From “White Chrysanthemum” by Yosa Buson in Japanese Haiku: Three Hundred and Thirty Examples of Seventeen-Syllable Poems, published by Peter Pauper Press:
I am fifty years old.
My nights grow longer
when sleep is clear.
The cricket that would sing
over my pillow is gone,
and the fourcorners of the room
are still. On a night like this,
life is full of holes
like a porous turnip hollowed by winds,
and my knees feel cold.
At the age when one should know fate,
there is a chrysanthemum in the garden,
scenting the frost.
This is the fifth of six posts featuring mum varieties from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The previous posts are Midwinter Mums (1 of 6), Midwinter Mums (2 of 6), Midwinter Mums (3 of 6), and Midwinter Mums (4 of 6). I like these with the white petals and yellow pushbutton centers; the contrast photographs really well. And here’s a little-known fact about this variety: if you press the center ever-so-gently, the whole flower will wiggle then giggle. (This may or may not be true. (Prove me wrong!))
When preparing this post, I was happy to find both a haiku and another poem that mentioned white chrysanthemums specifically, so those two verses ended out up-top. How did I do that, you ask? Well, thanks very much for asking and here’s a short tutorial.
Up until a couple of years ago, I’d search for relevant phrases in my Kindle books, using the Kindle for Mac app. While that worked fine, it often got tedious — mostly because it’s not possible to search across books so I’d have to pick each book separately, search for the phrase, find nothing useful, then repeat until some book had something I wanted to use. And, of course, I had to actually own the books — so I’d often buy new ones (especially on subjects related to botany or botanical history) that I thought I might be able to use repeatedly as sources for my blog posts. I’ve accumulated some excellent books as a result — and sometimes I actually read them. I’ve also used Google Books fairly often — though that’s even more tedious since so many results are returned and sorting through them is often fruitless. I’ve even tried using one of the various AI chatbots to do something similar — but you may or may not be surprised to learn that the chatbots would often refer me to books or other sources that did not seem to exist.
So then I tried using the Internet Archive — which at first seemed like another source of too much information, until I realized I could limit my searches very specifically and narrow down the results. The Internet Archive contains a wide variety of media types — but their Texts to Borrow section limits searches to books and periodicals, including some that were originally published in previous centuries.
Here’s a screenshot of the search I used to find the two poems above:
By selecting “Search text contents” below the search, this request tells the Internet Archive to find the exact phrase “white chrysanthemum” in books whose title also contains the word “poems” — and returns 27 results along with snippets of the first result found in each book, like this:
Now I have a nice little batch of books to look through, and the site helpfully opens each book at the first result. This approach works well because books of poetry are typically entitled “Something-Something Poems” — but I’ll often try variations by substituting “poetry” as part of the title, or substitute phrases like “history of botany” or just “botany” or “gardening” if that’s the kind of book I want.
But of course there’s more to the story than that. Books on the Archive have been scanned then uploaded — which means each page is an image, not text. Luckily for me, the Mac operating system introduced the ability to extract text from images a few years ago, so I can take a screenshot of the page with a poem (or other text) I want, then select the words from the image and paste them elsewhere as text. There are occasionally formatting errors, but they’re rare and easily corrected: I typically just verify that the words are right, then add line breaks or leading spaces to match the original text once I’ve included it in my blog post. It’s almost like magic — and much easier than transcribing these quotations myself.
While this may all seem a little wonky or nerdy, I continue to add quotations like this to my blog posts because of its incidental benefit: I get exposed to different kinds of literature that I might not encounter otherwise. I’ve read more poetry in the past couple of years than in the previous hundred (haha!) — and this series of chrysanthemum posts introduced me to dozens of haiku poems simply because I read so many while looking for ones I might use. And it was amazing to discover how something so short — the haiku above has only seventeen syllables — not only evokes an instantaneous image but also implies an action (or story) at the same time. It’s like they’re just like photographs… but with words!
Thanks for reading and taking a look!