two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year how I wish you were here
Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
On the occasion of the final illness and imminent death of Toin, Matsuo Basho’s nephew, Basho wrote a letter to his friend and disciple Torin. It was spring, Toin was slowly dying of tuberculosis. But the cherry trees were in full blossom.
Basho took Toin to see cherry blossoms one last time. He was happy at the sight of the fleeting beauty.
Torin came to Basho’s Fukagawa hut and sat up with Toin as he lay dying. After Toin’s death, Basho and Kyosho, another friend, made the trip to Basho’s home to deliver the news. Kyoriku made the journey as far as the Kiso Valley, leaving Basho alone.
Basho wrote two haiku on the occasion of the trip with Kyoriku — two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl.
The hearts of two wayfarers, too soon comes the hour, we are saddened by parting, and death’s flower.
Resembling the heart of a wayfarer, a Chinquapin flower A wayfarer’s heart resembles, a Shinohana 旅人の 心にも似よ 椎の花 Tabibito no Kokoro nimo niyo Shinohana
Note – Shi, 死 the Japanese word for death. Shinohana, a homophone, death’s flower.
A sorrowful person will learn from the trip, taught by the flies of Kiso 憂き人の旅にも習へ木曽の蝿 uki hito no tabi ni mo narae Kiso no hae .
Matsuo Basho, Summer 1693, Kiso Valley
For Matsuo Basho, the end is near. It is the summer of 1693. His nephew Koin, who was staying with him in his Fukagawa hut, had died. Basho is on the Nakasendo Road to his home. Perhaps to deliver the news. Perhaps, Kyoriku, an artist friend accompanied him, part way, or the two met along the way. Then parted, wayfarers on life’s short journey.
Much like the Horse Chestnut (Ozark chinquapin) that blooms in my backyard, in June, the Castanopsis flowers, or Chinquapin, too, are blooming in Japan’s Kiso mountains. The long cattail-like flowers falling and littering the ground.
The wabi-sabi, 侘び 寂び of the moment moves Matsuo Basho. On the one hand, the flower falling to the ground comforts him with its fleeting beauty.
On the other hand, the flies give him no peace.
Found on the Internet
Letter to Kyoroku, late April, 1693.
For five or six days now, his misery has been intense,
Toin appears close to death. Last evening, Torin came over to nurse him all night long. But this is tuberculosis, there is no quick end. The beauty of cherry blossoms dwell in my heart, and as this was Toin’s last season, I took him to see the blossoms, and he was happy.
Note. Taihakudo Torin (d. 1719), Basho’s friend and disciple, who retraced Basho’s 1689 journey three years after his death, preparing the way for the publication of Oku no Hosomichi.
Zen humor times two — Basho and Buccho. A woodpecker can shake a tree but not Buccho’s hut. Buccho would gladly leave his hut, but it won’t stop raining. Rain or shine, there is always something to write about.
woodpeckers, can’t shake this hut in its summer grove
木啄も庵はやぶらず夏木立 kitsutsuki mo io wa yaburazu natsukodachi
Oku no Hosomichi, Matsuo Basho, June 1689
Note. Kitsutsuki, 木啄も, woodpecker using kanji (Chinese) characters. Yaburazu, やぶらず, can’t shake, disturb, meaning to break Buccho’s meditation.
June, 1689, Togachi prefecture
Leaving Kurobane, Basho and Sora walked seven miles into the mountains to visit Unganji temple, known for the practice of Zen meditation. The purpose of his visit was not the temple itself, but the abandoned hut of the poet Buccho. He was Basho’s Zen master and teacher from Edo.
With charcoal made from burnt pine, and with a touch of wry humor, Buccho had written about this about the hut:
My Grassy Hut, Hardly more than five feet square, Gladly, I’d quit, If only it didn’t rain.
… The priest Buccho used to live in isolation in the mountains behind the temple. He once told me that he had written the following poem on the rock of his hermitage with the charcoal he had made from pine.