the summer grass
is all that remains
of a soldiers’s dream

the summer grass
the splendid dreams
of Samurai warriors

夏草や 兵どもが 夢の跡

Natsukusa ya/ Tsuwamono domo ga/ Yume no ato

Matsuo Basho, Oku no Hosomichi, 1689

Note. Basho uses Tsuwamono (兵), an old term for a soldier and not Bushi, 武士, samurai warrior.

Ukraine, February 2022

As I write this, Russian military forces are invading the Ukraine. Vladimir Putin who ordered the invasion has bemoaned the collapse of the Soviet Union as the demise of “historical” Russia and dreams of returning the Ukraine to Russian rule.

Ukraine, grass and trees

Baby Sparrow

Sparrow child, Suzume noko

Kobayashi Issa, 小林一茶, (1763 -1828) followed in the footsteps of Matsuo Basho.

雀の子 そこのけそこのけ お馬が通る
Suzume noko/ Sokonoke sokonoke/ Ouma ga tooru

Baby sparrow,
Step aside,
My horse is passing by

The Spring of My Life, Kobayashi Issa, 1819

Version two

Sparrow’s child
Retreat, retreat
Here comes a horse

The Spring of My Life, Kobayashi Issa, 1819

Issa’s Meaning

Step aside.

The internal rhyme alliteration and repetition, Suzume noko, Sokonoke sokonoke, “child, retreat, retreat,” appeal to child and adult alike. That retreat sounds like “tweet” is a bonus for English readers. Issa’s tender haiku advises one to care for the very, very weak.

But, it also serves as a warning — when the big one speaks, little ones should scatter and not be seen. A horse, of course, the all-powerful Shogun.

Baby birds

Yuki, Yuki, Yuki

It snowed last night, several inches, which is unusual in southern Kansas. Snow, snow, snow, let it snow, we used to say as kids, hoping that school would be cancelled, which is what happened today, February, o2, 2022.

Or 2/2/22, a palindrome date.

Looky, looky, looky
Yuki, yuki, yuki
We’re playing hooky

Bashō no yōna, February 2, 2022

Note. Hooky, skipping school without permission. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn often played hooky.

yuki, snow

Basho on Snow and Winter

From the book Oi no kobumi, Winter 1687-8:

いざ行かむ 雪見にころぶ 所まで
Iza yukan / yukimi ni korobu / tokoro made

Let’s go out
And see the snow
Until we slip and fall.

Matsuo Basho, Oi no kobumi, Winter 1687-8

A child grow up and the snow is not his friend. Still, snow on Mt. Fuji is a thing of beauty.

fuyu no hi ya / bashō ni kōru / kagebōshi

A winter’s day
me and my shadow
frozen on horseback

一尾根はしぐるる雲か 富士の雪
hito one wa / shigururu kumo ka / Fuji no yuki

over the ridge
Winter showers
is there’s snow on Mount Fuji? 

Matsuo Basho, Oi no kobumi, early Winter 1687-8

Oi no kobumi

In English, Notes from my Knapsack, or Backpack Notes, 笈の小文, October 25, 1687 to June 1688. Matsuo Basho was 44 when he began this round-Robin trip, reciting verse, from Edo to Iga, then Nagoya, to the grand Ise shrine, and from Nara to Otsu, and home again. Like a child going to school he carried a knapsack, oi 笈, usually made of bamboo.

Snow on Mt. Fuji

There are many translations of Matsuo Basho’s haiku. Not surprisingly they do not all agree. Many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, said Robert Burns. In our case, between pen, the word, and the ear.

In the last haiku, being away form Edo, I suspect Matsuo was wondering if the snow had yet appeared at Mt. Fuji. In late fall, snow flurries make their first appearance at Mount Fuji. And, typically, Fuji is snow-capped five months out of the year. Traveling by horse over the hills in a winter storm, wondering is there snow on Mt. Fuji. This question arises because the character か, ka appears prior to snow on Mt. Fuji (shigururu kumo ka / Fuji no yuki).