Autumn Nightfall – aki no kure

Along this way / no one goes, but I / autumn nightfall

Kono michi ya / yuku hito nashini / aki no kure

この道や     行く人なしに      秋のくれ

hike-boardwalk

The Way

“Master, what is the Way?” a student might ask of the enlightened. It is a discussion Matsuo Basho’s disciples might have had with him in Edo where Basho fame was established for all of Japan.

In the fall of 1689, Matsuo Basho was finishing up his epic journey to the north which would become a well known book. Most of the journey, he was accompanied by a companion Kawai Sora, who kept his own journal. Towards the end of their journey, the two separated and Basho was for a while, alone.

A poet writes and rewrites his poem a thousand times. The writing process is a lonely one. A reader may read a poem a hundred times, finding something new each time the poem is read.

More is the pity, there are many places I have been to but once, and all alone.

Notes on translation

Aki no kure  (秋のくれ) has several English meanings – autumn (秋), autumn twilight, autumn night fall, and depending upon context, autumn’s end. It is the subject of several Bashō haiku, suggesting many things including impending death. See Gabi Greve’s discussion in WKD – Matsuo Basho Archives.

Bashō composed the haiku during the fall of 1694, not long before his death.

Seagull – Kamome

Cold water / hard for even a seagull / to sleep

Cold water / could a seagull sleep / I wonder

Mizu samuku/ neiri kane taru / kamome kana

水寒く     寝入りかねたる     鴎かな

seaguls-herring-gul

Dedicated to the priest Genki

Most translators add the following information to this haiku, that it was written in Edo in honor of the Buddhist priest Genki (元起) on the occasion of his presenting Basho with a bottle of Saki, no doubt to help get through a long winter’s night.

Perhaps the two of them had been to see a Noh play in the theater district. Perhaps they were walking back to Bashō ‘s hut across the Sumida River. Perhaps they were discussing the similarity of the art of Zen and haiku, delving into the subtle difference of meditation and sleep when Genki stopped to buy a bottle of saki from a street vendor. Perhaps Basho caught the sight if a seagull in the near frozen river water and wondered how it would sleep through the night.

Kana! I wonder!

 

Notes on translation

Misu samuku 水寒く, cold water

Neiri kane taru 寝入りかねたる,  can’t sleep

Kamome kana 鴎かな, kamome seagull (鴎) plus kana (かな), I wonder

A dream within a dream, 夢のまた夢

As the dew appears
As the dew disappears
Such is my life, that Naniwa
Is a dream within a dream.

露と落ち     露と消えにし     我が身かな       難波のことは      夢のまた夢
tsuyu to ochi / tsuyu to kienishi / waga mi kana / naniwa no koto wa / yume no mata yume

[Death haiku of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)]

Toyotomi-Hideyoshi-3

 

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 豊臣 秀吉

The author of this dream poem is Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), a military general in the late Warring States who succeeded in unifying much of Japan, and the precursor to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Hideyoshi died in 1598, but the final end to the Warring States came 15 years later at the siege of Osaka (大坂の役 Ōsaka no Eki), Hideyoshi’s dream castle called Naniwa.

Gentle reader, you are no doubt scratching the back of your neck, wondering why I have chosen to repeat Hideyoshi’s death haiku in a blog about Matsuo Bashō.

First, there is the obvious connection to Bashō’s own death haiku.

Second, I have wondered, as other scholars have, about Bashō’s claim to samurai status. Little is known. Little can be gleaned from Bashō’s own writings. We do know that Matsuo Bashō was born in 1644, near Ueno, in Iga Province. His brothers became farmers. Bashō became a servant to the samurai Tōdō Yoshitada, who had acquired the haikai name of Sengin. After Tōdō Yoshitada’s death, Basho traveled to Kyoto and studied haiku in earnest.

I have not come across a statement by Bashō himself that his father was of samurai status. He wrote about military battles often, and had a fondness for generals who died in battle. But the proof certain of his samurai status is not there.

There are at least two scenarios. First, that Bashō’s father Matsuo Yozaemon,or his grandfather fought for on the winning side with Tokugawa Ieyasu. Peace being established, the many armies were disbanded and low level samurai were given land to farm instead of swords to wield. It is also possible that the Matsuo clan fought with the opposing forces, with General Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was based in Osaka, then called Naniwa. Osaka and Naniwa is near Ueno in Iga province, and Iga castle where he served the samurai Tōdō Yoshitada.

We will never know and I do not know that it matters. The poetry is beautiful; and, after all, life is what we make it.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)

Life as a dream

Life as a dream is a common metaphor. What are we to make of this?

William Shakespeare wrote plays about it. Lewis Carroll wrote about it in the delightful Alice in Wonderland. The 17th century Spanish poet and playwright, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, wrote a poem saying, “Man dreams the life that’s his,” and ending with “dreams themselves are dreams.” A dream within a dream.

Even a children’s nursery rhyme speaks of life as a merry illusion:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Autumn Gales

Banana tree in a fierce autumn gale
I wonder if I can hear
Rain in the tub, tonight!

Bashō nowaki shite
Tarai ni ame o
Kiku yo kana

芭蕉  野分   して盥に雨を聞く夜哉

Autumn 1681

In the winter of 1680 Bashō moved  from central Edo across the Sumida River to the rural Fukagawa district. His patrons and disciples had prepared a cottage with a thatched roof for him in the midst of a grove of banana trees. In the spring of 1681, one disciple gave him a house warming gift, a new banana plant (Bashō, hence the name Bashō-an).

Away from the distractions of Edo, Bashō had more time to collect his thoughts and compose haiku.

Summer came, and then fall, and with fall the fierce storms and typhoons that strike Japan every year.

Bashō’s Explanation

A sleepless Basho composed the above haiku. Alone, he was wondering if he could withstand the night. Bashō’s explanatory notes provide some insight:

Sleeping alone in a thatched hut

The elder Du (Fu) wrote a poem about a thatched hut blowing (tearing) in the wind. Then the old man Su Shi wrote verse about a leaking cottage. Now I listen to their rain pounding my banana leaves, lying alone in my thatched cottage.

Du Fu is a poet of the Tang dynasty, much admired by Basho. The poem he refers to is Song of My Cottage Unroofed By an Autumn Gale. Du Fu’s poem is much longer, and more involved, but it begins much like Basho’s haiku:

“In the eighth month, autumn’s fierce winds angrily howl,
And sweep three layers of thatch from off my home.
The straw flies over the river, and scatters,
Some hangs high up in the tree,
Some floats down and sinks in the ditch…”

Some three centuries later, Su Shi of the Song dynasty composed a poem with a similar thought, “My thatched roof torn by the autumn wind…”

banana-trees

 

Smoke! kemuri kana

At the festival of the spirits
And even at the crematory
Smoke!

Tama matsuri/ kyō mo yakiba no/ kemuri kana

玉祭り    今日も焼場の    煙哉

fire

I am writing this post on Halloween, an American festival celebrated with costumes, masks, and candy for the trick or treaters. It has become popular in Japan, but it has no true Japanese equivalent, since its roots are in Christianity. Halloween being a corruption of Allhalloween or All Hallows’ Eve, the day before All Saints Day.

Obun festival

A Japanese counter part could be Okuribi (送り火).

It is the culmination of the Obon festival (matsuri) on August 16. In Kyoto, five giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding the city giving off both light and smoke. The fires signify the moment when the spirits of deceased family members, who visit the real world during O-Bon, return to the spirit world—thus the name Okuribi, roughly meaning  “send-off fire”.

In some parts of Japan, smaller okuribi fires are lit before the home to send off the ancestors’ spirits. Smoke fills the air. Incense called senko is added to the mix of smoke and fire. Sky lanterns are also sent into the night sky.

Probably, not Matsuo Basho’s best work, but a nod to the crematories who do their work daily sending souls to the spirit world.

Notes on translation

Tama matsuri  (玉祭りTama (玉) Spirit. Soul. Particularly, a pure, lofty soul. Tama matsuri is a festival held to pray to, give thanks to, and appease the souls of the dead. Matsuru is the verb form meaning to celebrate.

 

chinese-lanterns

Cape Irago – Iragosaki

A solitary hawk
I am happy to find
Cape Irago

鷹一    つ見付てうれし   いらご崎

taka hitotsu / mitsukete ureshi / Iragosaki

Cape Irago Iragosaki, hawk flying

1687

On the 25th day of the tenth moon, Matsuo Bashō, now 43 years old, is ready to set out on another journey. This time he would travel south and west, to the regions of Iga (his boyhood home), Ise, Aichi and Nagoya, Yoshina, Nara, and Suma.

The account, called Oi No Kobumi (Knapsack Journals), would not be published until 15 years after his death.

From Nagoya it is 70 miles or so to the Atami peninsula, and another 30 miles down the promontory to Cape Irago. Today, the peninsula is home to the Mikawa-Wan Quasi National Park, and some of Japan’s most beautiful sandy coastlines and spectacular Pacific Ocean views (above image Google Maps).

The meeting

Bashō was going to meet Tsuboi Tokoku (坪井杜国), who had been exiled for financial speculations, from Nagoya to the rocky promontory. Hobi (Hobicho) the tiny village where Tokoku lived was a mile or two from the end point on the cape. One can picture a tired Bashō standing at the very tip of the cape, spotting a hawk circling above, when happily Tokoku appears.

Tokoku would die three years later while Bashō was still compiling the memories of his journey.

The meaning

Poetry by its nature is ambiguous and capable of different interpretations. This is even more true of haiku, which often intends to surprise. Tokoku could have been the solitary hawk that Basho was in search of. Or, it could have been that Basho was the hawk, happy to find Tokoku. This seems to me the more likely interpretation. After the meeting, Tokoku would join Basho for part of Basho’s journey.

It is a stretch, not a long one, and perhaps just coincidence, but I wonder if the Iragosaki is a play on words with Irago and Sake, rice wine. Various sources allude to Tokoku’s financial speculations as a grain merchant. Perhaps it involved Sake.

Notes on translation

Taka hitotsu. A combination of taka , meaning hawk; and hitosu 一, meaning one or solitary.

Mitsukete ureshi  つ見付てうれし, a combination of the verb mitsuke, to find, and and adjective/adverb ureshi, happy, happily

Iragosaki いらご崎, Cape Irago,  Iragomisaki, 伊良湖岬. Saki translates to rough, or cape.

hawk-clear

Many Sources including:

World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-modern Era, Volume 1, By Donald Keene, giving an account of Bashō’s relationship with Tsuboi Tokoku.

WKD – Matsuo Basho Archives, gives Tokuko’s age as 34 at the time of his death. It explains that he was a grain merchant in Nagoya, before his financial disgrace, moving to the tiny village of Hobi (Hobicho),  on the Akami peninsula.

Matsuo Bashō’s Death Haiku

Sick on my journey
my dreams will wander
this desolate field

旅に病んで 夢は枯野を かけ廻る

Tabi ni yande/ Yume wa kareno wo/ Kakemeguru

The Death of Matsuo Bashō

It came to an abrupt end in 1694.

Bashō, at the age of 50, was making a journey home. He left Edo (Tokyo) for the last time in the summer of that year, spending time in Ueno, where he was born, and Kyoto, where he studied as a young man, before arriving in Osaka, which he had often visited and no doubt had many friends and disciples. There his familiar stomach illness came on again. Bashō apparently had time to put his affairs in order, composing this final haiku.

It is said that Basho delivered this haiku on his deathbed to 60 of his disciples who had gathered to say a final goodbye. Four days later, he died.

Then, pursuant to his last wishes, he was buried at the temple dedicated to Minamoto no Yoshinaka in Gichū-ji. Yoshinka, a general of the Minamoto clan. Yoshinka was killed by his cousins at the Battle of Awazu in Ōmi Province in 1184. According to a play in the Theater of , his spirit wanders about.

milky-way-sea

 

Notes on translation

Tabi ni yande 旅に病んで,  sick on my journey; tabi 旅, meaning trip, travel, or journey

Yume wa kareno wo 夢は枯野を,  “like dreams on a withered field”. A second interpretation – the dream withers or dies on this field. Basho juxtaposes differing interpretations of death. In one scenario. life is extinguished and the dream dies. In the second, as in the Theater of , the spirit of the deceased wanders about.

Basho had the second idea in mind as he had discussed with his friends his wish to be buried near Yoshinaka, who was killed in battle, and was himself the subject of a play in the Theater of Nō where his spirit wandered about.

Kakemeguru かけ廻る, to run or rush about.

A Quail Sings – naku uzura

the hawk’s eyes now, dim that it is dark, so the quail sings

鷹の目も今  や暮れぬと  鳴く鶉

taka no me mo / ima ya kurenu to /   naku uzura

kids-glasses

1691

Early in 1691 Matsuo Bashō stayed for a time in Saga (southern Japan, near Nagasaki), with his disciple Mukai Kyorai, who like Bashō had been born into a Samurai family. In late fall or early winter, he returned to Edo to stay in his third banana hut. The anthology, Monkey’s Raincoat (Sarumino 猿蓑) is published.

Another Hawk haiku

In 1678, on a visit to the Atsumi peninsula and Cape of Irago (Iragosaki), Basho wrote this haiku:

By a stroke of luck, I saw
A solitary hawk circling
Above Iragosaki (Cape Irago)

鷹一つ見付てうれしいらご崎

taka hitotsu mitsukete ureshi Iragosaki

Notes on translation of a Quail Sings

Line one. Taka no me mo, literally the “Hawk eyes now”.

Hawks have excellent eyesight. They can see 8 times better than we be-speckled humans. But like humans, the hawk’s vision dims in the night. And the quail hiding in the tall grass during the day, waits until it is dark, to sing.

Line two. Ima ya kurenu to. Ima, now, Kurenu, that it gets dark, also meaning to come to an end. The hawk’s hunting must end for the quail to sing.

Line three. Naku uzura. The quail (uzura), it sings, it cries, its voice resounds now that the hawk is in its nest. Naku also means to sob, which is what the hawk must me doing.

kirigirisu, a cricket cries

How piteous!
Beneath the warrior’s helmet
A cricket cries.

むざんや   な甲の下の   きりぎりす
muzan ya na/ kabuto no shita no/ kirigirisu

grasshopper-1

Saito Sanemori

An everyday object comes alive when Basho hears a cricket chirp underneath a warrior’s helmet. Winter is approaching.

On the 8th of September, 1689, Matsuo Basho, and his companion Sora, visited Komatsu and the Shrine Tada Jinja 多太神社, the birthplace of the Genji-clan, in Ishikawa prefecture. The shrine was famous as it contained contained the 12th century helmet of the Samurai warrior Saito Sanemori 斉藤実盛 who sided with the losing Heike. The old warrior was brought back from retirement, when he died in battle in 1183. To conceal his age, Sanemori dyed his white hair black.

Basho explains:

We visited Tada shirine where Sanemori’s helmet and a piece of his brocade robe are stored. It is said they were given to the Sanemori by Lord Yoshitomo of Minaoto,when Sanemori served with the Genji clan.

It was no ordinary helmet. From the peak to the turned-back ear flanges, it was embellished with chrysanthemum arabesques in gold. The crest was a dragon’s head, and the helmet had proud and graceful fla, gilded “horns.”

When Sanemori was killed in battle, Kiso Yoshinaka sent Jiro of Higuchi to offer these relics to the shrine. All this is vividly recorded in the shrine’s chronicles.

The first line of Basho’s haiku comes from a play, Sanemori, by Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443), in which a traveling priest encounters Sanemori’s ghost, who narrates his own story and death at Shinowara. During the clash, Sanemori’s head is struck off, only to be found later by an enemy general, Higuchi Jiro. The severed head is washed in a pond and the white hair is revealed. Recognizing the familiar white hair, Higuchi Jiro cries out “Muzan ya na!” “How piteous!”. Awe-struck with grief, Higuchi Jiro is brought back to reality by the sound of a cricket.

Notes on translation

むざんや, Muzan ya na, clearly more than a simple interjection, muzan conveys the sense of grief and tragedy.

, Kabuto, a Japanese Samurai helmet

きりぎりす, Kirigirisu, literally a cricket or a grasshopper and nothing more; unspoken, but implied is the human emotion of crying. A cricket seems less significant to me than a grasshopper, though the two terms were indistinguishable to Basho. Moreover, in Japanese culture, the cricket is an autumn symbol, a sign of approaching winter and death, a kind of melancholy, nostalgic feeling.

samurai costume

October 1, 1691

Maple Leaves at Tsūtenkyō

Such things as cherished tears
color
the scattered red leaves

尊がる涙や 染めて 散る紅葉
tootogaru namida ya somete chiru momiji

Maple Leaves at Tsūtenkyō
Maple Leaves at Tsūtenkyō, near Kyoto

The Autumn Years

It is near the beginning of the end.

Beginning in 1690, Bashō was gone from Edo, living in quiet retirement at the Genju-an (the Phantom Dwelling), what had been an abandoned hut with a rush door, near Lake Biwa. He spent his days working on the book that would make him famous, Narrow Road to the Deep North and making short trips to visit friends and former students. On the first day of October he called on the Priest Ryu, at the Myosho-ji Temple in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture.

This visit inspired the above haiku.

After calling on his friend, Bashō returned to Edo to a new house near the old one in Fukagawa, complete with five banana plants. For the next three years, he would work on another anthology of poetry before setting out once more in the spring of 1694 for his birthplace.

On the way, at Osaka, he took ill and died, age 50.

Notes on translation

Momijigari, 紅葉狩り –  Maple viewing, a Japanese autumn tradition of visiting where the maple leaves have turned red. From momiji (紅葉) meaning the “maple tree” as well as “red leaves” and  “color changing”; and kari (狩り) “hunting”.