The wintry wind, Swelling cheeks and throbbing pain on Peoples’ faces
Kogarashi ya/ Hoobare itamu/ Hito no kao
こがらしや 頬腫痛む 人の顔
Though we don’t know, let us imagine that the year is 1672, Basho at age 28, has moved to Edo (now Tokyo), the seat of the newly established Tokugawa shoguns. He is there to make his career as a professional haiku poet. Picture a street in Edo, it is winter, the trees have been striped of their leaves by a strong wind blowing out of the North. Men and women, old and young, pull up their collars and tighten their scarves and scurry down the street trying to avoid the bitter wind that bites their cheeks.
In the words of Lao Tzu, “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” And those who feel know how truly cold it is. Normally, a face reveals nothing, but a bitterly cold wind reveals the pain one feels on a winter’s day.
Kogarashi is a marker for the start of the winter season. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the wind must blow from the north at a speed of 28.8 kph (18 mph) and be capable of stripping leaves from the tree.
1694, Genroku 7, on the 21st day of the ninth lunar month
An Autumn evening (sigh) Breaking down How will it end – (an angry) talk?
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Translators, like Nick Carraway’s character in The Great Gatsby, never totally agreeing, trying to make sense of Matsuo Basho’s haiku. This however provides hours of fun and never-ending chatter, for when it comes to the sense of a poem, in Zen, there is no right or wrong.
How will it end – In pleasant chat or angry talk?
Three alternative translations
In the autumn night, Breaking into A pleasant chat
1694 – Basho is traveling again for the last time, going from the house of one friend to another. In the year 1694 (Genroku 7, on the 21st day of the ninth lunar month), shortly before his death, he arrives at the home of Shioe Shayo in Osaka. Old friends gathering, reciting haiku, and talking of the olden days.
One month later, on the 12th day of the tenth lunar month, he peacefully passed away.
Notes on Translation
秋の夜を 打ち崩したる 咄かな Aki no yo wo/ Uchikuzushitaru/ Hanashi kana
Line one. 秋の夜 をAkinoyo wo, An Autumn night. The final character を imparts the idea of a sigh or emphasis.
Line two. 打ち崩したるUchikuzushitaru, most translation agree that this conveys the meaning “breaking down into”. I imagine an evening that began as a Renga party where a group of poets each contributed a verse under the direction of a renga master, Matuso Basho. Each verse a haiku that contained three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Eventually all games come to an end, breaking down into congenial chatter and sometimes anger.
Line three. 咄かな Hanashi kana. Basho leaves us with a bit of a mystery. After three centuries, Hanashi comes down to us as a talk, a story and a chat. But the character 咄 when repeated becomes a loud voice (onomatopoeia), especially in an angry way; like tut-tut or tsk-tsk. The final two characters かなkana express wonder.
If the evening ended in anger and disagreement, I imagine Basho sitting there, a bit groggy from the wine, shaking his head, sadly thinking, this is how it ends. Thankfully, I am in the minority on this point of view. A month later, on his death bed, Basho is pictured, at peace, surrounded by friends.