A Pillow of Grass

Come
Let us dine on barley grain
On a journey nowhere

(kusa makura)

come, together
let us eat barley grain
on a grass pillow

iza tomo ni/ homugi kurawan/ kusa makura

いざともに穂麦喰はん草枕

barley field, 麦畑

Summer 1685

On “a journey of a thousand leagues,” one that began in the autumn of 1684, a trip in which Basho would enter “into nothingness under the midnight moon,” and now, in the summer of 1685, was near its end, a chance meeting took place. It was a meeting that meant everything and nothing, remarkable enough to inspire a haiku, to remember, but nothing else.

The poet from Edo and the priest from Hirugakojima met somewhere near Nagoya in Owari province. Let us imagine the introduction:

“Come let us go together. As you see, you and I have no place to be. Asking for very little, eating a simple fare of barley grain, ‘neath the stars at night, sleeping on a pillow of grass until we say our goodbyes.”

We learn little of the priest other than the fact that he hails from the island of Hirugakojima (蛭が小嶋) in Izu. The significance becoming apparent only when we realize that the shrine and the temple on the island was built by Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), who established the Kamakura shogunate, a play on words with kusamakura (草枕), the grass pillow.

In 1689, pursuant to his last wishes, Basho would be buried next to Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a member of the Minamoto samurai clan.

Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field

It was the first of Matsuo Basho’s major wanderings, a trip that took him from Edo to Mount Fuji, then on to Ueno, Nara, Kyoto, and Nagoya, a trip begun in uncertainty for Basho made trip alone without provisions. Basho was 41, old enough to have achieved fame as poet and teacher, still uncertain about where life was leading him.

We need not tarry too long on this journey. David Landis Barnhill has given us a translation online of the Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field, (Nozarashi kiko).

Dewa Province Mogami River

Sources:

David Landis Barnhill gives us a chronological translation online of the Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field, (Nozarashi kiko) .

WKD – Matsuo Basho Archives, Gabi Greve, Iza, let’s go

The Route, Nozarashi Kiko (野ざらし紀行), Several sources indicate that Basho was accompanied on the journey by his disciple Chiri. Chiri (塵) is an interesting moniker for it means dust. Dust was on occasion a subject of Basho’s haiku.

blossoms falling, birds startled by the harp’s dust
chiru hana ya / tori mo odoroku / koto no chiri
散る花や鳥も驚く琴の塵

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