Cockscomb (keitoo)

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Cockscomb (keitoo)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: All Autumn
***** Category: Plant


cockscomb, keitoo 鶏頭 (けいとう)
Celosia cristata

ougeitoo 扇鶏頭(おうぎけいとう)"cockscomb like a fan"
hookeitoo 箒鶏頭(ほうきけいとう)"cockscomb like a broom"
yarikeitoo 槍鶏頭(やりけいとう)"cockscomb like a spear"
fusakeitoo 房鶏頭(ふさけいとう)"cockscomb like a tassle"

chabokeitoo ちゃぼ鶏頭(ちゃぼけいとう)
"cockscomb like a bantam rooster"

himokeitoo 紐鶏頭(ひもけいとう)"rope cockscomb"
Amaranthus, Velvet flower
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kikeitoo 黄鶏頭(きけいとう)yellow cockscomb
sanshoku keitoo 三色鶏頭(さんしょくけいとう)
three-colored cockscomb

keitooka 鶏頭花(けいとうか)cockscomb flowers

kara ai no hana 韓藍の花(からあいのはな)
flower of the Korean indigo

. . . . .

hageitoo 葉鶏頭 (はげいとう) amaranth
lit. "leaf cockscomb"
kamatsuka かまつか
ganraikoo 雁来紅(がんらいこう)
Amaranthus tricolor. Fuchsschwanz; Gangessamaranth
. . . CLICK here for Photos !


kigo for all winter

. karekeitoo, kare keitoo 枯鶏頭(かれけいとう)  
withered cockscomb 


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Worldwide use


Things found on the way


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Masaoka Shiki

"teizen 庭前" Front Garden

keitoo no juushigohon mo arinubeshi

"Before the Garden"

must be 14
or 15

trans. Beichman

I'm sure there are at least
Fourteen or fifteen stalks.
trans. Donald Keene

There should be
Fourteen or fifteen.

trans. Blyth

According to Beichman:
The headnote of the poem indicates that Shiki was on the veranda looking out at the garden. The poem is a comment on the cockscombs-- he has tried to count them and this is his estimate.

Cockscombs are a brilliant red autumn flower, about two feet tall and very straight. Their petals, bunched close together, look like masses of stiff, ruffled velvet, and they grow in clusters that would make it difficult to count their precise number. A group of them gives the impression of a fiery blaze of red.

Shiki wrote the poem at a haiku meeting attended by eighteen of his disciples on September 9, 1900. Only two of those present chose it as the best, which made it the least popular of all the poems submitted at the meeting. Takahama Kyoshi did not even consider the piece worth including in the collection of Shiki's haiku, 'Shiki Kushuu', that he compiled shortly after Shiki's death. The poem was first praised by Shiki's tanka disciple Nagatsuka Takashi (1879-1915) and later by the greatest tanka poet of this century [20th-century], Saitoo Mokichi (1882-1953).
It remains a controversial poem even today, however, with some critics maintaining that it is no more than a commonplace description in which the details of number and the variety of flower
are purely arbitrary, and others asserting that it is extremely moving.
[end of excerpt]

And according to Keene:
...ignored by most professional haiku critics for years, [this haiku] is now often acclaimed as his masterpiece...

This verse unfortunately loses everything in translation, but even the original excited derisive remarks from various poets who, questioning the absoluteness of its terms, made such substitutions as "seven or eight stalks" or "withered chrysanthemums" for "cockscombs." One critic defied anyone to define the difference between seven or eight stalks and fourteen or fifteen stalks; but, as Yamamoto Kenkichi pointed out, the sound of the words is important, and anyone who argues exclusively on the basis of meaning does not understand the nature of poetry. The slight differences in shading (rather than of meaning) given the haiku by the grammatical particles and verb endings also communicate overtones to a sensitive Japanese reader that cannot be analyzed in translation. Yamamoto wrote:

"Every masterpiece is a flower on a precipice to be picked only with spiritual danger. The risk is life itself. It is too much to hope every poetry-lover will unfailingly grasp all subtleties of the creative act, but no artistic masterpiece exists without the danger of its being misunderstood. It is a tremendous assertion for the poet to have said, 'There must be fourteen or fifteen stalks of
cockscomb.' After we read this poem we cannot imagine the possibility there could have been more or fewer cockscomb than fourteen or fifteen."
[end of excerpt]

And Blyth comments:
This is one of the most debated verses of Shiki, written in the 33rd year of Meiji during his last illness. ... Kyoshi and Hekigodoo, the editors of Shiki's verses, omitted this haiku, apparently thinking it was of no worth. The first to perceive its value was the poet Nagatsuka Takashi, who said to Saitoo Mokichi, "There are no haiku poets now who can understand this verse." However, this kind of haiku is not in the style of Buson or even Basho. We feel the weakness of Shiki compared with the violence of the red flowers. There is also the way in which Shiki transcends his own weakness, and even wishes to intensify the strength of the plants by increasing their number.
[end of excerpt]

and just one more

keitoo no mina taoretaru nowaki kana

all of them knocked flat
in the autumn storm

Shiki, trans. Burton Watson

Compiled by Larry Bole
Kigo Hotline


In a recent documentary about the life of Shiki, I saw the cockscombs in his garden, a flower he liked very much. When he could not move around any more, his sister, who cared for him lovingly, planted the flowers a bit closer to the veranda. Later, when he had to be in bed all the time, she re-planted them again so that he could still see them when he uplifted his upper body, holding on to a crutch under his arm. Counting the blossoms was one of his daily joys in his sickbed.

When he became completely bedridden, she replanted many flowers, including the hechima gourds, directly on the veranda in pots, so he could see them while lying on his back in bed.

Gabi Greve, January 2010

. Shiki - His younger sister Ritsu 律 .

Related words

***** WKD ... Numbers used in Haiku



Isabelle said...

Thank you, Gabi, for this impressively assembled story about Shiki to go with the kigo.

I shall never look at the cockscombs in the same way again!

Bette Norcross Wappner -- said...

Thank you, Gabi! I enjoyed this very much :) To me, the beauty of Shiki's haiku is in the interpretation of each reader...including that of his own.

Gabi Greve said...

Thank you, Isabelle and Bette, for stopping by.

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Matsuo Basho

kiku keitoo kiri tsukushi keri Omeikō

. for Nichiren, Saint Nichiren 日蓮 .

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Matsuo Basho

keitoo ya kari no kuru toki nao akashi

these cockscombs -
as the geese arrive
they turn even more red

about the geese

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