withered and bowed
a world upside down,
as bamboo to snow
shiore fusu ya yo wa sakasama no yuki no take
萎れ伏 すや世はさかさまの 雪の竹
Bashō’s Early Haiku
In 1666, after the death of his samurai master, Matsuo Bashō, age 24, moved to Kyoto to study haiku. That winter Bashō visited the home of a young couple whose child had died. Bowing in respect, he entered, and saw the parents’ tear-streaked faces.
The scene reminded Basho of a Nōh play by Zeami Motokiyo (c. 1363 – c. 1443), Take no Yuki, Snow on Bamboo. In the play, a father rids himself of his wife for a “trifling” reason. He sends his daughter to live with he mother and keeps his son to be the heir to his fortune, and takes a new wife. When the father goes on a pilgrimage, the step-mother sends her step-son into a bamboo grove and the freezing snow. He dies, but the gods, moved by the grief of his father and real mother, bring him back to life.
In the play, Tsukiwaka, the young boy, is given these lines just before he dies:
The wind stabbed him, and the night wore on,
The snow grew hard with ice, he could not brush away.
“I will go back,” he thought, and pushed at the barred gate.
“Open!” he cried, and pounded with his frozen hands.
No one heard him, his blows made no sound.
“Oh the cold, the cold! I cannot bear.
Help, help Tsukiwaka!”
Never did the wind blow more wildly!
Notes on Translation
Shiore fusu, 萎れ伏 , withered and bent down. 伏, fusu, bowing down, a mark of respect Bashō gave the grieving couple on entering their home.
Sakasama, 逆さま, literally upside down, inverted; yo wa, 世は, the world, but a word play on being unsteady or tipsy.
Yuki no Take, 雪の竹, snow to bamboo