Haiku: Background information when reading The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

A True Story

by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey X
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2010, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2016, 208 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Megan Shaffer

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Haiku

Print Review

at my feet
when did you get here?
snail
- Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

It's no coincidence that Elisabeth Tova Bailey chose Kobayashi Issa as one of several selected poets to gently ease us into the passages of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. The haiku poet's simplicity and grace complement Elisabeth Tova Bailey's quiet observations as she interprets the larger natural world through that of her tiny snail. Sometimes less is so much more, and like the mighty message of this story's small snail, haiku is a fitting medium to deepen its meaning. 

Most western school-children learn that haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that uses a three-lined format of 5-7-5 syllables. This is actually wrong on a number of counts.

Firstly, Japanese haiku are not measured in syllables but in what in English are called morae or moras (from the Latin, to linger or delay), or "on" in Japanese. A fairly complex linguisitic term, moras basically measure the emphasis or weight given to a syllable so that a short syllable would be one mora, whereas a long syllable might be two or more. So, a Japanese haiku might measure 17 moras, but far fewer syllables.

A seventeen syllable haiku written in English would likely be overly verbose, and the translation of a Japanese haiku into English would usually require fewer syllables than the original. Because the essence of haiku is in its brevity, haiku poets writing in English, and those who translate haiku from Japanese, do not tend to follow the 5-7-5 rule, so as to maintain the spare integrity of the original form.

Secondly, traditional Japanese haiku are not written on three lines but in one line, usually consisting of two pairs of sensory images relating to nature separated by a pause so that the two images contrast or complement.

While the Japanese haiku that date back centuries are truly magnificent, modern poets who are able to translate their complexities without losing content are stunning in their own right. For more on the art of haiku and those whose knowledge and translations contributed to The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, visit haikuguy.com and ahapoetry.com.

Article by Megan Shaffer

This article was originally published in September 2010, and has been updated for the September 2016 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...
  • Book Jacket: Circe
    Circe
    by Madeline Miller
    Towards the end of Madeline Miller's novel Circe, the titular nymph is questioned by her son ...
  • Book Jacket: All the Names They Used for God
    All the Names They Used for God
    by Anjali Sachdeva
    Pre-publication press has already compared Anjali Sachdeva to Kelly Link and other genre-blending ...
  • Book Jacket: Look Alive Out There
    Look Alive Out There
    by Sloane Crosley
    After a brief (and thoroughly enjoyable) foray into fiction (with her 2015 novel The Clasp), Sloane ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Other People's Houses
    by Abbi Waxman

    A hilarious and poignant novel about four families and the affair that changes everything.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.