the white cat

has disappeared

snowy town

Shironeko no / yukue wakarazu / yuki no machi

白猫の行衛わからず雪の町

It seems that Shiki was not satisfied with his first haiku about the cat on the roof that was heard but not seen. We know this because four years later, in 1889, he began to collect all of his haiku and other writings in a series of notebooks to which he gave the title “Cold Mountain and Barren Trees” 「寒山落木」. He wrote in his diary at the time (“Trusting my Brush” 「筆まかせ」)that he intended to include in these notebooks all the poems he had written, “whether good or bad and with no exceptions.” And yet the poem in the letter to Takemura does not appear among the twenty two poems listed under the year 1885. [1]

The critic Yamashita Kazumi speculates that the poem above, which Shiki did record in the notebook, is a revised version of that first haiku. Perhaps Shiki replaced the phrase “heard but not seen” with “snowy town” because the former was too obviously explanatory.[2] This change led to others, with the result that not much is left in this revised version of the original haiku. And yet, even this version did not ultimately survive Shiki’s editorial process. Of the twenty two haiku that Shiki recorded in his notebook for the year 1885, he eventually crossed out fifteen, including this one.[3]

Why did Shiki reject this poem? Perhaps he wanted to project a more worldly image than that of a boy just up from the country, still enchanted by the snow. No doubt he also wanted to make more of a splash in Tokyo than a white cat on a white background. In any case, as Yamashita argues, in Shiki’s revision and ultimate rejection of the cat poem, along with fourteen others from 1885 we can that he is already taking the genre seriously.

While the white cat disappeared from Shiki’s published writings, this one, from the same year, survived:

 

first snow of the year

cannot hide the

horse shit in the streets

 

Hatsu yuki ya / kakure ōsenu / uma no fun

初雪や隠れおおせぬ馬の糞

 

[1] “Fudemakase,” SZS 10:78.

[2] For Yamashita’s discussion, to which I am much indebted here, see Kazumi Yamashita, Haiku de Yomu Masaoka Shiki No Shōgai (Tōkyō: Nagata Shobō, 1992). 11-16.

[3] Such is the extent of interest in Shiki that even his rejects are carefully collected and curated.

Those that are still legible have been included in his collected works.

 

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