Fallen Butterfly ~ Haiku of Japan

in #haiku3 months ago


落花枝にかへると見れば胡蝶哉
rakka eda ni kaeru to mireba kochoo kana


fallen blossom
returning to the branch?
ah, no—a butterfly
—Moritake


(trans. David LaSpina[1])

Hiroshige.jpg

(Print by Hiroshige)

Fallen Butterfly... or Flying Blossom? Whatever the case may be, this is Moritake's most famous small verse. Taken literally, it's a delightful scene showing his temporary confusion as he mistakes a butterfly for a cherry blossom. I'm sure all of us have made a similar confusion, seeing a small white or yellow petal shape on the ground, only to be a bit taken by surprise when we get closer to inspect it and it flies off.

Beyond the surface scene, there is also some comment on the brevity of life. As we know by now, the butterfly hints at Chang-tzu and his famous question of reality "Am I a man who dreamt I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I'm a man?".[2] The butterfly is also the perfect example of the Buddhist idea of rebirth, which tells us we are not the same person from moment to moment, as the butterfly's dramatic change from caterpillar to butterfly illustrates a creature that is the same but yet isn't the same as it was before it entered the cocoon.

And then we have the cherry blossoms, which only last a week and are a symbol of the transience of life.

I will leave it to you to connect these images in your own way. There is no right interpretation—let them and the poem dance around in your head for a while and see what comes to you.


Hi thereDavid LaSpina is an American photographer and translator lost in Japan, trying to capture the beauty of this country one photo at a time and searching for the perfect haiku.

  1. That is, me! If you like this translation, feel free to use it. Just credit me. Also link here if you can.

  2. If you missed that discussion, see here.

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