Like a crow landed
on a withered branch
a withered branch
a perched crow
kare eda ni
karasu no tomarikeri
aki no kure
枯朶に 烏 のとまりけり 秋の暮
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 烏 has come to rest for the moment.
Aki no kure, a familiar kigo phrase signifying the end of autumn, and winter’s approach.
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.
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.