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.

Night Rain, Bai Juyi

Night Rain

The cricket cried, then stopped to rest

The waning light goes out, now it’s clear.

Outside my window, the night rain lets me know

The Banana leaf speaks first.

Banana Speak

Basho like in its subject matter and concise descriptions, but this poem was actually written by the Chinese Tang poet, Bai Juyi. In fact it mirrors the well known haiku by Basho about the ancient pond, the frog, and the sound of water. Well, as is often said, there is nothing new, just how we say it.

Bai Juyi was a poet of the Tang dynasty. His poems are influenced by his deeply held Buddhist beliefs. These beliefs hold that insight comes from meditation and intuitive thought. Thus, the pitter-patter of the night rain on a banana leaf becomes speech. Unintelligible speech to the untuned human ear, “Banana Speak” to those who know.

Original Pinyin and Chinese

Ye Yu

Zao qiong ti fu xie
Can deng mie you ming.

Ge chuang zhi ye yu
Ba jiao xian you sheng.

夜 雨
早 蛩 啼 复 歇
残 灯 灭 又 明。
隔 窗 知 夜 雨
芭 蕉 先 有 声。

Notes

For an explanation and good story on how Bai Juyi’s poem was falsely attributed to Matsuo Basho, see MISATTRIBUTED TO BASHŌ: BAI JUYI’S “EVENING RAIN”. Okay, so Dave calls it Evening Rain instead of Night Rain. He’s smart and I’m right, and once he looks at translations for the alliterative 雨, Yè yǔ he’ll agree. Indeed, is not only night but night long, as in something occurring during the night. Moreover, in line one, one might argue that our crying cricket has not simply rested, but also gone to bed, which is the literal meaning of 歇, xie. In line two, the sensorily sensitive Bai Juyi makes it clear that all light has gone, evening is done, night has begun. And now it is clear. Clear being the Chinese character 明, which may mean bright or brilliant, but in this case “clear”.

知道了, zhīdàole, Got it!

How Zen!

How Dào! which incidentally rhymes.

More Bai Juyi

For more reading, compare Bai Juyi’s Night Rain with Night Snow by the same poet. Nature speaks!