Autumn deepens, next door, what does my neighbor do?
秋深き / 隣は何を / する人ぞ
aki fukaki / tonari wa nani wo / suru hito zo
Matsuo Basho on the 26th day of the Ninth Month, 1694
Basho was now 51 years old. In the summer of 1694, he left Edo (Tokyo), and after stops in Ueno, his place of birth, and Kyoto, he went to Osaka where he stayed at a country inn. Here he became ill. He was well enough earlier to visit the Sumiyoshi Shinto shrine (住吉大社), but by evening decided against attending a poetry gathering at a disciple’s house and sent this poem.
He died a few weeks later on the twelfth day of the tenth month.
Autumn deepens, the man next door, what does he do for a living?
Zen, which aims at the perfection of the person-hood, must acknowledge the impossibility of knowing someone else. Still, one is curious about others and what they do. Gentle reader, I am curious about you. Are you curious about me?
Rainy day, falling into the world, Sakai town 雨の日 や世間の秋を 堺町 ame no hi / ya seken no aki o / sakai-chō
Matsuo Bashō, age 35, autumn 1678
By the autumn of 1678, Matsuo Basho had been living in central Edo (Tokyo) for six years and had published several haiku anthologies. He was, one imagines, having to deal with what fame brings.
It was a rainy day. Basho decided to go to the Kabuki Theater District in Sakai-chô. What strange sights greeted him, stranger sights still awaited him when he entered the theater.
Ya seken no aki o / sakai-chō
Seken (世間) refers to the ancient Sanskrit loka (secular world), first borrowed by the Chinese then Japanese. Falling in and falling out, one might say, between reality and fantasy, theater or life itself, who is to say which is more real?
Kabuki 歌舞伎 comes from the verb kabuku, meaning “to slant or to sway.” The colorful costumes suggest a world out of the ordinary.
Bright lights and theater are not compatible with the life of a poet.
In 1780, Basho moved across the Sumida River to the Fukagawa District. There, a benefactor provided him with a simple house. The next year a disciple gives him a banana plant (basho-an).
He plants it and thereafter called himself Bashō, 芭蕉 .