Grasses wilt

Yamaguchi Seishi

‘Grasses wilt’ by Yamaguchi Seishi is a unique poem that’s written in the form of a haiku. It describes two contrasting, yet related, images.


Yamaguchi Seishi

Nationality: Japanese

Yamaguchi Seishi (1901-1994) was an innovative haiku poet.

His poetry was known for modernizing the haiku form with unconventional subjects.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: All things come to an end

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Anxiety, Contentment, Gratitude

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 20th Century

This is a truly unique haiku that juxtaposes two very different images - wilting grass and a braking locomotive.

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 Seishi

Grasses wilt:the braking locomotivegrinds to a halt.


‘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.

Literary Devices 

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. 

Detailed Analysis 

Line One 

Grasses wilt:

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. 

Line Two 

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. 

Line Three 

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.   


What is the tone of ‘Grasses wilt?’ 

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.

What is the theme of ‘Grasses wilt?’ 

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.

What is the purpose of ‘Grasses wilt?’ 

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. 

What kind of symbolism is in ‘Grasses wilt?’ 

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.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other related poems. For example: 

Poetry+ Review Corner

Grasses wilt

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Yamaguchi Seishi (poems)

Yamaguchi Seishi

Yamaguchi Seishi is a lesser-known Japanese poet, but this piece should be considered among his best. This poem conveys an interesting dynamic between nature and human creations, specifically grass and a train. It's likely to leave readers with more questions than answers.
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20th Century

This is a good, although not well-known, example of 20th century poetry. Yamaguchi Seishi was a skilled Japanese poet who was known for capturing the intricate nuances of the human condition in traditional Japanese poetic forms.
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This poem embodies key elements of Japanese poetry. It exemplifies the minimalistic style and contemplative nature often associated with Japanese verse. Seishi's work reflects the influence of traditional Japanese poetic forms, such as haiku, by capturing profound insights into nature.
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The breaking locomotive that grinds to a halt suggests a sudden interruption or failure, evoking a feeling of disappointment or unfulfilled expectations. The wilting grasses, representing the impermanence of life, may also be seen as a source of disappointment in the face of the inevitable decay and loss.
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The concept of a journey is subtly present in 'Grasses wilt.' The locomotive represents a metaphorical journey through life, filled with various experiences and encounters. However, the sudden stop implies the end of this journey, perhaps alluding to death or the cessation of progress.
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Nature holds great importance in Japanese poetry, and Seishi's work is no exception. In 'Grasses wilt,' the reference to wilting grasses symbolizes the ephemeral nature of life and the passing of time. The juxtaposition of the delicate grasses and the abrupt halt of the locomotive creates a sense of similarity between two different worlds.
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Although not explicitly mentioned in the poem, a sense of anxiety can be inferred from the image of the breaking locomotive. The sudden disruption and halt of the locomotive evoke a feeling of unease and uncertainty.
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Contentment is indirectly addressed in 'Grasses wilt' through the juxtaposition of the wilting grasses and the halting locomotive. Despite the imagery of decay and cessation, the poem also conveys a sense of peace and acceptance. It suggests that finding contentment requires acknowledging the inevitability of change.
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Gratitude is implied through the underlying message of appreciating the beauty and temporality of life. By drawing attention to the wilting grasses, Seishi prompts readers to recognize fleeting moments of beauty. The poem could be interpreted as a reminder to appreciate the world around us.
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Mortality is a central theme in 'Grasses wilt.' The wilting grasses symbolize the fragile nature of life, while the halting locomotive suggests the sudden end of existence. Seishi's poem confronts the inevitability of mortality, reminding readers of their own finite time on Earth.
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Plants, particularly the grasses in this poem, serve as symbolic representations of life and its impermanence. The wilting grasses embody the cycle of growth, decay, and renewal that characterizes both nature and human existence. Through the image of plants, Seishi draws attention to how important it is to find beauty and meaning within fleeting moments.
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Transformation is subtly suggested in 'Grasses wilt' through the shift from life to death, growth to decay. The wilting of the grasses signifies a natural transformation, emphasizing the cyclical nature of existence. The sudden halt of the locomotive further symbolizes a transformative event.
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Although not explicitly mentioned, the notion of travel is inherent in 'Grasses wilt.' The locomotive represents a metaphorical journey through life, filled with movement, exploration, and encounters. However, the abrupt stop disrupts the trajectory of this travel, signaling an unexpected interruption.
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This poem is a unique example of the traditional form of haiku poetry, which often employs concise and evocative language to capture natural scenes. Seishi's poem reflects the brevity and simplicity characteristic of haiku, using sparse words to convey a powerful message.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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