[Editor's note: juxtaposé is a new feature of haijinx that will juxtapose two haiku, one classic and one modern, to create an exposé of their intertextual relationships.]

For the first installment of juxtaposé, let's look at an award-winning haiku by Michael Dylan Welch alongside a classic haiku from Bashô. This particular comparison was originally made for the haiku reading group last year.

Welch's haiku received first place in the Haiku Society of America's Henderson Haiku Contest in 2000.

meteor shower —
    a gentle wave
wets our sandals
Michael Dylan Welch

A favorite ever since I read it, this haiku has everything I need. It's brief, it's not just a dribble of prose, it has strong juxtaposition, it involves sense images, there's room for the reader, it relates humanity to nature, it hints at the interconnectedness of everything and has a touch of humor. Beyond those, it has things I find useful: cutting, seasonality, and intertextual resonance.

"meteor shower" is a kigo (early autumn). The relationships between the images (the wave and the meteor shower) are interesting. The moon and earth pull at the water, the moon and earth pull at the meteors.

Here it is in a haiga created by Kuniharu Shimizu:

A few hundred years earlier, Bashô wrote1:

Looking toward Sado Island from a post town called Izumozaki in the province of Echigo

araumi ya Sado ni yokotau amanogawa
the rough sea —
flowing toward Sado Isle
the River of Heaven


First things first, amanogawa is literally "Heaven's River" and is used to mean the Milky Way. It is also a kigo (early autumn).

Bashô had stayed at Izumozaki on the night of August 18, 1689. Sado Island was a place where prisoners were exiled and was also a past source of gold.

Kuniharu sees Bashô's haiku this way:

What are the similarities and dissimilarities between these haiku?

First, both haiku take place in early autumn on the shore. In both cases, the author is caught by the night sky and there is an element of movement in that sky, either figuratively or literally (River of Heaven, meteor shower).

For Bashô, it's the sea that is rough and the stars that are gentle. He feels some loneliness (read the interpretations of this haiku written by Bashô scholars included in Makoto Ueda's Bashô and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary ) and that relates him to the prisoners on Sado.

For Michael Dylan Welch, the sea is calm and gentle and it's the stars that are "shooting" and rough. He's also not alone, he is enjoying the night's display with at least one other person.

This is shown even by the order of images in the haiku. Bashô starts with earthly despair as shown by the rough sea and then looks towards the heavens. Welch starts with the display in the sky and then comes to focus on earthly contentment as shown by a gentle wave and then the companionship of others.

So, with similar elements, Welch has transformed Bashô's loneliness and thoughts of a hard life into companionship and security in this life. Romantic in every sense of the word.

1 Translated by Makoto Ueda, in Bashô and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), p. 260.

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Originally Published: 2001-2003
Revised Archive: March, 2010

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