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 Early Summer Rain – Samidare no

An early summer rain
Falling on this and that
And the Temple of Light

An early summer rain
Does not dim
The Temple of Light 

Samidare no/ Furinokosite ya/ Hikari-do

五月雨の 降のこしてや 光堂

rain-lights

May, 1689

It is an early summer rain in Kansas, some three hundred thirty one years since Matsuo Basho wrote this haiku. At the time, Basho and his traveling companion Sora were on the famous Journey to the North. Visiting Hiraizumi, Basho would have taken the pathway on Tsukimi-zaka slope to Chuson-ji Temple and its golden hall of Hikare-do (Konjiki-do).

[Note on translation. Furinokosite ya, 降のこしてや. The second line of the haiku is a turn of a phrase. The first character in the line indicates a fall, as in the rain falling, but also to subdue, to lessen or decrease in stature, hence the verb “dim”.]

Prior translation

Yoshitsune

Basho had come not only to see Hikare-do, the Temple of Light dedicated to the Buddha, but also to reflect on the the rise and fall of the northern Fujiwara clan, and the tragic end of the samurai Yoshitsune, an event that took place some five hundred years previously.

Of Yoshitsune, Basho wrote another well-known haiku; one that seems to express a contrasting emotion.

The summer grass is all that remains of  a warlord’s dreams.

Natsukusa ya / tsuwamono domo ga / yume no ato.

Autumn Nightfall – aki no kure

Along this way / no one goes, but I / autumn nightfall

Kono michi ya / yuku hito nashini / aki no kure

この道や     行く人なしに      秋のくれ

hike-boardwalk

The Way

“Master, what is the Way?” a student might ask of the enlightened. It is a discussion Matsuo Basho’s disciples might have had with him in Edo where Basho fame was established for all of Japan.

In the fall of 1689, Matsuo Basho was finishing up his epic journey to the north which would become a well known book. Most of the journey, he was accompanied by a companion Kawai Sora, who kept his own journal. Towards the end of their journey, the two separated and Basho was for a while, alone.

A poet writes and rewrites his poem a thousand times. The writing process is a lonely one. A reader may read a poem a hundred times, finding something new each time the poem is read.

More is the pity, there are many places I have been to but once, and all alone.

Notes on translation

Aki no kure  (秋のくれ) has several English meanings – autumn (秋), autumn twilight, autumn night fall, and depending upon context, autumn’s end. It is the subject of several Bashō haiku, suggesting many things including impending death. See Gabi Greve’s discussion in WKD – Matsuo Basho Archives.

Bashō composed the haiku during the fall of 1694, not long before his death.