all that remains
of a Samurai’s dream
夏草や 兵どもが 夢の跡
Natsukusa ya/ Tsuwamonodomo ga/ Yume no ato
June 29, 1689
Having left Edo in late spring of 1689, Matsuo Basho and Sora travel north, arriving at Hiraizumi on June 29th. Once the seat of the Northern branch of the Fujiwara family, it was destroyed in 1189. As the poet gazes down at the old battlefield, he hears in his head the words of the ancient Chinese poet Du Fu and explains:
“In the space of a dream, three glorious generations of Fujiwara vanished; two miles in the distance are the remains of the Great Gate. Hidehira’s headquarters have turned into rice paddies and wild fields. Only Kinkeizan, the Golden Fowl Hill, remains as it once was.
First, we climbed Takadachi, Castle-on-the-Heights, from where we could see the Kitakami, a broad river that flows from the south. Nearby, Koromo River rounds Izumi Castle and at a point beneath Castle-on-the-Heights, it drops into Kitakami. The ancient ruins of Yasuhira and others, lying behind Koromo Barrier, appear to close off the southern entrance and guard against the Ainu barbarians.
With his most loyal retainers, Yoshitsune fortified himself in the castle, but his dreams of glory quickly turned to grass.
“The state is destroyed, / rivers and hills remain. / The city walls return to spring, / grasses and trees are green. “
With Du Fu’s lines in my head, I lay down my bamboo hat and let time and tears flow.”
Notes on translation
夏草 natsuka, summer grass
兵 tsuwamono, warrior, soldier, more specifically a brave and strong soldier, a Samurai 侍 which Basho once was. Basho’s use of the older term 兵 tsuwamono, is suggestive of a lowly soldier or pawn, someone utilized by others
夢の跡 yume no ato, the trace, mark of a dream. Compare Basho’s idea with William Shakespeare’s “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on.” (The Tempest, 1610/1611)
More thoughts on Basho’s Summer Grass
The grass of summer
And warriors’ dreams
Are all that’s left.
The grass of summer, the only trace of a Samurai’s dreams
Summer grass! All that left of a Samurai’s dream.