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Carlos Fleitas
Musicality in Haiku written in Spanish: a Platonism?


"Give an illustration," I said. She answered me as follows: "There is poetry, which, as you know, is complex; and manifold. All creation or passage of non-being into being is poetry or making, and the processes of all art are creative; and the masters of Arts are all poets or makers." "Very true." "Still," she said, "you know that they are not called poets, but have other names; only that portion of the art which is separated off from the rest, and is concerned with music and meter, is termed poetry, and they who possess poetry in this sense of the word are called poets." (1) 

Rhythm in Music and Rhythm in Poetry

I would like to make a personal confession. I have forgiven Plato. Truly. Because although he finally expels poets from his ideal Republic as false pedagogues, he puts in the mouth of Diotima, the above definitions. In short, poetry is "the passage of non-being into being...and is concerned with music and meter." At this point, one has two options: Leave these envisioned thoughts to work by themselves in our minds without further comment, or add a few unnecessary footnotes with the hope they will soon return to the non-being. I will choose the latter because I have given my word to a lady that I would write this small paper. Not keeping it is the kind of sin the gods would never forgive. 

What is the relation between music and poetry? The main fact is that music and speech have an intimate relation, as Dr. Richard Hooker asserts: "all music is based on two fundamental human activities: speech and movement. Speech is the basis of music in its rhythms, tones, and cadences; music, in part, is an exaggeration of basic tonal and rhythmical qualities of human speech." (2) According to this idea, speech bears musical qualities by itself and it is the origin of music. 

A very interesting and contemporary approach is that: "the music isn’t in the syllables ...it’s in the flow of phonemes and the “phonemic figures” within the morphemes that are twisted into syllables to get syncopation"(22) Music seems to have evolved from these qualities, and to have become somehow independent, as instrumental music, inheriting the main issues of speech mentioned above. 

Rhythm then, is the common denominator of music and poetry. In music, rhythm can be defined as "not only the fluency, the movable, but also the measure of movement, the limitation of fluency. It rests on the differentiation of values of duration shorter or longer, stressed and non-stressed, and weak or strong."(3) "Meter in music is: a) the rhythmic element as measured by division into parts of equal time value. b) the unit of measurement, in terms of number of beats, adopted for a given piece of music." (17) 

Rhythm in poetry is given by recurrence of patterns; i.e. it is the reiteration at regular intervals of some elements, (8) which are obviously related to the rhythmic natural characteristics of the language in which it is written. Spanish is a language of syllabic rhythm, characterized by the number of syllables in a poetic line, instead of the number and qualities of the accents, as in English. (7) English is a language of stressed rhythm, that is created by "the recurrence of stress or emphasis within the words and syllables of the poetic line" (4) and the rhythm in a line is measured by the meter. Some meters are of a definite length; others are variable. (5) And meter in English poetry is the pattern of a poem's rhythm/stresses; the unit of measure is called a foot. (4) Spanish poetry (this is particularly true in traditional poetry) is written to have a specific number of syllables per line. Although the rhythm of Spanish poetry depends, in a minor way, on stresses, it is not so remarkable as in English poetry, which is written to have a specific number of primary accents in each line in spite of the number of syllables. (7) 

Musicality in Spanish Poetry

Rhythm and Musicality. Resources to establish musicality and rhythm in Spanish Poetry; The 20th Century Revolution in Music and Poetry.

Strictly speaking then, the main factor that brings musicality to a poetry line is rhythm. And rhythm in poetry is closely related to the rules of prosody that encompass not only rhythm, but also meter and the melodic structure of the poem. So, it is very important to keep in mind that rhythm is fully appreciated when the poem is read out loud. This is due to the fact that poetry, in its origin, was composed to be heard, not read. That is, to be spoken out loud, or also sung. It is also important to keep in mind that when a "verse is pronounced, accents occur at certain regular intervals; they, too determine the rhythm of the poem." (15). Other resources, as soon we will see, bring a musical secondary effect to poetic lines in some languages. In Western poetry, the degree of musicality can be augmented by their use, apart from the maintenance of a rhythmic pattern -- which is the essence of poetry and the one that differentiates it (if it encompasses at least a certain meter) from other literary genres such as prose. There are three main resources that have a musical effect when applied to a poetic line, or to lines in Spanish: alliteration, assonance and rhyme. I would like to emphasize the fact that they produce a musical effect, but strictly speaking, they are not a musical issue in the same way as is rhythm alone. However, in Spanish language, if properly used, they can meaningfully contribute to the rhythm of a poem because of the repetitive pattern they can create. A musical effect is possible, in that the result of applying them to poetic lines brings euphonic 

sound(s) to the listener. Let me give some examples: 

a) The second stanza of the XVII sonnet by Garcilaso de la Vega 

El ancho campo me parece estrecho,
la noche clara para mí es escura;
la dulce compañía, amarga y dura,
y duro campo de batalla el lecho. 

This sonnet, like the majority of sonnets in Spanish language, has its rhythm based in syllable count (11), natural pauses, rhyme, assonance and certain alliteration. Assonance, rhyme and alliteration give euphonic sonority to the poem. 

b) Federico García Lorca's Romancero Sonámbulo is written without a strict syllable number per line as in the sonnet, but the use of assonance, i.e. open vowels, gives an extraordinary musicality to the poem. However, the use of assonance in this case is intimately related with the meaning of the poem, or better, with a contrast of atmospheres such as life and death which Lorca displays in this jewel of lyricism and depth. 

Verde que te quiero verde,
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña
Con la sombra en su cintura
ella sueña en su baranda,
verde carne, pelo verde
Con ojos de fria plata... 

This may seem at first strange, but if we think of words also as sounds, then we can be aware that poetry is also an organization of sounds -- sonority, as in music. This issue usually stays in the background because we are more interested in the meaning of words than in the musicality of them. But musicality is always there, and we realize it as soon as an unpleasant sonority, lack of fluency or rhythm breaks in a poem line becomes clearly noticeable. As a matter of fact, throughout history there has been a major contention between those who support and those who condemn the use of music and musicality in text and poetry, not only in the West, but in the East also. One particular case concerns religious music. 

To summarize: Rhythm is part of the structure of music and poetry. It is always present, at least until the major changes that would affect the traditional meaning of rhythm in the 20th century in the West, both in music and in poetry. Alliteration, assonance and rhyme are mainly sonority resources which bring musical effects to the verses or poetic lines, creating euphony, although in Spanish language, they can also contribute to the rhythm of the poem. Therefore, they deal with the sounds, not with the meaning, although, as we will see, they can, if used properly, add or reinforce a previous meaning which is present in the poem, or in an extreme case, eclipse meaning. In "non traditional verse," "non-metrical poetry" or "free verse," they can be main resources to create a reiterated pattern -- that is, a rhythm not based on the number of syllables or on a particular meter. But in free-verse, in absence of assonance or alliteration, the rhythm must still be kept by the cadence. We must also mention the "blank verses" that have no rhythm but which keep to a metrical pattern. 

In Western music, the scales and laws of euphony condition sounds and their combination: That is, pleasant or unpleasant sounds. The predominant Western scale of music, until last century, is called diatonic scale, and the rules and laws of composition were set on the XVII century. Therefore, the euphonic of sounds is conditioned to a particular scale along with its criterion of pleasant sounds or combination of sounds. This is why when the criterion changes, some people may find new sonorities quite annoying to the ear. Because poetry also is conditioned to the sonority of the language in it which has been written, what is euphonic to a certain culture may be dissonant to the ears of people from another. It may well become a matter of contention between generations in the same culture. Elders, many times judge the new generation's music, as "unpleasant noises". Spanish listeners find the German sounds non-euphonic and quite harsh. This is because the phonemic roots of German are non-Romanic, and therefore their sonority is rather unfamiliar to Spanish people who have a Romanic origin of language-root phonemes. This makes that Bach's Cantatas, to non-trained Spanish listeners, have a non-euphonic sound in its singing lines. 

Other features which contribute to rhythm (therefore degrees of musicality) apart from the use of the number of syllables, rhyme, and distribution of accents in Spanish poetry include: 

a) The use of pauses, the most important pause being that one which is produced at the end of each verse. This is especially true whenever the pause coincides with the natural pauses of the language as we speak, or when we have completed an idea, or a syntactic structure. (see Garcilaso's sonnet and next example). If we end the line with a noun and start the next line with an adjective, we break the natural end of the idea and the natural pause. 

b) The anaphora or the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of each verse: 

Esta luz, éste fuego que me devora.
Este paisaje gris que me rodea.
Este dolor por una sola idea.
Esta angustia de cielo, mundo y hora.
Federico García Lorca. (9) 

c) The use of parallelism: that is the repetition of a syntactic structure: 

Suspiros tristes, lagrimas cansadas
(Noun+adjective, noun+adjective)
Que lanza el corazón, los ojos llueven,
Los troncos bañan y las ramas mueven
(art. +noun+adj, art.+noun+adj)
Luis de Góngora (9) 

d) The use of refrain: repetition of words in the poetic line or in different verses of the same poem. 

Paso un día y otro día,
Un mes y otro mes,
Un año y otro año.

Puente de mi soledad
por los ojos de mi muerte
tus aguas van hacia el mar,
al mar del que no se vuelve.
(Emilio Prados) (9) 

e) Finally the use of rhyme, that is: the repetition of sounds from the last stressed vowel in each verse, can contribute to rhythm and musicality of a poem. The rhyme may be, in Spanish, assonant or consonant, being the last one, the one that is used in the sonnet as a rule. As we have stated, these resources which create rhythm in poetry changed radically in the 20th Century in the West. The free verse or vers libre, born in France by the end of the 19th Century, originated a completely new way of poetic creation: "Free verse has no regular metrical scheme. Its rhythms derive from the sounds, words, phrases, and stanzas. Some free verse is so like casual speech that it is difficult to recognize as poetry." (5) In English poetry, the works of Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens are well known. Before them, Walt Whitman stands as a major representative of free verse. In Spanish language, we can mention the poetics of Ruben Darío, Leon Felipe, Cesar Vallejo, Nicanor Parra, Jorge Luis Borges among many, many other great poets who use free verse. Although the traditional rules of creating rhythm devices fell away, rhythm continued to be a main issue, but now built with different features, as it is mentioned above. 

Music was subjected to a "revolution" in the last century. Rules of composition which were applied for almost four centuries were tossed away, if I may say so. Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schonberg and his disciples Alban Berg and Anton Von Webern opened the gates for new rules and new sonorities in music. Changes came very quickly. Soon new movements grew and developed, also affecting vocal music. Rhythm suffered so many changes that it turned out to be, in effect, non-recognizable. For example, the rhythm in Stravinsky is focused on the sudden change of meter or on unusual meters. Free verse then, but free music also, were a total revolution in the notion of rhythm. New ways of composing poetry were in open contrast with the traditional rules. (3) 

Musicality in Japanese Haiku

Does Japanese haiku have musicality? Is introducing musicality to haiku written in Spanish a sort of heresy, or an artificial device, strange to the so called "spirit of haiku"? The answer to this most important question will bring light to us when we face the subject of musicality of haiku written in Spanish. Let me start with some considerations on the structure and characteristics of Japanese language in relation to haiku: "The sounds in Japanese are simpler and less varied than those in English. They also have much less accent, stress and intonation, giving a somewhat monotonous, soft and flat impression. There are only five vowels, and in theory consonants are always followed by a vowel. Certain English sounds are absent in Japanese, such as v, f, di as in dim. Other English sounds, most notably r and l, are bundled together in a single sound. The rest of the fifty plus one sounds, which form all Japanese sounds, are created by adding these five vowels to consonants, k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r/l, w. The last sound is a soft, nasal version of n." (12) 

"Japanese has an open-syllable sound pattern, so that most syllables end in a vowel -- the syllable may be composed solely of the vowel. Unlike English, which has stress accent, Japanese has pitch accent, which means that after an accented syllable, the pitch falls." (10) These characteristics make rhyme structure and metric system not so prominent.. Therefore its principal resource is the syllabic measurement. Hence syllables count most in Japanese poems as the main rhythm resource.(11) Rhythm: "The main source of haiku rhythm is the 5 - 7- 5 syllable format It can be grouped in one or other of two ways, i.e. either 5 + 12, or 12 + 5, but even then there is a notional pause between 7 and 5, or 5 and 7 within the 12 syllables" (Takiguchi) (12). David Lanoue has the same point of view: "As for rhythm, the Japanese haiku, of course, has a built-in rhythm of 5-7-5 syllables (or, as Robin Gill calls them, "syllabets"). There are two basic patterns to this structure: long-short and short-long. .....Long-short (12 + 5 syllabets): 

te no shiwa no hito ya ni miyuru / aki no ame 

the night spent looking
at my wrinkled hands...
autumn rain 


.....Short-long (5 + 12 syllabets): 

meigetsu ya / yoko ni neru hito ogamu hito 

harvest moon--
next to the sleeping man
a praying man
Issa (13) 

Lanoue also drives the attention to the fact that: "Issa likes to produce internal rhythm with word repetition": 

kyô mo kyô mo tako hikkakaru enoki kana 

today too, today too
the nettle tree snags
the kite 


Here's one that R. H. Blyth liked the sound of: 

gege mo gege gege no gegoku no suzushisa yo 

it's a down, down
downtrodden land
but cool 

Issa "(13) 

According to Blyth, states Lanoue, "the repetition of ge (which means down as in downtrodden) sounds like hammering nails in the coffin of Issa's poverty. But the wonderful shift to suzushisa yo, in the end, hints of emotional release: poverty gives way to the freedom of nature: the wonderful cool air. Issa also likes to use onomatopoeic double-words that are quite common in Japanese, such as fuwa-fuwa (softly, softly): 

daibutsu ya hana yori kiri wa fuwa-fuwa to 

from the great bronze
Buddha's nose mist...
softly, softly 

Issa (13)" 

"There are hundreds of examples like the above in Issa's work", states Lanoue (13) 

Rhyme: As we have seen above the structure of Japanese language make rhyme in haiku meaningless. As Susumu Takiguchi has stated: "Rhyming in haiku is neither as prominent nor as important as in English poems. Its abuse could even make a haiku gimmicky and artificial, but used well, it can help create a sophisticated and dramatic haiku. Its position is not restricted to the ends, but frequently found within the lines. In this sense, haiku rhyme is more like refrain, explained in the next section, and perhaps should not be called rhyme at all, in the sense used in English or Chinese poems." (12) This is one of the many examples Takiguchi puts in his article: 

Yama mata yama yamazakura mata yamazakura 

Mountain after mountain
mountain cherry trees
after mountain cherry trees 

Awano Seiho (12) 

Concerning its use within the lines, David Lanoue has found in Issa's haiku, quite a good number of internal rhyme: As for rhyme, he states: "Issa uses internal rhyme within a phrase, hardly ever end rhyme." For example: 

hito areba hae ari hotoke ari ni keri 

where there's people
there's flies
and Buddhas 


Lanoue has located 26 examples of the above pattern (-ri ni keri) in his Issa's archive in his website." (13) 

Alliteration and Assonace 

"First, let me comment on alliteration and assonance," continues Lanoue. "These are VERY prevalent in the work of Issa. Here's one of my favorites: 

yû zuki ya nabe no naka nite naku tanishi 

night moon--
pond snails crying
in the kettle 


Note the wonderful sound-play of "nabe no naka nite"! Usually the alliteration and assonance are more subtle. 

naki nagara mushi no nagaruru ukigi kana 

still singing
the insect drifts away...
floating branch 


Note how the "n" "a" "i" and "u" repeat musically, creating an interlocking pattern. Alliteration and assonance are ubiquitous in Issa." (13) 


The use of refrain is a well known device to create a repetitive pattern that brings rhythm and therefore, musicality to the poem. The following are examples that Takiguchi brings in his article: 

Yuki naran sayo no Nakayama yoru naran 

It must be snowing
at Sayo no Nakayama,
it must be night. 


Uragaeshi mata uragaeshi taiga haku 

Sweeping a big moth,
it turns one side up and then
the other side up. 

Maeda Fura (12) 

To summarize: In Japanese haiku, we can find musicality as a result of the proper use of certain resources, such as internal rhyme, alliteration, assonance and refrain. Its rhythm is given by syllable measurement mainly, with two basic patterns: long-short (12-5) and short-long (5-12). In the opinion of David Lanoue, "it is interesting that the Japanese words for poem, uta, and for reciting a poem utau, signify: song and to sing. Semantically, therefore, a poem is a song in Japanese." (13) This semantic equivalence corresponds to a fact: that poetry in its origin is a song -- in all cultures. In ancient Greece, poetry was often performed, accompanied by the Lyre. The term, lyrical poetry, specifically retains the common denominator of poetry and music. Before haiku started to have its independence from haikai-no-renga, due to the mastery of Basho, there was a long tradition of chanting in the Japanese Court and also of folk songs. "Before songs were written, the syllabic pattern was 4 - 6, or more patterns. Once they were written and recited in front of other people in the court, or just recited by heart, or in other words, once it came to form poems, it seems that the 5 - 7 syllabic pattern has become dominant. Perhaps nobody can explain exactly why. Perhaps this 5 - 7 syllable pattern became such because of Japanese language's linguistic structure." (20) Again, Lanoue agrees that "even the length of poetic lines may have a close historical relation with both court and folk song". (13) We must also remember that "waka was sung accompanied by the koto and in some occasions with the shakuhachi also, that introduces the song with a prelude. The importance given to music related to poetry in Japanese Culture, is such, that the lyrics of Japan's national anthem is waka or tanka 343 of the Anthology compiled in 905.

"Kimi-ga-yo wa chiyo ni yachiyo ni sazareishi no iwao to narite koke no musu made" (21)

Finally, concerning the skills of Japanese high school students of English, a study made by Mr. Brett Reynolds, Professor of English in Sakuragaoka Girls Jr. & Sr. High school, Tokyo, Japan, shows that "it takes very little instruction to get students to notice rhyming and alliteration. With Japanese students, I have found this even easier than identifying English syllables." (14) Our first impression is that Japanese people have a natural and highly developed musical insight that enables them to a quick recognition of musical devices in the English language; that is, they are used to musicality in their native language. This research has not being made with Spanish texts, as far as I know, but I believe, just as a hypothesis that the results would be similar. To summarize, Japanese language has, as all languages do, a great potential of musicality in its structure. 

Musicality in Haiku Written in Spanish

As we have seen Spanish language has a great number of resources to bring musicality to poetry. These resources can also be explored and applied to haiku, since they do not break the traditional patterns or essence of Japanese haiku. The first condition is to use them in a quiet and natural manner; that is, keeping the balance between musicality and meaning. If musicality prevails and becomes the goal of a haiku, then it would bring sophistication and artificiality to it, and the meaning would be lost. If no degree of musicality appears, the poem may lose its euphonic essence, or the natural cadence of speech; i.e. it would be only written to transmit an idea. This would make a verse like any other written text, but not poetry. Furthermore, if we consider that a minimum of rhythm is necessary to build a poem, and that rhythm is a first degree of musicality, then it would lose one of its main points. This is relevant when we have to examine the 5-7-5 pattern in haiku written in Spanish. As strange as it may seem, "Spanish is after Italian, the language more alike to Japanese, in phonetics and length of sentences and words. The 31 syllables of a waka poem in Japanese translated give in English a poem of 25 (average), in french 27, in Spanish 29 and in Italian 31 exactly! Spanish can also reproduce sonorous effects of japanese language, without loosing the meaning of the poem: 

Ama kumo ni

hane uchitsukete
tobu tazu no
tazutazu shi ka mo
kimi shi masaneba

La nubes del cielo
veloz aletea,
vuela la grulla,
y a mi me aturulla (21)


In Spanish, due to its syllabic rhythmic structure, the 5-7-5 format fits, in that there is a poetic form called seguidilla which has the same syllabic pattern as that of haiku. The main difference is that it is a stanza of four verses and seven verses, and it always keeps an assonant rhyme. The four verses called seguidilla simple have the following pattern: 7-5a'-7-5a' with assonant rhyme in a'. The seven verses called seguidilla compuesta has a 7-5a'-7-5a'-5b'-7-5b' with assonant rhyme in a' and b'. It is easy to see that the three last verses of each are 5-7-5 syllables. So, the 5-7-5 haiku syllable format is not an unknown structure in Spanish poetry, and haiku written in this language can perfectly follow this rule. Let us see some examples of seguidillas: 

seguidilla simple 

Un pajarito alegre 7.-
picó tu boca 5 a'
creyendo que tus labios 7.-
eran dos rosas. 5 a'

seguidilla compuesta 

Una fiesta se hace 7.-
con tres personas: 5 a'
una baila, otra canta, 7.-
y la otra toca. 5 a'
Ya me olvidaba 5 b'
de los que dicen "¡ole!" 7.-
y tocan palmas. 5 b'
(Manuel Machado) (16) 

Thus, the 5-7-5 syllable pattern may be kept in Spanish as a rhythmic resource, in that there is a traditional stanza poetic form and genre that makes use of it, as well as the long tradition of meter in Spanish poetry. At the same time, I must say that according to the haiku written by Ibero-American poets which I have read, the 5-7-5 syllable pattern is not kept by the majority of them. Why is this so? I have not a definite opinion, but I think that perhaps a free meter haiku is found by them to be more suitable than the 5-7-5 pattern in the actual practice. The 5-7-5 format may, if kept rigorously, somehow force the haiku, i.e. using words, somehow artificially, to keep the pattern. Yet it could be seen as a lack of exercising haiku writing in 5-7-5 until it becomes a more familiar form. We must also be aware that in the West, the metrical form of poetry is more an exception than an everyday habit. In the last century, meter as a requirement for writing poetry was broken, and free verse became the writing technique that almost every poet adopted. So nowadays when Western poets write haiku, the paradigm is the one of free verse, not the one of traditional meter. Anyway, the subject is currently open to debate and exploration. 


The use of rhyme is one of the major ways of bringing musicality to a haiku. The two standards are consonant and assonant rhyme. Consonant rhyme in Spanish happens when the last accented vowel of the verse, and all vowels and consonants that may follow it, are the same in all the words rhymed.(15) 

La playa sola
mecidas por las olas
las caracolas... 

This fine haiku, written by Malena Imas (Uruguay, South America) is a clear example of consonant rhyme. The musicality here is brought, not only by means of the use of the consonance, but also as its rhyme merges with the content of the haiku; that is, the waves of the sea with its natural rhythm, and the landscape of a seashore in which the conches are gently rocked, as if it where a lullaby... 

Internal rhyme (rima interior):
the use of a word in the interior of a verse that rhymes with an other word of the verse. 

en este camino
solo el monótono trino
del teru-teru 

Carlos Fleitas 

Assonance and Alliteration

The use of assonance and alliteration can be noticed in the following haiku: 

luna lunera
con su copla plañidera
el gitano te espera 

Carlos Fleitas 

The first line uses a musical device resembling an Andalucía's and Lorca's poetical mood. It stresses the melody of the haiku from the beginning with a reiteration that is not and adjective by itself, but it plays the part of it. The haiku also has a consonant rhyme. 

alba de abril
al abrir sus petalos
despierta la rosa 

Carlos Fleitas 

In this example the assonance is based mainly, in the sound of an open vowel . 

en la glorieta
ramos de rosas rojas
rodean enamorados 

Carlos Fleitas 

The assonance is quite clear in the above poem, especially in the second line. 


En noches frías,
en frías noches de invierno
tu compañía. 

This fine haiku by Luis Corrales (Sevilla, España) uses the refrain to create a repetitive rhythmic pattern. Also the reiteration of noches frias, frias noches reinforces the meaning, stressing not only the coldness of the night but also the warmness of company. In this way the opposition between loneliness=coldness and company=warmness is clearly noticeable. 


The use of pauses in haiku, when they coincide with natural speech pauses or give an end to an idea, can be a rhythmic resource. Pauses can be placed keeping the 5-7-5 or 12-5 or 5-12 formats depending on the particular haiku. If they coincide with those mentioned above when using the latter formats, then the haiku will be fluent and natural. 

Free-line haiku

In free-line haiku, the musicality lies in cadence. 

Juan José Tablada or Euterpe goes to Mexico

If Juan José Tablada had written a manifest setting the principles of his haiku Ars Poetica, certainly he would have paraphrased Shakespeare's Henry V, thus saying: "Once more unto the lyre, dear friends, once more;" a fair paraphrase, because Tablada uses an extraordinary range of musical resources in his haiku. While he lived in Japan for ten months in 1910, he wrote a poem which is a manifest of his passionate love for Japan and its culture (19). He wrote a book about Hiroshigue, and as O.Paz states, he was the first Spanish poet to write haiku in Ibero-America. Paz also tells us that Tablada called his haiku, haikai, and that he was right calling them so, because his poems are not linked as in haikai-no-renga, rather they are independent one from another, as haiku. Still, the content of his haiku-haikai is similar to those of traditional haikai-no-renga -- a "witty mood, irony and love for brilliant images." (18) Although Tablada does not keep the 5-7-5 meter, he seems not to mind doing so. O. Paz presents an exception in the following haiku: 

Trozos de barro
Por la senda en penumbra
Saltan los sapos. (18) 

Paz calls this haiku "a perfect matching between meter and real poetry" (18). It is noticeable that, in the last line, alliteration is used by Tablada with a minimum of assonance in the open sound of the vowel, a. The use of open vowel sounds is somewhat a constant in a great number of his haiku. Sometimes he gives the impression of being deeply interested, not only in the meaning of words, but also in phonemes. Anyway, musicality to him is of great importance for meaning, and he employs it with an incredible mastery, due to the fact that it adds sparks and brilliancy to the witty contents of his haiku. 

Recorriendo su tela
Esta luna clarísima
Tiene a la araña en vela.

This haiku is full of a serene humor. The use of rhyme and assonance is clearly noticeable. Tablada does not keep the 5-7-5 format. Instead he builds a perfect rhythm by using natural pauses of speech. The three moments of the haiku, as marked by the pauses, are perfectly linked, and a natural, spontaneous fluency takes command of the poem. Musicality and meaning join in perfect matrimony here. 

Tierno saúz:
casi oro, casi ambar,
casi luz. (18) 

In this wonderful haiku, Tablada uses the word "casi" to make repetitive sound, creating a musical rhythmic effect. The example could also be included as a one which uses the anaphora, mentioned earlier. The musicality issues from the repetition of phonemes for sonority in the word casi. For reinforcement, he creates consonance with saúz and luz, so that the haiku has a perfect resolution. Tablada had a great affection for visual arts. He gathered more than a thousand Japanese prints. This passion is somehow reflected in his haiku; the images are lively, full of sensual impressions, they even seem to have a texture. Sensibility yes, but also full of sensations. 

Tablada worked as a journalist and was "devoured by journalism," as O. Paz states. (18). He died in 1945, and his work had an immense influence in the new generations of poets. His legacy, as Paz tell us, is to set in his haiku, a principle that poets sometimes forget: "the correspondence between what words say, and what the eyes see" (18). Being so, his work is one of the highest peaks in written Spanish poetry, enough to refresh once and again the path of haiku

by Carlos Fleitas
November 2001. 


(1) SYMPOSIUM by Plato translated by Benjamin Jowett.

Plato developed a high esteem for poets because in the Lysis he states: "and see what the poets have to say; for they are to us in a manner the fathers and authors of wisdom…" But finally in his last opus "The Republic" he expels them from his ideal polis.

Lysis, by Plato translated by Benjamin Jowett:

(2) Dr. Richard Hooker: Ancient Japan; The Earliest Japanese Music.

(3) Translation from Musica by Rudolf Stephan, Compañía General Fabril Editora Buenos Aires 1964.


(5) Poetry

(6) Translation from Analysis Poético 1 : "The term poetry generally describes written texts that follow a rhyme, a rhythm or a meter in reiterated patterns that relate words by its sound as well as by its meaning. And they are many rhyme and meter formats"

(7) Translation from El Ritmo

(8) Translation from: Como escribir un soneto

(9) Translation from: Rima y estrofas

(10) Japanese Language

(11) Octavio Paz, Tres momentos de la Literatura Japonesa

(12) Takiguchi Susumu : Japanese Traditional Haiku School Lesson 3, World Haiku Review Volume 1, Issue 1, May 2001

(13) This information was kindly given to me by the well-known scholar, Prof. David Lanoue in reply to questions I asked him concerning this topic. Haiku of Kobayashi Issa (website)

(14) Brett Reynolds, Phonological Awareness in EFL Reading Acquisition, Sakuragaoka Girls Jr. & Sr. High School, Tokyo, Japan

Although not being a scholar in Japanese Literature, Prof Reynolds finds that: "Assonanace does occur in poetry. It generally manifests itself in the repetition of syllables like the ki in the following line: Ki o kiki ni kita. The first ki is the word for tree. O is a grammatical marker which follows the object or patient of the sentence. The third word is the nominalized form of the word kiku, meaning to listen. Finally, kita is the past tense of the verb kuru, to come. Thus, the line means: (I) came to listen to the tree(s)."

(15) Spanish Prosody: A magnificent study of Spanish Prosody

(16) La Poesía

(17) Meter

(18) Octavio Paz, Eikichi Hayashiya: Matsuo Basho. Sendas de Oku.Barral Editores Barcelona 1970 pgs. 18 -26.

(19) To read an excellent selection of his haiku you can go to: Pagina para honrar al gran poeta mexicano Juan Jose Tablada.

La Poetas: A site dedicated to Ibero American poets

(20) Hirano Hideaki, Prof., Hosei University, Tokyo, Japan.

(21) Antonio Cabezas: Manyoshu y cantos populares españoles.

(22) Gene Fowler in a letter to Paul Foreman dated March 25, 2002.