Bashō’s parting haiku is playful in which even the wildlife in the local market is moved by the sadness of separation.
行く春や鳥啼き魚の目は涙 yuku haru ya tori naki uo no me wa namida spring is passing –birds are crying and the eyes of fish are filling with tears
Matsuo Basho, May 1689
Spring is Passing
Yaku Haru, 行く春, spring is passing, や, ya is added for emphasis to express sorrow.
Bashō started walking 333 years ago today (May 16), leaving from Senju (now Kita-Senju) on a journey that would become the basis of his famous travelogue, Oku no hosomichi, Travel to the Northern Interior. After leaving his home and traveling with friends by boat up the Sumida River, it was time to say farewell to friends.
Note. Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道), translated as The Narrow Road to the Deep North or the Northern Interior. Hosomichi is literally narrow path, what we might call the back roads in America. Oku is literally the interior, although Basho spent much of his route on both the eastern and western shores of Japan. The book was published in 1702 after Basho’s death.
There is not much to this poem. There need not be. Or is there?
‘Parting is such sweet sorrow‘ Juliet said. Or as the Buddha says, ‘Au wa wakare no hajimari.’ ‘Meeting is the beginning ofparting‘.
A parting begins a journey
Inspired by a warm breeze and a passing cloud, in the late spring of 1689, Matsuo Basho sold his few possession, closed the door to his cottage, and, along with Sora his traveling companion, headed north on what would become a journey of nine months. This trip would eventually become a book that would make Basho famous, Oku no Hosomichi, 奥の細道, meaning “Narrow road to the interior” or “Pathways to the Interior” or something similar. But since 奥 , Oku can also imply one’s heart, it implies an inner search for meaning, a spiritual quest to find one’s true feelings. But that lay ahead.
Basho was dressed in a peasant’s bamboo hat, as protection from the sun and rain. He wore white breeches that came to mid-calf, a blue tunic, and leather sandals, that he would later decorate with spring flowers. Basho, it is said, rode on a small horse, for he is pictured as such, but it is more likely he walked. The horse was a pack horse or a donkey, the kind we associate with prospectors. It carried Basho’s few provisions, a raincoat, a sleeping bag, some money, although, Basho hoped to live off the kindness of those he met along the way for his fame was now well known throughout Japan. Sora walked beside him.
Their trip began with farewells and the chatter of neighborhood children who were no doubt envious of the adventurous travelers. Perhaps, Basho was thinking partings are beginnings, new meetings, new friends.
Of sweet fish and salty fish
For this haiku, Basho chose the Ayu, 鮎 for the children. The Ayu, the small Sweetfish, we might liken to Silverfish, who swim about in schools when the sun appears or large predator fish chase them. Basho and Sora are the old fish, Sakana, 魚, or white fish, quite common. Basho, having had some reservations about the dangers of the trip, perhaps alluded to his becoming bait for bandits.
Sakana is a generic Japanese word for fish, usually salted and served with sake.
As I said, there is not much to this haiku, or is there? “A parting is not an ending but a beginning,” says Bashō no yōna, to those who look forward and not backwards.
別れは終わりではなく始まりです Wakare wa owaride wanaku hajimaridesu
It is now November. The sky is gray, the trees are bare, there is a cold wind that chills, leaves once red and gold, now yellow and brown, flutter in the air then gather for they know Winter is near.
September 1689, Ogaki
In September 1689, Matsuo Basho has completed his Journey to the North, ending in Ogaki on horseback. His friend Rotsu accompanied him, Sora, his companion on much of the journey, rejoined him. Basho continues, “we all went to the house of Joko, where I enjoyed a reunion with Zensen, Keiko and his sons, and many other old friends who came to see me by day or night.“
On the 6th of September, it was time to part and take to the road again. Life moves on, and so, he left for the Ise Shrine, for he wanted to see the dedication of a new shrine (Futamiokitama Shrine). As he stepped into the boat that would take him across Ise Bay he wrote:
As clams Divide into Two (Separate in Futami) In Autumn
蛤の ふたみにわかれ 行秋ぞ
hamaguri no / futami ni wakare / yuku aki zo
So too, I take to the road again. Not a farewell my friends, a repose.