabeel said...

But what is it that makes this blade of grass so unreachable? its just "that" particular blade of grass. The dragonfly can land on grass, yet this blade resists him. Is there something characteristically unreachable about this blade?

kerrym7 said...

Going off of Lauren's idea, I think that the dragonfly is trying to accomplish something he doesn't really want to do. Every blade of grass is the same, but for some reason the dragonfly is expected to land on that particular blade. I related it to a student who is forced to go to the college their parents went to even though the student doesn't want to go. The dragonfly is not able to land on the blade because it is not what he truly wants.

tommy said...

I don't think that Basho is trying to emphasize "that" blade of grass. But rather, he refers to grass as a whole. We've all seen dragonflies land in obscure places so there is no logical reason why it can't land on "that" blade of grass. It might not want to, but it still is capable of doing so. Instead, the problem becomes the grass as a whole. Maybe this dragonfly is different from the norm. Basho is express his thoughts on difference.

nabeel said...

I disagree, Basho does not mention the grass as a whole he singles out "that blade". Therein I don't think that the problem is so much the grass as it is the dragonfly. The particular blade is just "that" blade, and it is the dragonfly who "can't quite" accomplish the task of landing on it.
Also, I am not sure if the idea of want applies as cohesively to this Haiku. Basho uses "can't" saying that the dragonfly is purely unable to land, which would conflict with the notion that he doesn't want to. However, I do like the idea that you brought up in correlation with this one; that this isn't what is destined for the dragonfly essentially. The creature just can't land on that blade. It's very matter of fact tone points to the idea that it is just the way it is and that the dragonfly simply cannot land on that blade of grass.

Michaela said...

I think what you said Nabeel about the fact that the dragonfly is a "dignified insect" whose inability to land on the blade of grass increases "the magnitude of its failure" is important. A dragonfly can fly (redundant, I know, but significant), and with flight humans associate possibility and almost omnipotence. Since the dragonfly cannot land on the blade of grass, whether it wants to or otherwise, it speaks to our standards of what is possible and illustrates the inevitable limitations of humans and others, even those we think have no limitations.