a charming wild violet

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 naniyara yukashi sumiregusa

wild-violet

Matsuo Basho wrote this haiku in his Journal of 1684, a travelogue of  his journey from Edo (Tokyo) to visit his birthplace in Iga Province after hearing of his mother’s death. The journey was on horseback and on foot, often over mountainous roads.

This haiku was written crossing the mountains near Lake Biwa on the way to Otsu. Basho observing a tiny wild violet in the grass was inspired.

Basho’s Journal of 1684, translated by Donald Keene (page 142)

Notes on translation

山路 yamaji, mountain path
来て kite, to come
何やら naniyari, somehow, for some reason
ゆかし yukashi, charming, admirable, enchanting
すみれ草 sumi regusa, wild violet; literally a violet in the grass

Further note

Enya wrote a song Sumiregusa about the wild violet, and performed it in Japanese – Sumiregusa: wild violet monono aware: attune to the pathos of things haruno hana to fuyu mo yuki: spring flowers and winter snow hara hara: the sound of falling snow.

Butterfly Weaving

Back and forth
Through the rows of wheat
A butterfly weaving!

繰り返し麦の畝縫ふ 胡蝶哉
Kurikaeshi mugi no une Nu kochō Kana

Kawai Sora speaks

Matsuo Bashō was not the only one to give us his thoughts on the Journey North (Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道). Bashō’s disciple and traveling companion, Kawai Sora, also recorded his thoughts in a diary that was not discovered until 1943. Sora Tabi Nikki (曾良旅日記, “Travel Diary of Sora”) gives us insight into Bashō’s observations and Sora’s own insights.

Sora’s haiku above literally translates as “Weaving back and forth through the rows of wheat, a butterfly!” Sora’s final Japanese character is 哉 kana, which translates as surprise. I have therefore transposed to the end of the haiku Sora’s surprise and delight in associating the butterfly’s movement with weaving and stitching.

It reads well either way, don’t you think?

Notes

繰り返し kurikaeshi, repeating, back and forth, as in a stitching motion
麦 mugi, wheat or barley
胡蝶 kochō, butterfly
哉 kana, What!

butterflies

Amid clouds of blossoms we walk – Matsuo Basho

Amid the clouds of blossoms
Is the bell’s chime Ueno
Or Asakusa?

花の雲 鐘は上野か 浅草か

Hana no kumo/ Kane ha Ueno ka Asakusa ka

peach-blossom

Trailing clouds of blossoms we walk

In Japan, it is spring and the cherry trees are in full bloom.

We cannot know, but perhaps Matsuo Basho and his students are in Kiyosumi Gardens, in the Fukagawa District where Basho lived.  A disciple begins the discussion by saying, “Is it not heavenly, Master Basho, to walk in the midst of so many cherry blossoms?”

Then a single blossom falls. To which Basho replies, “In the even the smallest flower that falls, I fear, lies a truth too deep for tears.”

At that moment the sound of the bell is heard.

Fukagawa, Ueno, Asakusa

Fukagawa, where Basho lives, is on the other side of the Sumida River from Ueno and Asakusa. These well known areas include Buddhist and Shinto temples, as well as shopping and residential areas. In Asakusa is the famous Buddhist Sensō-ji temple. In Ueno is the Shinto shrine Ueno Tōshō-gū. Ueno is known as a working class district, while Asakusa is home to the more prosperous citizens of ancient Edo.

Notes on translation

花 hana flower, blossom

雲 kumo cloud

鐘 kane bell, chime

上野 ueno, temples include the Shinto shrine Ueno Tōshō-gū; a working class area

浅草 Asakusa, an area along the Sumida River including the ancient Sensō-ji temple; it is an upscale area, a place for the rich and prosperous

清澄庭園 Kiyosumi Garden, today’s strolling garden was developed after Basho’s time on earth, but an earlier garden no doubt existed. The garden contains a stone monument to Basho and his most famous haiku, an ancient pond, frog and the sound of water.

senso-ji temple
senso-ji temple

 

Do butterflies dream? Matsuo Basho

You are the butterfly while
I pursue the dreams
of Chuang-tzu

or,

You are the butterfly and
I the dreaming heart
Of Chuang-tzu

君や蝶我や荘子が夢心

kimi ya cho ware ya Sooji ga yumegokoro

butterfly-blue

Seeing a butterfly flutter from flower to flower, the young disciple asks, “Does the butterfly worry? Does he dream of tomorrow?”

Master Basho replies, “You are the butterfly while I pursue the dreams of Chuang-tzu.”

君 you
や ya, cutting word
蝶 kimi, butterfly
君 や 蝶, kimi ya chō, you and the butterfly
莊子 Zhuāngzi, Chung-tzu
夢心 yumeshin, dreaming heart, mind

 

Basho’s haiku is based on an episode from the life of Chinese philosopher Chuang-tzu (c.369BC – c.286BC):

“Am I a Man?” he thought,
“dreaming I am a butterfly?
Or a butterfly, dreaming I am a man?

butterfly-drop