Reginald Horace Blyth

1898 - 1964


Research by Michael P. Garofalo

Green Way Research, Red Bluff, California

 

 

Biography     Bibliography     Links

Comments About R. H. Blyth     Zen Poetry    

Quotes From R. H. Blyth     The Five Senses

Cloud Hands Blog    

 

 

 

 

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Biography

 

Chronology

 

 

1898   Born on December 3, 1898,  in Essex, England.   He was the only child of Horace Blyth, a railway
clerk, and Herrietta Williams Blyth, housewife.   His family was poor. 

1914   Greatly influenced by the writings of Matthew Arnold on self-development and excellence. 

1915   Graduated from County High School for Boys, Ilford, England.  Blyth was a strong, healthy and
energetic young man. 

1916   Imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs because he was a conscientious objector to World
War I and a pacifist.

1923  Graduated from London University, with honors, in English.  Blyth learned to play the
organ and flute, began making musical instruments, and loved the music by J.S. Bach.  He was
self-taught in numerous European languages.  He adopted a vegetarian lifestyle which he
maintained throughout his life. 

1924  Graduated from London Day Training College with a teaching certificate.  Married
Annie Bercovitch.  Taught for awhile in India. 

1925  Assistant Professor of English at Keijo University in Seoul, Korea.  Began learning
Japanese and Chinese.

1926  Began his study of Zen under Kayama Taizi Roshi of Myoshinji Betsuin in Korea.

1927  Strongly influenced by the Zen works of Daisetz Suzuki.   Immersed himself in Japanese
culture, art, films, and lifestyle. 

1933  Adopted a Korean boy.  This son later became a teacher, and was executed shortly after
the Korean War. 

1935  Divorced from Annie Bercovitch. 

1937  Married Tomiko Blyth.  They had two daughters: Nana and Harumi. 

1939  Became a teacher of English at the Fourth High School in Kanazawa, Japan. 

1941-1945  Interned as an enemy alien in Kobe, Japan.  His influential friends included: D.T. Suzuki,
Nosei Abe, Katsunoshin Yamanashi.  He wanted to take Japanese nationality but his request was denied. 
His home and extensive library were destroyed in a bombing raid during the war. 

 

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1942 Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics published by The Hokuseido Press, Tokyo. 

1944  Introduced Robert Aitken to Zen Buddhism during their wartime internment at the Rinkangaku
Reform School, in Futatabi Park above Kobe, Japan.  Also interned at Futatabi Park were Max Brodofsky
and Roy Henning.  Despite the wartime rigours, the chief guard, Mr. Higasa, treated the internees with
respect and kindness.  For more information about this period, discuss the matter with Mark S. Schwartz.  

1946  Blyth and Harold G. Henderson worked on numerous high level projects in the post-war
transition to peace between the Americans and Japanese.  Blyth was a liaison with the Emperor's
household, and Henderson was on the Occupation Forces Headquarters staff, under the direction
of General MacArthur.   Blyth and Henderson worked together on Emperor Showa's "Human-Being
Declaration" - a public proclamation that the Emperor of Japan was a human being and not a God.

1946  Blyth became a Professor of English at Gakushuin University (Peers' School).  Blyth was
one of the English language tutors of the Crown Prince, Akihito, who later became the Emperor of Japan. 

1949-1952  Haiku (4 Volumes), and Senryu were published by Hoksueido Press and financed
by the Prime Minister, Shigero Yoshida.    The book is dedicated to Sakuo Hashimoto and Naoto Ichimada.   

1956  Awarded a Doctorate in Literature from Tokyo University. 

1957  Awarded the Zuihosho (Order of Merit) Fourth Grade by the Japanese government. 

1959  Japanese Life and Character in Senryu, and Oriental Humor are published.

1960  Zen and Zen Classics volumes begin to be published.

1961  Edo Satirical Verse Anthology published.. 

1964  Died on October 28th of a brain tumor and complications from pneumonia.  He died in the
Seiroka Hospital in Tokyo.  He was buried in the cemetery of the Shokozan Tokeiji Soji Zenji
Temple in Kamakura, Japan.  His tombstone is next to that of D. T. Suzuki.  

 

 

    I leave my heart
            to the sasanqua flower
            on the day of this journey.
     
       
              - R. H. Blyth's death poem

 

 

                                        camellia petals
                                        fall on Blyth's grave
                                        silent Tokeiji
                                                    
-   Carmen Sterba, Kamakura
    

 

 

 

 

Biographical References

Internet Links


Britain and Japan: Biographical Portraits.   By Adrian Pinnington.  Folkestone, Japan Library. 
Includes a bibliography.


A Haiku Path.
  Excellent information about the history of haiku in English.


The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R. H. Blyth on Poetry, Life, & Zen.
   With an introduction by
James Kirkup; which includes an informative short biography of Blyth (pp. 3-11).  


The Life of R. H. Blyth.   By Ikuyo Yoshimura.   Japan:  Dohosha Shupan, 1996.


Original Dwelling Place
.  By Robert Aitken.   Washington, D.C., Counterpoint, 1996.   "Remembering
Blyth Sensei," pages: 23-26. 


Zen to Haiku: The Life of R. H. Blyth
.  By Yoshimura Ikuyo.   In Japanese.  Tokyo, Dohosha
Suppan, 1996.  222 pages.  LC: 98458746.  This title is in Japanese:  R. H. Buraisu no Shogai:
Zen to Haiku o Aishite
.

 

 

 

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Quotes by R.H. Blyth

 

 

"A haiku is the expression of a temporary enlightenment, in which we see into the life of things."

 

 

"A haiku is not a poem, it is not literature; it is a hand beckoning, a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean.  It is a way of returning to nature, to our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, our falling leaf nature, in short, to our Buddha nature.  It is a way in which the cold winter rain, the swallows of evening, even the very day in its hotness, and the length of the night, become truly alive, share in our humanity, speak their own silent and expressive language."
Haiku, Volume One, p. 243.

 

 

"Thus we see that the all important thing is not killing or giving life, drinking or not drinking, living in the town or the country, being unlucky or lucky, winning or losing.  It is how we win, how we lose, how we live or die, finally, how we choose."

 

 

"It is not merely the brevity by which the haiku isolates a particular group of phenomena from all the rest; nor its suggestiveness, through which it reveals a whole world of experience.  It is not only in its remarkable use of the season word, by which it gives us a feeling of a quarter of the year; nor its faint all-pervading humour.  Its peculiar quality is its self-effacing, self-annihilative nature, by which it enables
us, more than any other form of literature, to grasp the thing-in-itself."
Haiku, Volume Four, p. 980.
-   Refer to Richard Gilbert's article, From 5-7-5 to 8-8-8

 

 

"Art is frozen Zen."
Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, p.3

 

 

"The importance and unimportance of the self cannot be exaggerated." 

 

 

"If all men lead mechanical, unpoetical lives, this is the real nihilism, the real undoing of the world."

 

 

"These are some of the characteristics of the state of mind which the creation and appreciation of haiku demand: Selflessness, Loneliness, Grateful Acceptance, Wordlessness, Non-intellectuality, Contradictoriness, Humor, Freedom, Non-morality, Simplicity, Materiality, Love, and Courage."
Haiku, Volume One, p. 154

 

 

"The love of nature is religion, and that religion is poetry; these three things are one thing.  This is the
unspoken creed of haiku poets."
-   History of Haiku, Vol. One, Introduction, 8.5

 

 

"The object of our lives is to look at, listen to, touch, taste things.  Without them, - these sticks, stones, feathers, shells, - there is no Deity."
R. H. Blyth, Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, p. 144.

 

 

"The sun shines, snow falls, mountains rise and valleys sink, night deepens and pales into day, but it is only very seldom that we attend to such things ... When we are grasping the inexpressible meaning of these things, this is life, this is living.  To do this twenty-four hours a day is the Way of Haiku.  It is having life more abundantly."
-  R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume One, p. 11

 

 

"Literature, especially poetry, has the same double, paradoxical nature as religion, and it is the main theme of 'Zen in English Literature,' that where there is religion there is poetry, where there is poetry there is religion, not two things in close association, but one thing with two names. The false religion and the false poetical life are equally one: a wallowing in God, a vague and woolly pantheism, nightingales and roses. If anything is so-called poetry, if anything in Buddhism or Christianity will not stand the test of Reality, the test of Zen…'What will not hold perfection, let it burst!"
-  R.H. Blyth, Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics

 

 

"An earthquake, a toothache, a mad dog, a telephone message-- and all our house of peace falls like a pack of cards."
-  R.H. Blyth, Zen and Zen Classics:  Selections from R.H. Blyth, p. 68

 

 

"Haiku shows us what we knew all the time, but did not know we knew; it shows us that we are poets in so far as we live at all."
-  R.H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 1

 

 

"A haiku is an open door that looks shut."
-  R.H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 1

 

 

 

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Links

Reginald Horace Blyth (1898-1964)

 

Robert Aitken


Basho - Comments by D. T. Suzuki.


Basho's Haiku: Three Interpretations.   Contrasting translations by R. H. Blyth, Lucien Stryck, and Beilenson. 


Reginald Horace Blyth (1898-1964)  A brief chronology of his life, links, bibliography, quotes by and about R. H. Blyth.  This webpage is mirrored elsewhere.  60Kb.   


R.H. Blyth and Zen


Blyth and Beyond
     Translators     By David Lanoue.   


Discussion about R. H. Blyth.  PMJS Archive, 11/2000.   29K.  A very good critical discussion of Blyth's contributions and limitations. 


Encomium for R.H. Blyth.   By Timothy Ferris. 


Essentially Oriental: R. H. Blyth Selection.   Edited by Kuniyoshi Munakata and Michael Guest.


From 5-7-5 to 8-8-8: An Investigation of Japanese Haiku Metrics and Implications for English Haiku.  By Richard Gilbert and Judy Yoneoka.  136K.  Refer also to other fine scholarly articles at  Quiet Site.


Gateway to the Vast Realms  By Ken Knabb.  


A Ginko in Kamakura
.   By Carmen Sterba.  17K.   


Google Links for R. H. Blyth


The Great Cloud of Witnesses.  R. H. Blyth writes to James W. Hackett.   With comments by Susumu Takiguchi.  Includes a drawing of Blyth.  


Haiku Source - R. H. Blyth


Haiku   Translations by R.H. Blyth.  Comments by Leslie L. Seamans. 


The Haiku and Zen World of James W. Hackett (1929-)  James Hackett was a student of R. H. Blyth and is a haiku poet in the Zen tradition.  


Haiku Masters.   Translations by R. H. Blyth


Haiku Poetry: Links, References and Guides.   By Michael P. Garofalo.  210K+. 


A Haiku Way of Life.   By Tom Clausen.  (43K)


The Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-t`san with commentary by R. H. Blyth   Another Version.


Hsinhsinming   95K.     Zen and Zen Classics, Volume 1.


James W. Hackett.    A poet influenced by R. H. Blyth.  16K.    Biography


The Japanese Haiku Masters:  Basho, Buson, Ikkyu, Issa, and Shiki.   Links and references.   25K+. 


In the Moonlight a Worm: The Nature of English Haiku    


Literary Kicks: On Western Haiku    By Cor van den Heuvel.   32K


Korean Studies Newsgroup thread on R. H. Blyth:  Biographical A,   Biographical B.


More Regarding Blyth.   By Hiromi Inoue. 


Mountain Water School of Haiku.
  This haiku school is led by David Coomler.  This school is "rooted in the monumental work of R. H. Blyth, in the classic haiku of Japan, and ultimately in the Zen/Ch'an and Taoist-based poetry of old Japan and China."  Hokku-Inn is the public forum, a general posting site for haiku and discussion among intermediate level school members.   Refer also to Hokku-Way,  a collection of over 260 notes and short essays about writing haiku by David Coomler. Mountain-Water is for deeper discussion of haiku-related matters among selected long-time and committed students.  Quiet-Pond is for selected advanced students who might from time to time prefer student-teacher interaction only. 


One Hand Clapping:   Blyth in Cyberspace  Selections from the book Essentially Oriental.   A photo of Blyth in seated meditation.  Review of book.


On Western Haiku.   Cor van den Heuvel.


Portrait of R. H. Blyth by Susuma Takiguchi. 


Review of Haiku: Eastern Culture, Volume 1.   By Kim Allen. 


R. H. Blyth and Zen.   Extracts from Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics.


Sabi in Haiku.  By H. F. Noyes.


Shokozan Tokei Soji Zenji   Buddhist Temple in Kamakura, Japan. 


The Thing, the Moment, the Spirit.   By Cicely Hill.


Tomb of R. H. Blyth


Translators, Critics, Poets  


Visiting R. H. Blyth's Home.   "Following is a diary with 27 photos of the September 2002 visit by James W. Hackett and Patricia Hackett to the home of James's mentor in Oiso, Japan, some thirty-eight years after R. H. Blyth's death. This account is written by Patricia in the 'voice' of James." 


What is Zen. 


Wikipedia - R. H. Blyth


Zen and the Art of Haiku.   By Ken Jones.


Zen and Zen Classics, Volume One, by R. H. Blyth.   The Hsinhsinming.  (95K)


Zen Buddhism and Art


Zen Poetry.  Links and bibliography, selected quotes, notes, and special webpages on noted Zen scholars and translators, e.g., R. H. Blyth, L. Stryk.  400K+    By Mike Garofalo.

 

 

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Bibliography

Works By Reginal Horace Blyth (1898-1964)

 

R. H. Blyth had many books published that are not listed below.   These were primers and text books used by Korean and Japanese students learning the English language, and books for teaching European and English literature to Asian students.  The NACSIS Webcat provides over 45 bibliographic references to works by Reginald Horace Blyth.

 

I got a email from Warren Ball on 7/16/2005, from IMC Books, who told me he offers books by R. H. Blyth for sale, and other books on Asian poetry.

Those wishing to purchase books by R. H. Blyth may find the selection of books and service provided by Book East, P.O. Box 13352, Portland, OR 97213 to be useful.  Phone: 503-287-0974.  FAX: 503-281-3693.  Email:  kwakiyama@aol.com  Proprietor: Katsuo Wakkyama.  May no longer be in business.  

 

 

Buddhist Sermons on Christian Texts.    By R. H. Blyth.   Tokyo, Kokudosha, 1952.  93 pages. 


Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals.  With introduction and footnotes by R. H. Blyth.


Edo Satirical Verse Anthologies.   By R.H. Blyth.   Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1961, 1977. 312 pages.


Essentially Oriental: R. H. Blyth Selections.
   Edited by Kuniyoshi Munakata and Michael Guest.  Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1994.   Foreward


A Few Flies and I; Haiku by Kobayashi Issa.
  Selected by Jean Merrill and Ronni Solbert from translations by R. H. Blyth and Nobuyuki Yuasa. Illustrated by Ronni Solbert.  New York, Pantheon Books, 1969.   96 pages. 


A First Book of Korean.   By Lee Eun and R. H. Blyth.   2nd Edition.   Toyko, Hokuseido Press, 1962.  175 pages.


Games Zen Masters Play: The Writings of R. H. Blyth.   Selected, edited, and with an introduction by Robert Sohl and Audrey Carr.   New York, New American Library, 1976.  169 pages. 


The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R. H. Blyth on Poetry, Life, & Zen.
   Edited by the staff of the British Haiku Society.   With an introduction by James Kirkup; which includes an informative biography of Blyth.   Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1995.  146 pages.  ISBN: 4590009889.

 

Haiku.   By R. H. Blyth. 
Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1949-1952, 1960, 1968, 1970, 1982, 1997. 
A landmark study in Four Volumes:

 

[In the spring of 2000, I purchased a new paperback version of this four volume set from Powell's books in Portland, Oregon.  Each volume cost $28.00 retail.  Used hardbound copies, depending upon the condition of the book and the market area, will cost between $25 and $100.]


Eastern Culture.  Volume I.  Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1949.  Various appendices and index.  26 illustrations.  422 pages.   [Still available from The Hokuseido Press, 1997 Reissue.   350 pages.  ISBN: 4590005727.  Trade paperback.]  Dedicated to Sakuo Hashimoto. 


Haiku: Spring.
  Volume II.  Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1950.  382 pages.  9 illustrations.  [Still available from The Hokuseido Press, 1997 Reissue.  300 pages. ISBN: 4590005735.  Trade paperback.]   Dedicated to Sakuo Hashimoto.


Haiku:  Summer - Autumn.  Volume III.  Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1951.  443 pages.  [Still available from The Hokuseido Press, 1997 Reissue.  340 pages.  ISBN: 4590005743.]  Dedicated to Naoto Ichimada, Governor of the Bank of Japan. 


Haiku: Autumn - Winter.  Includes Index.
  Volume IV.  Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1952, 1968.  Index, xlii, 396 pages.  19 illustrations.  [Still available from The Hokuseido Press, 1997 Reissue.  330 pages.   ISBN:  4590005751.  Trade paperback.]

 

 


A History of Haiku.
  By R. H. Blyth.   Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1963-1964.  Two Volumes. 

Volume 1:  From Beginning to Issa.  440 pages.  5.5" x 7.5"  Trade paperback with dust jacket: $27.95.  ISBN: 0964704021.  

Volume 2:  From Issa to the Present.  430 pages.  5.5" x 7.5".  Trade paperback with dust jacket: $27.95.  ISBN:  096470403X.  

 


How to Read English Poetry.


Humour in English literature; A Chronological Anthology.    By R. H. Blyth.  Folcroft, Pennsylvania, Folcroft Press, 1970.  250 pages. 

Japanese Life and Character in Senryu.   By R. H. Blyth.  Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1960.  630 pages.


Oriental Humour.   By R. H. Blyth.  Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1959, 1963.  582 pages.  Comments.

Senryu: Japanese Satirical Verses.   Translated and explained by R. H. Blyth.   Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1949.   230 pages.  Includes hundreds of black and white sketches and some colored plates. 


A Survey of English Literature.


A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River.   By Henry David Thoreau.  Edited with an introduction and notes by R. H. Blyth.

 


Zen and Zen Classics.  By R. H. Blyth.  Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press [1960-1970],  5 Volumes:

Volume 1.  What Is Zen?  General Introductin from the Upanishads to Huineng.   130 pages.  ISBN: 4590011301,  Paperback with dust jacket: $17.95.  5" x 7".

Volume Four.   Mumonkan: The Zen Masterpiece.    The Hokuseido Press, 1966.  380 pages, index.  12 illustrations.  Paperback with dust jacket: 32.95.  5" x 7"   ISBN: 459001131x.  

Volume Five.  Twenty-Five Zen Essays: Christianity, Sex, Society, etc.   240 pp.  Paperback with dust jacket: $25.95.  5" x 7".  ISBN: 4590011328.  

 


Zen and Zen Classics: Selections from R. H. Blyth.   Compiled and with drawings by Frederick Franck.  New York, Vintage Books, 1978.  289 pages. 

Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics.    By R. H. Blyth.   Tokyo, The Hokuseido Press, 1942, 1996 printing.   Index, 446 pages.  ASIN: 0893460028.  Dedicated to Roshi Myoshinji Betsu-In, and to Imamura Juzo.    Review by Kiley John Clark.

 

The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R. H. Blyth. (The British Haiku Society 1994). "This work introduced Dr. Blyth to an
English literary community that had been unfamiliar with his contributions. A sympathetic, detailed biography is offered by poet
James Kirkup.  The book also contains selected articles by RHB on topics such as Basho, haiku, senryu, and world haiku.
(In the included world haiku chapter of 1964, RHB had introduced the haiku of JWH).  Used copies are sometimes available."
Notes by James Hackett. 

Letters to JWH from R. H. Blyth and from Harold G. Henderson are in the Archive of American Haiku, California State Library,
Sacramento, California. (photo copies) (Photos of these letters from Dr. Blyth and Dr. Henderson are posted on an irregular
basis in the Links section of the James Hackett web site.)

 

 

I Welcome Your Comments, Ideas, Contributions, and Suggestions

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Bibliography

Works About R. H. Blyth

 

 

The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R. H. Blyth on Poetry, Life, & Zen.    With an introduction by James Kirkup; which includes an informative short biography of Blyth (pp. 3-11).  

Spring Thunder: A Renaissance of the Works of R. H. Blyth.   By Ikuyo Yoshimura.  (Biographical information about Ikuyo Yoshimura.)

Zen to Haiku: The Life of R. H. Blyth.  By Ikuyo Yoshimura.   In Japanese.  Tokyo, Dohosha Suppan, 1996.  222 pages.  LC: 98458746.  This title is in Japanese: R. H. Buraisu no Shogai: Zen to Haiku o Aishite.

 

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Praise and Appreciation for R.H. Blyth

 

 

"For translations, the best books are still those by R. H. Blyth."
-  Michael Dylan Welch, Want Fries with Those Haiku, 2000

 

 

"Blyth is sometimes perilous, naturally, since he's a high-handed old poem himself, but he's also sublime - and who goes to poetry for safety anyway."
-  J. D. Salinger

 

 

"To those of us who knew him, he was first and foremost a poet with a wonderfully keen and sensitive perception."
-  D. T. Suzuki

 

 

"Though not named as such, the spirit of haiku – its techniques, poetics – exists in the epiphanies and best moments of every literature I’ve studied; it appears to be imbedded everywhere.  Maybe that perspective makes me a pan- haikuist?  R. H. Blyth’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics was one of the 
most important books I read in college."
-  Michael McClintock, Interview

 

 

R. H. Blyth.   Drawn by Susumu Takiguchi

 

 

 

"Two men who may be called pillars of the Western haiku movement, Harold G. Henderson and R. H. Blyth."
-   Elizabeth Searle Lamb, A Haiku Path, p. 5

 

 

"Yet most academic philosophers now deride the babbling of mystics and metaphysicians as mere poetry, whereas I feel increasingly with R. H. Blyth and Paul Reps that reality is poetry."
-   Alan Watts, Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown, 1968, p. 144

 

 

"Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics set my life on the course I still maintain, and I trace my orientation to culture - to literature, rhetoric, art and music - to that single book."
Robert Aitken, Original Dwelling Place, p.24

 

 

"And it is impossible for an English speaker with an open mind and any heart to read Blyth and not come away with several new enthusiasms."
-   Terry Moore, 1996

 

 

"Blyth is also unusual in having more or less single-handedly inspired a new genre of poetry in English - the English haiku.   Richard Bowring calls his influence 'extraordinary', but when we look at the reason for
this influence, I think that we have little doubt that the answer is that he was a translator of genius.  The impact which Blyth's books had, quite independently, on a variety of writers is one testament to their literary quality as English."
-   Adrian Pinnington

 

 

"R. H. Blyth 'more than any other is responsible for spreading the doctrine that haiku is about nature, senryu about human nature.' "
-   Frogpond 11:2 1988  See also:  Marlene Mountain: From the Mountain - Backward

 

 

"To my mind, R. H. Blyth is destined to become the indispensable interpreter of, and initiator into, Zen for the Western mind.  His writings, until now far too inaccessible to the Western reader, seem to me the catalyst needed for a profound integration of Eastern and Western spirituality."
-   Frederick Franck, Zen and Zen Classics, 1978, p. xii.

 

 

"Blyth's four volume Haiku became especially popular at this time [1950's] because his translations were based on the assumption that the haiku was the poetic expression of Zen.  Not surprisingly, his books attracted the attention of the Beat school, most notably writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac, all of whom had a prior interest in Zen."
-  George Swede, Haiku in English in North America

 

 

"Though Lafcadio Hearn's beginnings with haiku were helpful to later scholars and intrigued a number of poets early in the twentieth century they did not reveal the depth and awareness of the originals and as a 
result the birth of American haiku had to wait for the great translations and interpretations of R. H. Blyth and Harold Henderson that came after the mid-twentieth century.   ...   Hearn must have been an influence on the great British translator of haiku, R. H. Blyth, whose four-volume Haiku, published from 1949 to 1952, was a seminal work in starting the American haiku movement.   Blyth was able to fulfill in his translations the ideals of suggestiveness that Hearn praised in the originals; ideals Hearn himself
was rarely able to achieve in his own renderings."
-   Cor van den Heuvel, "Lafcadio Hearn and Haiku," Modern Haiku, Volume 33, # 2, Summer 2002  

 

 

"The first book in English based on the saijiki is R. H. Blyth's Haiku, published in four volumes from 1949 to 1952.  After the first, background volume, the remaining three consist of a collection of Japanese haiku with translations, all organized by season, and within the seasons by traditional categories and about
three hundred seasonal topics."
-  William J. Higginson, The Haiku Seasons, 1996, p. 119   [saijiki]

 

 

 

"R. H. Blyth:    I have just come from Korea, where I studied Zen with Kayama Taigi Roshi of Myoshinji Betsuin.
D. T. Suzuki:    Is that so?  Tell me, what is Zen?
R.H. Blyth:    As I understand it, there is no such thing.
D. T. Suzuki:    I can see you know something of Zen."
-  As told by Robert Aitken, Original Dwelling Place, p. 27

 

 

"On the very short shelf of my very favorite books are the four volumes of R.H. Blyth's Haiku. Published by the Hokuseido Press in Tokyo right after the war, Blyth's set presents many of the best haiku in Japanese characters, in transliteration, and in his own spare, elegant translations. He also includes reproductions of paintings in the haibun tradition. Blyth was an opinionated, passionate reader, whose great tradition in English runs Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Lawrence.  He's also very appreciative of Emerson, Dickinson, and, especially, Thoreau. (You can see why I like him.)  Blyth's main thesis in Haiku is that the haiku-tradition is the culmination of an Asian wisdom-lineage that is rooted in Taoism and Buddhism and achieves its flowering in the arts."
John Elder

 

 

"Then along came R. H. Blyth and his four-volume Haiku, published in 1949-52.  This monumental study not only translated haiku in a sensible way--with crisp, unrhyming, succinct, and evocative verses; it conveyed haiku spirit: how the poet encounters Nature and self-in-Nature utterly open to the wonders of the ordinary, the now-moment unadorned and unadulturated.  Blyth's work with its Zen focus and flavor was widely read in the fifties, and so completed the task begun by Hearn and Yone.  A new generation of readers learned how to receive haiku.  Jack Kerouac read Blyth; Richard Wright read Blyth; and within a decade both of these writers and hundreds of their contemporaries worldwide were trying their hand at composing their own haiku."
-   David Lanoue,  Blyth and Beyond

 

 

"Haiku entered into American consciousness with R.H. Blyth's monumental, post-War, four-volume work, Haiku, published between 1949 and 1952."
-   Jack Foley, The Alsop Review

 

 

"I will always be grateful to R. H. Blyth for his little books of commentary and translation, and I continue to read them for the sheer intelligence of the prose."
-   Sam Hamill, Sitting Zen, Working Zen, Feminist Zen

 

 

"I found R.H. Blyth's books on haiku on the shelf of a bookstore in 1966 when I was in high school.  I guess what attracted me to it was that it combined poetry with a philosophy of life based on self-awareness.  What could be better?"
-   Lee Gurga, 2002, Interview

 

 

"As a translator I may be blessed in not working in English, thus being able to read Blyth as a source, not an idol.  But as a source of zeal he sure is a paragon, whatever his shortcomings."
-   Kai Nieminen

 

 

"I think that for many native English-speakers (of the 50s-80s anyway), Blyth's translations "are" Japanese haiku.  It is a mark of Blyth's stylistic modernity that we continue to find his poetic style largely 
contemporary, 60 years later."
-   Richard Gilbert, e-mail 9 March 2002, Quiet Site

 

 

"My life as a Zen Buddhist began with a good book, in a civilian internment camp in Kobe, Japan.  One evening during the second winter of the Pacific War, a guard entered my dorm, waving a book, an mumbling drunkenly, "this book, my English teacher, ..."  Rising involuntarily from my bed, I boldly took it from his hand, and never gave it back.  It was R. H. Blyth's Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, then recently published.  When I got back in my bunk, opened the plain cover of Blyth's book, I had been searching for it all my life without knowing its title, its author, or its subject.  As I read Blyth's words
over and over, new and marvelous vistas of culture and thought opened for me.  I felt that I was uncovering primordial configurations of myself.  Now as I look at the book, its flaws and mistakes jump
out at me, but at the time it was the communiqué I was unconsciously awaiting."
-   Robert Aitken, from the foreword to The Roaring Stream, 1996

 

 

 

 

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Distributed on the Internet by Michael P. Garofalo

I Welcome Your Comments, Ideas, Contributions, and Suggestions

Mike Garofalo's Poetry Notebook III
Zen Poetry: R. H. Blyth. 
62K, 3 March 2003, Version 3.1

This webpage was first distributed on the Internet on March 3, 2003

This webpage was last modified or updated on April 15, 2013. 


 

 

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