Autumn’s End – aki no kure

Like a crow landed
on a withered branch
autumn ends

a withered branch
a perched crow
autumn ends

kare eda ni
karasu no tomarikeri
aki no kure

枯朶に   烏 のとまりけり   秋の暮

crow on a withered branch basho

Autumn of 1680*

At least six of Matsuo Bashō’s haiku contain the phrase aki no kure. And of those that can be dated, they bear a date that falls within the last 10 days of the 9th lunar month (thus, the end of autumn). These haiku are thus a contemporaneous accounting of the poet’s feelings at that time of year.

This well-known haiku was written in the autumn of 1680. Bashō had left Edo and just moved to Fukagawa on the east bank of the Sumida River, to escape the city’s din and the bright lights of Nihonbashi, the theater district. Basho is now 36 years old and has 14 years of life before his death.

In Asian countries, there is a festival celebrated on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month. As the number nine in Japan is yang, this is double yang, thus, an inauspicious date. In Japan, the festival is known as Chōyō or as the Chrysanthemum Festival. The festival wishes for a long life and observed by drinking chrysanthemum sake.

Matsuo Bashō’s haiku adds a dose of reality to the frivolity.

Notes on translation

kare eda ni may mean both a withered branch or a leafless branch. The haiku’s imagery is similar to  William Butler Yeats’ “tattered coat upon a stick”.

Karasu no tomarikeri, Basho’s crow karasu has come to rest for the moment.

Aki no kure, a familiar kigo phrase signifying the end of autumn, and winter’s approach.

Sources

As this is one of Basho’s oft repeated haiku there are many sources and interpretations.

A Crow on a Bare Branch by Elin Sütiste, a scholarly comparison of translations.

A Crow on a Withered Branch, my own prior post on the same haiku.

*Another source dates the haiku to the spring of 1681.

Compare

Tang dynasty Chinese poet, Zhang Ji, Mooring at Night by Maple Bridge

The moon sets, crows weep, and frost fills the sky.
In the maple trees by the riverside, the lights of a fishing boat, a troubled sleep.
At Gusu city, Hanshan Temple

William Shakespeare’s description of Autumn in Sonnet 73:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

Kawanabe_Kyosai_Crow-bkg

A crow on a withered branch

On a withered branch
A crow is perched
An autumn evening

枯朶に  烏のとまりけり  秋の暮

kare eda ni
karasu no tomarikeri
aki no kure

Kawanabe Kyōsa Crow on a snowy plum branch
Image by Kawanabe Kyōsa (1831 – 1889)

Bashō’s poetry

Written in the autumn of 1680. Matsuo Bashō was then living in Edo (Tokyo) and teaching poetry to a group of 20 disciples. In this wonderfully simple poem, a crow alights upon a withered branch, and Bashō is moved by the sight to write this haiku.

Painting by Morikawa Kyoriku
Painting by Morikawa Kyoriku

Kare eda ni

A withered branch, kare eda ni. Much is implied, little is said.

Karasu no tomarikeri

A crow, karasu, alighting on the branch, tomarikeri.

Beyond the obvious phonetic assonance of repeating “Ks” is the symbolism of a solitary crow. Normally we associate these noisy and annoysome birds with flocks.  In Japanese mythology the crow symbolizes the will of Heaven.

Gentle reader, I ask: Is Basho the crow, imposing his knowledge and will upon his disciples?

Aki no kure

The final line is aki no kure, autumn evening. This completes the harsh repetition of the K sound, and imitates the cacophonous call of the crow.

Timeline of the poem

Let us visit for a moment with Bashō in Edo. It is still autumn and the leaves are turning red and gold. Winter is about to come.

Perhaps we can imagine Matsuo Bashō sitting on a log in one of the many gardens of Edo surrounded by his student disciples. He is dressed in black, or they are. It is a cool autumn evening and the leaves are gathering at their feet. The students wait in anticipation of what the master is going to say.

Bashō’s poetry was developing its simple and natural style. The point of view in many of Bashō’s haiku is that life (the human condition) is best described as a metaphor. Bashō died at the early age of 50. Perhaps at the age of 36 when this haiku was written he was feeling both the effects of age and the anticipation of death.

Rhyme, rhythm, and assonance

For those who focus more on rhyme, we could translate as follows: “On a withered bough a crow is sitting now.” It is not a choice I like. Better yet, On a cracked and broken branch sits a crow. Some may think of Edgar Allen Poe’s the raven gently tapping… Others may call to mind Yeats line, “An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick…”.