Even in Kyoto

cuckoo bird

Even in Kyoto
Longing for Kyoto
Hearing the Cuckoo

Even in Kyoto
Nostalgia for Kyoto
– the Cuckoo

cuckoo bird

Summer, 1690

By Japanese reckoning it was the era called Genroku (元禄, meaning “original happiness” or perhaps “the beginning of happiness”). It was the third year of the reign of Emperor Higashiyama, 113th emperor of Japan.

That spring Matsuo Basho had completed his trip that would become in time his most famous travelogue, Oku no Hosomichi, Journey to the Far North. Not wanting to hurry back to Edo, where Basho had lived and written for the last 46 years, he decided to stay in Kyoto for four months in a modest hut called Genjuu-An 幻住庵, located on the grounds of the Chikatsuo Shrine.

Summer was approaching. In Kyoto’s trees, now full of green leaves, one could hear the plaintive cry of the cuckoo, “Kyoo-Kyoo.” Basho recalled his early days a student in Kyoto.

Matsuo Basho was 56 years old. Basho’s own death came in 1694.

Japanese and Pinyin

京にても 京なつかしや 時鳥
Kyoo nite mo, Kyoo natsukashi ya, hototogisu

Notes on translation

Kyoo, Kyoto, appearing at the beginning and repeated to imitate the sound of the cuckoo bird. Some say the birds call, “kyoo-kyoo,” is the cry of the dead longing to come back.

なつかし natsukashi, a feeling of nostalgia, a joy for the remembrance of the past. I have used longing.

時鳥 hototogisu, The cuckoo bird. Basho leaves us with the image of a cuckoo bird and nothing more. Nothing else was needed since the cuckoo was a frequent subject of poets.