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The River of Heaven : Robert Aitken :

Showing Rating details. Sort order. Nov 01, Susan Budd rated it it was ok Shelves: japanese-literature. How can I give such a poor rating to a book of haiku? I love haiku. This book is a collection of haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki. Each page has a title, a haiku in Romaji, an English translation, and a brief commentary by Robert Aitken.

Well, my first twinge of frustration came when I could not determine whether these haiku were translated by Aitken or not. The lack of such citation suggests that Aitken is the translator. Mystery unsolved, I turned my attention to the illustration on the cover. I was curious to find out who the illustrator was. Again I searched the title page, the verso page, and the back cover for information on the cover illustration as well as the three illustrations and one photo in the book.

Again, I found nothing. By the time I got to page 12, I could only throw up my hands in despair. I like haiku collections that include Romaji because I start to get a feeling for the Japanese words. But the Japanese is different. Naturally I turned to Google Translate.

The River of Heaven

The haiku on page 12 is a different haiku entirely. How many more translations are there that do not correspond to the Romaji? I spent more time doing research on an error in the book than I spent reading the poetry. View all 5 comments. Mar 24, Peycho Kanev rated it it was amazing. Lighting the lamps, One shadow is for each of the dolls. Each doll has its very own shadow, and at the same time, they are all shadowed. This bonds the dolls as they sit there, otherwise quite separately. Like the best verses of the other great haiku poets, something very slight is presented, but yet it is something unforgettably significant.

At my native village I wept over my umbilical cord first rains of spring. Igniting one candle with another— a spring evening. Buson may be playing with words here. I will not be reborn in a different form, but I will pass on my light.

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Jul 14, S. Wright rated it really liked it. The variance in translations of the four Haiku masters usually makes any book on their best pieces interesting. While I found some of these commentaries a little light on content and some of them drew what I feel was a long bow in terms of interpreting the poets inte The variance in translations of the four Haiku masters usually makes any book on their best pieces interesting.

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While I found some of these commentaries a little light on content and some of them drew what I feel was a long bow in terms of interpreting the poets intent, for the most part it was a really enjoyable and instructive read. The more I read traditional Japanese Haiku and commentaries such as those alluded to above, the more I realise what a deep ocean of literary experience and history they are based on.

Look in the phone book of any Western municipality and you will find a number of Washingtons, Lincolns, and Kennedys. If you are part of an untouchable clan, you are stuck with a surname that identifies you as an untouchable. All untouchables who manage to migrate hasten to the nearest official name-changing office to become Tanaka or Watanabe or some other conventional Japanese name.


  • River of Heaven : The Haiku of Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki by Robert Aitken (2011, Paperback).
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  • The River of Heaven: The Haiku of Basho, Buson, Issa and Shiki – by Robert Aitken.

Dec 29, gr rated it it was ok Shelves: poetry , Poem selection is average. Aesthetically, the translations are merely passable. At one point he quote's Amy Lowell's version of a Buson poem, which only serves to have his appear inferior. But the real problem here are the notes. Whether it requires it or not, each poem is accompanied by a paragraph or more of only marginally useful notes.

Well, notes is probably not entirely correct, as that would suggest that they help to explain the meaning of obscure terms or references. Sometimes, perhaps Poem selection is average. Sometimes, perhaps even the majority of the time, they do. But a decent amount of the time they serve as little more than an excuse for the author to meander off on whatever tangent the poem has reminded him of — his travels, his life, what he thinks the poet was feeling at the time. Often this is interwoven into the insightful bits, but sometimes the notes serve no purpose but this meandering stream of consciousness.

Eventually, somewhere in the section on Issa, I just stopped reading them. My enjoyment of the collection went up after that. My final verdict? Find another anthology instead.


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  5. Jun 24, Stuart Estell rated it liked it. Wonderful poetry of course, but I found the commentary very variable. At its best it explicates the background to Japanese terms that don't translate well. At its worst it's irritating: Haiku as a form is all about suggestion - to offer a paragraph of fanciful extrapolation from the poem's conceit is rather missing the point. Jun 05, Patti K rated it really liked it Shelves: poetry. Robert Aitken. Kazuaki Tanahashi. Read more.

    Start reading The River of Heaven on your Kindle in under a minute. Don't have a Kindle? Chance to win daily prizes. Get ready for Prime Day with the Amazon App. No purchase necessary. Get started. Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. Showing of 8 reviews. Top Reviews Most recent Top Reviews.

    There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. I love poetry, especially Haiku. I have tried, in the past, to read some books with explanations attached to the poems, and was sorely disappointed. Robert Aitken gave each poem an explanation, and instead of detracting for the poem, expanded it. For those who just want the haiku, and I know there are some out there, the explanation is below the poem, and easily skipped.

    Format: Paperback Verified Purchase. I wish I could meet Robert Aitken, but he's at "rest in the vast unknown". He did leave imprints on this world; I've been using the web to learn more of his life and teaching. He passed before finishing the final editing, which was done by those who cared for him. The Japanese originals of the haiku are given only in romanization and are not an important part of the book.

    The sense I have of the man is that he would smile at page 12, where "kaze no oto" - the sound of the wind? It's not a waste of time. I find the haiku quoted often mundane, and the commentary is sometimes helpful. I'm just reading the last third now, hoping it gets better. It's not a waste of time, even though I'm fairly knowledgeable in haiku. A beginner would find it helpful.


    1. The River of Heaven!
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    4. The Zen Wave is better. Aitken is quite an authority on haiku and Zen, which is really the same, I think. A Zen Buddhist friend speaking of the the few enlightened. But they need a great translator. Robert Aitken is. Haiku is a way to find the emptiness, eternity of the moment. For those who love haiku this book is a must to read Each poem is explained in detail with a lot of information that one could find to be very interesting.

      Fascinating comments on haiku by the greatest haiku poets of Japan, by an American Zen master. When I buy a haiku book, I want just haiku--not any writing talking about the haiku or discussion or analysis of it.

      "The pleasures of haiku: : From Bashō to Shiki and Beyond” ©Janine Beichman 2017

      What Robert Aitken does in this book is talk a lot about the few haiku in the book. For this reason, I would not recommend this book. However, if you want to read about someone's thoughts about haiku, you may wantt to get it. Format: Kindle Edition. The amazing art of mindfulness expressed in the Japanese poetry style of Haiku by the greatest masters of Japan, Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki. See all 8 reviews.