Banana tree in a fierce autumn gale
I wonder if I can hear
Rain in the tub, tonight!
Bashō nowaki shite
Tarai ni ame o
Kiku yo kana
芭蕉 野分 して盥に雨を聞く夜哉
In the winter of 1680 Bashō moved from central Edo across the Sumida River to the rural Fukagawa district. His patrons and disciples had prepared a cottage with a thatched roof for him in the midst of a grove of banana trees. In the spring of 1681, one disciple gave him a house warming gift, a new banana plant (Bashō, hence the name Bashō-an).
Away from the distractions of Edo, Bashō had more time to collect his thoughts and compose haiku.
Summer came, and then fall, and with fall the fierce storms and typhoons that strike Japan every year.
A sleepless Basho composed the above haiku. Alone, he was wondering if he could withstand the night. Bashō’s explanatory notes provide some insight:
Sleeping alone in a thatched hut
The elder Du (Fu) wrote a poem about a thatched hut blowing (tearing) in the wind. Then the old man Su Shi wrote verse about a leaking cottage. Now I listen to their rain pounding my banana leaves, lying alone in my thatched cottage.
Du Fu is a poet of the Tang dynasty, much admired by Basho. The poem he refers to is Song of My Cottage Unroofed By an Autumn Gale. Du Fu’s poem is much longer, and more involved, but it begins much like Basho’s haiku:
“In the eighth month, autumn’s fierce winds angrily howl,
And sweep three layers of thatch from off my home.
The straw flies over the river, and scatters,
Some hangs high up in the tree,
Some floats down and sinks in the ditch…”
Some three centuries later, Su Shi of the Song dynasty composed a poem with a similar thought, “My thatched roof torn by the autumn wind…”