Nothing But Radishes

In mid-December, when the last of the Chrysanthemums have turned brown in my garden, there is nothing but radishes. And some chard and parsley, practical and utilitarian, nothing pretty. By the winter of 1692, Matsuo Basho was home. Edo was now his home, or at least Fukagawa, the rural neighborhood just south of Edo across the Sumida River. His cottage, the Basho-an (Banana hut), which had burned down the previous winter was rebuilt. Basho was living with his nephew Toin and Jutei, possibly Toin’s wife but we cannot be sure.

Toin was ill, and would die in 1693. Toin’s illness may or may not have inspired this haiku.

菊の後 大根の外更 になし
kiku no ato/ daikon no hoka/ sara ni nashi

After chrysanthemums
All that’s outside are
White radishes

Matsuo Basho, Winter, 1692, 4th year of Genroku

If one prefers a Zen-like translation,

After Chrysanthemums
Beyond white radishes
— Nothing

Matsuo Basho, on radishes, 1692
daikon, 大根, white radish

Radishes, Daikon

Matsuo Basho had returned to Edo in the Winter of 1691, close to the end of his life, late 1694. Kiku, 菊, chrysanthemums loose their bloom in late November and are symbolic of long life.

Daikon, 大根, is a Japanese white radish. Avid winter gardeners know that when the last flower has faded, the hardy radish and some chard will linger on. Radishes “purify” the stomach, helping remove toxins in the body when eaten. Basho, who suffered stomach ailments through out his life would have relished or, at least tolerated, eating them.

Shi

Ni nashi, になし, nothing. I am not an expert on the Japanese language, but the sound “shi” can have multiple meanings including poem and death. Note to self. Don’t give your wife or girl friend four roses as the character for four, 四, sounds like “shi”.

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