Shiwasu – 師走の

Snow and more snow,
On this December night
Is there a beautiful bright moon?

Yuki to yuki/  Koyoi shiwasu no/  Meigetsu ya

雪と雪 今宵師走の 名月か

It is a dark winter’s night, 1684

A host has provided the site for the renga party. Not everyone has arrived. Perhaps Matsuo Bashō and his friends are discussing something as mundane as the weather. The snow won’t let up. Or so and so is late. Perhaps, it is the teacher, Matsuo Bashō himself who is late.

Should they start haiku without waiting for the master? After all, there is a lot to do before the Lunar New Year arrives.

Matsuo Bashō arrives, shakes the snow from his cloak and shoes, then begins:

I run, you run, the December days are brief, so we all run, shiwasu, even the priests run.

Snow and more snow,
On this December night
Is there a beautiful bright moon?

Notes on translation

Yuki to yuki (雪と雪) snow and more snow

Koyoi (今宵) tonight, this evening

Shiwasu (師走の) is the name for the Japanese lunar month of December. Literally, it means “priests run”, implying that even monks who belong to a higher social rank than regular physical workers and poets also have to run around, as they are very busy at year end.  Shiwa (師走) may also refer to a teacher or master, meaning that Bashō is also running at this time of year.

Meigetsu (名月) often refers to the Autumn Harvest Moon, but more generally to a full moon or bright moon. On the old Japanese lunar calendar, the full moon appeared on the fifteenth night of each month.

Source

As always, there are many, but one of the best is: Basho’s Haiku, Selected Poems by Matsuo Basho, no. 147.

Oku no Hosomichi – Introduction

Matsuo Basho’s introduction to Oku no Hosomichi is well-known and often quoted. And thus, often translated. Those translations changing a word here and there, and sometimes subtly altering the meaning. Here is my crack at it.*

It begins…

 

月日は百代の過客にして、行かふ年も又旅人也。舟の上に生涯をうかべ馬の口とらえて老をむかふる物は、日々旅にして、旅を栖とす。古人も多く旅に死せるあり。

The months and days are eternal travelers. The years that come and go are too. Those who pass their lives afloat on boats, or face old age leading horses tightly by the bridle, their journey is their life, their journey is their home. And many are the old men who meet their end upon the road.

And I myself, moved by the wind driven clouds, am filled with a strong desire to wander.

To be continued…

予もいづれの年よりか、片雲の風にさそはれて、漂泊の思ひやまず、海浜にさすらへ、去年の秋江上の破屋に蜘の古巣をはらひて、やゝ年も暮、春立る霞の空に、白河の関こえんと、そヾろ神の物につきて心をくるはせ、道祖神のまねきにあひて取もの手につかず、もゝ引の破をつヾり、笠の緒付かえて、三里に灸すゆるより、松島の月先心にかゝりて、住る方は人に譲り、杉風が別墅に移るに

 

草の戸も住替る代ぞひなの家

面八句を庵の柱に懸置。

Notes on translation

* I confess to reading other translations. I do not confess to being the best, I do not claim to be entirely original. And should we disagree, then fine.

We all possess the same poetic license.

Matsuo Basho, perhaps, understood better than others the difficulty in conveying life’s experiences into language. His famous poem about the frog and the sound of water is a good example. Not everything has a linguistic expression. It is a Zen thing. Just experience the moment, like a sunset, or waves crashing on the rocks, a crow perched upon a withered branch, or a horse pissing on the ground next to where you are sleeping. To truly know what the moment was like, “You had to be there.”

Context is important too. “Summer grass and warriors dreams” makes more sense if one knows the fate of the Fujiwara clan. It is also interesting to note that Basho, fearing bandits upon the highways, had expected to meet his end upon the journey. The journey might be uncomfortable at times, but it was also full of interesting characters and wonderful surprises.

Then too, there is more than one way of looking at something. Take the first two characters of Basho’s introduction – 月日, literally month and day, but collectively time or figuratively, years.

Sadly, though we can approach some understanding of Basho’s haiku, we can not truly appreciate the beauty of the language which has to be rendered into English, loosing something thereby in translation.

Alas!

The 325th Anniversary of Matsuo Bashō’s Death

November 28, 2019

He was not old by Japanese standards of the 17th century. The Tokugawa shogunate had established peace and tranquility throughout the land. One could expect live to a Biblically allotted time span of 70 years.

But Matsuo Bashō died young, at the age of 50, perhaps worn out by his many travels, the journeys that made him famous.

In this early death, he resembled other famous writers including the Chinese Tang dynasty poet Du Fu, who died at 58; English playwright, William Shakespeare, who died at the age of 52;  or the American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, who also died at the age of 58. She, explaining in a poem the nearness of death, wrote that:

My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – it gives a lovely light!

Bashō’s Final Journey

Today, November 28, 1694, marks the 325th anniversary of the death of Japan’s greatest haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō. He must of anticipated his death for he made a final  journey home in the fall of 1694. Having spent time in Ueno, his birthplace, and Kyoto, where he spent time as a student,  he arrived in Osaka, where he took ill.

One final haiku:

Stricken on my journey
My dreams will wander about
On withered fields of grass

Tabi ni yande/ Yume wa kareno wo/ Kakemeguru
旅に病んで 夢は枯野を かけ廻る

Bashō’s Final Illness

The news of his illness had spread to friends and students. And they gathered around his bed as his spirit left to wander this world. The image was one that was familiar to Basho, for he had often attended the Noh (能) theaters in Edo and, no doubt, in Kyoto where he learned the art of haiku as a student. Noh theater is a peculiar Japanese art form, popularized by Zeami Motokiyo, that includes only male actors who wear masks to represent emotions and typecast figures. Noh drama includes music, physical expression, and dance. The stories often relate to dreams, supernatural worlds, ghosts and spirits.

Life is a lying dream, he only wakes who casts the world aside.
Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443).

Bashō’s Dream

In an earlier haiku (June 29, 1689), Bashō alluded to a well-known Samurai figure, Minamoto no Yoshitsune who was treacherously killed in battle by the last Fujiwara lord, and the subject of a Noh play,

summer grass
and a warrior’s dreams
are what remains
natsukusa ya/ tsuwamono domo ga/ yume no ato
夏草や   兵どもが   夢の跡

 

Bashō’s Burial

Matsuo Bashō wanted companionship on his wanderings in the spirit world; and in accordance with his last wishes, his body was taken to Gichuji Temple, near the banks of Lake Biwa, where he was buried next to the famed Samurai Minamoto no Yoshinaka.

Yasuraka ni nemuru
安らかに眠る

Rest in peace!

banana-trees

Autumn Wind – aki kaze

From East to West
Oh, the Feeling is One
Autumn Wind

(Autumn wind – a cold, biting wind that brings rain and loneliness)

higashi nishi  / aware sa hitotsu / aki  no kaze

東西    あはれさひとつ      秋の風

Hiroshige-Atake-detail

Autumn 1688

This is a repeat post.

Written by Matsuo Bashō in the autumn of 1688, on hearing of the death of Mukai Chine 向井千子, the sister of Bashō’s friend and disciple Mukai Kyorai 向井去来. She too was a poet who died at the young age of 25.  Higashi is Bashō in the East (Edo, the east capital) – nishi is Kyorai in the West (Kyoto, the western capital, and Nagasaki, his far western home).

Kyoto is home to two Buddhist temples, Nishi Hongan-ji  and Nishi Hongan-ji.

Notes of translation

Bashō’s introductory greeting, higashi nishi, parallels the traditional greeting made in Kabuki theater, Tozai, tozai, “to” meaning east, and “zai” meaning west. Aki no kaze is the biting cold autumn wind that brings loneliness.

Who’s that knocking at my door?

great crested grebe

this lodging has a door
unknown
to the call of the kuina (water rail)

this lodging
is not even known
to the kuina’s knock

this hut
can the water rail find
its door

kono yado     wa kuina mo shiranu      toboso kana

この宿    は水鶏も知らぬ       扉かな

great crested grebe

Late Spring and early Summer, 1694

“Tyick, tyick, tyick,” who is that knocking at my door? Death would come knocking for Matsuo Bashō, but not until until November.

In the spring of 1694 Matsuo Bashō set out on his last journey to visit friends, making a trip home to his birthplace at Ueno, to Kyoto where he spent time as a student, and around beautiful Lake Biwa visiting shrines.

This haiku was supposedly written to Kosen (Fujimura Izu?), a Shinto priest who lived on the outskirts of Otsu, and, we may presume from the haiku, in a marshy area near Lake Biwa. The house was so remote it was unknown even to the marsh bird, known as kuina in Japanese, translated into English as a water rail.

The courtship cry of the kuina is a tyick-tyick-tyick, like the sound of one tapping (tataku) on a wooden door. The breeding season dates from late March into June.

Source, Matsuo Basho Archives

Notes on Japanese and Pinyin

Language can be an in-artful thing.

Arriving late and greeting his host, Kosen, Matsuo Bashō might have  apologized by composing this haiku, explaining that he heard the familiar tyick-tyick-tyick of the kuina bird, but couldn’t discover its secretive nest, i.e. his host’s lodgings somewhere along the shore of Lake Biwa.

The sound of “kono… kuina… kana” imitates the kuina’s call to its mate.

Shiranu 知らぬ , not knowing, as in the proverb, Shiranu ga hotoke (知らぬが仏), meaning ignorance is bliss, literally,  not knowing is Buddha.

 

 

 

Autumn’s End – aki no kure

Like a crow landed
on a withered branch
autumn ends

a withered branch
a perched crow
autumn ends

kare eda ni
karasu no tomarikeri
aki no kure

枯朶に   烏 のとまりけり   秋の暮

crow on a withered branch basho

Autumn of 1680*

At least six of Matsuo Bashō’s haiku contain the phrase aki no kure. And of those that can be dated, they bear a date that falls within the last 10 days of the 9th lunar month (thus, the end of autumn). These haiku are thus a contemporaneous accounting of the poet’s feelings at that time of year.

This well-known haiku was written in the autumn of 1680. Bashō had left Edo and just moved to Fukagawa on the east bank of the Sumida River, to escape the city’s din and the bright lights of Nihonbashi, the theater district. Basho is now 36 years old and has 14 years of life before his death.

In Asian countries, there is a festival celebrated on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month. As the number nine in Japan is yang, this is double yang, thus, an inauspicious date. In Japan, the festival is known as Chōyō or as the Chrysanthemum Festival. The festival wishes for a long life and observed by drinking chrysanthemum sake.

Matsuo Bashō’s haiku adds a dose of reality to the frivolity.

Notes on translation

kare eda ni may mean both a withered branch or a leafless branch. The haiku’s imagery is similar to  William Butler Yeats’ “tattered coat upon a stick”.

Karasu no tomarikeri, Basho’s crow karasu has come to rest for the moment.

Aki no kure, a familiar kigo phrase signifying the end of autumn, and winter’s approach.

Sources

As this is one of Basho’s oft repeated haiku there are many sources and interpretations.

A Crow on a Bare Branch by Elin Sütiste, a scholarly comparison of translations.

A Crow on a Withered Branch, my own prior post on the same haiku.

*Another source dates the haiku to the spring of 1681.

Compare

Tang dynasty Chinese poet, Zhang Ji, Mooring at Night by Maple Bridge

The moon sets, crows weep, and frost fills the sky.
In the maple trees by the riverside, the lights of a fishing boat, a troubled sleep.
At Gusu city, Hanshan Temple

William Shakespeare’s description of Autumn in Sonnet 73:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

Kawanabe_Kyosai_Crow-bkg

Autumn Nightfall – aki no kure

Along this way / no one goes, but I / autumn nightfall

Kono michi ya / yuku hito nashini / aki no kure

この道や     行く人なしに      秋のくれ

hike-boardwalk

The Way

“Master, what is the Way?” a student might ask of the enlightened. It is a discussion Matsuo Basho’s disciples might have had with him in Edo where Basho fame was established for all of Japan.

In the fall of 1689, Matsuo Basho was finishing up his epic journey to the north which would become a well known book. Most of the journey, he was accompanied by a companion Kawai Sora, who kept his own journal. Towards the end of their journey, the two separated and Basho was for a while, alone.

A poet writes and rewrites his poem a thousand times. The writing process is a lonely one. A reader may read a poem a hundred times, finding something new each time the poem is read.

More is the pity, there are many places I have been to but once, and all alone.

Notes on translation

Aki no kure  (秋のくれ) has several English meanings – autumn (秋), autumn twilight, autumn night fall, and depending upon context, autumn’s end. It is the subject of several Bashō haiku, suggesting many things including impending death. See Gabi Greve’s discussion in WKD – Matsuo Basho Archives.

Bashō composed the haiku during the fall of 1694, not long before his death.

Seagull – Kamome

Cold water / hard for even a seagull / to sleep

Cold water / could a seagull sleep / I wonder

Mizu samuku/ neiri kane taru / kamome kana

水寒く     寝入りかねたる     鴎かな

seaguls-herring-gul

Dedicated to the priest Genki

Most translators add the following information to this haiku, that it was written in Edo in honor of the Buddhist priest Genki (元起) on the occasion of his presenting Basho with a bottle of Saki, no doubt to help get through a long winter’s night.

Perhaps the two of them had been to see a Noh play in the theater district. Perhaps they were walking back to Bashō ‘s hut across the Sumida River. Perhaps they were discussing the similarity of the art of Zen and haiku, delving into the subtle difference of meditation and sleep when Genki stopped to buy a bottle of saki from a street vendor. Perhaps Basho caught the sight if a seagull in the near frozen river water and wondered how it would sleep through the night.

Kana! I wonder!

 

Notes on translation

Misu samuku 水寒く, cold water

Neiri kane taru 寝入りかねたる,  can’t sleep

Kamome kana 鴎かな, kamome seagull (鴎) plus kana (かな), I wonder

A dream within a dream, 夢のまた夢

As the dew appears
As the dew disappears
Such is my life, that Naniwa
Is a dream within a dream.

露と落ち     露と消えにし     我が身かな       難波のことは      夢のまた夢
tsuyu to ochi / tsuyu to kienishi / waga mi kana / naniwa no koto wa / yume no mata yume

[Death haiku of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)]

Toyotomi-Hideyoshi-3

 

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 豊臣 秀吉

The author of this dream poem is Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), a military general in the late Warring States who succeeded in unifying much of Japan, and the precursor to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Hideyoshi died in 1598, but the final end to the Warring States came 15 years later at the siege of Osaka (大坂の役 Ōsaka no Eki), Hideyoshi’s dream castle called Naniwa.

Gentle reader, you are no doubt scratching the back of your neck, wondering why I have chosen to repeat Hideyoshi’s death haiku in a blog about Matsuo Bashō.

First, there is the obvious connection to Bashō’s own death haiku.

Second, I have wondered, as other scholars have, about Bashō’s claim to samurai status. Little is known. Little can be gleaned from Bashō’s own writings. We do know that Matsuo Bashō was born in 1644, near Ueno, in Iga Province. His brothers became farmers. Bashō became a servant to the samurai Tōdō Yoshitada, who had acquired the haikai name of Sengin. After Tōdō Yoshitada’s death, Basho traveled to Kyoto and studied haiku in earnest.

I have not come across a statement by Bashō himself that his father was of samurai status. He wrote about military battles often, and had a fondness for generals who died in battle. But the proof certain of his samurai status is not there.

There are at least two scenarios. First, that Bashō’s father Matsuo Yozaemon,or his grandfather fought for on the winning side with Tokugawa Ieyasu. Peace being established, the many armies were disbanded and low level samurai were given land to farm instead of swords to wield. It is also possible that the Matsuo clan fought with the opposing forces, with General Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was based in Osaka, then called Naniwa. Osaka and Naniwa is near Ueno in Iga province, and Iga castle where he served the samurai Tōdō Yoshitada.

We will never know and I do not know that it matters. The poetry is beautiful; and, after all, life is what we make it.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)

Life as a dream

Life as a dream is a common metaphor. What are we to make of this?

William Shakespeare wrote plays about it. Lewis Carroll wrote about it in the delightful Alice in Wonderland. The 17th century Spanish poet and playwright, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, wrote a poem saying, “Man dreams the life that’s his,” and ending with “dreams themselves are dreams.” A dream within a dream.

Even a children’s nursery rhyme speaks of life as a merry illusion:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Autumn Gales

Banana tree in a fierce autumn gale
I wonder if I can hear
Rain in the tub, tonight!

Bashō nowaki shite
Tarai ni ame o
Kiku yo kana

芭蕉  野分   して盥に雨を聞く夜哉

Autumn 1681

In the winter of 1680 Bashō moved  from central Edo across the Sumida River to the rural Fukagawa district. His patrons and disciples had prepared a cottage with a thatched roof for him in the midst of a grove of banana trees. In the spring of 1681, one disciple gave him a house warming gift, a new banana plant (Bashō, hence the name Bashō-an).

Away from the distractions of Edo, Bashō had more time to collect his thoughts and compose haiku.

Summer came, and then fall, and with fall the fierce storms and typhoons that strike Japan every year.

Bashō’s Explanation

A sleepless Basho composed the above haiku. Alone, he was wondering if he could withstand the night. Bashō’s explanatory notes provide some insight:

Sleeping alone in a thatched hut

The elder Du (Fu) wrote a poem about a thatched hut blowing (tearing) in the wind. Then the old man Su Shi wrote verse about a leaking cottage. Now I listen to their rain pounding my banana leaves, lying alone in my thatched cottage.

Du Fu is a poet of the Tang dynasty, much admired by Basho. The poem he refers to is Song of My Cottage Unroofed By an Autumn Gale. Du Fu’s poem is much longer, and more involved, but it begins much like Basho’s haiku:

“In the eighth month, autumn’s fierce winds angrily howl,
And sweep three layers of thatch from off my home.
The straw flies over the river, and scatters,
Some hangs high up in the tree,
Some floats down and sinks in the ditch…”

Some three centuries later, Su Shi of the Song dynasty composed a poem with a similar thought, “My thatched roof torn by the autumn wind…”

banana-trees