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

Stage 25, July 1689

By July, 1689, Matsuo Basho and Sora had reached Obanazawa, three months into their Journey to the Northern Interior, and ready to rest.

[By Matsuo Basho’s reckoning, according to the Japanese lunar calendar, it was the 5th lunar month (五日, itsuka), from the 17th to the 27th, 1689.]

Basho writes:

In Obanazawa, I met a man called Seifu (清風, a Chinese phrase meaning cool breeze).”


“He is wealthy, yet a man of a samurai mind. He has a deep understanding of the hardships of the wandering journey, for he himself had traveled often to the capital city. He invited me to stay at his place as long as I wished and made me comfortable in every way he could.”

Making coolness
My lodging,
I rest

Yes (Hai), crawl out!
Croaking toad
Under the silk moth hut

The mental image of
Mayahuki (an eye brush)
And Benihana (Safflower, red powder flower)

Safflower, 紅粉の花

Notes on Translation

Obanazawa (尾花沢), literally means the valley of the yellow iris (尾花). The city is located along the Mogami River in central Japan, halfway between Sendai and Sakata (Stages 18 and 31).

In Obanazawa, Matsuo Basho’s host was Seifu (清風), a wealthy merchant and poet of the Danrin school, founded by Nishiyama Sōin (1605 to 1682). Seifu had previously exchanged haiku with Basho and Sora in Edo. Seifu is the Haiku name of Michisuke Suzuki, a safflower wholesaler, thus the third haiku.


Who knows,

Seifu’s kaiku
Not me, not you

Seifu’s haiku
Faded
Like Safflower powder

Bashō no yōna

I have not been able to find any haiku by Michisuke Suzuki, or Seifu. But, there is a Seifu Museum in Obamazawa.

Safflower (紅粉の花, benibana or beni no hana), has been used in Japan as a source for red tint in cosmetics and dye for clothing. The yellow flower contains a concentrated tinge of red.

Watch a short Japanese film on Benihana.

With the July heating up, and the long walk, Basho and Sora were ready for a rest. The WKD Archive site indicates that Basho stayed at a nearby temple and not with Seifu. Perhaps, Seifu was not as “cool” as his name suggests.

From the second haiku, one infers that Basho’s host also maintained a nursery for Silkworm moths. Basho addresses a toad hidden in a Moth hut. It is hot and humid, Basho kindly commands him to crawl out, enjoy the cool, fresh air.

Mayahaki in the third haiku refers to the brush that sweeps the eye with red powder from the Safflower. It is the signature look of the Geisha.

Original Japanese

涼しさを我宿にしてねまる也

suzushisa o waga yado ni shite nemaru nari

這出よかひやが下のひきの声

hai ideyo kaiya ga shita no hiki no koe

まゆはきを俤にして紅粉の花

mayuhaki o omokage ni shite beni no hana

The Signs of Summer, 1678

Seeing fresh green leaves (青葉), hearing the Mountain Cuckoo (山時鳥), and tasting the season’s first Bonito (初鰹, Skipjack Tuna) — these are images that express the feeling of early summer in Edo, 1678, written down by Yamaguchi Sodo (山口素堂).

Picture a bustling, smelly, noisy fish market in Edo’s fashionable Nihonbashi district. Sanpu Sugiyama, the imperial purveyor of fish is there, supervising the sale of fish. Throngs of people have gathered to see the season’s first Bonito catch. The fish are taken from the boats and displayed on fresh green leaves. Cuckoo birds gather about making their distinctive sounds — ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kow-kow.

Matsuo Basho and Yamaguchi Sodo, fellow poets and friends of Sanpu, are there as well.

Seeing Aoba
Hearing Hototogisu
Tasting
Hatsugatsuo

An eye for green leaves,
The Mountain Cuckoo
The First Bonito

me ni ha aoba / yama hototogisu / hatsu gatsuo

目には青葉山時鳥初鰹

Hiroshige Utagawa (1842-1894), Bonito Fishing

Yamaguchi Sodo

Yamaguchi Sodo (山口素堂, 1642-1716) was a contemporary of Matsuo Basho, who outlived him by almost 20 years. This simple haiku, which is Zen-like in its sparseness, was collected in “Edo Shindo” (New Road in Edo) in 1678.

In 1675, Sodo met Matsuo Basho for the first time in Edo. Sodo took up residence at Shinobazu-no-Ike Pond in Ueno Park, a former temple, near Basho.

This was Basho’s early period, before Basho moved from noisy Edo across the Sumida River to the quiet Fukagawa District. It was there that Basho took up residence in a simple cottage, planted a banana tree (芭蕉, Bashō) next to the cottage, and, in time, became Basho, and the cottage Basho-an.

The two became fast friends. Perhaps it is merely coincidental, but one cannot help but see and hear the similarity between Matsuo Basho‘s name and Hatsu Gatsuo, the last line of the haiku. The word choice is perhaps not entirely coincidental. The person who provided Basho Matsuo with financial help was his pupil, Sanpu Sugiyama, also known as Ichibei Koiya, Edo’s official fish procurer for the Shogunate.

In old Edo, there was a saying:

女房 を 質屋 に 入れて も 食いたい 初鰹

nyōbō wo shichi ni iretemo hatsu-gatsuo,

“I must taste the season’s first bonito, even if I must pawn my wife!”


Tuna Tataki-style

Hatsu-gatsuo is generally prepared tatakistyle, that is — seared on the outside, raw on the inside, then plunged in ice water, patted dry and showered with fresh green herbs, and finally pressed with cracked pepper and roasted garlic.

Nihonbashi district fish market, Hiroshige Utagawa (1842-1894)

Yamadera, Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho was well into his trip when he visited Yamadera, stage 26 of 43 recorded stops on his Journey North, Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道).

There he climbed over a thousand steps to the Buddhist temple of Risshaku-ji (立石寺). The temple was founded in 860 AD by the priest Ennin, later known as Jikaku Daishi (慈覺大師). Ennin had studied in China during the Tang Dynasty. This was a literary connection for Basho who had an affinity for the Tang poet Du Fu and all poems of the Tang Dynasty. At the temple, clinging to the steep, forested, rocky mountain side, he composed this haiku.

Ah, the Quiet, but piercing the Rocks — the Cry of the Cicada

閑けさや 岩にしみいる 蝉の声

Shizukesa ya/ Iwa ni shimiiru/ Semi no koe

For Matsuo Basho, I imagine the haiku means that poetry outlives the poet. It echoes down through generations, as solid as rock. This is similar to the Latin phrase Ars longa, vita brevis, which means either “Art lasts long, life is short” or “it takes a lifetime to learn a skill, life is short”.

Notes on Translation

Semi no koe, 蝉の声, the voice of the cicada. Whether the cicada cries or simply speaks, Gentle Reader, I leave to you.

Compare mizuno oto, 水の音, the sound of water. Unlike Matsuo Basho’s well known, old pond — frog jumps — splash, water’s sound, Basho here uses “voice” for “sound”.

Both haiku are good examples of Basho’s focus on wabi-sabi, 侘び 寂び. This Zen Buddhist concept can best be described as simple and quiet, but elegant, finding beauty in life’s imperfections. For example, a furry caterpillar crawls along a branch after having eaten part of a leaf.

Gentle Reader, how do you find beauty in this world?

Yamadera Temple figure

This haiku was previously translated.

Paddling Satchel Creek

Monday morning, mid-June, warm not hot. A kayak trip up Satchel Creek at Lake El Dorado in southeast Kansas. I am alone in the universe.

The regular rhythm of the paddle in the water inspired these thoughts.

Not haiku, but rules are made to be broken, otherwise how would we improve. Hopefully, the verse is Basho-like, Bashō no yōna. But first, a word from the Master:

With awe I beheld
Fresh leaves, green leaves,
Bright in the sunlight. 

— Matsuo Basho, Road to the Deep North

Let’s Start

Satchel Creek starts out wide as it empties into the lake. Then, as it meanders past rocky shoals, it narrows, until finally the kayak bottoms out on the rocks and one can go no further. But that is still a ways off. A Great Heron accompanies me for a while. Along the way are sunken logs and fallen trees. Spider webs catch their prey. Catfish and carp jump out of the water to catch a fly.

The silence of the water and woods,
The stillness of the air
Is everywhere.
Until one feels a gentle breeze,
And hears the flapping wings of a Great Heron
Leading the way

To who knows where

Paddling up Satchel Creek
In a sleek blue kayak
Past sunken logs and fallen trees
Suddenly, a carp
Grasps a floating bug
Slap goes the water

Matsuo Basho began one his famous journey north with this:

Paddling along, silently wondering, where are the turtles resting on logs in the morning sun? Birds call out sweet songs, unseen in the tall trees.

Turtles will sleep ‘til noon,
Oh, how they hate to get up in the morning.

Have you ever heard a Chickadee call,
High up in a tall tree?

Lake El Dorado was created by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1981. The waters flooded the old town of Chelsea, but its cemetery remains at the north end of the lake. Along the lakeside and up Satchel Creek, flooding left many old trees in the water. Their ghostly gray silhouettes a reminder of what was once woodlands. The first verse mimics Basho’s thoughts of a crow on a withered branch.

On a withered branch
A blue heron keeps watch
Wary of Summer’s strangers

Dead trees like skeletons
Standing in the water
Praying for what?

Water, water everywhere,
And not a drop to think.
A Mulberry tree along the bank,
Its fruit a gift for me…
Thank God

End

Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go back home again.” Heraclitus said, “You could not step twice into the same rivers.” Do they mean the same thing?

I am back in Wichita.
Why do they say,
You can’t go back home again.
Why does the river flows on and on?

Uncertainty was the reason for this trip. The uncertainty of tomorrow, the uncertainty that keeps eating away at me, that brings me down. And, as I alluded to in my last post, I felt that with travel I could escape the discontent that uncertainty brings. I was surprised to find it waiting there for me.

As Seneca advises, I need a change of soul.

“Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after a long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.” Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, 29.

Matsuo Basho, on the other hand, gives us his own version of the Serenity Prayer:

Every day’s a journey, the journey itself is home.

A Pillow of Grass

Come
Let us dine on barley grain
On a journey nowhere

(kusa makura)

come, together
let us eat barley grain
on a grass pillow

iza tomo ni/ homugi kurawan/ kusa makura

いざともに穂麦喰はん草枕

barley field, 麦畑

Summer 1685

On “a journey of a thousand leagues,” one that began in the autumn of 1684, a trip in which Basho would enter “into nothingness under the midnight moon,” and now, in the summer of 1685, was near its end, a chance meeting took place. It was a meeting that meant everything and nothing, remarkable enough to inspire a haiku, to remember, but nothing else.

The poet from Edo and the priest from Hirugakojima met somewhere near Nagoya in Owari province. Let us imagine the introduction:

“Come let us go together. As you see, you and I have no place to be. Asking for very little, eating a simple fare of barley grain, ‘neath the stars at night, sleeping on a pillow of grass until we say our goodbyes.”

We learn little of the priest other than the fact that he hails from the island of Hirugakojima (蛭が小嶋) in Izu. The significance becoming apparent only when we realize that the shrine and the temple on the island was built by Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), who established the Kamakura shogunate, a play on words with kusamakura (草枕), the grass pillow.

In 1689, pursuant to his last wishes, Basho would be buried next to Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a member of the Minamoto samurai clan.

Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field

It was the first of Matsuo Basho’s major wanderings, a trip that took him from Edo to Mount Fuji, then on to Ueno, Nara, Kyoto, and Nagoya, a trip begun in uncertainty for Basho made trip alone without provisions. Basho was 41, old enough to have achieved fame as poet and teacher, still uncertain about where life was leading him.

We need not tarry too long on this journey. David Landis Barnhill has given us a translation online of the Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field, (Nozarashi kiko).

Dewa Province Mogami River

Sources:

David Landis Barnhill gives us a chronological translation online of the Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field, (Nozarashi kiko) .

WKD – Matsuo Basho Archives, Gabi Greve, Iza, let’s go

The Route, Nozarashi Kiko (野ざらし紀行), Several sources indicate that Basho was accompanied on the journey by his disciple Chiri. Chiri (塵) is an interesting moniker for it means dust. Dust was on occasion a subject of Basho’s haiku.

blossoms falling, birds startled by the harp’s dust
chiru hana ya / tori mo odoroku / koto no chiri
散る花や鳥も驚く琴の塵

Kakitsubata

kakitsubata – an iris
brings to mind
a hokku


kakitsubata ware ni hokku no omoi ari

杜若われに発句のおもひあり

Japan's most renowned iris painting is Kakitsubata-zu by Ogata Korin (1658-1716), in the Nezu Museum in Tokyo.

Kakitsubata

It is the fall and the iris blossoms though long gone, still bring to mind the memory of my grandmother, for it too was her favorite flower. For Matsuo Basho, flowers were an inspiration and he wrote of the kakitsubata, the blue water iris, at least three times. This one in 1685, following the death of his mother in 1683.

Basho’s haiku is based on the eighth century hokku and Noh play of Ariwara no Narihira.

In the play, a traveling monk seeing iris blossoms on the bank of a stream approaches to admire their beauty. It is strange to him how the flowers are incapable of knowing their own beauty. A young woman watching him studying the flowers approaches him. This place is called Yatsuhashi, she says, and it is famous for its irises. When he asks if they have been the subject of a poem, she tells him of the poet Ariwara no Narihira of the Heien Period who composed the poem, “Just as a karakoromo robe comfortably fits my body after wearing it a long time, I comfortably fit my wife. Alas, I came east, leaving her behind in Kyoto. It is heartbreaking to be so far apart.”

By 1685, Basho has become a tabi no kokoro 旅の心 literally “traveling heart”. His mother died in 1683 and the following year he left Edo on one of his first wanderings. In 1685, the year of this haiku, he presumably visited the famous Yatsuhashi Kakitsubata Gardens, which reminded him of the poet Ariwara no Narihira, who wrote a hokku (an introductory poem) and a Noh play based on the flower. The play is set in early summer, near Yatsuhashi (Eight bridges) in Mikawa Province, present Aichi Prefecture.

Kakitsubata, the hokku

Kakitsubata is a hidden word (the first two characters in the five lines) in the acrostic hokku (poem) by Ariwara no Narihira from Tales of Ise.

から
きつゝなれにし
つましあれ
ばはるばるきぬる
たびをしぞ思

Ka-ragoromo
kit-sutsu narenishi
tsu-ma shi areba
ha (ba)-rubaru kinuru
ta-bi o shi zo omou

Notes on translation

Kakitsubata (Chinese, 杜若, Japanese, かきつばた) – one of three Japanese species of iris, is found along waterways and is usually purple or blue in color. In English it is sometimes translated as “rabbit-eared iris”. The kakitsubata is cultivate in the Yatsuhashi Kakitsubata Garden (八橋かきつばた園) at the Muryojuji Temple. It is also the place where Japanese poet Ariwara no Narihira was inspired to write his verse.

Hokku, 発句 – the opening stanza of a series of collaborative linked poems, renga.

Morning Glories

Chiyo-ni

He and she, she and he. Many haiku artists took up where Matsuo Basho left off with his death in 1694. One such artist was the Lady Kaga no Chiyo (Chiyo-ni, 1703 – 1775). She had taken up writing at the age of seven and was well-known by the time she was a teenager. Basho’s influence comes from the fact that she studied under two of Basho’s apprentices, but as seen in the following haiku, she spoke in her own unique voice.

Morning Glories
Entwined in the bucket at the well
So, I beg for water

Matsuo Basho, cooking his morning breakfast, observes:

Morning Glories,
While cooking rice
Am I a man, (I wonder)?

morning-glory

A moment in time

In a world of things, we strive to express our joy and wonderment in Nature’s beauty. Making his breakfast, Matsuo Basho watching the morning glory unfurl to catch the morning sun. Similarly, Chiyo-ni going to fetch water, finds that overnight the morning glory has wrapped its tendrils into the handle.

A word, a couplet, a line, a thought, nothing can compare with the actual moment in time for Nature’s beauty remains supreme.

Western translators have tried to fill out the meaning of the haiku adding words that were perhaps implied but not written. Dr. Gabi Greve, of the Daruma Museum, Japan, has given us many variations of Chiyo-ni’s haiku, adding neighbor to explain her solution to Chiyo-ni’s dilemma. While the English poet Edwin Arnold has expanded the original thought greatly:

The morning-glory
Her leaves and bells has bound
My bucket handle round.
I could not break the bands
Of these soft hands.
The bucket and the well to her left,
‘Let me some water, for I come bereft.

This, I believe, has changed the game, for haiku was and is a game. The only rule being that the poet must express his or her thought in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, features an image, or a pair of images, expressing the essence of a moment in time.

Morning Glories, Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858)
Morning Glories, Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858)

Notes on Translation

Both poets use the flower name 朝顔, asagao, literally morning face.

It is a flower of the fields and and hedge rows, often entwined with briars and along a fence or gate. The flower was brought to Japan with the advent of Buddhism. The tiny blue or purple flower that bloomed each morning represented enlightenment.

“The Asagao blossoms and fades quickly to prepare for tomorrow’s glory” is another well-known phrase.

Sen no Rikyū, the 16th century tea master, is said to have grown gorgeous morning glories in the garden by his teahouse. Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537 – 1598), Japan’s “Great Unifier,” sought an invitation to tea so that he could see the flowers.

釣瓶, tsurube, a bucket for drawing water at a well.

貰い水, morai mizu, literally, received I water – 貰 morai, can also suggest a tip or beneficence . 水 mizu, water. This leaves us with the impression that Chiyo must go and beg for water, i.e. “receiving water as a gift”.

Chiyo-no’s original Japanese and Romaji

朝顔に  釣瓶とられて   貰い水

asagao ni     tsurube torarete     morai mizu

Basho’s original Japanese and Romaji

朝顔に   我は飯食ふ   男かな

asagao ni     ware wa meshi kû    otoko kana

Even in Kyoto

cuckoo bird

Even in Kyoto
Longing for Kyoto
Hearing the Cuckoo

Even in Kyoto
Nostalgia for Kyoto
– the Cuckoo

cuckoo bird

Summer, 1690

By Japanese reckoning it was the era called Genroku (元禄, meaning “original happiness” or perhaps “the beginning of happiness”). It was the third year of the reign of Emperor Higashiyama, 113th emperor of Japan.

That spring Matsuo Basho had completed his trip that would become in time his most famous travelogue, Oku no Hosomichi, Journey to the Far North. Not wanting to hurry back to Edo, where Basho had lived and written for the last 46 years, he decided to stay in Kyoto for four months in a modest hut called Genjuu-An 幻住庵, located on the grounds of the Chikatsuo Shrine.

Summer was approaching. In Kyoto’s trees, now full of green leaves, one could hear the plaintive cry of the cuckoo, “Kyoo-Kyoo.” Basho recalled his early days a student in Kyoto.

Matsuo Basho was 56 years old. Basho’s own death came in 1694.

Japanese and Pinyin

京にても 京なつかしや 時鳥
Kyoo nite mo, Kyoo natsukashi ya, hototogisu

Notes on translation

Kyoo, Kyoto, appearing at the beginning and repeated to imitate the sound of the cuckoo bird. Some say the birds call, “kyoo-kyoo,” is the cry of the dead longing to come back.

なつかし natsukashi, a feeling of nostalgia, a joy for the remembrance of the past. I have used longing.

時鳥 hototogisu, The cuckoo bird. Basho leaves us with the image of a cuckoo bird and nothing more. Nothing else was needed since the cuckoo was a frequent subject of poets.

An Early Summer Rain – Samidare no

An early summer rain
Falling on this and that
And the Temple of Light

An early summer rain
Does not dim
The Temple of Light 

Samidare no/ Furinokosite ya/ Hikari-do

五月雨の 降のこしてや 光堂

rain-lights

May, 1689

It is an early summer rain in Kansas, some three hundred thirty one years since Matsuo Basho wrote this haiku. At the time, Basho and his traveling companion Sora were on the famous Journey to the North. Visiting Hiraizumi, Basho would have taken the pathway on Tsukimi-zaka slope to Chuson-ji Temple and its golden hall of Hikare-do (Konjiki-do).

[Note on translation. Furinokosite ya, 降のこしてや. The second line of the haiku is a turn of a phrase. The first character in the line indicates a fall, as in the rain falling, but also to subdue, to lessen or decrease in stature, hence the verb “dim”.]

Prior translation

Yoshitsune

Basho had come not only to see Hikare-do, the Temple of Light dedicated to the Buddha, but also to reflect on the the rise and fall of the northern Fujiwara clan, and the tragic end of the samurai Yoshitsune, an event that took place some five hundred years previously.

Of Yoshitsune, Basho wrote another well-known haiku; one that seems to express a contrasting emotion.

The summer grass is all that remains of  a warlord’s dreams.

Natsukusa ya / tsuwamono domo ga / yume no ato.