Summer, 1689. The Mogami River tumbles into a mountain valley in northern Yamagata Prefecture. There one finds peaceful Obanazawa, 尾花沢, meaning Marsh of Irises. Matsuo Basho, and his companion Sora, are staying with Seifu, a well-to-do safflower merchant and haiku poet.
suzushisa o waga yado ni shite nemaru nari
for a while, I may rest
Haideyo kaiya ga shita no hiki no koe
Crawl and creep
From under this shed
You loud mouth frog
Note. Hai, the first character in this haiku has several meanings. Creep and crawl is the intended meaning, but as homophone, it means to bow reverentially. Another meaning is “to give up.” Kaiya, the shed where the silkworms are kept. Kiki. A Bullfrog. Frogs and toads eat caterpillars. Kaiya, also a Japanese feminine name meaning “Forgiveness.”
まゆはきを俤にして紅粉の花Oku no Hosomichi, Obanazawa, Summer 1684, Matsuo Basho
mayuhaki o omokage ni shite beni no hana
recalling to mind
an eyebrow brush
benihana (Safflower blossoms)
Note. Mayu, まゆ the first two characters, means eyebrow. Its homophone, 繭 a silkworm cocoon. Beni no hana, 紅粉の花, literally red powder flower. Safflowers produce yellow and red dyes which range from light yellow through pink, rose and crimson. For this reason, they are popular in cosmetics.
Basho’s annotation from the travelogue, Oku no Hosomichi:
“I visited Seifu in Obanazawa. He is a rich merchant of a truly poetic turn of mind. He has a deep understanding of the hardships of being on the road, for he himself had often traveled to the capital city. He invited me to stay at his place as long as I wished, trying to make me comfortable in every way he could.”
Basho added this haiku by Sora:
kogai suru hito wa kodai no sugata kana
those tending silkworms keep their ancient appearances
Note. Kogai, 蠶飼. Silkworms are the larval form of the silk moth. The caterpillar spins a cocoon out of silk fibers for its metamorphosis into a moth. Silkworms have been domesticated since at least 3500 BC.