This traditional example of a haiku is a wonderful piece of Katsushika Hokusai. It’s evocative of the rest of his work, as well as the influence that Matsuo Bashō had on his style. Readers will likely find themselves interested in what the poppy represents in this poem and what it says about Katsushika Hokusai’s writing. Read it in English below:
I write, erase, rewrite
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms.Katsushika Hokusai
Explore A Poppy Blooms
‘A Poppy Blooms’ by Katsushika Hokusai is a beautiful haiku about the poet’s writing process.
In the first line of ‘A Poppy Blooms,’ the speaker begins by acknowledging the repetitive process that marks his writing. It’s not a linear process. This means that he doesn’t start at the beginning and end up at the end smoothly and without pause. Instead, it’s a process of creation and destruction. He writes and then erases. The second line emphasizes this. The erasing goes on, marking the need for perseverance in the face of creative adversity. Eventually, as the third line reveals, he’s going to create something that brings beauty and joy to the world—the metaphorical poppy blooms.
Throughout ‘A Poppy Blooms,’ Hokusai engages with themes of creativity and writing as well as nature and life. The poet brings these two sides together through a few simple words, equating his writing process to the way that nature works, sometimes fails, and then a beautiful poppy is brought forth into the world. It takes a great deal of perseverance to get to this point, as the repetition of “write” and “erase” signal. He has to work through this process of writing and failing in order to get to his desired end goal.
Structure and Form
‘A Poppy Blooms’ by Katsushika Hokusai is a three-line poem that conforms to the standard pattern of a haiku. In the original Japanese, the first line had five syllables, the second seven, and the third: five again. The version below has been translated from the Japanese, with an attempt at keeping the lines to around the same syllable numbers. But, the result is six, six, and four syllables. The lines of ‘A Poppy Blooms’ do not rhyme, but they are unified through their use of repetition and other literary devices.
Throughout ‘A Poppy Blooms,’ Katsushika Hokusai makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Repetition: occurs when the poet uses the same image, idea, word/s, or structure. In this case, the poet uses words like “erase” and “write” multiple times, evoking a feeling of creation.
- Metaphor: occurs when the poet creates a comparison between two things but doesn’t use “like” or “as.” Metaphors declare that one thing is another. In this case, the poet creates a metaphor comparing writing to the flowers blooming.
- Imagery: can be seen in the last line when the poet describes the “poppy” blooming. This image, which is juxtaposed against the previous two lines, is a beautiful one.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, the second line reads: “Erase again, and then.”
I write, erase, rewrite
In the first line of ‘A Poppy Blooms,’ the speaker begins by describing his writing process. He writes, erases, and rewrites. This very simple description of his writing is one that will likely hit home with many readers. It describes a wide variety of creative pursuits. One can’t expect to create the perfect piece of writing on the first go. Failure is inevitable. But, it doesn’t have to be accepted as a failure. Instead, it’s all part of the process. He writes, erases, and doesn’t like the failure to get to him. He picks up the pencil again and rewrites.
Erase again, and then
The second line emphasizes the feelings shared in the first. Now, the speaker erases again. This is yet another step on the journey towards his ideal final product. The second line is enjambed. This means that the reader, as they did with the first line, has to jump down to the third in order to finish the phrase. This poem moves very quickly, a result of its short lines and use of repetition and enjambment. It should be noted that the example of enjambment at the end of line two is quite effective. “And then” is the perfect cliffhanger to get the reader prepared and excited for what’s next. It also, once more, evokes the poet’s writing process and the feelings that creativity can bring to one’s life. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, something changes.
A poppy blooms.
That change, which was alluded to in the second line, is revealed in the third. “A poppy blooms,” the poet concludes. At first, readers might find themselves confused by this sudden shift from writing-related language to natural imagery. But, since this is a haiku, and nature imagery is one of the primary subjects, it shouldn’t be entirely surprising. Katsushika Hokusai turns to nature to create a metaphor, one that brings his writing process to a beautiful conclusion.
Through all the erasing and rewriting, something is created—the poppy. It symbolizes a good outcome in his writing process, one that he’s been seeking. Every feeling that the poppy evokes is one that he wants to get across through his own writing.
Traditionally, no. But, in contemporary literature, there are some examples of poems that use a series of haiku that look like stanzas, and therefore total to more than three lines. This is often the case in contemporary poetry. Writers seek out ways to experiment with enduring forms like the haiku.
Haiku are usually about nature. Often, poets touch on subjects like the changing of seasons, life, death, and the power of spending time in the natural world. But, that doesn’t mean that all haiku are the same.
Matsuo Bashō is often regarded as one of the most important haiku writers of all time. He influenced many poets, such as Katsushika Hokusai.
Haiku are usually celebratory and uplifting. They celebrate the natural world and should, through their beautiful imagery, inspire readers into a more optimistic state of mind.
Traditional haiku need to have five syllables in their first and third lines and seven in their second. This means that whatever subject you choose, the content will need to use this number of syllables. Most haiku are about nature, so that’s a good place to start.
- ‘The Old Pond’ by Matsuo Bashō – deals with an ancient pond and the sound made by a frog that jumps into it.
- ‘The Poppy’ by Jane Taylor – describes a single, vain poppy flower boldly growing in the sunlight of a field and the speaker’s distaste for its display.
- ‘I Looked Up from My Writing‘ by Thomas Hardy – is an existentially contemplative piece in which a writer is confronted with his own ignorance and irresponsibility.
Explore other haiku poems.