This is a unique haiku in that it considers both natural and human-made parts of the world. This is specifically seen through the image of the grass and that of the halting train. Readers may find themselves slightly puzzled by this combination of images.
This English translation was completed by Michael R. Burch.
Grasses wilt Yamaguchi SeishiGrasses wilt:the braking locomotivegrinds to a halt.
Explore Grasses wilt
‘Grasses wilt’ by Yamaguchi Seishi is a beautiful haiku that asks readers to appreciate a moment of stillness.
The haiku begins with the poet describing wilting grasses, suggesting a sense of fading life. The subsequent line introduces a braking locomotive, which grinds to a halt. This abrupt end to the train’s movement mirrors the withering grass, indicating that something, like life or power, is coming to an end.
Structure and Form
‘Grasses wilt’ by Yamaguchi Seishi is a three-line haiku that is contained within a single, short stanza. The lines were originally written in Japanese, as well. This means that (since the poem was translated to English) much of the formatting of the haiku was lost.
Haiku are known for their use of a specific syllable pattern which isn’t seen here due to the translation. That pattern, which is visible in most original versions of haiku, includes the use of five syllables in the first and third lines and seven syllables in the second line.
In this poem, the poet makes use of a few different literary devices. For example:
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet imbues their descriptions with sense-triggering images. For example, “Grasses wilt.”
- Juxtaposition: occurs when the poet intentionally contrasts images. For example, the wilting grass and the train in this poem.
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts a line off before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three. It continues the thought through to the end of the poem.
The first line of the poem is one of nature, specifically of grasses wilting. The poet does not make it clear why or how they’re wilting but rather declares it as the introduction to the lines which follow.
This image immediately invokes a sense of decay. It depicts the vulnerability of the grass as well as the passage of time. The wilting grasses can be seen as a symbol or metaphor for broader themes, such as fading beauty and the end of life. The line ends with a colon, making it clear that there is much more to follow.
the braking locomotive
The second line introduces a very different image, one of a braking locomotive or train. The train is “braking” or starting to come to a halt. This is a clear example of juxtaposition, contrasting the natural image of the grass with the human-made train.
But, there are similarities between the images. For example, the locomotive is losing power and momentum in the same way that the grass is losing its vitality while it wilts.
The poet also doesn’t make it clear why the train is stopping, in the same way, that the poet does not define why the grasses are dying.
The line could imply an unexpected halt, an accident, or an external force working on the locomotive. This ambiguity adds depth and invites the reader to reflect on the possible causes of the train stopping.
grinds to a halt.
The poem ends suddenly after the third line. Here, the poet describes the train grinding to a halt or completely stopping. The phrase “grinds to a halt” presents a vivid and forceful image. The word “grinds” suggests a harsh and grinding motion, evoking a sense of resistance and friction.
This is a unique ending to a haiku, as most of these poems usually end more ephemerally, leaving readers to contemplate a lovely natural image. The poet may have been hoping readers consider the train stopping as a symbol (as the wilting grass is) for the end of life, or at least the end of the season.
The tone of this poem is somber and melancholic. The images of the wilting grasses and the braking locomotive grinding to a halt are rather dark and evoke a sense of decay.
The theme is the impermanence of existence. It explores the idea that everything in life eventually withers and fades away, whether it be the natural cycles of vegetation or the momentum of human endeavors.
The purpose of this poem is to evoke an emotional response in the reader and ask them to contemplate life, death, and the end of all things.
The symbolism is primarily conveyed through the imagery of the wilting grasses and the braking locomotive. The wilting grasses symbolize fading beauty and the passing of seasons, while the braking locomotive symbolizes the interruption of progress and the end of momentum.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other related poems. For example:
- ‘Over the wintry’ by Natsume Sōseki – is a haiku that captures the desolate beauty of a winter landscape.
- ‘Everything I touch’ by Kobayashi Issa – is a beautiful haiku that speaks about relationships and nature.
- ‘The Old Pond’ by Matsuo Bashō – is a very famous haiku that describes a frog jumping into a pond.