East or west
Just one melancholy thing –
東西 あはれさひとつ 秋の風
higashi nishi / aware sa hitotsu / aki no kaze
Explanation of Basho’s haiku
East and west, it is all the same sorrow when one so young dies so soon.
Basho lived in Fukagawa, Edo (the East Capital), and his disciple Mukai Kyorai 向井去来 in Kyoto (the West Capital). In the summer of 1686, Kyorai and his younger sister Chine went on a journey to the Ise shrine.
They kept a journal, the Ise Journal* that begins:
“The sun hot yet wind cool on our heads,
I take my younger sister on a pilgrimage to Ise.”
such good companions,
Chine died two years later at the young age of 25 on the 15th day of the 5th lunar month.
She wrote a final haiku:
Easily glows and easily goes a firefly
moe yasuku mata kie yasuki hotaru kana
In tribute, Basho wrote his haiku in the eighth lunar month.
Notes on translation
あはれさひとつ aware sa hitotsu could also be translated as “our sorrow is the same”
East or west / our sorrow’s the same / an autumn wind
An autumn wind (秋の風 aki no kaze) is understandably melancholy, summer is over and winter near. In another haiku, Basho references the Autumn Wind – Shake even the grave, My wailing is the autumn wind, 塚も動け我が泣聲は 秋の風, tsuka mo ugoke waga naku koe wa aki no kaze.
Americans and Japanese of the World War II generation are, no doubt familiar with the term Kamikaze, 神風, “divine wind” or “spirit wind”. The historically ancient term Kamikase refers to the 13th century wind that saved Japan from a Mongol invasion.
*Kyorai’s Ise Journal, Ise Kiko. See also the well-written post The Life and Death of Chine, by Writers in Kyoto .