Do butterflies dream? Matsuo Basho

Basho’s haiku is based on an episode from the life of the Daoist Chinese philosopher Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi, or Sooji in Japanese) of the Warring States Period. One night he had a dream that he was a butterfly flying from flower to flower, feeling free, blown about by the breeze. Upon waking, he wondered, “Am I a man, dreaming I am a butterfly; or a butterfly, dreaming I am a man?”

You are the butterfly while
I pursue the dreams
of Chuang-tzu


You are the butterfly and
I the dreaming heart
Of Chuang-tzu


kimi ya cho ware ya Sooji ga yumegokoro


Seeing a butterfly flutter from flower to flower, the young disciple asks, “Does the butterfly worry? Does he dream of tomorrow?”

Master Basho replies, “You are the butterfly while I pursue the dreams of Chuang-tzu.”

君 you
や ya, cutting word
蝶 kimi, butterfly
君 や 蝶, kimi ya chō, you and the butterfly
莊子 Zhuāngzi, Chung-tzu
夢心 yumegokoro, dream-like state


One thought on “Do butterflies dream? Matsuo Basho

  1. A year later, I come across this poem, not recognizing at first that it is mine. Chung-tzu (Soogi) and the butterfly are one spirit, and Basho dream-like believes he is Chung-tzu.


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