Paddling Satchel Creek

Monday morning, mid-June, warm not hot. A kayak trip up Satchel Creek at Lake El Dorado in southeast Kansas. I am alone in the universe.

The regular rhythm of the paddle in the water inspired these thoughts.

Not haiku, but rules are made to be broken, otherwise how would we improve. Hopefully, the verse is Basho-like, Bashō no yōna. But first, a word from the Master:

With awe I beheld
Fresh leaves, green leaves,
Bright in the sunlight. 

— Matsuo Basho, Road to the Deep North

Let’s Start

Satchel Creek starts out wide as it empties into the lake. Then, as it meanders past rocky shoals, it narrows, until finally the kayak bottoms out on the rocks and one can go no further. But that is still a ways off. A Great Heron accompanies me for a while. Along the way are sunken logs and fallen trees. Spider webs catch their prey. Catfish and carp jump out of the water to catch a fly.

The silence of the water and woods,
The stillness of the air
Is everywhere.
Until one feels a gentle breeze,
And hears the flapping wings of a Great Heron
Leading the way

To who knows where

Paddling up Satchel Creek
In a sleek blue kayak
Past sunken logs and fallen trees
Suddenly, a carp
Grasps a floating bug
Slap goes the water

Matsuo Basho began one his famous journey north with this:

Paddling along, silently wondering, where are the turtles resting on logs in the morning sun? Birds call out sweet songs, unseen in the tall trees.

Turtles will sleep ‘til noon,
Oh, how they hate to get up in the morning.

Have you ever heard a Chickadee call,
High up in a tall tree?

Lake El Dorado was created by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1981. The waters flooded the old town of Chelsea, but its cemetery remains at the north end of the lake. Along the lakeside and up Satchel Creek, flooding left many old trees in the water. Their ghostly gray silhouettes a reminder of what was once woodlands. The first verse mimics Basho’s thoughts of a crow on a withered branch.

On a withered branch
A blue heron keeps watch
Wary of Summer’s strangers

Dead trees like skeletons
Standing in the water
Praying for what?

Water, water everywhere,
And not a drop to think.
A Mulberry tree along the bank,
Its fruit a gift for me…
Thank God

End

Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go back home again.” Heraclitus said, “You could not step twice into the same rivers.” Do they mean the same thing?

I am back in Wichita.
Why do they say,
You can’t go back home again.
Why does the river flows on and on?

Uncertainty was the reason for this trip. The uncertainty of tomorrow, the uncertainty that keeps eating away at me, that brings me down. And, as I alluded to in my last post, I felt that with travel I could escape the discontent that uncertainty brings. I was surprised to find it waiting there for me.

As Seneca advises, I need a change of soul.

“Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after a long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.” Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, 29.

Matsuo Basho, on the other hand, gives us his own version of the Serenity Prayer:

Every day’s a journey, the journey itself is home.

What’s on my feet?

May 4th, 1689

After crossing the barrier-gate of Shirakawa on their journey north, Basho and Sora entered the Tōhoku region (東北地方) of northern Japan. They were headed to the scenic pine covered Matsushima islands. But first they would arrive in Tōhoku’s largest city, Sendai. They reached Sendai on May the fourth. This was seasonally significant as May the fifth marked the first day of summer on the Japanese lunar calendar.

Basho had so far covered over 200 miles by foot and his sandals were well worn.

In Sendai, Basho attempted to make the acquaintance of a fellow poet, Michikaze Oyodo, who like Basho traveled a lot and was, at the time living in Sendai. Michikaze was gone. Fortune smiled and Basho was taken on a sightseeing tour of the area by a wood block artist Basho identifies as Kaemon.

Basho explains:

“Crossing the Natori River, I entered Sendai on May the fourth, the day when the Japanese customarily throw iris leaves on the roof and pray for good health. Finding an inn, I decided to stay in Sendai for several days. In this city there was a painter by the name of Kaemon, and I made special efforts to meet him for he was reputed to be truly artistic. He took me to various places which I might have missed but for his help. First we went to the plain of Miyagino, where new fields of bush-clover would blossom in autumn. The hills of Tamada, Yokono, and Tsutsuji-ga-oka were covered in blooming white rhododendrons. Then we went into the dark pine woods called Konoshita where sunbeams could not penetrate. This, the darkest spot on the earth, has been the subject of many poems because of its dewiness – for example, one poet says that his lord when entering needs an umbrella to protect him from dew drops.”

We also stopped at the shrines of Yakushido and Tenjin on our way home.

Eventually, the time came for us to say good-bye. And Kaemon gave me his own drawings of Matsushima and Shiogama, as well as two pairs of straw sandals with laces dyed the deep blue of the iris. This last gift clearly testifies to the true artistic nature of this man.

Ah, are they Iris that blossom

On my feet, or —

Sandals laced in blue.

ayamegusa ashi ni musuban waraji no o

あやめ 艸足に結ん 草鞋の緒

Iris blossoms

May, 2021

Ah, the glorious iris —

Now withered and brown,

Nature reclaims

The lunar calendar of 1689 does not match today’s Gregorian calendar of 2021, but it does not seem to be off by much. The iris flowers that graced my yard in early May has fallen, reclaimed by the compost pile.

Ah, the cycle of life. 生命の循環, Seimei no junkan.

Notes on Translation

This is a second look at Basho’s iris haiku, previously posted June 2, 2020.

An in depth look at Basho’s haiku can be found at WKD.

Basho begins his haiku with the Japanese character , A which means Hey! or Ah! (getting someone’s attention or expressing surprise.) But the surprise is that あやめ, Ayame becomes the Iris. Again Basho uses another interjection, , (“nn” sound) before the final question, which is too convey the English idea of “hmmm”.

Kaemon’s identity is revealed in Sora’s Diary. English theories about Kaemon’s name and profession are inconsistent. Terebess, Notes on station 18. Reliable Japanese authorities identify him as Kitanoya Kaemon, a wood block printer and owner of a bookstore. He was a student of the haiku poet Michikaze Oyodo who was then living in Sendai. 仙台, Japanese source. Oyodo Michikaze (大淀 三千風), like Basho, was a prolific haiku writer. In 1682, he published a book called, Matsushima Viewbook, extolling the beauty of the islands.

Night Rain, Bai Juyi

Night Rain

The cricket cried, then stopped to rest

The waning light goes out, now it’s clear.

Outside my window, the night rain lets me know

The Banana leaf speaks first.

Banana Speak

Basho like in its subject matter and concise descriptions, but this poem was actually written by the Chinese Tang poet, Bai Juyi. In fact it mirrors the well known haiku by Basho about the ancient pond, the frog, and the sound of water. Well, as is often said, there is nothing new, just how we say it.

Bai Juyi was a poet of the Tang dynasty. His poems are influenced by his deeply held Buddhist beliefs. These beliefs hold that insight comes from meditation and intuitive thought. Thus, the pitter-patter of the night rain on a banana leaf becomes speech. Unintelligible speech to the untuned human ear, “Banana Speak” to those who know.

Original Pinyin and Chinese

Ye Yu

Zao qiong ti fu xie
Can deng mie you ming.

Ge chuang zhi ye yu
Ba jiao xian you sheng.

夜 雨
早 蛩 啼 复 歇
残 灯 灭 又 明。
隔 窗 知 夜 雨
芭 蕉 先 有 声。

Notes

For an explanation and good story on how Bai Juyi’s poem was falsely attributed to Matsuo Basho, see MISATTRIBUTED TO BASHŌ: BAI JUYI’S “EVENING RAIN”. Okay, so Dave calls it Evening Rain instead of Night Rain. He’s smart and I’m right, and once he looks at translations for the alliterative 雨, Yè yǔ he’ll agree. Indeed, is not only night but night long, as in something occurring during the night. Moreover, in line one, one might argue that our crying cricket has not simply rested, but also gone to bed, which is the literal meaning of 歇, xie. In line two, the sensorily sensitive Bai Juyi makes it clear that all light has gone, evening is done, night has begun. And now it is clear. Clear being the Chinese character 明, which may mean bright or brilliant, but in this case “clear”.

知道了, zhīdàole, Got it!

How Zen!

How Dào! which incidentally rhymes.

More Bai Juyi

For more reading, compare Bai Juyi’s Night Rain with Night Snow by the same poet. Nature speaks!

New Beginnings

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Quoting Matsuo Basho in his Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no hosomichi, 奥の細道).

Station 2 – Departure

Early on the morning of March the twenty-seventh I took to the road. Darkness lingered in the sky. The moon was still visible, though gradually thinning away. Mount Fuji’s faint shadow and the cherry blossoms of Ueno and Yanaka bid me a last farewell. My friends had gathered the night before, coming with me on the boat to keep me company for the first few miles. When we got off the boat at Senju, however, the thought of a journey of three thousand miles suddenly seized my heart, and neither the houses of the town nor the faces of my friends could be seen except as a tearful vision in my eyes.

Spring is passing!
Birds are singing, fish weeping
With tearful eyes.

With this verse to commemorate my departure, I began my journey, but lingering thoughts made my steps heavy. Watching friends standing side by side, waving good-bye as long as they could see my back.

Yuku haruya

Spring is passing! Yuku haruya!

The wonderful thing about poetry in verse is that one can read and reread the same poem or the same verse. It is, in a sense a new beginning. It is a chance to start over, although it is on a familiar path, and even so, change directions. Maybe it is a journey into a better lifestyle, with daily exercise and healthier eating.

That new beginning always starts today.

Spring, in verse, in poem,

Perpetually Passing

And yet, it begins anew

Bashō no yōna

Senju

Basho began his journey in the late spring of 1689. His wanderlust lasting over five months — 156 days and nights, to be precise.

The first leg of the journey was by boat from the Fukagawa District where Basho was then living, along the Sumida River, to Senju, today’s Adachi fish market, in the northern part of Edo (Tokyo). From there it was a short walk to the Arakawa River and the bridge that lead north.

Surrounded by the fish mongers and the birds dancing around looking for scraps to eat, Basho began his journey with tearful eyes. He was not quite alone, for Kawai Sora, his neighbor in Fukagawa, would be his companion.

Original Japanese

行く春や 

鳥啼き魚の

目は泪

Yuku haruya

tori naki uo no me

wa namida

Acknowledgements

I do not claim to be original in my translations. Others have come before me. Their translations are equally good or better. Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa is a good source containing the entire journey and notes. The original Japanese is online. Read Yuasa’s translation in an ongoing single account. See also, Matsuo Basho – WKD Archives, @MatsuoBashoWkdArchives, a Facebook account that contains background information. 

Fried Pies

Deep in the Arbuckle Mountains

Sharing a Fried Coconut Pie

At Turner Falls

My wife and I were driving from Wichita to Dallas for a Mother’s Day Weekend with our daughter. A little more than half way, past Davis, where one enters the Arbuckle Mountains, we stopped to let the dog stretch her legs beside the clear creek. Then, as we were about to leave my wife spotted the sign saying Fried Mountain Pies at a rustic drive up cafe. A half dozen cars and a couple of men carrying brown paper bags told us all that we needed to know.

One was enough for two she said. Sharing is caring I thought.

Deep in the Mountains, Saigo

Deep in mountains

The moon to the mind

Shines brightly so

It’s Light mirrors all things,

Like an enlightened mind.

Saigyō, 1118-1190

Every great poet reads and is inspired by other great poets.

Saigyō

Satō Norikiyo (西行法師, Saigyō, 1118-1190) was born in Kyoto to a noble family. Emulating Siddhārtha, at age 22, he quit worldly life, becoming a monk. In his three score and a dozen years, he took many long, poetic journeys to the north of Japan.

And so, five hundred years later, … inspire Bashō and his Narrow Road to the Interior. And four hundred years later inspire me:

Lovely thought, I think,

Do you?

An enlightened mind

Original Japanese Characters

深き山に 心の月し すみぬれば

鏡に四方の 悟りをぞ見る

fukaki yama ni kokoro no tsuki shi suminureba

kagami ni yomo no satori o zo miru

Notes on Translation

心 is an ethereal concept encompassing many things including: heart, mind, thought, idea, intention, center, and core. One wonders if a single word can convey an image. One wonders if everything is changing, in a state of flux, so to speak, temporary and ephemeral. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus, 6th century BC.

Saigo, Basho, and you, gentle reader see the same sun rise each morning.

Enjoy the moment!

Stone upon stone

Saigo’s lovely thought was in turn based on a verse dialogue between Yuquan Shenxiu (玉泉神秀, 606?–706), Patriarch of Chan Buddhism, and Dàjiàn Huineng (大鑒惠能, 638-713) Tang Dynasty eminent monk. (638—713)唐代高僧。

Our body is the Bodhi-tree
And our mind a mirror bright.
Carefully we clean them hour by hour
And let no dust alight.

“Wisdom has no tree, no stand of a mirror bright. Since all is a void (everything is nothing), where can dust alight?” 

Basho took a different path, “Learn about the pine tree from the pine, about bamboo from bamboo.” meaning that Nature is diverse.

Upon the Shoulders of Giants

Inspired thought comes by standing on the shoulders of others, using their insights to further ours. The image can be traced to the 12th century philosopher, Bernard of Chartres. Its most familiar English expression is”If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Isaac Newton, 1675. The idea is however ancient, Confucius also having said similar things.

From parent to child, from teacher to student, we are inspired, we inspire.

A Crow Flies Away

A crow flies away in the setting sun
It is Winter,
A tree is shaking, I wonder

烏飛んで夕日に動く冬木かな

Haiku lives!

Haiku lives on. A good example is this poem by Natsume Soseki (夏目 漱石, 1867-1916), Japanese novelist and haiku poet.

He is best known for his novels Kokoro, Botchan, and Wagahai wa Neko dearu (I Am a Cat). But here he gives us a good follow up to Matsuo Basho’s autumn crow on a withered branch — a picture of man, a portent of doom. Basho and Crows. Soseki’s take is different.

It is winter, the crow has departed, the tree is shaking, Soseki wonders.

Do you get it, I wonder?

Dammit, Zen moments shouldn’t and can’t be explained.

Spring Farewells

of sweetfish / seeing off salty fish / farewell

ayu no ko no / shirauo okuru / wakare kana

鮎の子の 白魚送る 別れ哉

Ayu school, detail of image from Wikipedia

Wakare, Farewell

There is not much to this poem. There need not be. Or is there?

Parting is such sweet sorrow Juliet said. Or as the Buddha says, ‘Au wa wakare no hajimari.’ ‘Meeting is the beginning of parting‘.

A parting begins a journey

Inspired by a warm breeze and a passing cloud, in the late spring of 1689, Matsuo Basho sold his few possession, closed the door to his cottage, and, along with Sora his traveling companion, headed north on what would become a journey of nine months. This trip would eventually become a book that would make Basho famous, Oku no Hosomichi, 奥の細道, meaning “Narrow road to the interior” or “Pathways to the Interior” or something similar. But since , Oku can also imply one’s heart, it implies an inner search for meaning, a spiritual quest to find one’s true feelings. But that lay ahead.

Basho was dressed in a peasant’s bamboo hat, as protection from the sun and rain. He wore white breeches that came to mid-calf, a blue tunic, and leather sandals, that he would later decorate with spring flowers. Basho, it is said, rode on a small horse, for he is pictured as such, but it is more likely he walked. The horse was a pack horse or a donkey, the kind we associate with prospectors. It carried Basho’s few provisions, a raincoat, a sleeping bag, some money, although, Basho hoped to live off the kindness of those he met along the way for his fame was now well known throughout Japan. Sora walked beside him.

Their trip began with farewells and the chatter of neighborhood children who were no doubt envious of the adventurous travelers. Perhaps, Basho was thinking partings are beginnings, new meetings, new friends.

Of sweet fish and salty fish

For this haiku, Basho chose the Ayu, 鮎 for the children. The Ayu, the small Sweetfish, we might liken to Silverfish, who swim about in schools when the sun appears or large predator fish chase them. Basho and Sora are the old fish, Sakana, 魚, or white fish, quite common. Basho, having had some reservations about the dangers of the trip, perhaps alluded to his becoming bait for bandits.

Sakana is a generic Japanese word for fish, usually salted and served with sake.

As I said, there is not much to this haiku, or is there? “A parting is not an ending but a beginning,” says Bashō no yōna, to those who look forward and not backwards.

別れは終わりではなく始まりです
Wakare wa owaride wanaku hajimaridesu

The Dutch make a Pilgrimage

The Captain-General too
Makes a pilgrimage to
His Majesty in Spring

Kabitan mo  tsukuba wakeri    kimi ga haru

甲比丹もつ  くばはせけり   君が春

View of Mt. Tsukuba from the Sumida River, Keisai Eisen (渓斎 英泉, 1790–1848)

Edo, Japan 1678

In Europe, the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 had brought about an end to the 80-year war between Spain and the Dutch who sought independence from King Charles. Protestants from France and Jews from Spain fueled a Dutch Golden Age. Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza and Thomas Hobbes philosophized, John Milton wrote, Kepler and Galileo looked to the heavens. Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉, 1644 –1694) would know little about these events for the Tokugawa shogunate had made Japan Sakoku (鎖国, “a closed country” beginning in 1633 and completing the process by 1639. Under the terms of various edicts, Japanese were forbidden to leave Japan, and only the Dutch were allowed to trade at Nagasaki, and then only if the Dutch traders remained on a small enclave in the harbor.

Matsuo Basho did not seem to concern himself much with world events. And there is but one haiku written about the Dutch. In one of his earlier haiku, while he still lived in Edo, working at a government job, before taking on the pseudonym Basho he wrote the above haiku.

Should we attempt to match Matsuo Basho up with one of his European counterparts, the likelihood is Christiaan Huygens, who in the vein of Descartes and Spinoza wrote:

“…nous n’atteignons pas le certain mais feulement le vraifemblable.”

“Nothing, we know certainly, but howl the likelihood.” Oeuvres complètes de Christiaan Huygens

The Legend of Mt. Tsukuba

Tsukuba has a well-known history in Japan.

Each year the Japanese make a pilgrimage to Mt. Tsukuba and its centuries-old Shinto shrine which represents a source of blessing for the Japanese people. There is also a legend that accompanies the mountain. Thousands of years ago, a deity descended from the heavens and asked Mt. Fuji for a place to spend the night. Mt. Fuji refused, believing it did not need the deity’s blessings. The deity turned then to Mt. Tsukuba, which, humbly welcomed its guest, offering food and water. Today, Mt. Fuji though beautiful, it is cold and lonely. Mt. Tsukuba, covered in vegetation, changes colors with the seasons.

Another legend has it that the Japanese people descend from ancient deities who lived here.

Other Notes on Translation

Only Dutch merchants as foreigners were allowed to trade in Japan and only if they remained on an islet named Dejima in Nagasaki. Once each year they were obliged to make a voyage from Nagasaki to Edo to call on Shogun to pay respect.

Kimi ga haru. The master in Spring. Kimi can mean “you,” but also “master,” the Shogun, in this sense.