My Treat

When a guest arrives, Matsuo Basho has only tiny mosquitos to offer for a feast.


waga yado wa / ka no chiisaki o / chisō kana

In my hut
the tiny mosquitos,
are my treat!

Matsuo Basho, at Genju-an, Summer 1690

My Treat

Matsuo Basho was staying at the Genju-an (Phantom Dwelling) in Otsu on Lake Biwa, which explains the presence of mosquitos. His guest, Akinobo, was a Japanese monk about whom little is known. Akinobo lived as a hermit in complete simplicity and poverty, begging for some rice to eat in summer and a little charcoal in winter to keep warm. So, it may be that Basho was visiting Akinobo and not the other way around.

waga わが my and yado wa 宿は, inn or hermitage

ka 蚊, mosquito; chiisaki 小さきを, a small thing

chiso 馳走, treat, banquet, feast

By the Sea at Suma

cuckoo bird

Suma, Japan, Jokyo 5, Genroku 1
Summer 1688, age 45

Poetry — like an arrow, let loose, following its own path.

From the fall of 1687 to the late summer of 1688, Matsuo Basho travelled from Edo to Iga, to the Grand Ise Shrine, on to Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto and Otsu, and finally to Suma. The poems he wrote along the way became the musings in the book, Oi no Kobumi (笈の小文), Notes from My Knapsack.

at Suma’s seaside
shoot an arrow,
at the cry of a cuckoo

Suma no ama no / yasaki ni naku ka / hototogisu (kakkō)

Matsuo Basho, Oi no kobumi, Summer 1688

Notes on Translation

This haiku is best understood if one is familiar with The Tale of the Genji. Genji lived at Suma. One of the tales concerns the 12th century poet and archer Minamoto Yorimasa (源 頼政), who shot a monstrous bird whose nightly call annoyed the emperor. As the Minister of Right was about to give Yorimasa an award for silencing the bird, he said:

Hototogisu na omo kuomi ni aguru kana
A cuckoo raising its head to the clouds in the heavens calls its name

To which, Yarimasa replied:

Yumihari-zuki no iru ni makasete
I only bent my bow and the arrow shot itself

(Source: Warrior Ghost Plays from Noh Theater, Chifumi Shimazaki. See also, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon: no. 58, Minamoto Yorimasa, by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi)

Suma (Suma, home of Genji, a beach near Kobe) no ama (sea, seaside) no / yasaki (an arrowhead) ni naku (cry) ka / hototogisu (kakkō, cuckoo bird)

cuckoo bird

くか郭公, Nakuka hototogisu, the cry of the cuckoo


To a traveler,
Shii flowers,
like the heart of a traveler
(like the thoughts of a traveler)

旅人の 心にも似よ 椎の花
tabibito no / kokoro ni mo niyo / shii no hana

Matsuo Basho, Summer, 1693

May 6, Genroku 6,
50 years old, 1693

Through the summer of 1693, Basho continued to teach and attend haiku parties (renga). Presumably, at one such party, he composed this haiku, a farewell poem to Morikawa Kyoroku (1656―1715), who was headed to the mountains.

Notes on Translations

Shii is a general term for an evergreen tree of the Birch family. Sometimes called the Japanese Chinquapin, it can be found in the southern US, as well as Japan. In June, it bears separate male and female fuzzy spikes that emit a strong odor that some liken to a cross between honeysuckle and rancid meat. It hosts mushrooms (shiitake), hence the name.

Kokoru, 心 meaning ‘heart’ (Chinese pinyin: xīn). The character looks like the “heart” of a person. The ancients believed that the heart is the organ of thinking, so thoughts and feelings may be substituted.

Morikawa Kyoroku was a samurai of the Hikone Domain, artist and haiku poet. He drew a picture of Basho and another individual, possibly Kyoriku himself.

Sketch of Matsuo Basho by Morikawa Kyoriku, calligraphy by Basho:
かれ朶に烏のとまりけり秋の暮, kareeda ni / karasu no tomari keri / aki no kure (autumn, 1680)


Holy Cow

A heavenly site

— Zion

Southern Utah has five National Parks and Zion ranks as the best. Towering cliffs of red and white Navaho Sandstone, box canyons the are a hikers delight, winding roads with scenic views draw travelers from around the world.

Ironic that Las Vegas is nearby. Sin City and the Holy Place.

The Fragrant Plum

Ume ga ka

The plum (ume 寒) and its fragrance (ume ga ka 寒さか) was a familiar subject for Matsuo Basho, one he wrote about no less than eleven times. Spring’s beauty is fleeting, the plum blossoms briefly, it’s smell prolonged by the cold, or does the coldness recall the smell? I wonder.

I wonder, is the fragrance of the plum
brought back
by the coldness

Ah, the fragrant plum!
Brought back 
By cold weather

梅が香に 追いもどさるる 寒さかな

ume ga ka ni oi modosa ruru samusa kana

Matsuo Basho, Spring, 1684-1694

April 2023

Here in Middle America, we are halfway through April. It rained last night, it’s cold.

Notes on Translation

ume (plum) ga (indicating the thing, the plum) ka (fragrant) ni (exclamatory marker) oi (recalls) modosa (and returns) ruru (continuously) samu (cold) sa (suffix indicating the state of being cold) kana (I wonder)

Old Plum, Kano Sansetsu Japanese, 1646
right two panels of four, The Met

, rig

By Night or Day

Haikus are a different way of seeing things, a microcosm of a larger idea, of an emotion or feeling, a postage stamp or a postcard that takes us on a journey by night or day.

We are not leaving Matsuo Basho for good, we are merely taking a sojourn to a hillside in England where the poet William Wordsworth wandered over the hills of Grasmere with his fellow poet, Samuel Coleridge. I have restructured Wordsworth’s famous poem in set of three lines similar to a haiku renga.

From Odes on Intimations of Immortality:

By night or day,
The things which I have seen
I now can see no more…

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us,
our life’s Star, …

Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Not in entire forgetfulness,
          And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come …

Shades of the prison-house
begin to close
    Upon the growing Boy,

But he beholds the light,
and whence it flows,
  He sees it in his joy …

William Wordsworth, Odes on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, 1804

It was a customary practice of Japanese monks, Samurai, and poets to write a poem at the moment of their death. In late fall of 1694, Basho suffered his final illness. Although he did not use the word “dying,” I have included it as this is considered his death poem. Tabi ni yume wa, literally, on a trip, and falling ill. A dream, an incorporeal body, wandering a withered field is a reference to the Noh plays popular in Edo when Basho arrived there as a young man.

旅に病んで 夢は枯野を かけ廻る
tabi ni yande yume wa kareno wo kakemeguru

Sick and dying on my journey
my dreams ever wandering
on this withered field

Matsuo Basho, Death Haiku, 1694

A Windy Day

Spring 1688

It was a very good year, one might say for Matsuo Basho. He was happily living in Edo at his Basho hut, named for the banana tree outside. He is a respected haiku poet and a teacher of his style of poetry to a select group of disciples. When the spirit moves him, he makes an occasional foray along the the Tokaido and Nakasendo trails to and from Kyoto, and to his home in Ueno. He is also in the midst of planning a longer trip into Japan’s northern interior that would become famous as Oku no Hosomichi.

The Spring wind is howling
while I’m bursting with laughter
— wishing for flowers

haru kaze ni fukidashi warau hana mogana

Matsuo Basho, Spring, 1668

Notes: haru (spring) kaze (wind) ni (on) fukidashi (today, this translates as speech bubble; fu 吹, to blow, to brag; kiき, tree; dashi appears to mean to put something out, like a kite or banner); warau (laugh or smile); hana (flower) mogana (wishing for)

Thoughts from the Midwest on the last day of March — the wind is still howling, driving me crazy.

The wind howls at the trees
Will it stay,
Better yet, will it stop?

Bashō no yōna, March 31, 2023

Something old, something borrowed:

March winds and April showers
bring May flowers
and June bugs

An old standard

Slightly altered, Nature becomes our nemesis:

March winds, April showers,
then heavy rains
and mosquitoes

Bashō no yōna, March 2023

Ah Spring

Spring 1680

He was not yet famous, he was not yet known as Matsuo Basho, but five years of living in Edo had brought him some recognition as a master of haiku.

in spring, its spring!
each spring is great
and so on
ah haru haru ōinaru kana haru to un nun

Matsuo Basho, 1680

By 1679, Matsuo had taken the pen name Tosei (桃青), meaning “green peach.” His own poems were published in several anthologies; and twenty students who called him master published their own poems, Tōsei’s Collection of Twenty Poets (桃青門弟独吟二十歌仙). The year of 1680 was to be a year of great changes.

Haru, haru, how do you do?
The first dandelion is simple and bright
But what happens next?

Bashō no yōna, Spring 2023

Friends Parting


A poet with nothing more than a pen, Matsuo Kinsaku, left Kyoto for Edo in 1672, at age 28.

Clouds separating
Like friends or wild geese
— Parting


Kumo to hedatsu tomo ka ya kari no iki wakare

Matsuo Kinsaku (Basho), 1672

Kumo to (雲とclouds with) hedatsu (へだつseparating) tomo ( friends, but also wisdom) kaya (かや emphasis, but also referring to pampas grass) kari ( wild geese) no iki wakare (の生き別れ who are parting). It has been pointed out by others that kare no wakare has a meaning of a temporary separation. (See Toshiharu Oseko)


Parting is such sweet sorrow,” said Shakespeare’s Juliet about her kari no wakare, for she expected to see Romeo tomorrow. Matsuo Kinsaku, as he was then, had many partings and hoped for returns. But inevitably some partings are final.

Previously translated three years ago to the day.

The Parting Clouds at George Town, Cayman Islands

Inochi — Life

Inochi, , life or fate, the meaning depends on the context and one’s age.

In the Spring of 1672, our poet, Tosei, (meaning unripe peach, he was not yet named Basho) moved to Edo to further study haiku.

inochi koso / imo dane yo mata / kyō no tsuki

Life is like
sweet potatoes
under a harvest moon

Matsuo Basho, Autumn 1672

Existence, both from the point of view of Zen Buddhism and the Tao, is being aware of your place in Nature. By the summer of 1675, Matsuo has gained a following, publishing his own haiku under different names, including Tosei, or “Green Peach,” in deference to the Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty, Li Bai, “White Plum.”

inochi nari / wazuka no kasa no / shita suzumi

to be alive
under the shade of my hat
enjoying the coolness

Matsuo Basho, Summer 1675

In the beauty of Spring, Tosei wrote this giddy haiku based on a Japanese proverb that eating a “first thing,” like a bonito or an eggplant, will extend your life 75 “days” (hi day; hodo , year):

hatsu hana ni / inochi shichi jū / go nen hodo

first blossoms
extending life
seventy-five years

Matsuo Basho, Spring 1678

A decade has passed. Our green peach has ripened into Matsuo Basho. Looking back:

inochi futatsu no / naka ni ikitaru / sakura kana

brings two lives together
the cherry blossoms!

Matsuo Basho, Spring 1685

Note. I suppose one could also chose to say, “two lives brought together by cherry blossoms.” The occasion was Basho’s chance meeting, with an old friend, Hattori Dohō (服部土芳), twenty years having passed.

Ah, the hanging bridge at Kiso
where life is entwined
with ivy vines

kakehashi ya / inochi o / tsuta kazura

Matsuo Basho, Sarashina kikō, Autumn, 1688
inochi futatsu no naka ni ikitaru sakura kana