At this moment, in the Winter of 2022, a snow storm is crossing much of the eastern United States from Boston to Norfolk. Here in the Midwest, the sky is spectacularly clear, China blue, but bitterly cold. While chattering birds look down from the trees above, scampering squirrels hunt for food in my garden.
Matsuo would ask, do birds and squirrels feel the cold, I wonder?
一時雨礫や降つて小石川Matsuo Basho, 延宝5年, the 5th year of the Enpo era, Edo, 1678-9
hito shigure/ tsubute ya futte/ Koishikawa
at this moment, it is sleeting
and hailstones are falling all about,
To which, Bashō no yōna says:
All about me, it’s sleetingBashō no yōna, Wichita, January 2022
I’m freezing, only thinking
Fame is fleeting
To which Matsuo replies:
So is lifeMatsuo
Edo, Winter, 1678-9
Matsuo had arrived in Edo, in 1675, seeking fame and fortune as a haiku master. He resided near Edo’s glitzy Nihonbashi District, a country boy in the big city which Edo was becoming. And he was variously employed, making ends meet, while honing his poetic skills. By the winter of 1678-9, he had achieved some recognition.
An admirer of Buddhism, Matsuo would be thinking, fame does not come to all, to those who are lucky, fame is fleeting, for we are only here for a short while — yi shi, 一時.
Fame was in the Future
Matsuo had not, however, taken on the pen-name Matsuo Basho. This would occur after 1680, when he moved to the Fukagawa District of Edo and lived in a simple cottage beside a banana tree given to him by a student. Not had Matsuo taken his journey to the northern interior, which would give him lasting fame in the posthumous publication of Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道).
For was, now, simply living in the moment, yi shi, 一時.
Notes on Translation
Hito, 一時, Chinese, yi shi, meaning at this time, for the moment, not necessarily a concrete moment, a spiritual one; also a Buddhist term for a period in which one chants a sūtra.
Shigure, 雨, a freezing rain, drizzle, sleet, referring to the rainy season in late fall and early winter.
Futte, 降つて, falling about. Matsuo is also implying that he is about to experience a change of fortunes, either for good or bad.
Koishikawa, a place in Edo (Tokyo), a well known garden constructed in the early Edo period, possessing a view of Mt. Fuji. Koishikawa, meaning small river pebble. Basho’s haiku is a play on words with hail as the small pebble. It is also a Buddhist observation of the insignificance of one moment and one man in the eternity of time and space. Matsuo, at this time was engaged in work on an aqueduct, which may explain the connection with the construction of the garden.
A Japanese point of view of Matsuo Basho.