‘Haiku Herman’ speaks of allure, appeal of haiku

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Herman Van Rompuy speaks with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Herman Van Rompuy is a former prime minister of Belgium and the first president of the European Council, and his nickname is “Haiku Herman” because he is a haiku poet and has published two collections of the poetry.

Haiku, a type of Japanese poetry known for its brevity, is written in many languages nowadays.

Van Rompuy, 74, who serves as the Haiku Ambassador for Japan-EU Friendship, visited Japan in July at the invitation of entities including the Haiku International Association (HIA), which aims to have haiku registered on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Van Rompuy spoke with The Yomiuri Shimbun about the appeal of haiku and the significance of getting haiku registered on the cultural heritage list.

Haiku is popular around the world, and the estimated number of haiku lovers is more than 2 million.

Van Rompuy writes haiku in his native Dutch as well as other languages. He stresses that haiku is “an answer” to the problems of the modern world.

Haiku poets respect nature and the people around them, look carefully at their subject matter and put everything they feel into a 17-syllable poem, Van Rompuy said.

He believes this approach is totally opposite of recent trends in society, where individualism prevails and division and intolerance are rampant.

Van Rompuy said that while society has become highly complex, haiku is the polar opposite that tells us the importance of living simply.

He was born and raised in a rich natural environment in the suburbs of Brussels.

Van Rompuy first experienced haiku about 25 years ago, when he read a book for haiku beginners, which was recommended by an acquaintance who was promoting haiku in Belgium. Reading the book was an eye-opener to him.

He felt that through haiku, he could experience nature better and become deeply involved in the changing seasons, which overlap with the cycle of life. He was also fascinated by the concise, condensed expressions of haiku.

Van Rompuy began writing haiku and presented some poems at a press conference held before taking up the post of president of the European Council in 2009. He became known as “Haiku Herman,” and his haiku collections became best sellers.

His ties with Japan became stronger when he met poet Akito Arima, who served as the president of the HIA for many years and died in 2020.

When Arima visited Europe with an HIA delegation in 2014, Arima expressed his idea for achieving global peace through haiku and having haiku registered as a UNESCO cultural heritage to work toward that purpose.

Van Rompuy sympathized with the idea.

The following year, Van Rompuy was appointed as the Haiku Ambassador for Japan-EU Friendship by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was the foreign minister at the time.

Van Rompuy also currently serves as an honorary adviser to the council to promote registration of Haiku on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Asset.

When Van Rompuy was the president of the EU, he was highly praised for his ability to resolve conflicts.

Now that the world is reeling from the menace of war, he hopes to spread further the appeal of haiku to the international community and support the registration of haiku as a cultural heritage.

Van Rompuy said haiku places importance on harmony and runs counter to jealousy, vanity and aggression.

A recently written haiku conveys his thoughts:

A lovely summer

injured by cannons

Life stronger than death

(Hogeki no natsu mo

Sei wa shi yori tsuyoshi)