Of Dragonflies and Pepper Pods

220px-MatsuoBashoChusonjiIf you’re serious as a writer (or sculptor, painter, composer, fishing-fly maker, or anything else that involves creative work), you can surely remember some lesson from a master that had a lasting impact on your work. I was just re-reading Harold G. Henderson’s classic book An Introduction to Haiku and ran into this anecdotal gem about the Haiku master Matsuo Bashō:

One day, when he [Bashō] and [his young pupil] Kikaku were going through the fields, looking at the darting dragonflies, the boy made a seventeen-syllable verse:

Red dragonflies!
Take off their wings,
and they are pepper pods!

“No!” said Bashō, “that is not haiku. If you wish to make a haiku on the subject, you must say:

Red pepper pods!
Add wings to them,
and they are dragonflies!”