Winter Sleet

At this moment, in the Winter of 2022, a snow storm is crossing much of the eastern United States from Boston to Norfolk. Here in the Midwest, the sky is spectacularly clear, China blue, but bitterly cold. While chattering birds look down from the trees above, scampering squirrels hunt for food in my garden.

Matsuo would ask, do birds and squirrels feel the cold, I wonder?

一時雨礫や降つて小石川 
hito shigure/ tsubute ya futte/ Koishikawa

at this moment, it is sleeting
and hailstones are falling all about,
at Koishikawa

Matsuo Basho, 延宝5年, the 5th year of the Enpo era, Edo, 1678-9

To which, Bashō no yōna says:

All about me, it’s sleeting
I’m freezing, only thinking
Fame is fleeting

Bashō no yōna, Wichita, January 2022

To which Matsuo replies:

So is life

Matsuo
Morning after the Snow, Koishikawa, artist Katsushika Hokusai, 1830-2, The Met

Edo, Winter, 1678-9

Matsuo had arrived in Edo, in 1675, seeking fame and fortune as a haiku master. He resided near Edo’s glitzy Nihonbashi District, a country boy in the big city which Edo was becoming. And he was variously employed, making ends meet, while honing his poetic skills. By the winter of 1678-9, he had achieved some recognition.

An admirer of Buddhism, Matsuo would be thinking, fame does not come to all, to those who are lucky, fame is fleeting, for we are only here for a short while — yi shi, 一時.

Fame was in the Future

Matsuo had not, however, taken on the pen-name Matsuo Basho. This would occur after 1680, when he moved to the Fukagawa District of Edo and lived in a simple cottage beside a banana tree given to him by a student. Not had Matsuo taken his journey to the northern interior, which would give him lasting fame in the posthumous publication of Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道).

For was, now, simply living in the moment, yi shi, 一時.

Notes on Translation

Hito, 一時, Chinese, yi shi, meaning at this time, for the moment, not necessarily a concrete moment, a spiritual one; also a Buddhist term for a period in which one chants a sūtra.

Shigure, 雨, a freezing rain, drizzle, sleet, referring to the rainy season in late fall and early winter.

Futte, 降つて, falling about. Matsuo is also implying that he is about to experience a change of fortunes, either for good or bad.

Koishikawa, a place in Edo (Tokyo), a well known garden constructed in the early Edo period, possessing a view of Mt. Fuji. Koishikawa, meaning small river pebble. Basho’s haiku is a play on words with hail as the small pebble. It is also a Buddhist observation of the insignificance of one moment and one man in the eternity of time and space. Matsuo, at this time was engaged in work on an aqueduct, which may explain the connection with the construction of the garden.

A Japanese point of view of Matsuo Basho.

Twice Awake

Hiroshige, Meguro Drum Bridge and Sunset Hill, 1857

Two haiku, both probably written in the winter of 1686. Matsuo Basho was back in Edo for the spring and summer of 1686, staying in his retreat called Basho’an (banana hut). As the two haiku imply, he is into Zen Buddhism. Earlier in the year he wrote his most famous haiku about the frog, the pond, and the sound of water — “splash”.

瓶割るる/ 夜の氷の寝覚め哉
kame waruru/ yoru no koori no/ nezame kana

The bottle cracks
awakened at night
by the ice

Matsuo Basho, Basho-an, Edo, 貞亨3年冬, December, 1686

Note. As usual, Matsuo Basho kept a glass bottle of water by his bedside at night. Basho explains, “The night was cold and I woke to the cracking sound of a bottle. Koori means ice in both haiku. The ice probably broke the bottle.” Nezame means awakening. Yoru no Nezame (夜の寝覚) refers to a 11th century Japanese romance, and it is generally translated as “Wakefulness at Night”. If we take Basho at his word, “wakeful”, then he is not only feeling the cold, but hearing it as well.

油こほりともし火細き寝覚哉
abura koori/ tomoshibi hosoki/ nezame kana

oil is freezing
the light is dimming
awakening at night

Matsuo Basho, Basho-an, Winter, ca. 1686

Note. The two haiku could possibly be the same cold winter. Tomoshibi is an oil lamp. Rapeseed oil was the likely fuel source.

Merry Christmas

The author of this blog who goes by the pen name Bashō no yōna wishes you a Merry Christmas and offers this humble selection of Christmas haiku.

Kids know
Santa is Real
They sense his presents

Elves who work
Listen to music
— Wrap

A Christmas tree,
A Colorado beaver,
Nice Gnawing You!

Mexican sheep
Say, Merry Christmas,
“Fleece Navidad!”

Santa’s sleigh
Cost nothing
It’s on the house!

A serene sentiment …

A Withering Winter
Of Snow
A Frozen Wonderland

Withering Winter is a Wonderland

Night Snow, Utagawa Hiroshige, circa 1833, The Met


Snowy Mt. Hira and Mikami

比良三山 雪さしわたせ 鷲の橋 

Hira Mikami yuki sashi watase sagi no hashi

Snowy Hira and Mikami
For the moment, encircled
A bridge of white herons

Matsuo Basho, Otsu on Lake Biwa, looking west to the Hira Mountains
Snowy Mount Hira, artist, Utagawa Hiroshige, 19th century, image source The Met

A bridge of birds

A bridge of birds is one of those images one comes across while walking along a lake or in a wooded field. It is a magical image, one that is fleeting. When the birds are geese, the flock noisy chatters overhead, making a familiar V-shaped formation that look like an arched bridge. Herons are stragglers, silently flapping their wings,to the accompaniment of a swooshing sound.

Soon gone and silent again.

Herons often fly alone but can on rare occasion be seen in flocks. It is a rare sight, one that Matsuo Basho enjoyed while making a day trip to Otsu on the southern shore of Lake Biwa. Basho chose Otsu as his burial place, giving this haiku added meaning.

Lost in Translation

Hira and Mikami, 比良三山, snow covered Hira mountains and Mt. Mikami. They lie on opposite sides of Lake Biwa.

Yuki, 雪, snow.

Sashi watase, さしわたせ, for the moment, plus, joined or encircled.

Sagi no hashi, 鷲の橋, literally a bridge of white herons. The No, particle links two nouns together to show a connection, and form a single image, a bridge of birds. One does not have to assume the herons are white (Shirasagi, 白鷺), but it makes for a prettier image.

[All images in the public domain, source The Met.]