1688 – Genroku
England was experiencing its Glorious Revolution. Europe was beginning its Age of Enlightenment. Japan was at peace. It was the era of Genroku 元禄. The reigning emperor was Emperor Higashiyama (東山天皇), but true power lay in the hands of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (徳川 綱吉), the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty.
Basho’s study of Buddhism inspired the following haiku. Lightning (稲妻 inazuma) being both enlightening and ephemeral.
稲妻を手にとる闇の紙燭哉Matsuo Basho, Summer 1687
inazuma o / te ni toru yami no / shisoku kana
a paper candle
in the darkness
Note. Paper candle, an ancient means of lighting, a torch.
By the mid-1680s, Basho’s fame was established. He had left Edo for Fukagama where he lived in a simple cottage. There he taught his students and received guests. A disciple gave him a banana plant (basho) as a housewarming gift. And it was this tree that grew beside his cottage that became the symbol of the poet — fragile and, one might say, useless.
あの雲は稲妻を待つたよりかなMatsuo Basho, Summer 1688
ano kumo wa / inazuma o matsu / tayori kana
that cloud —
lightning is waiting
In late spring and summer of 1689, Matsuo Basho journeyed to Japan’s northern interior, following a route that took him along the eastern coast, crossing to the west coast, then traveling west and south to Osaka, returning to Edo and the Basho-an in late fall to work on what was to become his best known work (Oku no Hosomichi).
inazuma ni / satora nu hito no / tattosa yo
lightning —Matsuo Basho, Winter 1690
to one who understands
life is precious!
Note. Tattosa 貴さ, noble and precious. Yo よ, adding emphasis.
In the summer of 1694, Matsuo Basho was 50 years old. He left Edo for the last time, spending time in Ueno, his birthplace, and then Kyoto, where he spent time as a student, before going to nearby Otsu by Lake Biwa.
Matsuo Basho, Summer 1694
inazuma ya / kao no tokoro ga / susuki no ho
in place of faces
1694 — summer
Note. Miscanthus (susuki, commonly called pampas grass) — ever changing, from fresh green shoots in early spring to the long lasting shimmering seed-heads of autumn, a reminder of the fleeting nature of the seasons.
稲妻や闇も方行く五位の声Matsuo Basho, Summer 1694
inazuma ya / yami no kata yuku / goi no koe
deep in the darkness
the sound of a heron
Note. The heron (crane) is a divine bird traveling between heaven and earth.
For Those Who Can’t Get Enough
Inazuma — etymology. 稲 ina, meaning “rice plant”, plus 妻 tsuma, meaning “spouse”. Deriving from an ancient belief that lightning mated with (fertilized) rice plants.
Compare Basho’s haiku with the Diamond Sutra (a Sanskrit text translated into Chinese during the Tang dynasty):
So you should view this fleeting world:Diamond Sutra, Chapter 32
As a drop of dew or a floating bubble in a river,
As lightning flashing in a summer cloud,
As a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.