Shiro, Shiroki

December 30th is not too late to learn, if indeed one learns.

月白き 師走は子路が寝 覚め哉
tsuki shiroki / shiwasu wa / Shiro ga nezame kana

Under the white moon
Of December
Shiro wakes up

Matuso Basho, 貞亨3年, December, 1686

Note. Tsuki shiroki, means White Moon. Shiwasu, December. Shiro, a disciple of Confucius. Shiroki, a homophone, (also Shirozake), a white colored saki.

saki, 白酒, Shiroki,

December 1686

Back in Edo, living in his cottage, Basho’an, Matsuo Basho was still learning. Earlier in 1686, Spring Days (Haru no Hi) was compiled in Nagoya by Basho’s disciples, edited by him, and published in Kyoto. In 1686 he also composed his best known haiku about a frog, an old pond, and the sound of water. That December, back at Basho-an, under the moonlight he was thinking of Shiro, a disciple of Confucius.

Most likely, Basho was moon viewing and sharing a cup of saki with his friends. 白酒, Shiroki, Shirozake, is a white colored saki.

Shiro

Shiro, (子路, 543 – 481),  Chinese, Zhong You (仲由), courtesy name Zi-lu, one of the ten most important disciples of Confucius.

Of him, Confucius said, “If to your present ability you added the wisdom of learning, you would be a superior man.”

“What is learning be to me?” asked Zi-lu. “The bamboo on the southern hill is straight itself without being bent. If I cut it and use it, I can send it through the hide of a rhinoceros, what then is the use of learning to me?”

“Yes,” said Confucius, “but if you feather it and point it with steel, will it not penetrate more deeply?”

Zi-lu bowed twice, and said, “Reverently I await your teachings.”

Moon Viewing

I recently drove back from the east coast. And, while I was in Central Missouri in the middle of nowhere, an hour or so after dusk, I caught a view of a full moon, large, round and orange, in the rear view mirror of my car. It was a breathtaking sight. My trip, and my moon spotting, corresponded roughly with the traditional day of Japanese moon viewing (Tsukimi, 月見), or September 21, 2021.

That the moon is prettier in Autumn, is, I learned later, due to the astronomical fact that the moon rises sooner in fall and at a narrower angle, making it appear to be fuller and more orange. I also learned that the moon is moving closer to earth, that is, it is in perigee, and will reach its closest on December the 4th.

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka and Noguchi Enkatsu, Engraver. One Hundred Aspects of the Moon: Monkey-Music Moon. Japan, 1892.

The Seasons

The 17th century Japanese operated on a lunar calendar. And each season had its own moon. Spring moon, 春の月, haru no tsuki; Summer moon, 夏の月, natsu no tsuki; Autumn moon, 秋の月, aki no tsuki; and Winter’s moon, 冬の月, fuyu no tsuki.

And here are four haiku by Matsuo Basho with seasonal references to the moon.

Spring

春もやや  気色ととのふ  月と梅
haru moya ya/ keshiki totonou/ tsuki to ume

Barely Spring,
a colorful complexion of
the moon and a plum blossom

Matsuo Basho, 6th year of Genroku, Spring 1693. The plum blossoms in early spring, often when snow is on the ground. An almost too perfect combination of a bright moon and heavenly scented plum blossoms.

Summer

蛸壺やはかなき夢を夏の月
tako-tsubo ya/ hakanaki yume wo/ natsu no tsuki

an octopus pot,
a fleeting dream
under a Summer moon.

Matsuo Basho, at Akashi, a seaside town near Kobe famous for its seafood. When alarmed an octopus will hide in a dark place. Thus, fishermen intentionally make pots black to catch the unwitting octopus.

Autumn

去る引の 猿と世を経る 秋の月
saruhiki no/ saruto yo furu/ aki no tsuki

a street entertainer–
going through life carrying a monkey
— Autumn moon

Basho, The Monkey’s Raincoat, 1691. Basho’s haiku was a response to a linked verse by Boncho. Boncho’s verse was, a new priest hurrying to the temple getting cold.

Winter

冬庭や月もいとなるむしの吟
fuyu niwa ya / tsuki mo ito naru / mushi no gin

In Winter’s garden
when the moon is a thread,
an insect sings

Matsuo Basho, 2nd year of Genroku, 1689, at a tea ceremony with Ichinyū, a tea potter and lay Buddhist teacher . It would be unusual for an insect to find food at this time of year, much less to hear an insect at all.

Note to reader

If you find fault in my translations or have comments, feel free to respond. We are after all, like Basho, students of life.

As season come
And seasons go
The moon will always glow

Bashō no yōna, November, 2021
Matsuo Basho

Winter’s Garden, 冬庭や

Winter’s garden
Ah, the moon, a silvery thread
As insects hmmm

fuyu niwa ya
tsuki mo ito naru
mushi no gin

冬庭や 月もいとなる むしの吟

2nd year of Genroku, at a tea ceremony with Ichinyū celebrating Banzan.

by the light of the silvery moon, the insects hmmm

Winter, 2nd year of Genroku, 1689

At least one modern day student of Basho dates this haiku to 1689 and adds, “on meeting Ichinyū at a celebration held by Banzan.”

Ichinyū was a lay Buddhist teacher and seven year Basho’s senior. By trade he was a traditional tea potter, fourth generation Raku. Ichinyū lived and worked in Kyoto, which suggests that he was an old friend from Basho’s student days.

Kumazawa Banzan was a follower of Confucius, an advocate of agricultural reform who ran afoul of the Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Beginning in 1687, Bashan was confined to Koga Castle in Ibaraki Prefecture, making it likely that the occasion for writing this haiku was not a meeting with Banzan, but a celebration of Banzan’s writings that took place at a tea ceremony in Kyoto hosted by Ichinyū.

We should perhaps give Basho credit here for political commentary. I read this haiku as, “the peasants (i.e. insects) continue through winter’s darkness to work (hmmm) for the Imperial court and the samurai class.

Notes on this haiku

The 2nd year of Genroku refers to the reign of Emperor Higashiyama.

Those who garden know that a winter’s garden, fuyu niwa ya, 冬庭や, has but a few plants and fewer insects. The ending character , ya, turns this phrase into an interjection expressing surprise which I’ve added to the next line. An early frost shrivels the leaves and stills the sounds of the insects who feed on the plants. To me, it is remarkable after an early frost to hear a solitary insect humming. This insect has perhaps burrowed down deep in the earth, found a dung hill, or huddled next to the house to survive the icy cold. And the next day, in the warmth of the sun, merrily goes about its work.

Tsuki mo ito naru. Tsuki is our familiar moon in all its phases. Naru is the verb form for becoming. Mo ito, literally, like a thread, giving us the sense that the moon is waning to a “silvery thread.”

Mushi no Gin, the sound of insects. I render this as “insects hmmm.” Those familiar with Matsuo Basho’s haiku know that as a Zen poet, he was fascinated with the sound of things, whether it was a cricket under a helmet, a frog jumping in an old pond, or insects in rocks.

Three in One

three in one cup,
but I drink to one name,
who am I, this night?

盃に 三つの名を飲む 今宵かな

sakazuki ni mitsu no na o nomu koyoi kana

Oct. 23, 1685, Edo

Everyone likes a good riddle. So who was Matsuo Basho toasting?

On this date in Japanese history, Yamaga Sokō, original name Yamaga Takasuke died. He was a military strategist, Confucian philosopher, and originator of what would become the Bushido Code by which all Samurai would operate.

Three in One conjures up an image of the Holy Trinity, the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three for One, makes one also think Alexandre Dumas‘ 19th century novel Three Musketeers, who proclaimed, “Un pour tous, tous pour un. (One for all, and all for one.)”

Sakazuki Takasuke!

No, Basho likely had in mind Takasuke in offering up Sakazuki, a ceremonial cup of wine. This is speculation, but it fits nicely. Basho being descended from a Samurai family would want to honor another. Takasuke Sakazuki! Takasuke Sakazuki! Takasuke Sakazuki! The honorific was said three times.

Li Bai

Matsuo Basho also had in mind 8th century Chinese poet Li Bai (太白,744–762). He of many titles including the Transcendent Poet, Banished Immortal, and Green Lotus House Warrior. The first for his skill as a poet, the second for his prodigious drinking, and the third as an artist.

Basho’s haiku is a response to Li Bai’s well-known poem Under the Moon, Drinking Alone.

In the midst of flowers, with one jug of wine
Drinking alone, and no one else,
I offer up my cup, to the bright moon
My shadows and I, a party of three.

Li Bai

Three

Why three? Things that come in threes are funnier, interesting, and more memorable. Comedians, magicians, and poets know to set up a sequence with three short lines, then the punch line. Three is mystical. The Holy Trinity, as I’ve said. It also creates a unique pattern and a relationship that the brain can understand. The Three Blind Mice, The Three Little Pigs, The Three Stooges. Three is also an odd number, the first Prime number, if one excludes the number “one.” Two fit together nicely, but three rarely do.

Basho explains

By way of explanation, Basho’s haiku came at gathering for moon-viewing (観月) at his home in the fall of 1685. He he had returned to Edo and his Banana Hut after the first of his wanderings. Present were three friends all named Shichiroubei. No doubt Basho founds some humor in the homonyms, zuki, as in cup, and tsuki, moon; as well as the visual similarity of the flat circular cup and the circular full moon.

Basho ends his haiku alliteratively with koyoi kana, 今宵, literally, this night, but also a question, as in, who am I?

Sakazuki

Gentle Reader, nomu, 飲む, let’s drink: Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu

Saki, Sake cup from Wikipedia