is the term for a special category of words used in certain types of Japanese traditional poetry. It is regarded as a requirement in traditional haiku, as well as in the hokku, or opening verse, of both classical renga and its derivative renku (haikai no renga). There is no exact equivalent of kireji in English, and its function can be difficult to define. It is said to supply structural support to the verse. [ [ Brief Notes on "Kire-ji"] , Association of Japanese Classical Haiku, retrieved 2008-07-10] When placed at the end of a verse, it provides a dignified ending, concluding the verse with a heightened sense of closure. Used in the middle of a verse, it briefly cuts the stream of thought, indicating that the verse consists of two thoughts half independent of each other. [Nobuyuki Yuasa. "Translating 'the sound of water' ", in "The Translator's Art", Penguin, 1987, ISBN 0-14-009226-9 p.234] In such a position, it indicates a pause, both rhythmically and grammatically, and may lend an emotional flavour to the phrase preceding it. [William J. Higginson and Penny Harter. "The Haiku Handbook", Kodansha International, 1985, ISBN 4-7700-1430-9, p.102]

List of common kireji

Classical renga developed a tradition of 18 kireji, which were adopted by haikai, thence used for both renku and haiku, [Haruo Shirane. "Traces of Dreams, Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the poetry of Bashō." Stanford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8047-3099-7 (pbk), p.100] the most common of which are listed below: [Higginson and Harter, pp.291-292]

* "ka": emphasis; when at end of a phrase, it indicates a question
* "kana": emphasis; usually can be found at a poem's end, indicates wonder
* -"keri": exclamatory verbal suffix, past perfect tense
* -"ramu" or - "ran": verbal suffix indicating probability
* -"shi": adjectival suffix; usually used to end a clause
* -"tsu": verbal suffix; present perfect tense
* "ya": emphasises the preceding word or words. Cutting a poem into two parts, it implies an equation, while inviting the reader to explore their interrelationship. [Makoto Ueda, "Modern Japanese Haiku", University of Tokyo Press, 1976, ISBN 3093-87216-5149 pbk. p.265]

Use of kireji

Hokku and haiku consist of 17 Japanese syllables, or onji (a phonetic unit identical to the mora), in three metrical phrases of 5, 7, and 5 onji respectively. A kireji is typically positioned at the end of one of these three phrases. When it is placed at the end of the final phrase (i.e. the end of the verse), the kireji draws the reader back to the beginning, initiating a circular pattern. [Shirane, p.100] A large number of hokku, including many of those by Bashō, end with either "-keri", an exclamatory auxiliary verb, or the exclamatory particle "kana", both of which initiate such a circular pattern. [Shirane, p.312] Placed elsewhere in the verse, a kireji performs the paradoxical function of both cutting and joining; it not only cuts the ku into two parts, but also establishes a correspondence between the two images it separates, implying that the latter represents the poetic essence (本意 "hon'i") of the former, [Shirane, pp.101-102] creating two centres and often generating an implicit comparison, equation, or contrast between the two separate elements [Haruo Shirane and Lawrence E. Marceau, "Early Modern Literature", in "Early Modern Japan", Fall 2002, p.27]

One of the duties of the author of a hokku is that he must compose a syntactically complete verse capable (alone among the verses of a linked poem) of standing alone, probably because the hokku, as the first verse of the renku or renga, sets the stage for the rest of the poem, and therefore should not leave itself open to overt modification in the next verse. The conventional way of making sure that a hokku has such linguistic integrity is to include a kireji. [Steven D. Carter. "Three Poets at Yuyama. Sogi and Yuyama Sangin Hyakuin, 1491", in "Monumenta Nipponica", Vol. 33, No. 3. (Autumn, 1978), p.249] [Konishi Jin'ichi; Karen Brazell; Lewis Cook, "The Art of Renga", in "Journal of Japanese Studies", Vol. 2, No. 1. (Autumn, 1975), p.39]

Kireji in English haiku and hokku

Kireji have no direct equivalent in English. Mid-verse kireji have been described as sounded rather than written punctuation. In English-language haiku and hokku, as well as in translations of such verses into this language, kireji may be represented by punctuation (typically by a dash or an ellipsis), an exclamatory particle (such as 'how...'), or simply left unmarked.


The examples below are laid out as follows:
*Haiku in Japanese
*Rōmaji transliteration
*Literal word-for-word translation
*Translated poem

Mid-verse "ya" や

:行はるや 鳥啼うをの 目は泪
:"yuku|haru|ya| tori|naki|uo|no| me|wa|namida"
:go|spring|—| bird|crying|fish|'s| eye|as-for|tear

:spring going—
birds crying and tears
in the eyes of fish
(Bashō, tr. Shirane) [Shirane p.247]

Here the kireji "ya" appears at the end of the first phrase, and is represented in the translation by a dash. The effect is to cut the verse after 'spring going', and to draw the reader into contemplation of the relationship between that phrase and the remainder of the haiku.

End-verse "kana" 哉

:ひやひやと 壁をふまへて 昼寝哉:"hiyahiya|to| kabe|wo|fumaete| hirune|kana":cool|so| wall|(accusative)|put-feet-on| siesta|how

:how cool the feeling
of a wall against the feet —
(Bashō, tr. Darlington) [Darlington et al. "A Plate Between us" in [ "Lynx" XXII:3 2007] ]

Here the kireji "kana" is placed at the end of the verse. Its effect is to express wonderment, drawing the reader to re-read the verse. It is represented in the translation by the exclamatory 'how'.


See also


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