Rain

It rained last night in Dallas. A hard rain with thunder and lightning, the kind of rain that makes my two dogs crawl underneath the covers, curl up, and hide. Today is no different. One might say it is raining cats and dogs or buckets, but that makes no sense to the dogs who are sadly staring out the window wondering.

It’s Thanksgiving, happy Thanksgiving, a good day to stay at home and cook, then to gather with friends and family, say a prayer and eat.

A rainy day in November

Dogs at the window

A hang-dog look

Our thoughts turn to what to do when it is raining so hard all one can say is, “Oh my God!”

It rained all night, it rained all day. It rained, then stopped, and rained again. It rained like someone pounding at my door. The windows rattled, as did I. It rained so much, I screamed, Enough!

Is it Her fault that She chose Thanksgiving as the day for us to stay home and ponder life’s mysteries.

Rain, rain, don’t go away

Stay awhile

While I wonder

Wonder about what? Friendships rekindled.

A Thanksgiving Toast

There are good ships and wood ships

Ships that sail the seven seas

But the best ships are friendships

Trick or Treat


Halloween Night

The candy’s gone. A little sadness, some melancholy, descends on one the day after Halloween night. A beautiful moonlit evening, houses decorated gaily, neighbors wondering if they have enough candy, kids in costumes, smiling, politely asking for candy.

“Trick or treat.”

But night turns into day

The parents safely tucked the younger children in bed by eight. The older children walked the streets til late. Now, they are back in school, or they slept in, suffering from a tummy ache.

The falling leaves,
a moonlit night,
costumed kids,
all so polite,
“trick or treat”
its so much fun,
until
the candy’s gone
— Halloween

Bashō no yōna, 2022

Saiygo

The 12th century poet Saigyō Hōshi (西行法師) wrote this short poem after a fruitless day of cherry blossom viewing and hazy night and moon watching. In the best Buddhist tradition, turning a negative thought into one that is positive. Teaching us that on the morning after Halloween, sadness can be sweet.

花散らで月は曇らぬ世なりせば物を思はぬわが身ならまし     
hana chirade / tsuki wa kumoran / yo nariseba / mono o omowan / waga mi naramashi

西行, Saiygo

Were it not
for falling blossoms
and a cloudy moon,
in such a world
I could not feel
this sadness

Eine Welt 
ohne Zerstreuen von Blüten
und ohne Bewölken des Mondes,
würde mich 
meiner Melancholie berauben

le monde sans
fleurs qui tombent
et une lune assombrie
vole moi
ma mélancolie

Saiygo, Sadness, 12th c.
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

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

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.

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

The Age of 50

Young or old, it is not a question of years — one is young or old from birth to death, it all depends on how and what one feels and thinks.

Bashō no yōna, 2022

Yoshida Kenko

Yoshida Kenko, 兼好, early 14th century Buddhist monk, poet and essayist, remarked, quoting someone else, that if you have not learned an art by the time you are 50 you should give it up. There is not time enough left in one’s life to make the pursuit worthwhile.

Kenko himself retired from public life and became a hermit. His attitude was that it was painful to see men over 50 mixing with society. Rather, one should retire to a leisure life. For those who are still young, ask if you wish to know. But once having grasped the facts clearly enough to understand, pursue the question no further. The ideal in the first place is not to desire to know.

Matsuo Basho, 松尾 芭蕉, 17th century poet, born in 1644, died in November of 1694, having lived 49 full years. Basho had begun to withdraw from society. First, moving from the bustling city center of Edo, the capital, to the more remote Fukagawa district, and his simple cottage. Then, to begin his various wanderings over the Japanese landscape. Basho was poet and artist, and he continued to write and draw up until the time of his death.

On the subject of Yoshida Kenko, Basho wrote this:

秋の色糠味噌壷もなかりけり
aki no iro/ nukamiso tsubo mo/ nakari keri


not even a bowl
in autumn colors
for fermented miso

Matsuo Basho, Autumn, 1691

Notes on Translation

Nukamiso, Nukazuke. Fermented miso. Boiled or steamed vegetables, pickles, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, eggplants, etc., placed in a miso sauce, then fermented in vinegar and sake. Aki no iro, autumn colors of the vegetables. Tsubo, a simple wooden bowl. As a devout Buddhist monk, Kenko had few possessions, typically only one bowl in which to beg for his daily meal. Nakari keri, saying something does not exist. Thus, the overall meaning of the haiku is that in autumn colors, his wooden bowl does not match the colorful pickled vegetables.

Basho, who suffered from stomach ailments throughout his life, ate pickled vegetables for relief.

The begging bowl used by Buddhist monks has a long association with the Buddha himself. According to one legend, when he began meditating beneath the Bodhi Tree, a young woman presented him a golden bowl filled with rice, believing he was the divinity of the tree. The rice he divided into 49 portions, one for each day until he would be enlightened. The precious bowl he threw into the river.

The author, Bashō no yōna, does not agree with Kenko on the subject of aging, as for some, life begins at retirement.

aki no iro, autumn colors of ripened vegetables

On New Year’s Day

Basho visited Sarashina (Nagano prefecture) and its terraced rice paddies (tagato) the autumn before he made this haiku.

元日に田毎の日こそ恋しけれ
ganjitsu wa/ tagoto no hi koso/ koishikere

On New Year’s Day
I long to see
The sun over the rice paddies!

Matsuo Basho, New Year’s Day, Ueno, January 1, 1689, age 46.
Moon over the Rice Paddies at Sarashina, Utagawa Hiroshige, c. 1837, The Met

1689

It is said that this haiku was written on New Year’s Day of 1689 when Basho was at his birthplace in Ueno in Mie Province. He was 46 years old. He had completed the long difficult trip to the Northern Interior of Japan that he and Sora had begun in May of that year.

Before returning to Edo, he made a trip to the place of his birth. Whether he was visiting his brother who ran the family farm is not said. Basho rarely spoke of his family, and by this time, both his father and mother were dead.

It is explained that in the autumn of 1688, Basho had made a journey to Mt. Obasute (Nagano Prefecture) where there are thousands of small rice paddies, tagoto in Japanese. The autumn moon reflecting off those paddies is a famous sight. On a bitterly cold winter’s day, the sight of the sun reflecting off the rice paddies would have been a much better to see than the cold moon.

For Basho, the reference to the moon over Sarashina also recalled memories of his mother. He had written, “I see her now / an old woman crying alone / the moon is her friend.”

Source.

1683

In 1683, Matsuo Basho’s mother died and his hut burned down. Not surprising, that on New Year’s Day, he recalled the warmth of the autumn days.

元日や/ 思へば淋し/ 秋の暮
ganjitsu ya / omoeba sabishi / aki no kure

On New Year’s Day
thinking I’m lonely
on an autumn day

Matsuo Basho, 1683 天和3年, age 40.

Chili Peppers

To the non-foodies: shichimi togarashi is a spicy blend of seven spices that goes well with everything.

青くても/ 有べきものを /唐辛子
aoku te mo / arubeki mono o / tōgarashi

It should have stayed in
Its green attire
– A chili pepper

Matsuo Basho, September, 5th year of Genroku. 1692

Not So Spicy

Autumn 1692, Matsuo Basho is back in Edo (Tokyo), living in his third Basho-an, the cottage by a banana tree, from which he took his name. Tired of traveling, tired of guests, he lives for the most part in seclusion with a nephew and a woman named Jutei, possible his nephew’s wife. She perhaps tended the garden. She maybe cooked the dinner using the popular tōgarashi (唐辛子), red chili peppers. Basho, who lived with a stomach ailment for most of his life, would have preferred something not so spicy.

The red chili pepper did the trick.

I liked this haiku because I planted some chili peppers in my garden this spring and watched the green pepper turn red in late fall. Basho, I suspect thought the chili pepper none too spicy, and therefore, it should have kept its green attire.

Notes on Translation

The subtleties of the Japanese language often befuddle me. What should be so simple gets complex the more I try to delve into the meaning of things. For instance, ても, te mo should mean “even though”, but that doesn’t work. And tōgarashi, 唐辛子, the red chili is red because we know it ripens to that color. It is a popular ingredient in Shichimi, where a little bit goes a long way.

I have of course clothed the chili pepper in green “attire” like the Jolly Green Giant. Others have too.

Chili pepper and tomatoes

Chrysanthemum Tea

朝茶飲む 僧静かなり 菊の花

Asa cha nomu / sō shizukanari / kiku no hana

Matsuo Basho

Three variations on Matsuo Basho’s Morning Tea:

One cup of morning tea
Calms a monk
Chrysanthemums are blooming

A monk sipping his morning tea,
Calmly
— Chrysanthemums are flowering

Drinking morning tea
Calms a monk
– Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum Tea, three times a day, Long life

Chrysanthemum tea
Three time a day
Long life

Chrysanthemum tea
My friends and I
Happy life

Bashō no yono

Chrysanthemum Tea

Chrysanthemum tea (菊茶, kiku-cha) is considered an elixir of life in Japan and much of Asia, enjoyed for the beauty of the flower’s blossoms, their earthy smell, and the taste of the tea. Each mum variety having its own special flavor. The recipe is simple, steep the flower petals (the leaves are too bitter) in hot water. Drink as a morning tea (朝茶, asa cha). Drink while hot. Morning tea and Green tea in general are soothing. Chrysanthemum tea, in particular, is used to calm chest pain, reduce high blood pressure, soften headaches, eliminate dizziness, and treat a host of other conditions.

In a word, Chrysanthemum tea is calming.

Basho suffered from various ailments throughout his life, including stomach ailments. So, it is not hard to imagine that he drank quite a lot of tea. And, after a hard days journey on the Oku No Hosomichi, one pictures Sora, Basho’s traveling companion, brewing tea while Basho is busy writing in his journal. One can also picture their visit to a temple, where a Buddhist monk (僧, Sō) might welcome his guests with tea.

Post Script

Xin chào (“hello”) was the greeting we received in a friendly neighborhood cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Corona Tea!” was the drink we got when we asked for a pot of green tea and two cups.

My wife and I were there visiting our son in Hanoi in early 2020, at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. The fear of Coronavirus was only beginning. At that time, it was only a general concern for good health, green tea being a good start.

The cafe’s setting, beside a small lake, was quiet. Lofty apartment buildings, like tall mountains, surrounded the lake, separating us from the din of a thousand motorcycles on the main streets. This made this tiny spot feel like a personal Shangri-La. That and the woman, the owner of the cafe, who smiled as she served us a steaming pot of green tea.

The tea kept us healthy, I like to think.

Madame,
How do you say, Hello?
— Xin chào
, and green tea

Bashō no yono

I previously translated this haiku.

White Chrysanthemums