Climbing Long’s Peak

Once on a trip to Estes Park, a friend and I camped below Longs Peak (a “fourteener” located in the Rocky Mountain National Park), having decided on the spur of the moment to make the long climb to the top. It was summer, the evening was cool. It is hard to ignore, he snores. He slept in a one man tent, I crosswise and bent in the car. The stars filled the night sky, and the Milky Way rose behind the peak we hoped to climb the next day.

Unprepared, ill-equipped, we didn’t make it all the way, but had a great time. P.S. a better climber started us out, illuminating the pathway with a headlamp that he wisely brought.

a mountain path

Some thoughts:

Nightfall
Too Dark to Read,
To Bed

A fool
Climbs Mt. Long
Not at all

In Darkness,
With trust in the Buddha,
I start, I stumble, I fall

One can ride horses along the trails on the mountainside. When the sun rose, we saw a few horses roaming freely on the range. One horse had only three legs.

A three legged horse
On the mountainside

Climbs better than most

In the Summer Sun
Snow melts, water gathers
A cold stream

There is still snow at the highest elevations, even in July. The summer sun melts the snow forming narrow streams. One often stops to wash the face and hands with the cold water. Then one moves on, admiring a wildflower that grows nearby.

mountain crocus

1685 (year of Jōkyō, 貞享)

The following haiku is from Basho’s Journal of Bleached Bones (Nozarashi Kiko, 野ざらし紀行). This travelogue covered a trip that began in the fall of 1684 and ended the next spring. Basho traveled from Edo to Iga Ueno, his birthplace. After paying respects to his mother who had died the year before, he traveled to Kamigata (an are encompassing Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka). Coming along a mountain path, Matsuo Basho spied a mountain violet (sumiregusa). This dainty purple flower with its heart shaped leaves has no smell, but it is charming nevertheless, being one of the earliest flowers to blossom in spring.

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/  namiyara yukashi/   sumiregusa

[ゆかし, yukashi meaning charming, endearing, or moving. This haiku inspired Enya to compose a charming song in Japanese called Sumiregusa.]

My thoughts is this:

A tiny mountain flower
Don’t pick this jewel
Just admire

Having reached the peak of Mt. Long, many climbers quickly descend, either because the peak has become crowded with other climbers, or the time of day is late and the weather uncertain. I think Basho would agree, there is joy in the summit, but the greater joy is in the journey.

It is not the summit
But the Path
I seek

What’s on my feet?

May 4th, 1689

After crossing the barrier-gate of Shirakawa on their journey north, Basho and Sora entered the Tōhoku region (東北地方) of northern Japan. They were headed to the scenic pine covered Matsushima islands. But first they would arrive in Tōhoku’s largest city, Sendai. They reached Sendai on May the fourth. This was seasonally significant as May the fifth marked the first day of summer on the Japanese lunar calendar.

Basho had so far covered over 200 miles by foot and his sandals were well worn.

In Sendai, Basho attempted to make the acquaintance of a fellow poet, Michikaze Oyodo, who like Basho traveled a lot and was, at the time living in Sendai. Michikaze was gone. Fortune smiled and Basho was taken on a sightseeing tour of the area by a wood block artist Basho identifies as Kaemon.

Basho explains:

“Crossing the Natori River, I entered Sendai on May the fourth, the day when the Japanese customarily throw iris leaves on the roof and pray for good health. Finding an inn, I decided to stay in Sendai for several days. In this city there was a painter by the name of Kaemon, and I made special efforts to meet him for he was reputed to be truly artistic. He took me to various places which I might have missed but for his help. First we went to the plain of Miyagino, where new fields of bush-clover would blossom in autumn. The hills of Tamada, Yokono, and Tsutsuji-ga-oka were covered in blooming white rhododendrons. Then we went into the dark pine woods called Konoshita where sunbeams could not penetrate. This, the darkest spot on the earth, has been the subject of many poems because of its dewiness – for example, one poet says that his lord when entering needs an umbrella to protect him from dew drops.”

We also stopped at the shrines of Yakushido and Tenjin on our way home.

Eventually, the time came for us to say good-bye. And Kaemon gave me his own drawings of Matsushima and Shiogama, as well as two pairs of straw sandals with laces dyed the deep blue of the iris. This last gift clearly testifies to the true artistic nature of this man.

Ah, are they Iris that blossom

On my feet, or —

Sandals laced in blue.

ayamegusa ashi ni musuban waraji no o

あやめ 艸足に結ん 草鞋の緒

Iris blossoms

May, 2021

Ah, the glorious iris —

Now withered and brown,

Nature reclaims

The lunar calendar of 1689 does not match today’s Gregorian calendar of 2021, but it does not seem to be off by much. The iris flowers that graced my yard in early May has fallen, reclaimed by the compost pile.

Ah, the cycle of life. 生命の循環, Seimei no junkan.

Notes on Translation

This is a second look at Basho’s iris haiku, previously posted June 2, 2020.

An in depth look at Basho’s haiku can be found at WKD.

Basho begins his haiku with the Japanese character , A which means Hey! or Ah! (getting someone’s attention or expressing surprise.) But the surprise is that あやめ, Ayame becomes the Iris. Again Basho uses another interjection, , (“nn” sound) before the final question, which is too convey the English idea of “hmmm”.

Kaemon’s identity is revealed in Sora’s Diary. English theories about Kaemon’s name and profession are inconsistent. Terebess, Notes on station 18. Reliable Japanese authorities identify him as Kitanoya Kaemon, a wood block printer and owner of a bookstore. He was a student of the haiku poet Michikaze Oyodo who was then living in Sendai. 仙台, Japanese source. Oyodo Michikaze (大淀 三千風), like Basho, was a prolific haiku writer. In 1682, he published a book called, Matsushima Viewbook, extolling the beauty of the islands.

New Beginnings

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Quoting Matsuo Basho in his Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no hosomichi, 奥の細道).

Station 2 – Departure

Early on the morning of March the twenty-seventh I took to the road. Darkness lingered in the sky. The moon was still visible, though gradually thinning away. Mount Fuji’s faint shadow and the cherry blossoms of Ueno and Yanaka bid me a last farewell. My friends had gathered the night before, coming with me on the boat to keep me company for the first few miles. When we got off the boat at Senju, however, the thought of a journey of three thousand miles suddenly seized my heart, and neither the houses of the town nor the faces of my friends could be seen except as a tearful vision in my eyes.

Spring is passing!
Birds are singing, fish weeping
With tearful eyes.

With this verse to commemorate my departure, I began my journey, but lingering thoughts made my steps heavy. Watching friends standing side by side, waving good-bye as long as they could see my back.

Yuku haruya

Spring is passing! Yuku haruya!

The wonderful thing about poetry in verse is that one can read and reread the same poem or the same verse. It is, in a sense a new beginning. It is a chance to start over, although it is on a familiar path, and even so, change directions. Maybe it is a journey into a better lifestyle, with daily exercise and healthier eating.

That new beginning always starts today.

Spring, in verse, in poem,

Perpetually Passing

And yet, it begins anew

Bashō no yōna

Senju

Basho began his journey in the late spring of 1689. His wanderlust lasting over five months — 156 days and nights, to be precise.

The first leg of the journey was by boat from the Fukagawa District where Basho was then living, along the Sumida River, to Senju, today’s Adachi fish market, in the northern part of Edo (Tokyo). From there it was a short walk to the Arakawa River and the bridge that lead north.

Surrounded by the fish mongers and the birds dancing around looking for scraps to eat, Basho began his journey with tearful eyes. He was not quite alone, for Kawai Sora, his neighbor in Fukagawa, would be his companion.

Original Japanese

行く春や 

鳥啼き魚の

目は泪

Yuku haruya

tori naki uo no me

wa namida

Acknowledgements

I do not claim to be original in my translations. Others have come before me. Their translations are equally good or better. Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa is a good source containing the entire journey and notes. The original Japanese is online. Read Yuasa’s translation in an ongoing single account. See also, Matsuo Basho – WKD Archives, @MatsuoBashoWkdArchives, a Facebook account that contains background information. 

Spring Farewells

of sweetfish / seeing off salty fish / farewell

ayu no ko no / shirauo okuru / wakare kana

鮎の子の 白魚送る 別れ哉

Ayu school, detail of image from Wikipedia

Wakare, Farewell

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 of parting‘.

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 , 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

The Dutch make a Pilgrimage

The Captain-General too
Makes a pilgrimage to
His Majesty in Spring

Kabitan mo  tsukuba wakeri    kimi ga haru

甲比丹もつ  くばはせけり   君が春

View of Mt. Tsukuba from the Sumida River, Keisai Eisen (渓斎 英泉, 1790–1848)

Edo, Japan 1678

In Europe, the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 had brought about an end to the 80-year war between Spain and the Dutch who sought independence from King Charles. Protestants from France and Jews from Spain fueled a Dutch Golden Age. Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza and Thomas Hobbes philosophized, John Milton wrote, Kepler and Galileo looked to the heavens. Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉, 1644 –1694) would know little about these events for the Tokugawa shogunate had made Japan Sakoku (鎖国, “a closed country” beginning in 1633 and completing the process by 1639. Under the terms of various edicts, Japanese were forbidden to leave Japan, and only the Dutch were allowed to trade at Nagasaki, and then only if the Dutch traders remained on a small enclave in the harbor.

Matsuo Basho did not seem to concern himself much with world events. And there is but one haiku written about the Dutch. In one of his earlier haiku, while he still lived in Edo, working at a government job, before taking on the pseudonym Basho he wrote the above haiku.

Should we attempt to match Matsuo Basho up with one of his European counterparts, the likelihood is Christiaan Huygens, who in the vein of Descartes and Spinoza wrote:

“…nous n’atteignons pas le certain mais feulement le vraifemblable.”

“Nothing, we know certainly, but howl the likelihood.” Oeuvres complètes de Christiaan Huygens

The Legend of Mt. Tsukuba

Tsukuba has a well-known history in Japan.

Each year the Japanese make a pilgrimage to Mt. Tsukuba and its centuries-old Shinto shrine which represents a source of blessing for the Japanese people. There is also a legend that accompanies the mountain. Thousands of years ago, a deity descended from the heavens and asked Mt. Fuji for a place to spend the night. Mt. Fuji refused, believing it did not need the deity’s blessings. The deity turned then to Mt. Tsukuba, which, humbly welcomed its guest, offering food and water. Today, Mt. Fuji though beautiful, it is cold and lonely. Mt. Tsukuba, covered in vegetation, changes colors with the seasons.

Another legend has it that the Japanese people descend from ancient deities who lived here.

Other Notes on Translation

Only Dutch merchants as foreigners were allowed to trade in Japan and only if they remained on an islet named Dejima in Nagasaki. Once each year they were obliged to make a voyage from Nagasaki to Edo to call on Shogun to pay respect.

Kimi ga haru. The master in Spring. Kimi can mean “you,” but also “master,” the Shogun, in this sense.

love and hate in the garden

we planted the bashō
now I hate
silvergrass

ばしょう植ゑてまづ憎む荻の二葉哉

bashō uete mazu nikumu   ogi no futaba kana

Spring 1681

A new house, a house warming gift, a banana pup, the first sprouts, becoming Basho, ばし.

In late 1680, the 36 year old Matsuo Basho withdrew from Edo’s bustling Nihonbashi District, and moved across the Sumida River to Fukagawa, where he took up residence in a simple hut. A disciple (Rika, 李下) gave him a banana pup, which he planted beside the hut and, in time, Basho came to associate himself with the purely decorative banana, which produced no edible fruit. The hut became Bashō-an (“Cottage of the Banana Plant”), and the poet became Matsuo Basho (まつお ばしょう).

What should we make of this simple haiku? It is not a simple love story. If it were, then the banana plant would be the beginning, middle and end of the poem. No, hate intercedes, with the sprouting silvergrass, miscanthus, to use the technical term. Here in the States, Pampas Grass is a more familiar term. Hardy Pampas Grass with its Fall blooming white plumed flowers and many stalks.

The academician and the graduate student are all too inclined to make too much of Basho’s brief dissertation on the banana plant. Is he comparing his solitary lifestyle with that of busy Edo, the banana pup and the crowded clump of grass? Is this a yinyang tit-for-tat where love and hate must cancel each other, and balance achieved?

Or is Basho, like any new gardener, worried that grass will deprive his darling plant of sustenance?

Bashō no yōna replies, “me think one hath parsed the plant too much.”

Basho might have replied in renku fashion, “The meaning is lost in translation.”

Does Your Roof Leak

Spring rain –
running down a wasp’s nest
from a roof that leaks

春雨や 蜂の巣つたふ 屋根の漏り

harusame ya     hachinosu tsutau      yane no mori

Wasp Nest, Kono Bairei, 1844-1895

More rain

Yesterday, it rained. Today, it rains again. Tomorrow, it is suppose to rain again. I should look around the house to see if the roof leaks. Is it not a fundamental principle of life, Basho asks, that a roof shall leak?

For Matsuo Basho the steady drip of the rain from a wasp’s nest became the subject of this haiku. Does this not remind you, Gentle Reader, of the premise of the television show Seinfeld — “a show about nothing” and everything. Observational comedy like haiku poetry are based on everyday phenomenon rarely noticed. Have you ever noticed? — a wasp nest shouldn’t leak.

Cosmic principles

To make the point, Basho ends this simple haiku with the Japanese character り, Ri, which in Confucian philosophy attempts to identify an underlying principle of the cosmos — a roof shouldn’t leak, but it sometimes does, but not in a wasp nest.

Notes on Translation

Harusame, 春雨 is Basho’s oft repeated Spring Rain. Hachinosu, 蜂の巣, a wasp nest or beehive. Also, a colloquialism for something full of holes, like Swiss cheese, a knit scarf, and Basho’s roof. Yane no mori, 屋根の漏り, a roof that leaks.

Spring Rain

Spring rain
If it is rains today
It is Spring rain

(Harusame – noodles)

春の雨 今日の雨なら 春雨じゃ

Spring Rain at Tsuchiyama, 1834–35, Utagawa Hiroshige, image The Met*

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday, I found myself sing along to Phil Collins’ I Wish It Would Rain. Today, it rains, rains, rains. In the Midwest, a spring rain (春の雨, haru no ame) is always welcome except when it rains too much, which is what it is now doing.

Even the worms do not like too much rain, for coming to the surface, Robins find them and feast. For farmers, when it rains too much, it floods, and the seeds of the spring wheat are washed away. That is why most wheat grown in Kansas and the Midwest is Winter wheat.

Sometimes, summer rains sometimes come not at all.

What do we make of Matsuo Basho’s little ditty? Is Basho saying “it is raining cats and dogs”? Is he saying rain is a gift from above? 春雨 being a figurative statement for a “gift from above,” an idea Kansas farmers fully understand. Is that gift from above, “harusame”? Hausame being noodles that look like worms.

Could it simply be, that today 今日, because it rains, Basho is served harusame?

Basho’s disciple, Bashō no yōna, is thinking along a different line of thought, of the birds, of the fishermen.

Spring rain
A gift from above, a gift from below
Earth worms

When it doesn’t rain enough

Because it doesn’t always rain, here’s one I like from Taniguchi Buson (1715-1783):

Harusame ya kawazu no hara no mada nurezu

Spring rain —
not enough yet to wet
a frog’s belly.

Notes

Spring Rain. It is explained to me that haru no ame, 春の雨) is the general category of rain that falls in spring (from late February to March) and thus it may be a cold rain that chills the bones and frightens the birds, while harusame, 春雨 is the light but steady rain portrayed by Utagawa Hiroshige above, a gentle rain, a drizzle, the kind one experiences in Seattle or Portland, and along Japan’s eastern coast in spring.

Tsuchiyama—a travelers’ station on the Tōkaidō route connecting Edo and Kyoto, in the mountains just before the road ends at Kyoto, known for its gentle rain, and familiar to Basho who traveled this route often.

Kisagari

My wish, to disappear
Under the flowers.
Let it be a Spring death,
In Kisagari (that changing month),
That Bright Moon time of year
.

bright moon, man walking on beach, ukiyo-e 浮世絵, floating world

Farewell to February, 2021

Before the month of February has passed, I thought it fitting to add one more poem on the subject of Kisigari.

This poem is written not by Basho, but by Saigyō Hōshi (西行法師, 1118 -1190) a poet of the Heian period who lived to the age of 72. His life as a monk and his frequent journeys inspired Basho’s many journeys.

February is a month often overlooked because of its shortness, but also its in-betweenness, caught as it is between winter and spring. Nineteenth century American poet Henry David Longfellow gave us his thoughts on a February Afternoon, which begin like this: The day is ending, The night is descending; The marsh is frozen, The river dead. Matsuo Basho also gave us some thoughts on February (Kisagari). Both are a bit depressing.

Saigyō’s poem, on the contrary, is more uplifting, at least in the Buddhist sense of regeneration with Saigyō imagining that he is reborn as an early spring flower , Hana. The third line is particularly poignant. 春死なむ, Haru shinan conbines the idea of a death in spring and なむ which I understand to be “let it be,” and a reference to the Buddhist concept of Namu 南無.

Kisigari, 如月 is the Japanese lunar name for the month of February. It suggests the changing of the seasons, Spring approaching, a month with spring-like days. Sometimes written as Kinusaragi (衣更着, “Changing Clothes”) .

Yesterday, February the 24th, in Kansas it was 70 degrees, two days before that it was 0. What a difference a day or two makes.

I have one final comment to make on Saigyō’s use of , no through out the poem. This personalizes, for me, the thought. Not being a native Japanese speaker it is just my personal thought.

My wish, to disappear
Under my flowers.
Let my death be in Spring,
In Kisagari (that changing month),
My Bright Moon time of year
.

Original Japanese

願はくは
花の下にて
春死なむ
その如月の
望月のころ

Negawaku wa
Hana no moto nite
Haru shinan
Sono kisaragi no
Mochizuki no koro

At Home, Spring 1678

Master of Hokku
Matsuo Tosei
At home on the First Day of Spring

The Sound of Hokku
Matsuo Tosei
At home on the First Day of Spring

発句なり   松尾桃青   宿の春

Hokku nari       Matsuo Toosei    Yado no haru.

Matsuo Toosei

Becoming a Master of Haiku

Spring 1678, a new year, a new beginning. Matsuo was not yet Matsuo Basho, not quite yet. First he would proclaim himself “master of the haiku”. 発句なり, Hokku nari.

Notes on Translation

The two characters なり, nari, literally translate as “to be” or “the sound of” haiku. The second translation (the sound of haiku) reminds one of Basho’s famous haiku about the frog and the sound of water.

One should not be surprised that there are at least two translations of the same words and the same poem. Basho was student of The Dao (The Way), which teaches that the Way is eternal and changing, that words have more than one meaning. This is literally expressed as, “The name (word) that can be named is not the eternal name.” Tao de Ching.

Toosei

Matsuo Toosei, Basho’s moniker before he became Basho. Toosei means “green peach”. The peach was a symbol of immortality and a long life, but a “green” peach is one not quite famous, a “newby” hoping to achieve fame and immortality as a poet. Basho would not ripen into “Basho” banana until two years later when he moved from Edo to the Fukagawa neighborhood. There he lived in a hut next to a banana tree given to him as a gift by a student.

Yado no haru, 宿の春. Haru, 春, literally “Spring,” but also either the first of the year or New Year. Yado, literally, lodging.