I must take to the road again

Shall I call this an end or simply a repose.

It is now November. The sky is gray, the trees are bare, there is a cold wind that chills, leaves once red and gold, now yellow and brown, flutter in the air then gather for they know Winter is near.

Meoto Iwa Married Couple Rocks
Meoto Iwa Married Couple Rocks, Futami

September 1689, Ogaki

In September 1689, Matsuo Basho has completed his Journey to the North, ending in Ogaki on horseback. His friend Rotsu accompanied him, Sora, his companion on much of the journey, rejoined him. Basho continues, “we all went to the house of Joko, where I enjoyed a reunion with Zensen, Keiko and his sons, and many other old friends who came to see me by day or night.

On the 6th of September, it was time to part and take to the road again. Life moves on, and so, he left for the Ise Shrine, for he wanted to see the dedication of a new shrine (Futamiokitama Shrine). As he stepped into the boat that would take him across Ise Bay he wrote:

As clams
Divide into Two
(Separate in Futami)
In Autumn

蛤の
ふたみにわかれ
行秋ぞ

hamaguri no / futami ni wakare / yuku aki zo

So too, I take to the road again. Not a farewell my friends, a repose.

Previously posted September 26, 2019.

I love the plum blossom – Ume koite

Spring 1685

In Shiga province, Basho met up with a priest from Hiru in Izu who traveled with him all the way to Owari province. Along the way, the priest told Basho of the death of Abbot Daiten of Enkaku Temple at Kamakura.

I love the plum blossom
But the deutzia flower
Brings me to tears

Longing for plum blossoms,
Bowing before the deutzia –
Eyes full of tears

One loves the plum
But worships the deutzia –
With tears

ume koite / unohana ogamu / namida kana

梅恋 ひて卯の花拝む 涙哉

plum tree flowers
plum tree flowers

Enkaku Temple at Kamakura

Enkaku, Engaku-ji (円覚寺), a Zen Buddhist temple in Kanagawa prefecture south of Edo (Tokyo). The name translates to “perfect enlightenment”. Daiten, Daitō, meaning long sword, appears to be the honorary title given to the abbot, possibly to the chief monk of temples practicing Zen Buddhism.

Notes on translation

There are multiple translation of Basho’s homage to Abbot Daiten of Enkaku Temple. The blog, WKD, Matsuo Basho Archives provides several. Like the hydrangeas one sees blooming along the northwestern coast of the United States, the deutzia is a bushy plant with multiple flowering heads. When the deutzia blossoms in Japan, generally, after the plum and cherry trees blossoms, the skies turn gray, not really rain, but not sunny and bright.

Misty days are abundant.

Unohana – the white snowbell-like flower of the Deutzia, part of the hydrangea family

Ogamu – to worship, to assume the posture of praying, to press the palms and fingers of both hands together, to do reverence.

hydrangea

The 325th Anniversary of Matsuo Bashō’s Death

November 28, 2019

He was not old by Japanese standards of the 17th century. The Tokugawa shogunate had established peace and tranquility throughout the land. One could expect live to a Biblically allotted time span of 70 years.

But Matsuo Bashō died young, at the age of 50, perhaps worn out by his many travels, the journeys that made him famous.

In this early death, he resembled other famous writers including the Chinese Tang dynasty poet Du Fu, who died at 58; English playwright, William Shakespeare, who died at the age of 52;  or the American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, who also died at the age of 58. She, explaining in a poem the nearness of death, wrote that:

My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – it gives a lovely light!

Bashō’s Final Journey

Today, November 28, 1694, marks the 325th anniversary of the death of Japan’s greatest haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō. He must of anticipated his death for he made a final  journey home in the fall of 1694. Having spent time in Ueno, his birthplace, and Kyoto, where he spent time as a student,  he arrived in Osaka, where he took ill.

One final haiku:

Stricken on my journey
My dreams will wander about
On withered fields of grass

Tabi ni yande/ Yume wa kareno wo/ Kakemeguru
旅に病んで 夢は枯野を かけ廻る

Bashō’s Final Illness

The news of his illness had spread to friends and students. And they gathered around his bed as his spirit left to wander this world. The image was one that was familiar to Basho, for he had often attended the Noh (能) theaters in Edo and, no doubt, in Kyoto where he learned the art of haiku as a student. Noh theater is a peculiar Japanese art form, popularized by Zeami Motokiyo, that includes only male actors who wear masks to represent emotions and typecast figures. Noh drama includes music, physical expression, and dance. The stories often relate to dreams, supernatural worlds, ghosts and spirits.

Life is a lying dream, he only wakes who casts the world aside.
Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443).

Bashō’s Dream

In an earlier haiku (June 29, 1689), Bashō alluded to a well-known Samurai figure, Minamoto no Yoshitsune who was treacherously killed in battle by the last Fujiwara lord, and the subject of a Noh play,

summer grass
and a warrior’s dreams
are what remains
natsukusa ya/ tsuwamono domo ga/ yume no ato
夏草や   兵どもが   夢の跡

 

Bashō’s Burial

Matsuo Bashō wanted companionship on his wanderings in the spirit world; and in accordance with his last wishes, his body was taken to Gichuji Temple, near the banks of Lake Biwa, where he was buried next to the famed Samurai Minamoto no Yoshinaka.

Yasuraka ni nemuru
安らかに眠る

Rest in peace!

banana-trees

A dream within a dream, 夢のまた夢

As the dew appears
As the dew disappears
Such is my life, that Naniwa
Is a dream within a dream.

露と落ち     露と消えにし     我が身かな       難波のことは      夢のまた夢
tsuyu to ochi / tsuyu to kienishi / waga mi kana / naniwa no koto wa / yume no mata yume

[Death haiku of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)]

Toyotomi-Hideyoshi-3

 

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 豊臣 秀吉

The author of this dream poem is Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), a military general in the late Warring States who succeeded in unifying much of Japan, and the precursor to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Hideyoshi died in 1598, but the final end to the Warring States came 15 years later at the siege of Osaka (大坂の役 Ōsaka no Eki), Hideyoshi’s dream castle called Naniwa.

Gentle reader, you are no doubt scratching the back of your neck, wondering why I have chosen to repeat Hideyoshi’s death haiku in a blog about Matsuo Bashō.

First, there is the obvious connection to Bashō’s own death haiku.

Second, I have wondered, as other scholars have, about Bashō’s claim to samurai status. Little is known. Little can be gleaned from Bashō’s own writings. We do know that Matsuo Bashō was born in 1644, near Ueno, in Iga Province. His brothers became farmers. Bashō became a servant to the samurai Tōdō Yoshitada, who had acquired the haikai name of Sengin. After Tōdō Yoshitada’s death, Basho traveled to Kyoto and studied haiku in earnest.

I have not come across a statement by Bashō himself that his father was of samurai status. He wrote about military battles often, and had a fondness for generals who died in battle. But the proof certain of his samurai status is not there.

There are at least two scenarios. First, that Bashō’s father Matsuo Yozaemon,or his grandfather fought for on the winning side with Tokugawa Ieyasu. Peace being established, the many armies were disbanded and low level samurai were given land to farm instead of swords to wield. It is also possible that the Matsuo clan fought with the opposing forces, with General Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was based in Osaka, then called Naniwa. Osaka and Naniwa is near Ueno in Iga province, and Iga castle where he served the samurai Tōdō Yoshitada.

We will never know and I do not know that it matters. The poetry is beautiful; and, after all, life is what we make it.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)

Life as a dream

Life as a dream is a common metaphor. What are we to make of this?

William Shakespeare wrote plays about it. Lewis Carroll wrote about it in the delightful Alice in Wonderland. The 17th century Spanish poet and playwright, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, wrote a poem saying, “Man dreams the life that’s his,” and ending with “dreams themselves are dreams.” A dream within a dream.

Even a children’s nursery rhyme speaks of life as a merry illusion:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Understanding Haiku

in the stillness—
sinking into the rocks,
is the cicadas’ cry 

Let us abandon the self. Let us enter the mind of Matsuo Basho for a moment.

From a distance we see him standing outside his small house in Fukagawa, underneath the famous banana tree given him by one of his students. The tree has grown over the years and now towers over our small group. It bears fruit. Let us now imagine that it is a summer’s day and the sky is blue except for the occasional cloud that shades the sun. Basho and his disciples are discussing the art of the haiku. From our lofty perch let us descend and enter the mind of Basho.

Matsuo Basho: “In Yamadera District there is a scenic temple that was founded almost a thousand years ago. It is located on a mountain top northeast of Yamagata City. Near the top, the way passes by the massive Mida Hora rock, which is shaped like Amida Buddha. I paused in the stillness and listened to the sound of the cicadas.”

Matsuo Basho: “Things, like humans, have qi, (). It is a life spirit, which can be felt. This is the universal force that makes up and binds all things together. It is paradoxically, both everything and nothing.”

Toho [Basho’s disciple]: “How do we learn of this spirit? How do we feel it?”

Matsuo Basho: “The mind merges with the object, which is taken in nature without obstruction. Detach from oneself, enter the object with the mind, feel the subtlety of the thing. Let the mind become the object.

Learn the pine from the pine, the bamboo from the bamboo.”

Toho would later recall this conversation in his red booklet, Akazoshi:

The master said: ‘Learn about a pine tree from a pine tree, and about a bamboo plant from a bamboo plant.’ What he meant was that the poet should detach the mind from his own self. Nevertheless, some people interpret the word ‘learn’ in their own ways and never really ‘learn’. ‘Learn’ means to enter into the object, perceive its delicate life, feel its feeling, whereupon a poem forms itself. Even a poem that lucidly describes an object could not attain a true poetic sentiment unless it contains the feelings that spontaneously emerged out of the object. In such a poem the object and the poet’s self remain forever separate, for it was composed by the poet’s personal self.

bamboo

What do my neighbors do?

Autumn deepens, next door, what does my neighbor do?

秋深き / 隣は何を / する人ぞ

aki fukaki / tonari wa nani wo / suru hito zo

Matsuo Basho on the 26th day of the Ninth Month, 1694

Basho was now 51 years old. In the summer of 1694, he left Edo (Tokyo), and after stops in Ueno, his place of birth, and Kyoto, he went to Osaka where he stayed at a country inn. Here he became ill. He was well enough earlier to visit the Sumiyoshi Shinto shrine (住吉大社), but by evening decided against attending a poetry gathering at a disciple’s house and sent this poem.

He died a few weeks later on the twelfth day of the tenth month.

Autumn deepens, the man next door, what does he do for a living?

Zen, which aims at the perfection of the person-hood, must acknowledge the impossibility of knowing someone else. Still, one is curious about others and what they do. Gentle reader, I am curious about you. Are you curious about me?

cropped-basho.jpg

Station 24 – Dewagoe

Fleas and lice,
A horse pissing
Close to my pillow.

蚤虱  馬の尿する  枕もと

nomi shirami/ uma no shito suru/ makura moto  

It is now 330 years since Matuso Basho and his companion Saro left on their journey north. They departed on May 16, 1689 and the two now find themselves close to the northernmost end of their journey, having just left Hiraizumi.

From Iwate to Shitomae

Leaving Hiraizumi and the Fujiwara clan behind, Basho and Saro proceeded some 50 miles north to Iwate, then west to Shitomae (尿前) where they stayed for three days.

The nights proved fitful, much like the stay at Iizuka where the fleas and mosquitoes were relentless and sleep impossible. To this torture, add the stench of a urinating horse. Originally, Basho had intended to go further north to Nanbu (南部町) in Yamanashi Prefecture where the Nanbu clan (南部氏 Nanbu-shi) ruled most of northeastern Honshū for over 700 years. Rain and difficulties would change his mind.

The journey towards the west and Shitomae took them towards Dewa Province and the western coast of Japan. The route would be treacherous. On the road to Dewa, Basho and Sora had to cross Kofukazawa River by climbing down a steep gorge through hairpin turns. In summer, when Matsuo Basho and Sora crossed the river they had to negotiate six treacherous bends to climb down and up the rocky gorge.

Basho explains:

Station 24 – Dewagoe

“Turning away from the high road leading to Nambu (Nanbu) Province, I came to the village of Iwate, where I stopped overnight. The next day I looked at the Cape of Oguro and the tiny island of Mizu, both in a river, and arrived by way of Naruko hot springs at the barrier-gate of Shitomae (Shitomae no seki 尿前の関) which blocked the entrance to the province of Dewa. The gate-keepers were extremely suspicious, for very few travelers dared to pass this difficult road under normal circumstances. I was admitted after  a long wait, and darkness overtook me while I was climbing a huge hill. I put up at a gate-keeper’s house which I was very lucky to find in such a lonely place. A storm came upon us and I was held up for three days.

Bitten by fleas and lice,
I slept in a bed,
A horse constantly pissing
Close to my pillow.

According to the gate-keeper there was a huge body of mountains obstructing my way to the province of Dewa, and the road was terribly uncertain. So I decided to hire a guide. The gate-keeper was kind enough to find me a young man of tremendous physique, who walked in front of me with a curved sword strapped to his waist and a stick of oak gripped firmly in his hand. I myself followed him, afraid of what might happen on the way. What the gate-keeper had told me turned out to be true. The mountains were so thickly covered with foliage and the air underneath was so hushed that I felt as if I were groping my way in the dead of night. There was not even the cry of a single bird to be heard, and the wind seemed to breathe out black soot through every rift in the hanging clouds. I pushed my way through thick undergrowth of bamboo, crossing many streams and stumbling over many rocks, till at last I arrived at the village of Mogami after much shedding of cold sweat. My guide congratulated me by saying that I was indeed fortunate to have crossed the mountains in safety, for accidents of some sort had always happened on his past trips. I thanked him sincerely and parted from him. However, fear lingered in my mind some time after that.”

Written on the 17th day of the 5th lunar month at Shitomae, which literally means “before the urine” or vulgarly, “in front of pissing”. Matsuo Basho Archives, Gabi Greve, 15/11/2012.

The Road North

horse-urinating

Two Frogs -大坂のかわず京のかわず

Old pond – frogs jumps in – sound of water

Having heard Basho’s famous frog haiku, I became curious about other ancient Japanese frog stories. Here is an old folk story, which I have embellished, as all frogs do in telling stories.

Two Frogs

大坂のかわず京のかわず
Ōsaka no kawazu Kyō no kawazu
Osaka frog, Kyoto frog

Once upon a time there lived two frogs, one of whom made his home in a pond on the grounds of the Katsuo-ji Temple in Osaka, while the other dwelt in the Kyoko-chi pond of Kyoto. At such a great distance, they had never even heard of each other; but, funny enough, the idea simultaneously came into their heads that they should see a little of the world. Thus, the frog who lived at Kyoto wanted to visit Osaka, to visit Katsuo-ji’s many ponds and beautiful garden, and the frog who lived at Osaka wished to go to Kyoto, to visit the temple of Kinkaku-ji and its ponds, which likewise were deemed just as glorious.

On the first day of spring, as the sun rose over the tree tops, they both set out along the Nakasendo Way that led from Kyoto to Osaka, each from the opposite end. Since they were frogs, the journey was long, made up of quick hops and sudden stops. Their arms being much shorter and weaker than their long powerful legs, they found that it was the stomach and head that brought them to a stop. At Nakatsugawa, halfway on their journey, there was a tall a mountain which had to be climbed and crossed. It took a long time and a great many hops to reach the summit, but there they were at last, surprised to see another frog so far from water!

Surprise begets silence, but surprise soon becomes delight, and they fell into a merry conversation about the wonders or their cities – and, after a time, as they were tired and in no hurry to resume the journey, they retired to a cool, damp place, underneath a tall cedar tree, and agreed that they would have a good rest before they parted to go about their ways.

When morning came, each frog rose stretching their sore legs and scratching their bruised stomachs in preparation of continuing their journey. “What a pity we are not bigger,” said the Osaka frog; “for then we could see both towns from here and know if it is worth our while to go on.”

“Oh, that is easily managed,” replied the Kyoto frog. “We have only to stand up on our hind legs and hold onto each other, then we can each look at the town he is traveling to.”

This idea pleased the Osaka frog so much that he at once jumped up and put his front paws on the shoulder of his friend, who had also risen. There they both stood, stretching themselves as high as they could on their tiny toes and holding each other tightly so that they would not topple over. The Kyoto frog towards Osaka, and the Osaka frog to Kyoto; but the foolish creatures forgot that when they stood up on their toes with their heads held high, their large bulbous eyes stared behind. So it was that though their noses might point to the places they wanted to go, their eyes beheld the place from which they had come.

“Dear me!” cried the Osaka frog, “Kyoto is exactly like Osaka and certainly not worth a long journey. I shall go home!”

“If I had had any idea that Osaka was only a copy of Kyoto I should never have left home at all,” exclaimed the frog from Kyoto, and as he spoke he took his hands from his friend’s shoulders, and they both plopped down on the grass. With a polite farewell the two silly frogs set off for home again, none the wiser.

And to the end of their lives they believed that Osaka and Kyoto, which are as different to look at as two towns can be, were as alike as two peas in a pod.

Notes on translation

かわ kawa, river
ず zu, not knowing (anything)
かわず kawazu, ancient term for frog, because the frog, who prefers the pond, does not know the river

waters-frog

Butterfly Weaving

Back and forth
Through the rows of wheat
A butterfly weaving!

繰り返し麦の畝縫ふ 胡蝶哉
Kurikaeshi mugi no une Nu kochō Kana

Kawai Sora speaks

Matsuo Bashō was not the only one to give us his thoughts on the Journey North (Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道). Bashō’s disciple and traveling companion, Kawai Sora, also recorded his thoughts in a diary that was not discovered until 1943. Sora Tabi Nikki (曾良旅日記, “Travel Diary of Sora”) gives us insight into Bashō’s observations and Sora’s own insights.

Sora’s haiku above literally translates as “Weaving back and forth through the rows of wheat, a butterfly!” Sora’s final Japanese character is 哉 kana, which translates as surprise. I have therefore transposed to the end of the haiku Sora’s surprise and delight in associating the butterfly’s movement with weaving and stitching.

It reads well either way, don’t you think?

Notes

繰り返し kurikaeshi, repeating, back and forth, as in a stitching motion
麦 mugi, wheat or barley
胡蝶 kochō, butterfly
哉 kana, What!

butterflies

a village without bells

a village where no bells ring: what, no way to tell it is dusk in spring

or,

in a village without bells, how do they mark the end of spring?

鐘撞かぬ里は何をか春の暮
kane tsukanu sato wa nani o ka haru no kure

I hope to come back to this haiku, yet, as Robert Frost said, ‘knowing how way leads on to way, I doubt I ever could.’ What, a village without bells, no way in ‘hell’ to find my way back again.

Notes

haru, spring, but also vitality; liveliness; energy; life
lust; lustfulness; passion; sexual desire
kure, this character has several meanings including: evening; dusk; late sunset; closing of the day.

In old Japanese haru no kure  may mean the end of spring

evening-milky-way