Intercultural relations through poetry

Culture leading to a rapture,

Poetry leading to clarity,

As words melt steel swords,

Relations lead to strong connections~



Cultures abound through this world sometimes more than the different countries. In one city there can be more cultures than there are counties. Depending on where one goes, what one listens to, and the philosophies one takes upon their own self, culture can become both mixed and singular. Relations between such everchanging phenomena can be difficult to bring together. Especially when factors such as language and mannerisms intermingle with one another. However, poetry is a way in which to cross these sometimes intangible boundaries that have tangible effects.

These past two weeks I chaperoned a group of university students from Tokyo at Harvard University. One of the cultural items that the students are surprised that people abroad knew, was the short-form Japanese poem. Formally known as haiku, these three-lined poems often represent emotions, history, and culture in a brief, concise and powerful manner. A well-known haiku tells of a frog that jumped into a pond. Albeit that the imagery of nature is simplistic, the meaning within the lines is descriptive and telling of deeper connotations. Whether it be lost love symbolized by a leaf floating on a river. Or the changing of a person's temperament like the fluctuations of the seasons, haiku speak of tales despite their shortness of length.

When I brought up that I am fond of haiku to the students, they were quite surprised and began to ask me which poetry collections I am knowledgeable of. They named such famous haiku writers such as Matsuo Basho, as well as poetry collections such as the manyoushu and the hyakuninisshu. When I told them I had been to a historical town in the Japanese countryside to see the manyoushu cultural center, they were taken aback. From that point onward, we began to relate to many elements of Japanese culture. Admittedly, topics such as history and science, or theatre and fine arts could lead us to similar places of understanding. However, poetry is unique in its sense of communication as well as how different its form is from one culture to another. Certainly, the history of one country is not the same as another. However, I think it noteworthy to point out that, as history has a timeline and a procedural element to it, poetry, though called poetry throughout all its variants, is often quite different in form and function throughout different cultures. Hence, when one comes to become aware of another culture's poetry, it is a sign of respect and intellect. A step toward each other on a bridge betwixt cultures.



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