Remembering

Memory is fundamentally remembering what once mattered — Be it happy or sad. In some cases it can be a peaceful refuge, in the following cases a unending lonely nightmare.

Saiygo copied this one down from the Emperor Horikawa’s collection of poetry.

Where once we met,
The garden fence now lies in ruins.
Flowering there,
Only wild violets in the grass

mukashi mishi/ imo ga kakine wa/ arenikeri/ tsubana majiri no/ sumire nomi shite

100 Poems in Emperor Horikawa’s Collection, 11th c.

A similar but earlier poem by the poet Sōjō Henjō 僧正遍照,

The path to my hut is overgrown,
and all but disappeared,
still I wait,
but she no longer cares for me

我やとはみちもなきまてあれにけりつれなき人をまつとせしまに
Waga yado wa/ michi mo naki made/ arenikeri/ tsurenaki hito o/ matsu to seshi ma ni

Sōjō Henjō 僧正遍照, Japanese poet, Buddhist priest, 9th c.

The following poem would indicate that Saiygo joined in the conversation about long parted lovers.

through parted clouds
the discerning moonlight
didn’t visit —
from the sky
it did not appear
anybody was waiting?

Saiygo, Japanese poet, Buddhist priest, 12th c.


Unganji temple 雲岸寺

Zen humor times two — Basho and Buccho. A woodpecker can shake a tree but not Buccho’s hut. Buccho would gladly leave his hut, but it won’t stop raining. Rain or shine, there is always something to write about.

woodpeckers,
can’t shake this hut
in its summer grove

木啄も庵はやぶらず夏木立
kitsutsuki mo io wa yaburazu natsukodachi

Oku no Hosomichi, Matsuo Basho, June 1689

Note. Kitsutsuki, 木啄も, woodpecker using kanji (Chinese) characters. Yaburazu, やぶらず, can’t shake, disturb, meaning to break Buccho’s meditation.

yaburazu, a woodpecker can’t shake the serenity of this place

June, 1689, Togachi prefecture

Leaving Kurobane, Basho and Sora walked seven miles into the mountains to visit Unganji temple, known for the practice of Zen meditation. The purpose of his visit was not the temple itself, but the abandoned hut of the poet Buccho. He was Basho’s Zen master and teacher from Edo.

With charcoal made from burnt pine, and with a touch of wry humor, Buccho had written about this about the hut:

My Grassy Hut,
Hardly more than five feet square,
Gladly, I’d quit,

If only it didn’t rain.

Basho’s notes:

… The priest Buccho used to live in isolation in the mountains behind the temple. He once told me that he had written the following poem on the rock of his hermitage with the charcoal he had made from pine.

雲岸寺
当国雲岸寺のおくに佛頂和尚山居跡あり。

竪横の五尺にたらぬ草の庵
むすぶもくやし雨なかりせば

と松の炭して岩に書付侍りと、いつぞや聞え給ふ。其跡みんと雲岸寺に杖を曳ば、人々すゝんで共にいざなひ、若き人おほく道のほど打さはぎて、おぼえず彼梺に到る。山はおくあるけしきにて谷道遥に、松杉黒く苔したゞりて、卯月の天今猶寒し。十景尽る所、橋をわたつて山門に入。

さてかの跡はいづくのほどにやと後の山によぢのぼれば、石上の小庵岩窟にむすびかけたり。妙禅師の死関、法雲法師の石室をみるがごとし。

木啄も庵はやぶらず夏木立

The Sound of Cicada

cicada clinging to a tree

One can travel by train today from Tokyo to Yamadera in less than five hours.

In 1689, Matsuo Basho made the journey by foot in four or five months, give or take a day or a week. Basho left behind the comforts of his thatched cottage in Fukagawa, his friends, and his students for an uncertain journey with his companion Sora. They arrived in Yamadera in late August. There, Basho and Sora climb the rocky steps to the mountain temple called Yamadera (山寺, lit. “Mountain Temple”), shedding each step of the way their human worries and cares, until even the wind had ceased and all was silent.

Beholding the beauty of the scene, all Basho heard was the sound of the cicada.

ah, the silence
sinking into the rocks
the voice of the cicada

閑かさや
岩にしみ入る
蝉の声

shizukasa ya
iwa ni shimi-iru
semi no koe

Basho’s haiku is inspired by my own experience with cicadas in Kansas and elsewhere. It is a common experience shared by anyone who has heard the incessant high pitched cry. What they are saying and to whom is a mystery. Perhaps, spending 16 out of 17 years underground, they are happy to be set free, learning too soon that it is time to die.

Perhaps, I wonder is it the heat?

ah, in the heat of August,
from each and every tree
comes the cry the cicada

Notes on Translation

Shizukasa could also be “such silence”, the feeling of awe that comes across the traveler when the wind dies completely and one is left alone with the beauty of Nature.

Shimi-iru is literally “penetrating,” giving one the sense the cicadas have burrowed into the rocks to escape the heat. “Sinking” is more sublime, and suggestive of a Buddhist stage of meditation.

Semi no koe, at its simplest, is the voice of the cicada, but that doesn’t stop translators from adding a little spice with verbs like “shrill of the cicada” or “cry of the cicada”.

Winter’s Garden, 冬庭や

Winter’s garden
Ah, the moon, a silvery thread
As insects hmmm

fuyu niwa ya
tsuki mo ito naru
mushi no gin

冬庭や 月もいとなる むしの吟

2nd year of Genroku, at a tea ceremony with Ichinyū celebrating Banzan.

by the light of the silvery moon, the insects hmmm

Winter, 2nd year of Genroku, 1689

At least one modern day student of Basho dates this haiku to 1689 and adds, “on meeting Ichinyū at a celebration held by Banzan.”

Ichinyū was a lay Buddhist teacher and seven year Basho’s senior. By trade he was a traditional tea potter, fourth generation Raku. Ichinyū lived and worked in Kyoto, which suggests that he was an old friend from Basho’s student days.

Kumazawa Banzan was a follower of Confucius, an advocate of agricultural reform who ran afoul of the Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Beginning in 1687, Bashan was confined to Koga Castle in Ibaraki Prefecture, making it likely that the occasion for writing this haiku was not a meeting with Banzan, but a celebration of Banzan’s writings that took place at a tea ceremony in Kyoto hosted by Ichinyū.

We should perhaps give Basho credit here for political commentary. I read this haiku as, “the peasants (i.e. insects) continue through winter’s darkness to work (hmmm) for the Imperial court and the samurai class.

Notes on this haiku

The 2nd year of Genroku refers to the reign of Emperor Higashiyama.

Those who garden know that a winter’s garden, fuyu niwa ya, 冬庭や, has but a few plants and fewer insects. The ending character , ya, turns this phrase into an interjection expressing surprise which I’ve added to the next line. An early frost shrivels the leaves and stills the sounds of the insects who feed on the plants. To me, it is remarkable after an early frost to hear a solitary insect humming. This insect has perhaps burrowed down deep in the earth, found a dung hill, or huddled next to the house to survive the icy cold. And the next day, in the warmth of the sun, merrily goes about its work.

Tsuki mo ito naru. Tsuki is our familiar moon in all its phases. Naru is the verb form for becoming. Mo ito, literally, like a thread, giving us the sense that the moon is waning to a “silvery thread.”

Mushi no Gin, the sound of insects. I render this as “insects hmmm.” Those familiar with Matsuo Basho’s haiku know that as a Zen poet, he was fascinated with the sound of things, whether it was a cricket under a helmet, a frog jumping in an old pond, or insects in rocks.

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

A dream within a dream, 夢のまた夢

As the dew appears
As the dew disappears
Such is my life, that Naniwa
Is a dream within a dream.

露と落ち     露と消えにし     我が身かな       難波のことは      夢のまた夢
tsuyu to ochi / tsuyu to kienishi / waga mi kana / naniwa no koto wa / yume no mata yume

[Death haiku of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)]

Toyotomi-Hideyoshi-3

 

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 豊臣 秀吉

The author of this dream poem is Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), a military general in the late Warring States who succeeded in unifying much of Japan, and the precursor to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Hideyoshi died in 1598, but the final end to the Warring States came 15 years later at the siege of Osaka (大坂の役 Ōsaka no Eki), Hideyoshi’s dream castle called Naniwa.

Gentle reader, you are no doubt scratching the back of your neck, wondering why I have chosen to repeat Hideyoshi’s death haiku in a blog about Matsuo Bashō.

First, there is the obvious connection to Bashō’s own death haiku.

Second, I have wondered, as other scholars have, about Bashō’s claim to samurai status. Little is known. Little can be gleaned from Bashō’s own writings. We do know that Matsuo Bashō was born in 1644, near Ueno, in Iga Province. His brothers became farmers. Bashō became a servant to the samurai Tōdō Yoshitada, who had acquired the haikai name of Sengin. After Tōdō Yoshitada’s death, Basho traveled to Kyoto and studied haiku in earnest.

I have not come across a statement by Bashō himself that his father was of samurai status. He wrote about military battles often, and had a fondness for generals who died in battle. But the proof certain of his samurai status is not there.

There are at least two scenarios. First, that Bashō’s father Matsuo Yozaemon,or his grandfather fought for on the winning side with Tokugawa Ieyasu. Peace being established, the many armies were disbanded and low level samurai were given land to farm instead of swords to wield. It is also possible that the Matsuo clan fought with the opposing forces, with General Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was based in Osaka, then called Naniwa. Osaka and Naniwa is near Ueno in Iga province, and Iga castle where he served the samurai Tōdō Yoshitada.

We will never know and I do not know that it matters. The poetry is beautiful; and, after all, life is what we make it.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598)

Life as a dream

Life as a dream is a common metaphor. What are we to make of this?

William Shakespeare wrote plays about it. Lewis Carroll wrote about it in the delightful Alice in Wonderland. The 17th century Spanish poet and playwright, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, wrote a poem saying, “Man dreams the life that’s his,” and ending with “dreams themselves are dreams.” A dream within a dream.

Even a children’s nursery rhyme speaks of life as a merry illusion:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

October 1, 1691

Maple Leaves at Tsūtenkyō

Such things as cherished tears
color
the scattered red leaves

尊がる涙や 染めて 散る紅葉
tootogaru namida ya somete chiru momiji

Maple Leaves at Tsūtenkyō
Maple Leaves at Tsūtenkyō, near Kyoto

The Autumn Years

It is near the beginning of the end.

Beginning in 1690, Bashō was gone from Edo, living in quiet retirement at the Genju-an (the Phantom Dwelling), what had been an abandoned hut with a rush door, near Lake Biwa. He spent his days working on the book that would make him famous, Narrow Road to the Deep North and making short trips to visit friends and former students. On the first day of October he called on the Priest Ryu, at the Myosho-ji Temple in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture.

This visit inspired the above haiku.

After calling on his friend, Bashō returned to Edo to a new house near the old one in Fukagawa, complete with five banana plants. For the next three years, he would work on another anthology of poetry before setting out once more in the spring of 1694 for his birthplace.

On the way, at Osaka, he took ill and died, age 50.

Notes on translation

Momijigari, 紅葉狩り –  Maple viewing, a Japanese autumn tradition of visiting where the maple leaves have turned red. From momiji (紅葉) meaning the “maple tree” as well as “red leaves” and  “color changing”; and kari (狩り) “hunting”.

Closure, the final haiku

Meoto Iwa Married Couple Rocks

Meoto Iwa Married Couple Rocks
Meoto Iwa, Married Couple Rocks

As firmly cemented clam shells
Fall apart in Autumn
So too, I take to the road again

Farewell my friends

蛤の
ふたみにわかれ
行秋ぞ

hamaguri no / futami ni wakare / yuku aki zo

September haiku

It is September 1689. The leaves begin to change colors. Though it may still be hot, the weather can be unpredictable. The typhoons that come in August may still appear.

Matsuo Basho has made his way from Tsuruga, north of Lake Biwa, and proceeded on horseback to the relaxing city of Ogaki in Mino Province. This was coincidentally (or not) near the site of the Battle of Sekigahara, which brought relative peace to Japan and the beginning of the Tokugawa period. In Ogaki, Sora (Basho’s companion on much of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Oku no Hosomichi, 奥の細道) and another friend Etsujin join Basho at the house of Joko. Other friends, including Zensen and Keiko and his sons, came to see Basho, as if he had returned from the dead.

Closure

It is only fitting that Matsuo Bashō end his journey in Mie Prefecture, the province of his birth near the city of Ueno, and the location of Iga Ueno Castle where he had served as a young boy and man.

On September the 6th, though fatigued from his long journey, Basho went to see the dedication of a Shinto Shrine. Stepping into a boat, Basho makes the journey down the Suimon River to the eastern coast. If he stopped along the way to visit his birthplace or the Iga Ueno Castle, that fact was not recorded. His destination, the Okitama Shrine in Futami (or the more famous Grand Ise Shrine, I am not sure which). There Basho watched the waves crashing against the well-known Meoto Iwa (夫婦岩, Married Couple Rocks) that separate at high tide.

Observing the water come and go, Basho looks to find closure to his journey. So, he included this final haiku in his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Literally

A literal translation is:

Hamaguri clams of Futami break apart in Autumn.

Or,

Hamaguri clams of Futami part in Autumn.

Futami is a pun on the words body and lid, two bodies, thus the stretch by translators to “Clams firmly cemented”. The second line is also a pun on the idea of parting for Futami and breaking apart. Futami suggests another image, that of Married Couples Rock. Married couples, whose love blossoms in spring and heats up in summer, now by autumn, find their love has cooled and faded.

There is a final coincidental reference – the Hamaguri clam’s hard shell is used to make stones in the Chinese game of Go.

man-womqan-hands

Original Image of Married Rocks from Wikipedia.

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…”.

Sado Island

a stormy sea stretches out to Sado Island / the Milky Way

荒海や佐渡によこたふ天河
araumi ya / Sado ni yokotau / amanogawa

[July 1689]

Sea of Japan, island of Sado, Milky Way, Tanabata festival
Sea of Japan, island of Sado, Milky Way, Tanabata festival

Basho writes

Station 33 – Echigo 越後路

After lingering in Sakata for several days, I traveled [south] a stretch of a hundred and thirty miles to the capital of the province of Kaga. As I looked up at the clouds gathering around the mountains alongside the Hokuriku road, the thought of the distance before me almost overwhelmed my heart. Driving myself all the while, however, I entered the province of Echigo through the barrier-gate of Nezu, and arrived at the barrier-gate of Ichiburi in the province of Ecchu. Nine days I needed for this trip, during which I could not write much, what with the heat and moisture, and my old complaint that pestered me immeasurably.

Already, the night looks different
For tomorrow, on July the sixth,
Once a year
The weaver meets her lover.

The immense Heavenly River*
Spanning a single arch
On the white-capped sea,
Falling beyond on Sado island.

*Milky Way

Explanation, if you please

It is now July, several months into Matuso Basho’s account of his famous Journey to the North. Basho is traveling south in the region of Esshū (越州), along Japan’s western coast and the Sea of Japan. The mountains are an obstacle, the heat and the summer rains have made the journey difficult, causing his “old complaints” of rheumatism and arthritis to scream with discomfort.

Basho arrives to a view of the distant island of Sado. It is night and the stars of the Heavenly River (Milky Way) shimmer on the rough sea.

Tomorrow is the Japanese festival of Tanabata (meaning “Evening of the seventh”; the Star Festival) would begin. The festival celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (the Japanese names for the stars Vega and Altair respectively). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these two lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.

evening-milky-way

Source: Matsuo Basho Archives, Gabi Greve, 2012