My wish, to disappear
Under the flowers.
Let it be a Spring death,
In Kisagari (that changing month),
That Bright Moon time of year

bright moon, man walking on beach, ukiyo-e 浮世絵, floating world

Farewell to February, 2021

Before the month of February has passed, I thought it fitting to add one more poem on the subject of Kisigari.

This poem is written not by Basho, but by Saigyō Hōshi (西行法師, 1118 -1190) a poet of the Heian period who lived to the age of 72. His life as a monk and his frequent journeys inspired Basho’s many journeys.

February is a month often overlooked because of its shortness, but also its in-betweenness, caught as it is between winter and spring. Nineteenth century American poet Henry David Longfellow gave us his thoughts on a February Afternoon, which begin like this: The day is ending, The night is descending; The marsh is frozen, The river dead. Matsuo Basho also gave us some thoughts on February (Kisagari). Both are a bit depressing.

Saigyō’s poem, on the contrary, is more uplifting, at least in the Buddhist sense of regeneration with Saigyō imagining that he is reborn as an early spring flower , Hana. The third line is particularly poignant. 春死なむ, Haru shinan conbines the idea of a death in spring and なむ which I understand to be “let it be,” and a reference to the Buddhist concept of Namu 南無.

Kisigari, 如月 is the Japanese lunar name for the month of February. It suggests the changing of the seasons, Spring approaching, a month with spring-like days. Sometimes written as Kinusaragi (衣更着, “Changing Clothes”) .

Yesterday, February the 24th, in Kansas it was 70 degrees, two days before that it was 0. What a difference a day or two makes.

I have one final comment to make on Saigyō’s use of , no through out the poem. This personalizes, for me, the thought. Not being a native Japanese speaker it is just my personal thought.

My wish, to disappear
Under my flowers.
Let my death be in Spring,
In Kisagari (that changing month),
My Bright Moon time of year

Original Japanese


Negawaku wa
Hana no moto nite
Haru shinan
Sono kisaragi no
Mochizuki no koro

Kisaragi (如月) February

Naked am I
Still changing clothes
In Kisaragi, doesn’t it storm

hadaka ni wa, mada kisaragi no, arashi kana


Bridge in a Snowy Landscape, Hiroshige Utagawa, 1842-3

February 2021, it storms

Recent events here in the Midwest reveal that Nature sometimes keeps its worst weather for February. January in Japan is bitterly cold. February, occasionally, will give hints of spring. The February weather changes day by day which explains why the Japanese lunar calendar name for February is kisaragi, 如月, or kinusaragi, 衣更着, which implies the changing of clothes in the anticipation of spring.

Hold on, says Matuso Basho, old man winter is not done.

I am guessing Basho showed up for (or heard about) the Naked Man Festival, Saidai-ji Eyo — Hadaka Matsuri, held in Okayama in February each year. It has been going on 500 years, but in Basho’s time it was somewhat new. The idea of men, nearly naked, hadaka, jostling for a lucky object, hoping to become Fukuotoko, the “lucky man” must have seemed strange.

Thus, it is not hard to imagine Basho saying,

Removing clothes
What, in February, it storms!

Or Basho No-Yona adding,

Dressing today
For yesterday’s weather –
Strange looks

The Lamp Oil is Freezing

The lamp oil is freezing, the light is low, I am awakening!


abura kōri / tomoshi-bi hosoki / nezame kana 

Oil lamp, Shibata Zeshin, 1882, image from The Met

Baby, it’s cold outside

Last night, the temperature dropped to a chilly -2 °F in western Kansas.

If this were 1870, not 2021, I imagine the early settlers would have had a hard time falling asleep in a sod dugout built into the side of a hill. A buffalo robe would help fight off the cold. Dried buffalo paddies when available were used for fuel. In the above haiku, Matsuo Basho gives us his impression of trying to sleep when the weather is bitterly cold, so cold that the lamp oil and the furnace barely provide light and less heat.

At the same time, he manages to turn it into a moment of enlightenment. Basho’s awakening, 寝覚哉, nezame kana, metaphorically is meant as a Buddhist enlightenment.

Does oil freeze?

I did wonder what the Japanese used for lamp oil — rapeseed is the most common answer. I then wondered if rapeseed oil could freeze. It can. While the freezing temperature may vary according to the type of oil, -10 °C or 14°F will do the trick.

This means that our early Kansas settlers would have had a “awakening” like Basho’s.


For those curious as to the when and where of the poem, when is winter 1685-1687, and the place is Basho’s little cottage in the Fukagawa District outside Edo.

Making a Point

A Haiku should be a teaching moment, that is, it should make a point.

One day, when Bashō and his pupil, Takarai Kikaku (宝井其角, 1661–1707), were walking through the fields, they spotted dragonflies darting through the grass and flowers. Kikaku composed this haiku and looked to his master for approval.


A red dragonfly!
remove its wings —
a pepper pod!

The dragonfly is dead.” the Master replied, “Now this is how to create life?”

Red pepper pods!
Add wings,
Behold, dragonflies!

Kitagawa Utamaro, 1788, detail, original image The Met


From this to that
And back again,
Oh, can it ever end?

Bashō no yōna, 2021

Most translators attempting to explain the Kikaku/Basho exchange focus on Basho’s “positive” view, the red pepper becomes a dragonfly; scolding Kikaku’s “negative” view, taking life and not creating it.

We need not be one-sighted. This haiku also explains the Buddhist concept of Rebirth, 轉世.

A pepper becomes a dragonfly, a dragonfly becomes a pepper. So too, each of us enters as new existence after death, in an endless cycle called saṃsāra. This unsatisfactory cycle is considered to be dukkha, painful, and, hopefully, ends with enlightenment, keihatsu, 啓発.

Making my point

Basho: toogarashi hane o tsuketara akatonbo

It is a two-way street. Kyōiku wa sōhōkōdesu, 教育は双方向です. Our clues are found in the carefully chosen images. Tōgarashi, a red or chili pepper, also a spicy seasoning added to many Japanese dishes. Behold, a chef creates a spicy dish. Tsuketara meaning to turn on, light up, or switch on. Behold, on the one hand we have a chili pepper, now it switches to a dragonfly. Instead of using the single character 蜻, Qīng for butterfly, the transformative three character, akatonbo, 赤とん, is used, which means red dragonfly. These characters include the Japanese character , which can best be understood in the context of “if and” or “when”.

Original Japanese

akatonbo hane o tottara toogarashi

toogarashi hane o tsuketara akatonbo

Notes on Translation

In Japan, the dragonfly represents rebirth. To the samurai class it is a symbol of prosperity and good luck. To farmers, the reappearance of dragonflies in spring, signifies a good harvest. The dragonfly is Japan’s national symbol, which is why Japan is also known as the Island of the Dragonfly, Akitsushima

In Western philosophy, one often thinks of life as a one way street. One is born, lives, and dies. In Eastern philosophy, particularly Buddhist philosophy, death becomes passage to a new life. This is similar but different from Christian teaching about the Resurrection.

I am far too much of an amateur to explain the concept of Rebirth, 轉世.

Making a Living

After Matsuo Basho’s death, Kikaku gave us a lovely portrait of the poet, mentioning that his master was “a lonely man and very poor, but his virtues were infinite.” I too am poor and therefore, must make a living. If you wish, you can check out this Dragonfly Lamp, available online, shipping in the continental US.

See it now