this lodging has a door
to the call of the kuina (water rail)
is not even known
to the kuina’s knock
can the water rail find
kono yado wa kuina mo shiranu toboso kana
この宿 は水鶏も知らぬ 扉かな
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.
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.