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A Short Introduction to the Haiku

An overview of haiku as a poetic form

Many of the things we think we know about the Japanese poetic form of the haiku are inaccurate, if not downright incorrect. The common perception, or understanding, of haiku might be summarised as follows: ‘The haiku is a short Japanese poem containing 17 syllables, following a tradition, and a name, that remains unchanged after centuries.’ There are, however, several problems with such a definition of the haiku, which this short introduction aims to address and make clear.

Although the haiku as a verse form is centuries old, the word ‘haiku’ isn’t. Indeed, it was only surprisingly recently – as recently as the end of the nineteenth century, in fact – that people started referring to these miniature Japanese poems as haiku (never ‘haikus’: the plural is the same as the singular), when Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) began referring to them as haiku as opposed to the older term hokku. Read the rest of this entry

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Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge: Notes Towards an Analysis

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle analyses Rainer Maria Rilke’s innovative novel

Published in 1910, Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge is a rather experimental novel: a more or less plotless, meandering account of one man’s everyday experiences in Paris in the early twentieth century, interspersed with personal memories and reveries, which are often highly mysterious or only partly explained. The title The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge says it all: this is no novel in the conventional sense but rather fictionalised ‘notebooks’, diary entries, or journal fragments from one of the most innovative poets of the early twentieth century. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Summary of Arthur Miller’s ‘Tragedy and the Common Man’

An analysis of Miller’s great defence of a new kind of theatre

As we mention in our collection of interesting facts about Arthur Miller (1915-2005), the noted US playwright’s family had been relatively prosperous, but during the Great Depression of the 1930s, as with many other families, their economic situation became very precarious. This experience had a profound impact on Miller’s political standpoint, and this can be seen time and time again in his work for the theatre. He aligned himself with the leftist politics of the 1930s, namely socialism. His early successes as a playwright were in the genre of social drama. That is, a social problem or issue in contemporary society is explored on stage. More specifically, the dramatic conflict arises usually from a moral dilemma faced by the individual that is related to some kind of flaw or corruption in the social order.

Death of a Salesman (1949), his most famous play, bears some Read the rest of this entry