Last week Herman van Rompuy published a whole volume of poetry, in itself a surprise
Beneath the impassive breast of the new president of the European council, Herman van Rompuy, must beat a previously undetected sense of humour. Last week he published a whole book of poetry, in itself a surprise. Most remarkably, his passion is for a form of Japanese verse that is the bureaucratic equivalent of the limerick. The haiku is arguably the shortest of poetic forms, but it is claimed to be the one with the most rules: in three short lines, containing neither more nor less than 17 syllables, five in the first and third lines, seven in the second line, it must also contain a reference to season, should be naturalistic and observational in substance, and it should be divided into two independent parts. A style that requires such concentration in so tight a space suggests a writer facing the gloomy prospect of aeons of time before him in which he must maintain an appearance of interest in subjects so arcane that trying to fit a dozen or so words into a small, formal grid is more attractive. Naturally, the added challenge for a Eurocrat is that each poem has to be capable of translation from the original Dutch into English, French and German (although Mr van Rompuy delegated that part of the job). None of the above applies to the haiku written by the Japanese masters of the form, and may not apply to those written in a foreign language either. Like many publications from Brussels, there is some uncertainty about the rules. The only thing that is absolutely clear is that there are a lot of them.