Chiyo-Ni

Fukuda Chiyo-ni, Lady Kaga no Chiyo,
Fukuda Chiyo-ni, Lady Kaga no Chiyo

Chiyo-Ni 千代尼 (1703-1775) was born in Matto, Kaga Province (now Ishikawa Prefecture), the daughter of a picture framer.

She began writing haiku at the age of seven, was apprenticed to two of Matsuo Basho’s disciples, and was quite popular as a poet by the age of 17. In 1720, she married into the Fukuoka 福岡某 family in Kanazawa, becoming the Lady Kaga no Chiyo, or Kaga no Chiyo Jo. Jo 女 meaning “woman”, signifying her status as poet. Within two years of her marriage, her infant son died, and then her husband. She returned home to care for her parents and run the family business.

In 1752 she became a nun and was henceforth known as Chiyo-Ni, Ni 尼 meaning “nun”.

There is a museum dedicated to her work in her hometown.

 

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

An azalea, dried cod and a woman

On Lake Biwa, sitting down at an inn for lunch:

Azaleas arranged in a pot,
Chopping cod in the shade –
A woman

tsutsuji ikete sono kage ni hidara saku onna

躑躅 生けてその陰に干 鱈 割く女

azalea-pink

Thusness

Was she young, was she pretty, or dried up and old? Did she blossom like a flower? Or merely exist?

One should be careful of reading too much into a haiku.

Matsuo Basho himself observed that a haiku may be neither objective or subjective. It merely is what it is. This quality of “thusness” or “suchness” is a principle of Buddhism called Tathātā. It represents the base reality. Thus, there in the corner of the inn, Basho spies an azalea, and a woman tearing up dried cod.

Imagery, Kigo, Kireji, and a Twist

The essence of a haiku is its imagery. The image conveys a message, the characters and words are merely the conveyance of the image.

Most haiku will contain a kigo word. This helps to set the season and so the setting of the poem. Kigo words do not need to be the actual season – spring, summer, fall or winter. Instead, as in this case, the azalea that blooms in spring becomes the kigo word.

Having created the image, the poet must carve his or her haiku up into a sequence of images to create the synthesis of images forming one idea. Kireji are called “cutting words” and act like punctuation, a comma, a dash, a question, and exclamation, and so forth. But kireji may also make their appearance in the verb form, for instance, in change the present to the past

In this haiku, the verb that appears after azalea is ikete, past tense of ikeru. By itself, the “Te Form” links the two thoughts of the azalea and the woman chopping cod together.

A good haiku should also try to create a twist in thought, where sound may suggest a shift in thought. Hidara saku, the cod is split by the woman, but shifting the phrase to saku onna, gives the listener impression of a woman blooming.

azalea-forest

 

Basho retells the Tale of Genji

Tying a rice cake / Held with one hand / Oh, the strands of my hair

粽結ふ 片手にはさむ 額髪

Chimakiyufu katate ni hasamu hitaigami

rice dumpling, chimaki
chimaki

The Tale of Genji

We have all played this game – summarize a complicated story in a few words. Perhaps, one of Matsuo Basho’s disciples issued the challenge for the 11th century masterpiece, The Tale of Genji.

Matsuo Basho’s word picture portrays a woman, no doubt she is lovely, wrapping and knotting () a chimaki ( a sweet and savory rice cake) with a bamboo leaf. With one hand she ties it with a string while with the other hand she brushes a strand of her hair behind her ear.

Thus, Basho explains the Tale of Genji, a work that recounts the love of the Emperor Kiritsubo for a low-ranking concubine, Kiritsubo no Koi (Consort), and the tale of their son, Hikaru Genji, “Shining Genji” who is demoted to the status of commoner.

Notes on translation

粽 Chimaki, or Zongzi, a rice dumpling wrapped in palm leaves. In Japan this is traditionally prepared on Children’s Day, thus, for Basho, it describes Kiritsubo Consort’s love for her son Hikaru Genji.
結 yui, tie, to fasten, hold, a knot
片手 katate, one hand
む mu, used for inflection
額髪  hitaigami, the hair on the forehead, bangs

Japanese girl at work