Farewell

At a renga party. One hundred verses, the last haiku. How do get rid of the last annoying guest? With sleepy eyes, your host appears, your hat and summer coat in hand.

time to say farewell —
your hat and summer coat
in hand
別れ端や笠手に提げて夏羽織
wakareba ya kasa te ni sagete natsu-haori

Matsuo Basho, Fukagawa, Summer 1684

Summer 1684

I have invented a renga party as the occasion for the farewell and this haiku.

By the summer of 1684, Matsuo Basho was living in Fukagawa in the Basho-an (his simple cottage shaded by a banana, a.k.a, basho, tree), adored by his students and disciples. Basho’s mother had died the year before. He was restless.

As summer became autumn, it was time to go home, to say goodbye.

Notes on Translation

Renga (連歌, linked haiku), usually of 36 or even 100 verses. Wow! That’s long.

Those crazy Japanese poets!

One person writes the first hokku (haiku), identifying a single subject (i.e cherry blossoms, the autumn moon, goodbyes and farewells), each person adding to the chain, but delivering a creative twist. Now, the party has gone on too long, too late. The guests have drunk too much and most have left. Saki cups and paper haiku litter the floor.

Wakareba (別れ端や) I get it, I understand, after some difficulty. Farewell!

Kasa (笠) hat. Haori (はおり), a thigh-length jacket with short sleeves, generally used for cold evenings. Basho describes it as a summer (natsu, 夏) garment, suggesting that the season is changing.

Fukagawa. By the age of 36, Matsuo Basho had achieved some success in Edo, the capital of Japan. He had refined the haiku as an art form, and the renga as a convivial setting for its connected verse. He had a group of devoted students and disciples who referred to him as Tosei, the unripe peach. Matsuo wanted more, and departed Edo in 1680 for the more rural Fukagawa district, where, beside his small cottage, he planted a banana tree (basho), saying farewell to Tosei, eventually becoming Basho.

summer, natsu, 夏

Ogaki

Ogaki, Japan, 1689

The final stop of Oku no Hosomichi, the Journey to the Northern Interior. Ogaki is in Gifu Prefecture (then Mino Province), west of Nagoya. If there is a historical reason for chosing this spot, it is this. On the 15th day of the 9th month, the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い) took place in western Mino Province. The victory of Tokugawa Ieyasu eventually led to the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of the Edo Period.

Basho’s only hint as to why the journey ended here is in closing haiku — yuki aki zo, autumn is passing by. If one plays word games then consider this. Yuki may mean happiness, 幸 (yuki) or snow, 雪. Combined, 由 (yu) meaning “reason” with 貴 (ki), it can mean it a “good reason” to stop.

Oku no Hosomichi

From Basho’s notes: Ogaki

The 21st day of the 8th lunar month, arrived Ogaki. My followers gather to work.

On the 6th day of the 9th lunar month, Basho sets off by boat, “I am going to Ise to visit the Grand Shrine.”

When clams split in two, autumn is passing
hamaguri no / futami ni wakare / yuku aki zo

Oku no Hosomichi, last entry, Matsuo Basho, 1689

Note on Translation. Monjin, (), borrowed from the Chinese, meaning a disciple, follower, pupil, or student. Figuratively, one who waits at the gate.

Japanese

大垣

8月21日頃、大垣に到着。
門人たちが集い労わる。

9月6日 芭蕉は「伊勢の遷宮をおがまんと、また船に乗り」出発する。


蛤(はまぐり)の ふたみにわかれ行く 秋ぞ

Note on dates. The Japanese lunar month was about a month earlier than our modern calendar.

Hamaguri, 蛤(はまぐり), Clams

Said the Spider

Spider, spider, speak again!
what’s that you cry
— the autumn wind.
蜘蛛何と音をなにと鳴く秋の風
くもなにとねをなにとなくあきのかぜ
kumo nani to / ne o nani to naku / aki no kaze

Matsuo Basho, Edo, Autumn 1680
spider web

After a night of rain in the ninth month, the morning sun shines fresh. …On bamboo fences and criss-crossed hedges I saw spider webs all in tatters; and on the broken threads raindrops hung like strings of white pearls.

The Pillow Book, Sei Shionagon, 10th c.

The Mystery

Most spiders make no sounds at all, but a few can produce noises. I am no expert on Japanese spiders. The common Jumping spider is cute, but it makes no sound. The giant Joro spider is as big as your palm, again no sound unless it is “squish” when you step on it.

Basho’s haiku was inspired by the female poet Sei Shonagon and her delightful diary of court life, The Pillow Book (Makura no Soshi). Basho substitutes spiders for bagworms. Sei generally speaks of insects as creepy crawly things to be feared, but here she sees the beauty in the web they’ve spun. Another poem speaks of minomushi, the bagworm that makes a sound chichi-yo, chichi-yo, which sounds like “father, father.”

[Note. Chichi-ue (父上 — ちちうえ), an archaic word for ‘honored father’ in Japanese. Compare:
父母のしきりに恋し雉の声
chichi haha no shikiri ni koishi kiji no koe
I long for my dead parents]

The Bagworm

Next year, Basho would muse about the bagworm, composing a haiku for his housewarming on the occasion of moving to Fukagawa into his new “humble” home, Basho-an. This would also be the occasion of Matsuo becoming Basho. Like the bagworm, and its insignificant sound, coming into the world.

Come listen to the sound
a bagworm coming into the world
— in my grass hut

蓑虫の音を聞きに来よ草の庵
minomushi no ne o kiki ni koyo kusa no io

Matsuo Basho, Fukagawa, Basho-an, 1681?

Nani to naku, in the first haiku, sounding like the word nothing — なに と なく.

Plum Blossom

Summer 2022

A morning walk beside the creek
A heavenly breeze, the rising sun
Here comes the heat!

Bashō no yōna, August 2022

On the Today show, Al Roker points to a map covered in RED on the weather map. Record Heat. The days and weeks are full of sun, it’s been months since it was cool. An early morning walk with the dogs inspires Bashō no yōna’s poor attempt at haiku.

Winter 1693-94

Now, two haiku by Matsuo Basho written in early 1694. The subject, the early blooming Plum Blossom. A literary respite from the summer heat.

Fragrant plum fills the air
And the rising sun on
A mountain path! 

梅が香にのつと日の出る山路かな
ume ga ka ni notto hi no deru yamaji kana

Plum Blossom Scent, (Ume ga Ka, 梅が香), Spring 1694

Was the snow still falling? Was it bitterly cold? Did the birds sing when the sun rose?

Note. In the early spring of Matsuo Basho’s last year, he and Shida Yaba 志太野坡 composed a haiku sequence (renga) that came to be called Ume ga Ka (Plum Blossom Scent). Ume, (plum), the five petals symbolize the Five Blessings: old age, wealth, health, virtue, and a peaceful death.

梅が香に昔の一字あはれなり
ume ga ka ni mukashi no ichiji aware nari

The fragrant plum,
The days of old,
That nothing last — ’tis a pity.

Matsuo Basho, February 1694

Note. This second haiku addressed to his student Baigan 梅丸 who had recently lost his son. Ume ga ka, the fragrant plum. Ni, a participle indicating movement or direction. Mukashi, the days of old, the past. No, acts as an indicator of possession. Ichiji. a reference to life’s impermanence. Aware, a pity, something that’s sad. Nari indicates that the emotion follows quickly.

A plum blossom fades all too soon, and so does life. Matsuo Basho died later that year.

Ume no hana, the plum blossom

Ladybug

Ladybug, Ladybug
A bug with a house and wings to boot
— so cute

Bashō no yōna, August 2022

Note. In Japanese, ladybug is tentou-mushi, テントウムシ. That seems a mouthful, but not when you learn it literally means “a bug with a house.”

Bullet Train

Last night my wife and I watched Bullet Train starring Brad Pitt and Hiroyuki Sanada among others. Brad Pitt stars as Ladybug, an unlucky snatch and grab artist, and Hiroyuki Sanada as the Elder, an aging Japanese martial artist/mobster who is trying to protect his grandson and simultaneously seek revenge against the nefarious White Death, who has brought together a cast of bad characters on a Japanese Bullet Train.

In the penultimate scene, Elder (Sanada) explains “Ladybug” to Pitt, saying the bug is not unlucky. It captures all the bad luck in the world under its shell to protect the rest of the world.

Fate.

Ladybug, Ladybug
Bring me some luck
Fly, faraway home

Bashō no yōna, August 2022

Basho on Bugs

Matsuo Basho has no ladybug haiku. Ain’t that’s a shame.

But he did write about cicadas, butterfly, dragonflies, silkworms, lightening bugs, grasshoppers and crickets.

Oh my!

Trivia. In Bullet Train the train is going from Tokyo to Kyoto. The route is known as the Tōkaidō Road, formerly a walking path Basho took many times. The Bullet Train takes about 140 minutes to go from place to place. The move ran 126 minutes.

Remembering

Memory is fundamentally remembering what once mattered — Be it happy or sad. In some cases it can be a peaceful refuge, in the following cases a unending lonely nightmare.

Saiygo copied this one down from the Emperor Horikawa’s collection of poetry.

Where once we met,
The garden fence now lies in ruins.
Flowering there,
Only wild violets in the grass

mukashi mishi/ imo ga kakine wa/ arenikeri/ tsubana majiri no/ sumire nomi shite

100 Poems in Emperor Horikawa’s Collection, 11th c.

A similar but earlier poem by the poet Sōjō Henjō 僧正遍照,

The path to my hut is overgrown,
and all but disappeared,
still I wait,
but she no longer cares for me

我やとはみちもなきまてあれにけりつれなき人をまつとせしまに
Waga yado wa/ michi mo naki made/ arenikeri/ tsurenaki hito o/ matsu to seshi ma ni

Sōjō Henjō 僧正遍照, Japanese poet, Buddhist priest, 9th c.

The following poem would indicate that Saiygo joined in the conversation about long parted lovers.

through parted clouds
the discerning moonlight
didn’t visit —
from the sky
it did not appear
anybody was waiting?

Saiygo, Japanese poet, Buddhist priest, 12th c.


Let the moon shine in

Unless you have been to a music concert or sporting event, or at a Black Friday event at your favorite store, and waiting patiently for the doors to be unlocked and the gates open, you may not get Basho’s anticipation of getting into the Floating Hall on Lake Biwa during the lantern festival that begins in August of each year.

鎖 (じやう)あけ て月さし入れよ 浮み堂
joo akete/ tsuki sashireyo/ Ukimi Doo

open the gates
let the moon shine in –
Ukimodo (Floating Hall)

Matsuo Basho, August 1691 or 1690
Katata, Lake Biwa, Floating Temple (Ukimodo), geese returning, Hiroshige, Met Museum

August 1690, 1691, Ukimodo Temple

Ten years have passed since Matsuo Basho moved from Edo to Fukagawa. Beside his hut grew a banana plant, a gift, form which he took the name Basho, meaning banana, a frail useless plant blown by the winds. His hut has burned down twice. He has taken many trips, including the Oku no Hosomichi, Journey to the Northern Interior, which is not yet published. His needs are few and financially he seems not to worry.

He continues to journey including this trip to Lake Biwa, north of Kyoto, where he had spent his student days.

Ukimido Temple, beside Lake Biwa in Ōtsu, Buddhist, founded in 995. The official name is Mangetsu-ji (満月寺) Full Moon Temple. It is entered through the “Dragon Gate”. It is called Ukimido, Floating Hall because it appears to float on Lake Biwa as one approaches Otsu.

Joo, じやう chain baring the gate.

Spirit World

Here’s a foolish notion —
The spirit world is like
An autumn evening

愚案ずるに冥土もかくや秋の暮
guanzuru ni meido mo kaku ya aki no kure

Matsuo Tōsei (Basho), Autumn 1680

Edo, 1680

By 1680, Matsuo Basho was teaching twenty disciples, living in Edo, but contemplating a move out of the city. He was not yet Basho, but Tōsei, a peach that has yet to ripen.

Translating, as usual, is not so easy.

Guanzuru ni, 愚案 may be both a foolish notion and a humble opinion. On a cool autumn evening listening to the birds, feeling the breeze, watching the setting sun, perhaps with a glass of wine, Matsuo Basho comes up with the notion that the netherworld, that of the spirits where the dead go (meido, 冥土), can be described as (kaku, かく) something like this.

Not to be feared, shadowy for sure, but on the whole, quite nice.

meido mo kaku ya