He and she, she and he. Many haiku artists took up where Matsuo Basho left off with his death in 1694. One such artist was the Lady Kaga no Chiyo (Chiyo-ni, 1703 – 1775). She had taken up writing at the age of seven and was well-known by the time she was a teenager. Basho’s influence comes from the fact that she studied under two of Basho’s apprentices, but as seen in the following haiku, she spoke in her own unique voice.
Entwined in the bucket at the well
So, I beg for water
Matsuo Basho, cooking his morning breakfast, observes:
While cooking rice
Am I a man, (I wonder)?
A moment in time
In a world of things, we strive to express our joy and wonderment in Nature’s beauty. Making his breakfast, Matsuo Basho watching the morning glory unfurl to catch the morning sun. Similarly, Chiyo-ni going to fetch water, finds that overnight the morning glory has wrapped its tendrils into the handle.
A word, a couplet, a line, a thought, nothing can compare with the actual moment in time for Nature’s beauty remains supreme.
Western translators have tried to fill out the meaning of the haiku adding words that were perhaps implied but not written. Dr. Gabi Greve, of the Daruma Museum, Japan, has given us many variations of Chiyo-ni’s haiku, adding neighbor to explain her solution to Chiyo-ni’s dilemma. While the English poet Edwin Arnold has expanded the original thought greatly:
Her leaves and bells has bound
My bucket handle round.
I could not break the bands
Of these soft hands.
The bucket and the well to her left,
‘Let me some water, for I come bereft.
This, I believe, has changed the game, for haiku was and is a game. The only rule being that the poet must express his or her thought in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, features an image, or a pair of images, expressing the essence of a moment in time.
Notes on Translation
Both poets use the flower name 朝顔, asagao, literally morning face.
It is a flower of the fields and and hedge rows, often entwined with briars and along a fence or gate. The flower was brought to Japan with the advent of Buddhism. The tiny blue or purple flower that bloomed each morning represented enlightenment.
“The Asagao blossoms and fades quickly to prepare for tomorrow’s glory” is another well-known phrase.
Sen no Rikyū, the 16th century tea master, is said to have grown gorgeous morning glories in the garden by his teahouse. Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537 – 1598), Japan’s “Great Unifier,” sought an invitation to tea so that he could see the flowers.
釣瓶, tsurube, a bucket for drawing water at a well.
貰い水, morai mizu, literally, received I water – 貰 morai, can also suggest a tip or beneficence . 水 mizu, water. This leaves us with the impression that Chiyo must go and beg for water, i.e. “receiving water as a gift”.
Chiyo-no’s original Japanese and Romaji
朝顔に 釣瓶とられて 貰い水
asagao ni tsurube torarete morai mizu
Basho’s original Japanese and Romaji
朝顔に 我は飯食ふ 男かな
asagao ni ware wa meshi kû otoko kana