Matsuo Bashō’s Death Haiku

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

sick on my journey,
my dreams go wandering
on this withered field

Matsuo Basho, Death Haiku, 1694

The Death of Matsuo Bashō

The end came abruptly in November of 1694.

Bashō had left Edo (Tokyo) for the last time in the summer of 1694, spending time in Ueno, his birthplace, and Kyoto, where he studied as a youth, then arriving in Osaka, where he had many friends and disciples when an old familiar stomach illness came back.

It is said that Basho delivered this haiku on his deathbed to 60 of his disciples who had gathered to say a final goodbye. Four days later, he died, age 50.

Fittingly, this was to be his final haiku.

Lake Biwa, Otsu on the western shore, artist Hiroshige, ca. 1835, The Met

Burial in Otsu

Pursuant to his last wishes, his disciples took his body to Otsu, next to beautiful Lake Biwa. And he was buried at the Buddhist temple of Gichū-ji. This temple was dedicated to Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a general of the Minamoto clan. Yoshinka was killed by his cousins at the Battle of Awazu in 1184. According to a play in the Theater of (Noh), his spirit wanders about.

If Basho’s spirit wanders about Lake Biwa, it is fitting for he often visited this area.

Notes on translation

Tabi ni yande 旅に病んで,  sick on my journey; tabi 旅, meaning trip, travel, or journey

Yume wa kareno wo 夢は枯野を,  “like dreams on a withered field”. A second interpretation – the dream withers or dies on this field. Basho juxtaposes differing interpretations of death. In one scenario. life is extinguished and the dream dies. In the second, as in the Theater of , the spirit of the deceased wanders about.

Basho had the second idea in mind as he had discussed with his friends his wish to be buried near Yoshinaka, who was killed in battle, and was himself the subject of a play in the Theater of Nō where his spirit wandered about.

Kakemeguru かけ廻る, to run or rush about.

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