Wishing and Hoping

Spring 1668

In Kyoto and elsewhere in Japan, it is Spring again. The daffodils are in full bloom, waving at a poet trying to capture the moment in words. It is 1668, two years since the death of Todo Yoshitada, young Matsuo’s samurai master. Matsuo is not yet Basho. He is still Matsuo Kinsaku, age 24, living in Kyoto, wishing and hoping.

Spring
flowers laughing in the wind
wishing and hoping

春風に吹き出し笑ふ花もがな
haru kaze ni fukidashi warau hana mogana

Matsuo Kinsaku (Basho) Spring, 1668

Mogana

Mogana — “wouldn’t it be nice if, if only, here’s hoping, wishing, wishing and hoping” are some of the meanings of mogana — the poet’s hope or desire for a beautiful spring.

Since Burt Bacharach died this year at the age of 93, I think it appropriate to mention his song, Wishin’ and Hopin’, first released in 1962. There are at least two great renditions, in 1962 by Dionne Warwick, the other by Dusty Springfield in 1964. Interestingly, Dusty’s Italian recording became “Stupido, Stupido.” It seems”desiderare e sperare” didn’t resonate well with the amorous Italians.

Wishin’ and hopin’
— to find love, hold him
then kisses will start

RIP, Burt Bacharach, 1928-2023

Meanwhile

Meanwhile in the world, King Charles II was back on the throne in England. France’s King Louis XIV and Spain’s King Charles II were fighting over the Netherlands. Japan was at peace under the rule of Tokugawa Ietsuna.

Notes on Translation

haru kaze ni (in a Spring wind or breeze) fukidashi warau (blowing and laughing) hana (flowers) mogana (indicates hope or desire, i.e. Basho wishes the flowers were laughing in the wind).

Haru kaze 春風 — A Spring breeze is associated with many things including happiness and joy, a smiling face.

Fuki 吹き, blowing or boasting; dashi 出しbroth. I inagine flowers waving in the breeze to and fro like a bubbling broth.

Trick or Treat


Halloween Night

The candy’s gone. A little sadness, some melancholy, descends on one the day after Halloween night. A beautiful moonlit evening, houses decorated gaily, neighbors wondering if they have enough candy, kids in costumes, smiling, politely asking for candy.

“Trick or treat.”

But night turns into day

The parents safely tucked the younger children in bed by eight. The older children walked the streets til late. Now, they are back in school, or they slept in, suffering from a tummy ache.

The falling leaves,
a moonlit night,
costumed kids,
all so polite,
“trick or treat”
its so much fun,
until
the candy’s gone
— Halloween

Bashō no yōna, 2022

Saiygo

The 12th century poet Saigyō Hōshi (西行法師) wrote this short poem after a fruitless day of cherry blossom viewing and hazy night and moon watching. In the best Buddhist tradition, turning a negative thought into one that is positive. Teaching us that on the morning after Halloween, sadness can be sweet.

花散らで月は曇らぬ世なりせば物を思はぬわが身ならまし     
hana chirade / tsuki wa kumoran / yo nariseba / mono o omowan / waga mi naramashi

西行, Saiygo

Were it not
for falling blossoms
and a cloudy moon,
in such a world
I could not feel
this sadness

Eine Welt 
ohne Zerstreuen von Blüten
und ohne Bewölken des Mondes,
würde mich 
meiner Melancholie berauben

le monde sans
fleurs qui tombent
et une lune assombrie
vole moi
ma mélancolie

Saiygo, Sadness, 12th c.
Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Plum Blossom

Summer 2022

A morning walk beside the creek
A heavenly breeze, the rising sun
Here comes the heat!

Bashō no yōna, August 2022

On the Today show, Al Roker points to a map covered in RED on the weather map. Record Heat. The days and weeks are full of sun, it’s been months since it was cool. An early morning walk with the dogs inspires Bashō no yōna’s poor attempt at haiku.

Winter 1693-94

Now, two haiku by Matsuo Basho written in early 1694. The subject, the early blooming Plum Blossom. A literary respite from the summer heat.

Fragrant plum fills the air
And the rising sun on
A mountain path! 

梅が香にのつと日の出る山路かな
ume ga ka ni notto hi no deru yamaji kana

Plum Blossom Scent, (Ume ga Ka, 梅が香), Spring 1694

Was the snow still falling? Was it bitterly cold? Did the birds sing when the sun rose?

Note. In the early spring of Matsuo Basho’s last year, he and Shida Yaba 志太野坡 composed a haiku sequence (renga) that came to be called Ume ga Ka (Plum Blossom Scent). Ume, (plum), the five petals symbolize the Five Blessings: old age, wealth, health, virtue, and a peaceful death.

梅が香に昔の一字あはれなり
ume ga ka ni mukashi no ichiji aware nari

The fragrant plum,
The days of old,
That nothing last — ’tis a pity.

Matsuo Basho, February 1694

Note. This second haiku addressed to his student Baigan 梅丸 who had recently lost his son. Ume ga ka, the fragrant plum. Ni, a participle indicating movement or direction. Mukashi, the days of old, the past. No, acts as an indicator of possession. Ichiji. a reference to life’s impermanence. Aware, a pity, something that’s sad. Nari indicates that the emotion follows quickly.

A plum blossom fades all too soon, and so does life. Matsuo Basho died later that year.

Ume no hana, the plum blossom

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

Sendai 仙台- 18

Oku no Hosomichi奥の細道

Station 18 – Sendai 仙台, Miyagi Prefecture, May 4th, 1689

Crossing the Natori River entering Sendai, stronghold of the Daimyō Date Masamune, capital of Miyagi Prefecture. On the way to beautiful Matsushima Bay.

Irises blooming
On my feet,
Straw sandals laced in blue.

あやめ艸足に結ん草鞋の緒
ayamegusa ashi ni musuban waraji no o

Oku no Hosomichi, Sendai, May, 1689, Matsuo Basho

Note. Ayamegusa the iris, literally sweet flag. In Basho’s time, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, it was custom to attach irises to the thatched roof so that evil could not invade the home. Wearing sandals woven with ribbon the color of the blue iris hopefully would make for a safe journey. The word Ayamegusa is old Japanese.

From Basho’s journal:

“Crossing the River Natori, I entered Sendai, on a day when traditionally irises bring us good luck.* There I found an inn, and decided to stay for four or five days. In this city, there was a painter named Kaemon (a disciple of the haiku poet, hajin, Michikaze Oyodo). I wanted to hear and know him, for he was said to be a spiritual man. One day he took me to several place which I might have missed without his help. First, we went to the plain of Miyagino, where fields of bush-clover were waiting to blossom in autumn. Then, to the hills of Tamada, Yokono, and Tsutsuji-ga-oka, covered with white rhododendrons in full bloom. In the dark pine woods called Konoshita, sun beams could not penetrate. This, the darkest spot on the earth, has been the subject of poetry for its dewiness.  As an example, one poet says that his lord needs an umbrella to protect him from the drops of dew.”

iris-blue-2

We also stopped at the shrines of Yakushido and Tenjin on our way home.

Saying good-bye, this refined painter then gave me his own drawings of Matsushima and Shiogama, and two pairs of straw sandals with laces dyed in the deep blue of the iris, representing most clearly the meaning of this man.

*Fuku Hi, ふく日

The thatched roof of a Japanese cottage often contained a crown of irises. In May we can picture these flowers gently waving in the wind. Little boys, being boys, pretending that the leaves were swords, engaging in mock sword play. In his journal, Basho refers to あやめふく日也, Ayame Fuku Hiya, that is Irises on Good Fortune Day.

June 2022

Along the ponds and lakes here in Kansas, the yellow iris is in full bloom. In my yard the purple iris droops, its colorful flower too heavy for the stock. I am reminded of my French grandmother who lined the driveway to her home in North Carolina with irises. A child feels that the flowers are blooming to humbly greet each visitor.

sandals-oil

A cloud of cherry blossoms – Hana no kumo

A cloud of cherry blossoms
The chime of a temple bell
Is it Asakusa, is it Ueno?

Hana no kumo   Kane ha   Ueno ka Asakusa ka

花の雲    鐘は上野か   浅草か

Cherry blossoms on a branch

1680

In 1680, Basho moved from Edo across the Sumida River to Fukagawa to escape the noise of Nihonbashi, near the city center, where he had lived for nine years.

Hana no Kumo

Spring, cherry trees in full blossom, the sound of a temple bell, is it the Temple at Asakusa or Ueno? Hana means flowers in the general sense, but also the cherry blossom in this haiku. Kumo means cloud. Matsuo Basho has gone for a walk in Fukagawa in April, and in the midst of the blossoms of the cherry trees he experiences what it feel like to walk among the clouds. Perhaps a gentle breeze comes along and petals are scattered about, heightening the ethereal experience.

Suddenly, he hears the chime (kane), the sound of a temple bell. It comes from across the Sumida River that separates Basho’s neighborhood of Fukagawa from Edo (Tokyo).

Is the sound Asakusa or Ueno, two well-known temples?

senso-ji temple
Senso-ji temple, Asakusa

Sonome – White Chrysanthemum

白菊の   目に立てゝ見る    塵もなし

shiragiku no / me ni tatete miru / chiri mo nashi

in the eye of a white chrysanthemum
there is not a speck of dust

gazing intently
at a white chrysanthemum
— and not a speck of dust 

Matsuo Basho’s homage to the female poet, Shiba Sonome (斯波 園女).

chrysanthemums-white

November 1694

In 1694, Bashō left Edo (Tokyo) for one last trip south to his place of birth and to the Ise Shrine. Arriving in Osaka, where he had studied as a youth, he visited the poetess, Shiba Sonome, who was born in Ise, the daughter of a priest from the Ise Shrine, and later the wife of a doctor. Both Sonome and her husband had been students of Bashō. Later, after the death of her husband, she became well known for her poetry, her care for others, and her beauty.

Dust on Chrysanthemums, Kiku no Chiri, 菊の塵 was one of her published works.

Bashō did not live to make it to the Ise Shrine. Within a month, as the chrysanthemum flower began to fade, he died. The date, November 28, 1694.

Notes on translation

This haiku is often translated from the point of view of the poet gazing at the chrysanthemum. I prefer a more objective view. The eye of the white chrysanthemum exists without dust.

白菊, shiragiku, the first two characters of the haiku, translate as white chrysanthemum. , literally, to live, to exist, suggests, at least to me, the Zen idea that no dust exists in the eye of the chrysanthemum.

Matsuo Basho by Hokusai
Matsuo Basho by Katsushika Hokusai