Random Thoughts

Matsuo Basho, I suspect, like most writers wrote down his thoughts on tiny pieces of paper and stuffed them into his pockets. Sometimes pulling them out, polishing the words, writing them down in a better form, publishing them. The ratio of random thoughts to published poems likely being similar to our view of an iceberg floating in the Arctic waters.

Sometimes one has one’s own random thoughts.

Random thoughts — of some importance,
but never written down,
are soon forgotten.

Bashō no yōna, December 2022

Anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmas, I’m often a day behind.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Haiku

Christmas Day, 2022

How do you write Japanese haiku on Christmas Day?

You layer up, wear a silly knit cap to amuse your daughter and son-in-law. They call you a “cone head” while guffawing. You put on thick mittens and add a scarf about your face. You leave.

Off you go to the park to face another day. There is beauty in the silence of the morning. Sunlight on snow, an icy breeze, the cold air you intake. There is something reassuring about another runner passing by. Something delightful about two kids trying to sled on hill that is not much more than a gully.

Sounds like fun
The crunch of snow on frozen leaves
— A Winter’s Run

Whoosh, whooosh,
Whoosh, whooosh, …
Footfalls in the snow

It Snowed last Night
The World is white,
This Christmas morning

Bashō no yōna, Christmas 2022

Merry Christmas!

You Be You

Being You

Your English teacher told you, your mother told you, no doubt, you’ve heard it a thousand times, a thousand ways,

“Be yourself and nobody else.”

Be yourself
everyone else
is already taken

Oscar Wilde, 19th c. Irish playwright and poet

The five month long journey into Japan’s northern interior, a trip that one day will become Oku no Hosomichi is over. Matsuo Basho will now spend his time editing his notes and haiku. A restful trip to Lake Biwa and the Ishiyama temple breaks up the monotony. Students still seek his advice.

don’t copy me,
like the second half
of a split melon!

ware ni niru na futatsu ni wareshi makuwauri

Matsuo Basho, Summer, 1690

makuwa uri 真桑瓜, a sweet melon like a musk melon or cantaloupe.

Ecclesiastics says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” And English teachers say, “It has all been said, it is how you say it that makes the difference.”

Isn’t it ironic,
a translator saying,
“don’t copy me.”

Bashō no yōna
makuwa uri 真桑瓜, a sweet melon

Let it Rain!

Winter 1689

Let it sleet, let us freeze, … friends forever!

On the completion of his trip to the northern interior of Japan which was to become the famous travelogue Oku no Hosomichi, Matsuo Basho took time to visit with friends and take a side journey to visit his birthplace in Ise Province. A poetry performance (renga) was held at a tea house near the castle in Iga-Ueno where Basho was once a servant.

人々を しぐれよ宿は 寒くとも

We at the inn,
Even tho’ it’s bitterly cold,
— Let it rain!

Hitobito wo/ Shigureyo yado wa/ Samuku tomo

Matsuo Basho, Winter, 1689

Notes on Translation

I have reversed the word order in Basho’s haiku and turned down the thermometer to bitterly cold.

To each of us at the inn, let it rain, even if it’s cold. The poets who have gathered for a renga are sitting and shivering in silence, immersed in the beautiful world of haiku. The rat-a-tat-tat of the sleet on the roof and the freezing weather creating an atmosphere of pure wabi, Buddhist term to express an emotion of subdued austere beauty.

shigureyo しぐれよ, the imperative verb form for rain, literally, let it rain. shigure, a winter rain-shower. It is a kigo for winter, and a metaphor for shedding tears.

Too Pretty

Last day on Grand Cayman. Nothing but blue skies and willowy clouds. West Bay in the distance reaching out into the Caribbean, cruise ships arriving in George Town, small boats going to and fro, and I am smack dab in the middle of Seven Mile Beach listening to the waves washing ashore.

Lovely to visit

The sea and sand, the wind in the trees

George Town, Grand Cayman

Too pretty for words

Simply see and give plenty of thanks

— Laozi shows the Way

Dr Roy

Dr Roy Edison McTaggert

Dr Roy Edison McTaggert’s home by the shore is no more. Demolished in 1991, it made way for shops four tourist from cruise ships. All Grand Cayman asked for in return was a tiny strip of rock known as Dr Roy’s Ironshore.

Seven Mile Beach, looking at George Town

Dr Roy did his part

Pulled some teeth

Then departed

“Dr Roy was a pioneering politician, businessman, dentist, cultural guardian and philanthropist.” He lived a long active life from 1893 to 1991, overseeing the Cayman’s independence and insuring that it remained part of the British Commonwealth.

Upland House replaced

His house


Seven Mile Beach

Matsuo Basho wrote about clouds at night a needed rest from moon viewing.

Clouds come and go,
a rest for all of us
— moon viewing

And this one about friends departing, a wild goose because we are all lonely wanderers flying far and wide.

like a cloud in the wind

a wild goose and his friend

too soon depart

Finally, a nod to Joyce Kilmer and his well known tree poem.

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a cloud.

A cloud whose ever changing shape

Against the ocean’s blue horizon

Towers to the heavens

A cloud that smiles at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray,

Until it rains

Is it God that cried

That we have half forgotten

Why we were begotten

The Sound of Ice

Winter 1693

Kenkō, 兼好 (1283–1350) Buddhist monk and author wrote this:

“It is foolish to be enthralled by fame and fortune, painfully striving all your life, and not enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.”

Yoshida Kenkō, How Will You Spend Your Last Day

By the winter of 1693, Matsuo Basho was back in Edo, again in the Fukagawa neighborhood across the frozen Sumida River, living in a simple cottage. Cottage might be an overstatement. A hut with a thatched roof that let the rain in would be a better description with buckets to catch the pattering rain.

But as it is winter, the sound of ice at night, signals the end is near.

A bottle breaks
An icy night,
I’m awake!

The crock cracks,
I am awake,
Ice at night

Awoken by
The cracking crock
— An icy night

kamewa ruru / yoru no koori no / nezame kana

Matsuo Basho

Notes on Translation

Kamewa ruru, 瓶割るる, the bottle breaks, the crock cracks. Not a shattering of the glass, but a slender crack that appears, like ice in a pond.

Yoru no kōri no, 夜の氷の, the ice at night.

Nezame kana, 寝覚め哉, one has the sense of suddenly being awoken from a deep sleep.

Kaba-t,カバっ, an onomatopoeic expression for waking up with a start.