Imagination, realism


Imagination in Haiku

Imagination is the ability to form mental images, or the ability to spontaneously generate images within one's own mind. It helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of the world, and it also plays a key role in the learning process. A basic training for imagination is the listening to storytelling (narrative), in which the exactness of the chosen words is the fundamental factor to 'evoke worlds'.

Imagination can also be expressed through stories such as fairy tales or fantasies. Most famous inventions or entertainment products were created from the inspiration of one's imagination.

It is accepted as the innate ability and process to invent partial or complete personal realms within the mind from elements derived from sense perceptions of the shared world. The term is technically used in psychology for the process of reviving in the mind, percepts of objects formerly given in sense perception. Since this use of the term conflicts with that of ordinary language, some psychologists have preferred to describe this process as "imaging" or "imagery" or to speak of it as "reproductive" as opposed to "productive" or "constructive" imagination. Imagined images are seen with the "mind's eye".

One hypothesis for the evolution of human imagination is that it allowed conscious beings to solve problems (and hence increase an individual's fitness) by use of mental simulation.

Imagination as a reality
The world as experienced is an interpretation of data arriving from the senses, as such it is perceived as real by contrast to most thoughts and imaginings. This difference is only one of degree and can be altered by several historic causes, namely changes to brain chemistry, hypnosis or other altered states of consciousness, meditation, many hallucinogenic drugs, and electricity applied directly to specific parts of the brain.

The difference between imagined and perceived real can be so imperceptible as to cause acute states of psychosis. Many mental illnesses can be attributed to this inability to distinguish between the sensed and the internally created worlds. Some cultures and traditions even view the apparently shared world as an illusion of the mind as with the Buddhist maya or go to the opposite extreme and accept the imagined and dreamed realms as of equal validity to the apparently shared world as the Australian Aborigines do with their concept of dreamtime.

Imagination, because of having freedom from external limitations, can often become a source of real pleasure and unnecessary suffering. A person of vivid imagination often suffers acutely from the imagined perils besetting friends, relatives, or even strangers such as celebrities. Also crippling fear can result from taking an imagined painful future too seriously.

Imagination can also produce some symptoms of real illnesses. In some cases, they can seem so "real" that specific physical manifestations occur such as rashes and bruises appearing on the skin, as though imagination had passed into belief or the events imagined were actually in progress. See, for example, psychosomatic illness and folie a deux.

It has also been proposed the whole of human cognition is based upon imagination. That is, nothing that we perceive is purely observation but all is a morph between sense and imagination.
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !


My own quotes from a discussion about IMAGINATION in haiku with some friends.

For me, Japanese haiku is foremost based on SHASEI, sketching from Nature, but there are many ways to write haiku nowadays ...

When I write haiku, I usually try NOT to use my imagination, but my sharp eyes and other senses and the focus of my mental lense on the smallest detail I can get of a situation. When I write haiku, I try not to use my learning and understanding of how things should be, but try to see what is in front of my eyes without interpreting it, just showing it. (at least, I usually try, but often fail ... grin ...)

When I use my imagination or emotions, I write tanka or other kinds of short poetry.

Just the other day a Japanese haiku sensei on TV said:

There are two different personalities of people
those who write haiku (the rationalists and realists) and
those who write tanka (the emotionalists).


my "down to earth" understanding of the word "Imagination".

Take this scene for example:

there is a bottle on a table
the bottle is of ceramic and you can not see its contents

Now you can use your imagination and expand the scene ...

there is a wine/beer/schnaps bottle on a table

there is a full/empty bottle on a table

there is a bottle on the kitchen /dinner /terrace /restaurant table

there is a bottle that looks like a baloon on a table

there is a bottle as slender as a young lady on a table

and so on, where ever your imagination takes you.
Maybe the word then would be "phantasy"?
I am not so sure about the English then.

everyone wondering ...
there is only a bottle
on a table

an empty bottle ...
what kind of genie
is it sheltering ?


bottle on table —
I fill it with my

Kumarendra Mallick, Hyderabad, India

still there a table and a bottle

Dr.Vidur Jyoti, India


About Illusion, Maya and Reality ...

It reminds me of a story our philosophy professor told at German University many years ago:

A Father and Son were aruging about reality and illusion.
The boy said: All is illusion, all is Maya!
Then the father made a good swing and hit his boy on the cheek.

Outch, said the boy, why do you hit me?

His father grinned and said :
How can it hurt you, if all is only an illusion?


It is the mind which creates the world around us,
and even though we stand
side by side in the same meadow,
my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours,
my heart will never stir to the emotions
with which yours is touched.

George Gissing, 1857-1903

We do not see things as they are.
We see them as we are.

The Talmud


Following are some quotes on the subject, they do not have to correspond to my own understanding of the subject.
Gabi Greve


An Interview with Professor Haruo Shirane
by Robert D. Wilson

This is an extension of the notion that haiku must derive from direct observation and personal experience. Is this widespread belief valid?

However, historically, there were two kinds of haiku (called hokku in the pre-modern period): those that were based on experience and those that were based on a specific, pre-established topic (dai).
The dai could be about a place or object that one has not experienced directly and would thus be fictional or imaginative. Haiku derived from haikai, or popular linked verse, which involved a journey (in the course of linked verse) through time and space, often to worlds that the poet imagined or knew about only through poetry or literature.

... Poetry should have some complexity to it so that when you reread it, you see something new or there is something that lingers in your brain or heart. The test of good poetry, haiku or not, is that sparks the imagination of the reader. Haiku is as much about the reader as it is about the poet.
source : Simply Haiku 2011

Beyond the Haiku Moment:
Basho . . . believed that haikai should describe the world "as it is".
He was in fact part of a larger movement that was a throwback to earlier orthodox linked verse or renga. However, to describe the world as it is did not mean denying fiction. Fiction can be very realistic and even more real than life itself.
For Basho, it was necessary to experience everyday life, to travel, to expose oneself to the world as much as possible, so that the poet could reveal the world as it was. But it could also be fictional, something born of the imagination.
In fact, you had to use your imagination to compose haikai, since it was very much about the ability to move from one world to another. Basho himself often rewrote his poetry: he would change the gender, the place, the time, the situation. The only thing that mattered was the effectiveness of the poetry, not whether it was faithful to the original experience.

Haruo Shirane - Beyond the Haiku Moment
source : www.haikupoet.com

Master Basho said:
Imagination is a journey of the spirit, a movement through space.
On this spirit journey, the poet can instantly encompass all time and all space. 

source : WHR 2011

. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


Matsuo Basho was a poet, a wordsmith and literary person, whereby creative impulse and rich imagination were the spur.
He was a creator of art and inventor of new literature.
He was not a newspaper reporter or an academic historian.

A Contrarian View on Basho's Frog Haiku
source :  Susumu Takiguchi


Truth in Nature, Truth in Literature

Nature’s truth” is an ore for good haiku.
In contrast, for the writer to remain in a passive position—to describe what he saw as he saw it—is, strictly speaking, an attitude that can be named Natural Imitationism.
A true artist takes a more positive attitude. He tries to add forging to the ore, to add creativity to it, and to produce something delicate and profound.

Mizuhara Shuoshi
(Tr. Hiroaki Sato)

Mizuhara Shūōshi (Shuuooshi, Shuuoushi)(1892-1981)


If a haiku is made (through the imagination) rather than experienced it can often be easily understood logically. Haiku are not supposed to be fully understood logically.

A quote from Otsuji (Seki Osuga)

"If one does not grasp something - something which does not merely touch us through our senses but contacts the life within and has the dynamic form of nature- no matter how cunningly we form our words, they will give only a hollow sound. Those who compose haiku without grasping anything are merely exercising their ingenuity. The ingenious become only selectors of words and cannot create new experiences from themselves."

from "Ostuji hairon-shuu" (Otsuji's collected essays on haiku theory)
ed. by Toyo Yoshida, 5th ed. Tokyo: Kaede Shobo, 1947, p. 18.

If 90% of a haiku can be understood it is a good haiku.
If 50-60% can be understood it is wonderful.
This kind of haiku we never tire of.

© Dhugal's Haiku Homepage


Shirane discusses several aspects of seventeenth century haikai that he believes are important for the development of English-language haiku. These issues include:

the use of haiku to escape reality,
imagination and fiction in haiku, allusion,
the role of kigo,
the use of metaphor, and
techniques for obtaining complexity and depth in haiku.

Among the tenets of the North American haiku community that Professor Shirane questions is the necessity of direct experience in haiku. He writes, "Why then the constant emphasis by North American haiku poets on direct personal experience? . . . it should be noted that the haikai that preceded Bashō was almost entirely imaginary or fictional haikai. . . . Bashō was one of the critics of . . . 'nonsense' haikai. He believed that haikai should describe the world 'as it is.'" Then, apparently confusing nonsense with fiction, Shirane goes on to say, "However, to describe the world as it is did not mean denying fiction. Fiction can be very realistic and even more real than life itself."

Well, perhaps, but given the extreme individualism of Western culture, I sense a danger in encouraging people to go beyond the imaginative to the imaginary and the fantastic. I am concerned that this will simply take us back to the kind of trivial haikai that existed before Bashō. As Wallace Stevens wrote, "In poetry, at least, the imagination must not detach itself from reality."

Of course, I am not advocating mere journalistic reporting of events as an alternative to the use of imagination. Masaoki Shiki, the great modernizer of Japanese haiku, recommended shasei or "sketching from life" for beginners, and it is against the sterility of the images of many of these sketches that the proponents of the use of imaginary elements seem to be reacting.

But according to Makoto Ueda's Modern Japanese Poets (Stanford University Press (1983)), Shiki recommended other ways of composing haiku for more advanced poets. Shiki did, in fact, support the use of imagination in haiku, but proposed that poets attempt its use only after they had developed a sufficiently fine perception of the world and experience of truth. Only then could they be trusted to attempt to convey their personal vision to the reader through the distillation of the imagination. Shiki's suggested development of the poet - from "sketches of life" for the beginner to "selective realism" for the more advanced poet to makoto or "poetic truth" for the master - is as valid today as it was one hundred years ago when he proposed it.

How to resolve this dilemma?
Fortunately we have William J. Higginson and Professor Shirane himself to thank for stretching our understanding of haiku as only one part of a larger tradition of poetry called haikai. Haikai includes all of the linked-verse tradition from which haiku developed: the imaginative linked verse as a whole, the opening stanza from which haiku developed as an independent form, and the interior verses from which senryu and other poetic expressions have developed. If we see all of what is presented as "haiku" as having developed from this larger haikai tradition, it is much easier to resolve the issues raised by the differences between the various kinds of "haiku" we see today.

Toward an Aesthetic for English-Language Haiku
© Lee Gurga
originally published in Modern Haiku Vol. 31, No. 3 (Fall, 2000).


... They ask that the 2 or 3 images to compare, associate or contrast. Here, if you find your way, you can use your ability to see metaphors and simile. You have to accept that by putting the images side by side, leaving out the words "like" and "as" and you will be letting your reader make the leaps of imagination and understand your unspoken point.

Here comes the real challenge of haiku. To express an image or two so well that the reader "sees" them in his/her mind, and then! ... you add another image that demands a leap or twist so the two previous images are seen in a new relationship (maybe even your metaphor, if you are lucky). An additional twist is to have images plus leap which reveal some deep philosophical truth or ideal without having to speak of it.
Poetry is written vision.

© meister_z Enterprises, 2000.


Hasegawa Kai

Hasegawa provides introductory remarks prior to a further detailed discussion of Bashô's 'old pond' haiku (to be presented here at a later date), based on his recent research and book furuike ni kawazu tobikanda ka [Did the Frog Jump Into the Old Pond?, 2005].
In particular, placing great significance on the arising of “mind” (the psychology of ‘creative imagination’) in haiku experience, Hasegawa discusses why he considers haiku based upon objective realism to be garakuta-haiku, that is, “junk haiku.”

© www.gendaihaiku.com

between thighs
the birth cry stretches into
budding tree darkness

Yagi Mikajo

In Richard Gilbert's important new book, Poems of Consciousness,Hasegawa Kai said:

"..."modern haiku after Masaoka Shiki (circa 1900) has been influenced by Western realism, and as a result haiku has become an art of realism. And the outcome of haiku compositions based only upon those things you have directly seen has been ---can I coin the term, 'junk haiku' (garakuta-haiku). Haiku that contain only objective material have created a nearly stagnant situation.
So, the question is, how shall we overcome realism? Basho's haiku offers some important clues."

old pond/frog(s) jumping-in water's sound.

Literal translation by Kai Hasegawa


***** Haiku Theory Archives



Anonymous said...

Dear Gabi san,
I feel the timeless eternity going through your sites.
You are a beautiful soul with beautiful mind and amazing thoughts that flow like a mountain river.

A friend from India.

Gabi Greve said...

- The Great Eastern Philosophers: Matsuo Basho -

article at
the school of life