leaves, some the wind scatters on the ground; so too the race of men.
– Iliad vi.146
Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, paraphrasing the Illiad, vi146, in his Meditations, 10.34.
Matsuo Basho on Scattered Leaves
Let the universe be your companion, bearing in mind the true nature of things—mountains and rivers, trees and grass, and humanity – and enjoy the falling blossoms and scattered leaves.Matsuo Basho
Humanity, Basho observed, enjoys the true nature of things. Autumn leaves, falling leaves of red and gold, scattered leaves outside my window, written about in song and poem, a last hurrah, a winsome remembrance, before winter’s wind comes along.
Such things as these cherished tears coloring scattered maple leaves
尊がる涙や 染めて 散る紅葉 tootogaru namida ya somete chiru momiji
October 1, 1691, shortly before Basho, age 48, returned to Edo. Basho’s greeting to the priest Ryu at Menshooji temple 明照寺, (Meishōji), near Lake Biwa, in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture. WKD Matsuo Basho Archives
Such things as cherished tears
the scattered red leaves
尊がる涙や 染めて 散る紅葉
tootogaru namida ya somete chiru momiji
The Autumn Years
It is near the beginning of the end.
Beginning in 1690, Bashō was gone from Edo, living in quiet retirement at the Genju-an (the Phantom Dwelling), what had been an abandoned hut with a rush door, near Lake Biwa. He spent his days working on the book that would make him famous, Narrow Road to the Deep North and making short trips to visit friends and former students. On the first day of October he called on the Priest Ryu, at the Myosho-ji Temple in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture.
This visit inspired the above haiku.
After calling on his friend, Bashō returned to Edo to a new house near the old one in Fukagawa, complete with five banana plants. For the next three years, he would work on another anthology of poetry before setting out once more in the spring of 1694 for his birthplace.
On the way, at Osaka, he took ill and died, age 50.
Notes on translation
Momijigari, 紅葉狩り – Maple viewing, a Japanese autumn tradition of visiting where the maple leaves have turned red. From momiji (紅葉) meaning the “maple tree” as well as “red leaves” and “color changing”; and kari (狩り) “hunting”.