Another Rainy Day

Edo, Autumn, 1678, Matsuo Basho, then called Tosei, age 35.


雨の日 や世間の秋を 堺町

ame no hi / ya seken no aki o / sakai-chō

A rainy day, in Autumn the world awakens in Sakai-cho

Sakai-cho, Edo’s Kabuki Theater District, Utagawa Hiroshige

Leaving Edo

He has not yet become Bashō, 芭蕉, the poet who compares himself to the fragile and useless Banana plant. That is yet to come when, two autumns later, Matsuo Basho would take the somewhat surprising step of leaving Edo and crossing the Sumida River to Fukagawa to live in a cottage beside a Banana plant, 芭蕉.

For now, Basho enjoys Kabuki Theater. Rain doesn’t matter. Perhaps it heightens the surreal quality of the plays.

Kechi, Kansas, Autumn, 2021

More than three centuries have gone by since Matsuo Basho wrote his haiku.

Today, in 2021, pubs and micro-breweries have become the gathering place for friends and couples who want to talk about the day’s events, about the World.

It is another rainy day in Middle America. It is early September; the summer’s heat has given way to cooler days and nights. The author of this blog takes a trip to Kechi, a small Kansas town outside Wichita. He is accompanied by his wife and dog, Lucy, a small dog, a mix, mostly Blue Heeler. The three of us sit on the patio under trees strung with lights, sample the beers, listen to music, and forget our worrries.

Suddenly, it starts to storm. Lucy runs inside and shakes off the rain. Bashō no yōna, the author of this blog, and modern day Basho disciple, says this:

A dog knows
To Stay out of the Rain
And Sakai-cho

Beer stops Pouring
When it starts Raining

At the Old School House in Kechi

Notes on Translation

Before becoming Basho, Matsuo Basho took the pen name Tosei, 桃青, meaning “green peach” inferring that he was not quite ripe.

世間, Seken, literally the World, Society, as opposed to the individual. According to the Buddha, there are two worlds, the internal world and external world. Through meditation, one understands one’s thoughts and feelings, and finds one’s ‘inner world’.

境町, Sakai-chō, literally border town. It is somewhat unclear whether 境町, Sakai-chō is a place within Tokyo’s Nihonbashi District, or it merely borders it, a special district where Kabuki Theaters were allowed. Often these theaters began in Tokyo where prostitutes plied their trade. Other worldly in this sense takes on a sexual connotation. Though frowned upon by the ruling authorities, such districts were allowed. William Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men similarly had to obtain a royal license to perform.

Gabi Greve has given us a thorough discussion of Nihonbashi in her thoroughly wonderfully blog.

Previously translated as Rainy Day and Seken no Aki.

Historical Context

England 1678, John Bunyan published The Pilgrim’s Progress, an other worldly allegory of man’s journey through life. Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and culturally isolated from Western societies.

Climbing Long’s Peak

Once on a trip to Estes Park, a friend and I camped below Longs Peak (a “fourteener” located in the Rocky Mountain National Park), having decided on the spur of the moment to make the long climb to the top. It was summer, the evening was cool. It is hard to ignore, he snores. He slept in a one man tent, I crosswise and bent in the car. The stars filled the night sky, and the Milky Way rose behind the peak we hoped to climb the next day.

Unprepared, ill-equipped, we didn’t make it all the way, but had a great time. P.S. a better climber started us out, illuminating the pathway with a headlamp that he wisely brought.

a mountain path

Some thoughts:

Nightfall
Too Dark to Read,
To Bed

A fool
Climbs Mt. Long
Not at all

In Darkness,
With trust in the Buddha,
I start, I stumble, I fall

One can ride horses along the trails on the mountainside. When the sun rose, we saw a few horses roaming freely on the range. One horse had only three legs.

A three legged horse
On the mountainside

Climbs better than most

In the Summer Sun
Snow melts, water gathers
A cold stream

There is still snow at the highest elevations, even in July. The summer sun melts the snow forming narrow streams. One often stops to wash the face and hands with the cold water. Then one moves on, admiring a wildflower that grows nearby.

mountain crocus

1685 (year of Jōkyō, 貞享)

The following haiku is from Basho’s Journal of Bleached Bones (Nozarashi Kiko, 野ざらし紀行). This travelogue covered a trip that began in the fall of 1684 and ended the next spring. Basho traveled from Edo to Iga Ueno, his birthplace. After paying respects to his mother who had died the year before, he traveled to Kamigata (an are encompassing Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka). Coming along a mountain path, Matsuo Basho spied a mountain violet (sumiregusa). This dainty purple flower with its heart shaped leaves has no smell, but it is charming nevertheless, being one of the earliest flowers to blossom in spring.

coming along a mountain path,
somehow so charming
– a wild violet

山路来て    何やらゆかし   すみれ草
yamaji kite/  namiyara yukashi/   sumiregusa

[ゆかし, yukashi meaning charming, endearing, or moving. This haiku inspired Enya to compose a charming song in Japanese called Sumiregusa.]

My thoughts is this:

A tiny mountain flower
Don’t pick this jewel
Just admire

Having reached the peak of Mt. Long, many climbers quickly descend, either because the peak has become crowded with other climbers, or the time of day is late and the weather uncertain. I think Basho would agree, there is joy in the summit, but the greater joy is in the journey.

It is not the summit
But the Path
I seek

Stage 25, July 1689

By July, 1689, Matsuo Basho and Sora had reached Obanazawa, three months into their Journey to the Northern Interior, and ready to rest.

[By Matsuo Basho’s reckoning, according to the Japanese lunar calendar, it was the 5th lunar month (五日, itsuka), from the 17th to the 27th, 1689.]

Basho writes:

In Obanazawa, I met a man called Seifu (清風, a Chinese phrase meaning cool breeze).”


“He is wealthy, yet a man of a samurai mind. He has a deep understanding of the hardships of the wandering journey, for he himself had traveled often to the capital city. He invited me to stay at his place as long as I wished and made me comfortable in every way he could.”

Making coolness
My lodging,
I rest

Yes (Hai), crawl out!
Croaking toad
Under the silk moth hut

The mental image of
Mayahuki (an eye brush)
And Benihana (Safflower, red powder flower)

Safflower, 紅粉の花

Notes on Translation

Obanazawa (尾花沢), literally means the valley of the yellow iris (尾花). The city is located along the Mogami River in central Japan, halfway between Sendai and Sakata (Stages 18 and 31).

In Obanazawa, Matsuo Basho’s host was Seifu (清風), a wealthy merchant and poet of the Danrin school, founded by Nishiyama Sōin (1605 to 1682). Seifu had previously exchanged haiku with Basho and Sora in Edo. Seifu is the Haiku name of Michisuke Suzuki, a safflower wholesaler, thus the third haiku.


Who knows,

Seifu’s kaiku
Not me, not you

Seifu’s haiku
Faded
Like Safflower powder

Bashō no yōna

I have not been able to find any haiku by Michisuke Suzuki, or Seifu. But, there is a Seifu Museum in Obamazawa.

Safflower (紅粉の花, benibana or beni no hana), has been used in Japan as a source for red tint in cosmetics and dye for clothing. The yellow flower contains a concentrated tinge of red.

Watch a short Japanese film on Benihana.

With the July heating up, and the long walk, Basho and Sora were ready for a rest. The WKD Archive site indicates that Basho stayed at a nearby temple and not with Seifu. Perhaps, Seifu was not as “cool” as his name suggests.

From the second haiku, one infers that Basho’s host also maintained a nursery for Silkworm moths. Basho addresses a toad hidden in a Moth hut. It is hot and humid, Basho kindly commands him to crawl out, enjoy the cool, fresh air.

Mayahaki in the third haiku refers to the brush that sweeps the eye with red powder from the Safflower. It is the signature look of the Geisha.

Original Japanese

涼しさを我宿にしてねまる也

suzushisa o waga yado ni shite nemaru nari

這出よかひやが下のひきの声

hai ideyo kaiya ga shita no hiki no koe

まゆはきを俤にして紅粉の花

mayuhaki o omokage ni shite beni no hana

Paddling Satchel Creek

Monday morning, mid-June, warm not hot. A kayak trip up Satchel Creek at Lake El Dorado in southeast Kansas. I am alone in the universe.

The regular rhythm of the paddle in the water inspired these thoughts.

Not haiku, but rules are made to be broken, otherwise how would we improve. Hopefully, the verse is Basho-like, Bashō no yōna. But first, a word from the Master:

With awe I beheld
Fresh leaves, green leaves,
Bright in the sunlight. 

— Matsuo Basho, Road to the Deep North

Let’s Start

Satchel Creek starts out wide as it empties into the lake. Then, as it meanders past rocky shoals, it narrows, until finally the kayak bottoms out on the rocks and one can go no further. But that is still a ways off. A Great Heron accompanies me for a while. Along the way are sunken logs and fallen trees. Spider webs catch their prey. Catfish and carp jump out of the water to catch a fly.

The silence of the water and woods,
The stillness of the air
Is everywhere.
Until one feels a gentle breeze,
And hears the flapping wings of a Great Heron
Leading the way

To who knows where

Paddling up Satchel Creek
In a sleek blue kayak
Past sunken logs and fallen trees
Suddenly, a carp
Grasps a floating bug
Slap goes the water

Matsuo Basho began one his famous journey north with this:

Paddling along, silently wondering, where are the turtles resting on logs in the morning sun? Birds call out sweet songs, unseen in the tall trees.

Turtles will sleep ‘til noon,
Oh, how they hate to get up in the morning.

Have you ever heard a Chickadee call,
High up in a tall tree?

Lake El Dorado was created by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1981. The waters flooded the old town of Chelsea, but its cemetery remains at the north end of the lake. Along the lakeside and up Satchel Creek, flooding left many old trees in the water. Their ghostly gray silhouettes a reminder of what was once woodlands. The first verse mimics Basho’s thoughts of a crow on a withered branch.

On a withered branch
A blue heron keeps watch
Wary of Summer’s strangers

Dead trees like skeletons
Standing in the water
Praying for what?

Water, water everywhere,
And not a drop to think.
A Mulberry tree along the bank,
Its fruit a gift for me…
Thank God

End

Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go back home again.” Heraclitus said, “You could not step twice into the same rivers.” Do they mean the same thing?

I am back in Wichita.
Why do they say,
You can’t go back home again.
Why does the river flows on and on?

Uncertainty was the reason for this trip. The uncertainty of tomorrow, the uncertainty that keeps eating away at me, that brings me down. And, as I alluded to in my last post, I felt that with travel I could escape the discontent that uncertainty brings. I was surprised to find it waiting there for me.

As Seneca advises, I need a change of soul.

“Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after a long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.” Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, 29.

Matsuo Basho, on the other hand, gives us his own version of the Serenity Prayer:

Every day’s a journey, the journey itself is home.

New Beginnings

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Quoting Matsuo Basho in his Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no hosomichi, 奥の細道).

Station 2 – Departure

Early on the morning of March the twenty-seventh I took to the road. Darkness lingered in the sky. The moon was still visible, though gradually thinning away. Mount Fuji’s faint shadow and the cherry blossoms of Ueno and Yanaka bid me a last farewell. My friends had gathered the night before, coming with me on the boat to keep me company for the first few miles. When we got off the boat at Senju, however, the thought of a journey of three thousand miles suddenly seized my heart, and neither the houses of the town nor the faces of my friends could be seen except as a tearful vision in my eyes.

Spring is passing!
Birds are singing, fish weeping
With tearful eyes.

With this verse to commemorate my departure, I began my journey, but lingering thoughts made my steps heavy. Watching friends standing side by side, waving good-bye as long as they could see my back.

Yuku haruya

Spring is passing! Yuku haruya!

The wonderful thing about poetry in verse is that one can read and reread the same poem or the same verse. It is, in a sense a new beginning. It is a chance to start over, although it is on a familiar path, and even so, change directions. Maybe it is a journey into a better lifestyle, with daily exercise and healthier eating.

That new beginning always starts today.

Spring, in verse, in poem,

Perpetually Passing

And yet, it begins anew

Bashō no yōna

Senju

Basho began his journey in the late spring of 1689. His wanderlust lasting over five months — 156 days and nights, to be precise.

The first leg of the journey was by boat from the Fukagawa District where Basho was then living, along the Sumida River, to Senju, today’s Adachi fish market, in the northern part of Edo (Tokyo). From there it was a short walk to the Arakawa River and the bridge that lead north.

Surrounded by the fish mongers and the birds dancing around looking for scraps to eat, Basho began his journey with tearful eyes. He was not quite alone, for Kawai Sora, his neighbor in Fukagawa, would be his companion.

Original Japanese

行く春や 

鳥啼き魚の

目は泪

Yuku haruya

tori naki uo no me

wa namida

Acknowledgements

I do not claim to be original in my translations. Others have come before me. Their translations are equally good or better. Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa is a good source containing the entire journey and notes. The original Japanese is online. Read Yuasa’s translation in an ongoing single account. See also, Matsuo Basho – WKD Archives, @MatsuoBashoWkdArchives, a Facebook account that contains background information. 

Fried Pies

Deep in the Arbuckle Mountains

Sharing a Fried Coconut Pie

At Turner Falls

My wife and I were driving from Wichita to Dallas for a Mother’s Day Weekend with our daughter. A little more than half way, past Davis, where one enters the Arbuckle Mountains, we stopped to let the dog stretch her legs beside the clear creek. Then, as we were about to leave my wife spotted the sign saying Fried Mountain Pies at a rustic drive up cafe. A half dozen cars and a couple of men carrying brown paper bags told us all that we needed to know.

One was enough for two she said. Sharing is caring I thought.

love and hate in the garden

we planted the bashō
now I hate
silvergrass

ばしょう植ゑてまづ憎む荻の二葉哉

bashō uete mazu nikumu   ogi no futaba kana

Spring 1681

A new house, a house warming gift, a banana pup, the first sprouts, becoming Basho, ばし.

In late 1680, the 36 year old Matsuo Basho withdrew from Edo’s bustling Nihonbashi District, and moved across the Sumida River to Fukagawa, where he took up residence in a simple hut. A disciple (Rika, 李下) gave him a banana pup, which he planted beside the hut and, in time, Basho came to associate himself with the purely decorative banana, which produced no edible fruit. The hut became Bashō-an (“Cottage of the Banana Plant”), and the poet became Matsuo Basho (まつお ばしょう).

What should we make of this simple haiku? It is not a simple love story. If it were, then the banana plant would be the beginning, middle and end of the poem. No, hate intercedes, with the sprouting silvergrass, miscanthus, to use the technical term. Here in the States, Pampas Grass is a more familiar term. Hardy Pampas Grass with its Fall blooming white plumed flowers and many stalks.

The academician and the graduate student are all too inclined to make too much of Basho’s brief dissertation on the banana plant. Is he comparing his solitary lifestyle with that of busy Edo, the banana pup and the crowded clump of grass? Is this a yinyang tit-for-tat where love and hate must cancel each other, and balance achieved?

Or is Basho, like any new gardener, worried that grass will deprive his darling plant of sustenance?

Bashō no yōna replies, “me think one hath parsed the plant too much.”

Basho might have replied in renku fashion, “The meaning is lost in translation.”

A Crow Renku

Gentler readers, unencumbered, we shall fly about, but not like crows, coming and going, from tree to tree, but as travelers from time and place, from poet to poet. Such is the mystery and beauty of poetry.

Natsume Sōseki

Today’s guest poet is Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石, 1867 – 1916). His literary career did not begin until 1903 when he began to publish haiku and renku. He quickly went on to novels for which he is better known. That he was exploring the joy of haiku before 1906 comes from this haiku, written in 1896, probably while in Kumamoto, on the southern island of Kyushu .


a crow flies off
leaving
the winter tree shaking

からすとんでゆうひにうごくふゆきかな

Coming and Going

Surely, in composing his verse Soseki recalled to mind Matsuo Basho’s haiku, where a crow comes to perch. Soseki has the crow leaving, completing the renku.


on a bare branch
a crow has perched
in the autumn evening

kare eda ni karasu no tomarikeri aki no kure

枯朶に烏のとまりけり秋の暮

Having listened to both haiku, Bashō no yōna, tries to keep the renku going, adding:

from countless karasu
upon a withered tree –
a caw-caw-phony

Notes on Translation

Renku, 連句, “linked verses,” a Japanese form of collaborative linked verse poetry. Basho would often attend such party gatherings. Renku can also be informal and spontaneous.

Basho uses for crow. Soseki uses からす, karasu, から (kara, “caw”, imitating the crow’s caw, plus su. “bird”). Both mean crow.

Spring Rain

Spring rain
If it is rains today
It is Spring rain

(Harusame – noodles)

春の雨 今日の雨なら 春雨じゃ

Spring Rain at Tsuchiyama, 1834–35, Utagawa Hiroshige, image The Met*

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday, I found myself sing along to Phil Collins’ I Wish It Would Rain. Today, it rains, rains, rains. In the Midwest, a spring rain (春の雨, haru no ame) is always welcome except when it rains too much, which is what it is now doing.

Even the worms do not like too much rain, for coming to the surface, Robins find them and feast. For farmers, when it rains too much, it floods, and the seeds of the spring wheat are washed away. That is why most wheat grown in Kansas and the Midwest is Winter wheat.

Sometimes, summer rains sometimes come not at all.

What do we make of Matsuo Basho’s little ditty? Is Basho saying “it is raining cats and dogs”? Is he saying rain is a gift from above? 春雨 being a figurative statement for a “gift from above,” an idea Kansas farmers fully understand. Is that gift from above, “harusame”? Hausame being noodles that look like worms.

Could it simply be, that today 今日, because it rains, Basho is served harusame?

Basho’s disciple, Bashō no yōna, is thinking along a different line of thought, of the birds, of the fishermen.

Spring rain
A gift from above, a gift from below
Earth worms

When it doesn’t rain enough

Because it doesn’t always rain, here’s one I like from Taniguchi Buson (1715-1783):

Harusame ya kawazu no hara no mada nurezu

Spring rain —
not enough yet to wet
a frog’s belly.

Notes

Spring Rain. It is explained to me that haru no ame, 春の雨) is the general category of rain that falls in spring (from late February to March) and thus it may be a cold rain that chills the bones and frightens the birds, while harusame, 春雨 is the light but steady rain portrayed by Utagawa Hiroshige above, a gentle rain, a drizzle, the kind one experiences in Seattle or Portland, and along Japan’s eastern coast in spring.

Tsuchiyama—a travelers’ station on the Tōkaidō route connecting Edo and Kyoto, in the mountains just before the road ends at Kyoto, known for its gentle rain, and familiar to Basho who traveled this route often.