Notes to the Table (Clicking on the link at the beginning of each note
will take you to the first relevant location in the table.)
Ultimate Guidelines: In all renku, the opening stanza must reflect the season and locale in which composition begins. In a kasen or longer renku, the seasons of spring and autumn, each, once begun, must persist for at least three but not more than five stanzas; the seasons of summer and winter, each, once begun, may persist for as few as one but not more than three stanzas. (At the end of a renku, two spring verses is sufficient.) To a certain extent, the placement of seasonal stanzas will be affected by the normally required positions of moon and blossom verses, though these verses may sometimes be moved forward or backwards from their traditional positions. In this respect, the positions of the moon verses are usually more flexible than those of the blossom verses. In a kasen, staying in summer or winter for more than two consecutive verses has been uncommon; staying in spring or autumn for more than three consecutive verses is also relatively uncommon. When these "ultimate guidelines" are applied, the results closely resemble those in the table.
Stanza Number: There are two different systems for numbering stanzas in a linked poem. When reading a renku, we often encounter the stanzas numbered consecutively from the first to the last. Scholars typically use this system in their editions and translations of classic linked poems. However, poets generally prefer to number their stanzas according to the page of the traditional writing sheet. In the case of a kasen, this means 1-6 on the first front, 1-12 on the back of the first sheet, 1-12 on the second sheet front, and 1-6 on the back of the second sheet. Here, the poet's numbering comes first, followed by through consecutive numbering in parentheses.
Begun in Season:
The arrangement of the seasons depends in large part on when the
writers begin their renku. To orient a traditional Japanese-style renku
correctly, it must start in the season appropriate to the day the
writers begin composing it. These differ from those commonly spoken of today. Follow this link for a table showing the seasons of traditional Japanese style poetry.
Japanese Name of Verse:
While many renku writers know and use the Japanese names of some of the
special verses in a renku, the following English names are completely
acceptable: hokku, "first verse" or "starting verse"; wakiku or waki, "second verse" or "side verse"; daisan, "third verse"; tsuki no za, "moon's place"; hana no za, "blossom's place"; ageku,
"last verse". Each of these verses performs a special function, as
indicated in the table. Each of the remaining verses is called a hiraku, "plain verse" or "regular verse".
Parentheses in the Table:
Any item in parentheses in this table indicates that the verse in this
position may continue the same season or topic as indicated for the
previous (or following) stanza, but that continuing in this way is
optional. For example, in the case of the third stanza of a renku begun
in summer, the season may be summer or the verse may be nonseasonal.
Alternatives Indicated with Slants: Where
a slant indicates alternative possibilities, the alternative selected
must persist through this and any immediately adjacent verses shown
with the same alternatives. For example, the sixth stanza of a renku
begun in autumn would normally be in either winter or summer. If seasonal, the
stanzas before or after it would also be in the same season. Note that
an alternative group often relates as opposite to another alternative group later or earlier in the same poem. For example, in a renku begun in autumn, the early summer/winter group
normally pairs with the winter/summer group later in the same poem. If
the first group is in summer, the second will be in winter, and
vice-versa. And a third summer/winter alternative stanza or group will
revert back to the season of the earliest group. (Consequently, summer
and winter may play a slightly larger role in a renku begun in autumn
than in one begun in other seasons, though ideally in a kasen the total
number of summer and winter verses will not exceed six. This, when
added to the typical eight or nine spring and autumn verses brings the
total number of seasonal verses in a kasen to a bit less than half of
The Moon's Place:
In kasen begun in spring, summer, or winter, almost invariably, the
moon will appear in the fifth stanza. In a kasen begun in autumn, it
usually appears in one of the first three verses. Other moon verses may
occur in their indicated places, but sometimes appear a bit earlier,
called a "pulled-up moon". Note that the season of the moon will vary
according to which season is called for in a given stanza, and that
some phrases involving the moon belong to seasons other than autumn.
See The 500 Essential Season Words for examples.
The Blossoms' Place:
In a kasen, the word "blossoms" (meaning "cherry blossoms") normally
occurs twice, in spring, in relatively fixed positions. In particular,
the last blossom verse—and the penultimate verse in the poem—is fixed
in place. In renku written outside of Japan, many poets have used the
names of other spring-blossoming trees for one or the other of these
verses. The usual candidates include plum blossoms (early spring),
apple blossoms (late spring), flowering dogwood (late), and apricot
blossoms (late), in addition to cherry blossoms (late). Note that
summer-blooming trees, such as orange blossoms, mountain dogwood, and
poinciana blossoms, as well as spring-flowering garden plants and wild
flowers should not be used in these positions. (The point of the
blossom verse often hinges on the special light one enjoys walking or
sitting under such trees, which is characteristic of spring.) Note also
that the character of the two blossom verses should be quite different,
one perhapswith falling blossoms, the other budding, or one in rain, the other in sunlight, and so on.
In working with beginners at renku, where I usually encourage the writing of shorter forms of renku such as the 20-stanza nijûin or 12-stanza jûnicho or new shisan, I often supply worksheets which set out the seasons for a renku, stanza-by-stanza. Such worksheets are, or soon will be, available on this web site. However, in the case of a kasen and longer forms, I feel that poets and particularly leaders of renku-writing groups should encourage more flexibility, and I discourage lock-step adherance to the formats suggested by the table above. Writing a kasen by strictly following the guidelines above may be satisfactory for beginners, but they will probably succeed more happily by working up their skills at linking and shifting with the shorter formats and then tackling the longer kasen when they have the experience to make good use of the greater freedoms it offers. See "Shorter Renku", at http://haikai.2hweb.net/renku/shorter_renku.html.
Note on the source: An earlier version of this table appears in my book The Haiku Seasons: Poetry of the Natural World (Kodansha, 1997; Stone Bridge Press, 2008), pp. 63-65, where more information is given about the origins of this data in Japanese sources. Copyright © 1996, 2007 William J. Higginson. Aside from temporary copies in a single computer Web browser, this page may only be copied in hard copy, and only for the use of those actively involved in renku composition. All other rights reserved. Please do not make partial copies of this page. Please do not send this Web page as part of an e-mail; rather send just its URL: http://haikai.2hweb.net/renku/kasen/seasons-in-a-kasen.html.
This page first posted 18 November 2007, last updated 18 November 2007.