kaki kueba
kane ga naru nari

Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)

I bite into a persimmon
and a bell resounds-

- trans. Janine Beichman

Persimmons: as I chew,
        a temple bell begins to boom
               from Horyu.

- trans. Harold G. Henderson

This is one of my favorite haiku, and one of my favorite poems. It is one of the most famous of the thousands of haiku by the great modern master of the form, Masaoka Shiki. I can’t describe how much I love this poem. Before it can be fully understood, there are a couple of things you should know:

• The temple complex at Horyu (ji = "temple") is an extremely significant Buddhist site in Nara, Honshu, Japan. The original temple was constructed around 600 AD, and 44 other buildings were constructed between the 7th and 19th centuries. The oldest buildings date to 670, when a fire wiped out the original structures, and are the oldest wooden buildings in the world.

• Shiki was known for his love of persimmons. Orchards near the temple are famous for their persimmons. I’ve read that the astringent taste of the fruit is captured by the "k" sounds in this haiku: "kaki kueba/kane".

This is a poem of contrasts and juxtapositions, and those juxtapositions are what make this poem so powerful to me. The temple represents permanence, the eternal, and the religious, contrasted with the secular, transitory, mortal experience of enjoying a piece of fruit. It’s also a contrast of lush sensory experiences, with the sound and taste of biting into the fruit contrasting with the toll of the temple bell.

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