When I first met Henderson.

By Kate Larsen

I was very young when I visited Japan for the first time. It was in 1961. I  was on board a Danish ship as a wireless-operator, and we were bound Moji in the southern part of Japan.

I found everything so interesting and beautiful  and was fascinated and strongly  moved by Japan, and I loved the country from my  very first visit.

Later in the years to come, I was still sailing as a wireless-operator and visited many different ports and cities in Japan.

During my stays in Japan, I became interested in the culture of the country and found out that there were some small poems called Haiku.

My mother gave me a book with Haiku-poems by Hans -Jørgen  Nielsen, a Danish writer, who  as the first for 50 years ago,in 1963, was writing about Haiku. In his book, there was the very first

Haiku-collection in Denmark, all the great classic poets from Japan were represented. -Translated or re-created into Danish.

Then it all started. I read Haiku, tried to write some, but I had a lot to learn.  But once I was in Japan still on board a ship , I had some trouble with my radio station, which called  for technical  assistance from  a Japanese firm in Kobe. It was back in 1968, and I asked the  technician if he knew the poetry called Haiku.—- What a question to ask a Japanese  about!!  Of course he knew the Haiku-poems, and when he returned  the next day to finish the work, he had  a little   book with him by  Harold G. Henderson, with the title “Haiku in English”, from the manager of the  firm, together  with a dinner  invitation.

That  little book became an eye-opener, and here I read  about all the rules concerning Haiku-poems, and learned that Haiku was a  5-7-5 poem, dealing with nature, and happening now.

Who was that man Harold Gould Henderson, whose little book became my follower through the years, and still is?

Harold G. Henderson was born in 1889 and died 1974. He was an  American academic,  an art historian and Japanologist.  In 1910  he earned a degree at Columbia University , and continued his studies in Japan between 1930 and 1934. For twenty  years he was a professor at Columbia University, and from 1948 through 1952 , he was president of  The Japan Society in  New York .

He was also an assistant curator  of The Far East Department of The Metropolitan  Museum of Art in New York City  back in 1927-1929. During the second world war he was doing military service in Japan.

In Tokyo he was an adviser on education and art, and was working together with R. H.  Blyth (another great writer about Haiku)  Blyth is known  for his great work in 4 volumes about Haiku.

Preparing this paper on Haiku, I read the book  “An Introduction to Haiku by Henderson, and was moved by Basho´s  poem, when he twenty  years  after his beloved master and playmate Lord Sengin had died, again was standing  under the cherry trees, where they had spent so many  happy hours.

Standing  there with  his heart so full of memories, he was unable to write a  normal poem, but could only say:       

 Many many things
they bring to mind-
cherry blossoms!

I do find this outburst a real good poem, and I am convinced that everybody,  who is writing   Haiku have written about cherries. And me too!  I am not going to compare myself  with Basho or  other of the great masters – not at all- but here is one of my own about cherries.

 Cherry blossoms
a link to life
at  the cemetery

 In 1679 Basho wrote a verse which was taken as a model  by other Haiku  poets, more for its technique  than its content.

On a  withered branch
a  crow has settled-
autumn nightfall.

This Haiku was of course  associated to Basho’s  name, but the best known Haiku from Basho came in 1689, and is known by all of us. I need not say more than:

Pond-frog -jump!

In Henderson’s  book I also found  The name of a female Haiku poet,  which I didn’t   know.

Chiyo  (1701-1775). There were different opinions about her  verses , but Henderson stated  “that she was a true poet, but not a Haiku master.”  Her poem  after her little son died, he mentioned  as one of her finest ones. In Henderson’s  translation into English he uses  rhyme (which is not allowed in Haiku, and which I think one shouldn’t  use.   But of course it is a nice rhyme, and here it comes.

The  dragonfly hunter-
today, what place has he
got to, I wonder.

It has also been translated in  rhyme by Curtis Hidden Page in a very beautiful way.

I wonder in what fields today
He chases dragonflies in play
My little boy-who ran away.

Basho and Buson were called   “ The two pillars of Haiku”,  and one of Buson’s  wonderful  Haiku about a temple and a butterfly is also one of my favourite ones :

On the temple bell
has settled , and is fast asleep
a butterfly.

As everybody knows Buson was also a  painter,  and made  very beautiful  “pictures “in his Haiku.

I too like to write about butterflies, which  is again common for  many Haiku   poets.

 Through the open door
a butterfly is  visiting
staying  for a while.

As I mentioned before ,- I have been in Kobe , and there on a rainy day many years ago I met the extreme politeness of  the  Japanese people, which I have caught in the following   Haiku.

I  have  to tell you that  it happened twice,  on the same route this rainy day in Kobe:

Polite Japanese
offers his umbrella
rain in Kobe.

There are so many  great Haiku masters who ought to be mentioned , and also quoted here, but the time does not allowed it.

I am going to finish this paper  with another of my own poems.

Haiku poetry
bringing people together
all over the world.

Thank you Mr. Henderson , for taking me into the wonderful world of Haiku , and thank you to all of you for listening.

Thank you very much.


Kate Larsen