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, 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.