Spring Farewells

of sweetfish / seeing off salty fish / farewell

ayu no ko no / shirauo okuru / wakare kana

鮎の子の 白魚送る 別れ哉

Ayu school, detail of image from Wikipedia

Wakare, Farewell

There is not much to this poem. There need not be. Or is there?

Parting is such sweet sorrow Juliet said. Or as the Buddha says, ‘Au wa wakare no hajimari.’ ‘Meeting is the beginning of parting‘.

A parting begins a journey

Inspired by a warm breeze and a passing cloud, in the late spring of 1689, Matsuo Basho sold his few possession, closed the door to his cottage, and, along with Sora his traveling companion, headed north on what would become a journey of nine months. This trip would eventually become a book that would make Basho famous, Oku no Hosomichi, 奥の細道, meaning “Narrow road to the interior” or “Pathways to the Interior” or something similar. But since , Oku can also imply one’s heart, it implies an inner search for meaning, a spiritual quest to find one’s true feelings. But that lay ahead.

Basho was dressed in a peasant’s bamboo hat, as protection from the sun and rain. He wore white breeches that came to mid-calf, a blue tunic, and leather sandals, that he would later decorate with spring flowers. Basho, it is said, rode on a small horse, for he is pictured as such, but it is more likely he walked. The horse was a pack horse or a donkey, the kind we associate with prospectors. It carried Basho’s few provisions, a raincoat, a sleeping bag, some money, although, Basho hoped to live off the kindness of those he met along the way for his fame was now well known throughout Japan. Sora walked beside him.

Their trip began with farewells and the chatter of neighborhood children who were no doubt envious of the adventurous travelers. Perhaps, Basho was thinking partings are beginnings, new meetings, new friends.

Of sweet fish and salty fish

For this haiku, Basho chose the Ayu, 鮎 for the children. The Ayu, the small Sweetfish, we might liken to Silverfish, who swim about in schools when the sun appears or large predator fish chase them. Basho and Sora are the old fish, Sakana, 魚, or white fish, quite common. Basho, having had some reservations about the dangers of the trip, perhaps alluded to his becoming bait for bandits.

Sakana is a generic Japanese word for fish, usually salted and served with sake.

As I said, there is not much to this haiku, or is there? “A parting is not an ending but a beginning,” says Bashō no yōna, to those who look forward and not backwards.

別れは終わりではなく始まりです
Wakare wa owaride wanaku hajimaridesu

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