Sunday, April 26, 2009

Matsuo Basho

One day in the spring of 1681 a banana tree was being planted alongside a modest hut in a rustic area of Edo, a city now known as Tokyo. It was a gift from a local resident to his teacher of poetry, who had moved into the hut several months earlier. The teacher, a man of thirty-six years of age, was delighted with the gift. He loved the banana plant because it was somewhat like him in the way it stood there. Its large leaves were soft and sensitive and were easily torn when gusty winds blew from the sea. Its flowers were small and unobtrusive; they looked lonesome, as if they knew they could bear no fruit in the cool climate of Japan. Its stalks were long and fresh- looking, yet they were of no practical use.

The teacher lived all alone in the hut. On nights when he had no visitor, he would sit quietly and listen to the wind blowing through the banana leaves. The lonely atmosphere would deepen on rainy nights. Rainwater leaking through the roof dripped intermittently into a basin. To the ears of the poet sitting in the dimly lighted room, the sound made a strange harmony with the rustling of the banana leaves outside.

Basho nowaki shite A banana plant in the autumn gale -
Tarai ni ame o I listen to the dripping of rain
Kiku yo kana Into a basin at night.

The haiku seems to suggest the poet's awareness of his spiritual affinity with the banana plant.

Some people who visited this teacher of poetry may have noticed the affinity. Others may have seen the banana plant as nothing more than a convenient landmark. At any rate, they came to call the residence the Basho ("banana plant) Hut, and the name was soon applied to its resident, too: the teacher came to be known as the Master of the Basho Hut, or Master Basho. It goes without saying that he was happy to accept the nickname. He used it for the rest of his life.

I. First Metamorphosis: From Wanderer to Poet

Little material is available to recreate Basho's life prior to his settlement in the Basho Hut. It is believed that he was born in 1644 at or near Ueno in Iga Province, about thirty miles southeast of Kyoto and two hundred miles west of Edo. He was called Kinsaku and several other names as a child; he had an elder brother and four sisters. His father, Matsuo Yozaemon, was probably a low-ranking samurai who farmed in peacetime. Little is known about his mother except that her parents were not natives of Ueno. The social status of the family, while respectable, was not of the kind that promised a bright future for young Basho if he were to follow an ordinary course of life.

Yet Basho's career began in an ordinary enough way. It is presumed that as a youngster he entered the service of a youthful master, Todo Yoshitada, a relative of the feudal lord ruling the province. Young Basho first served as a page or in some such capacity.1 His master, two years his senior, was apparently fond of Basho, and the two seem to have become fairly good companions as they grew older. Their strongest bond was the haikai, one of the favorite pastimes of sophisticated men of the day. Apparently Yoshitada had a liking for verse writing and even acquired a haikai name, Sengin. Whether or not the initial stimulation came from his master, Basho also developed a taste for writing haikai, using the pseudonym Sobo. The earliest poem by Basho preserved today was written in 1662. In 1664, two haiku by Basho and one by Yoshitada appeared in a verse anthology published in Kyoto. The following year Basho, Yoshitada, and three others joined together and composed a renku of one hundred verses. Basho contributed eighteen verses, his first remaining verses of this type.

Basho's life seems to have been peaceful so far, and he might for the rest of his life have been a satisfied, low-ranking samurai who spent his spare time verse writing. He had already come of age and had assumed a samurai's name, Matsuo Munefusa. But in the summer of 1666 a series of incidents completely changed the course of his life. Yoshitada suddenly died a premature death. His younger brother succeeded him as the head of the clan and also as the husband of his widow. It is believed that Basho left his native home and embarked on a wandering life shortly afterward.

Some surmises about Basho's decision to leave home have to do with his love affairs. Several early biographies claim that he had an affair with his elder brother's wife, with one of Yoshitada's waiting ladies, or with Yoshitada's wife herself. These are most likely the fabrications of biographers who felt the need for some sensational incident in the famous poet's youth. But there is one theory that may contain some truth. It maintains that Basho had a secret mistress, who later became a nun called Jutei. She may even have had a child, or several children, by Basho. At any rate, these accounts seem to point toward one fact: Basho still in his early twenties, experienced his share of the joys and griefs that most young men go through at one time or another.

Basho's life for the next few years is very obscure. It has traditionally been held that he went to Kyoto, then the capital of Japan, where he studied philosophy, poetry and calligraphy under well-known experts. It is not likely, however, that he was in Kyoto all during this time; he must often have returned to his hometown for lengthy visits. It might even be that he still lived in Ueno or in that vicinity and made occasional trips to Kyoto. In all likelihood he was not yet determined to become a poet at this time. Later in his own writing he was to recall "At one time I coveted an official post with a tenure of land." He was still young and ambitious, confident of his potential. He must have wished, above all, to get a good education that would secure him some kind of respectable position later on. Perhaps he wanted to see the wide world outside his native town and to mix with a wide variety of people. With the curiosity of youth he may have tried to do all sorts of things fashionable among the young libertines of the day. Afterward, he even wrote, "There was a time when I was fascinated with the ways of homosexual love."

One indisputable fact is that Basho had not lost his interest in verse writing. A haikai anthology published in 1667 contained as many as thirty- one of his verses, and his work was included in three other anthologies compiled between 1669 and 1671. His name was gradually becoming known to a limited number of poets in the capital. That must have earned him considerable respect from the poets in his hometown too. Thus when Basho made his first attempt to compile a book of haikai, about thirty poets were willing to contribute verses to it. The book, called The Seashell Game (Kai Oi), was dedicated to a shrine in Ueno early in 1672.

The Seashell Game represents a haiku contest in thirty rounds. Pairs of haiku, each one composed by a different poet, are matched and judged by Basho. Although he himself contributed two haiku to the contest, the main value of the book lies in his critical comments and the way he refereed the matches. On the whole, the book reveals hi to be a man of brilliant wit and colorful imagination, who had a good knowledge of popular songs, fashionable expressions, and the new ways of the world in general. It appears he compiled the book in a lighthearted mood, but his poetic talent was evident.

Then, probably in the spring of 1672, Basho set out on a journey to Edo, apparently with no intention of returning in the immediate future. On parting he sent a haiku to one of his friends in Ueno:

Kumo to hedatsu Clouds will separate
Tomo ka ya kari no The two friends, after migrating
Ikiwakare Wild goose's departure.

Basho's life for the next eight years is somewhat obscure again. It is said that in his early days in Edo he stayed at the home of one or another of his patrons. That is perhaps true, but it is doubtful that he could remain a dependent for long. Various theories, none of them with convincing evidence, argue that he became a physician's assistant, a town clerk, or a poet's scribe. The theory generally considered to be the closest to the truth is that for some time he was employed by the local waterworks department. Whatever the truth, his early years in Edo were not easy. He was probably recalling those days when he later wrote: "At one time I was weary of verse writing and wanted to give it up, and at another time I was determined to be a poet until I could establish a proud name over others. the alternatives battled in my mind and made my life restless."

Though he may have been in a dilemma Basho continued to write verses in the new city. In the summer of 1675 he was one of several writers who joined a distinguished poet of the time in composing a renku of one hundred verses; Basho, now using the pseudonym Tosei, contributed eight. The following spring he and another poet wrote two renku, each consisting of one hundred verses.. After a brief visit to his native town later in the year, he began devoting more and more time to verse writing. He must have made up his mind to become a professional poet around this time, if he had not done so earlier. His work began appearing in various anthologies more and more frequently, indicating his increasing renown. When the New Year came he apparently distributed a small book of verses among his acquaintances, a practice permitted only to a recognized haikai master. In the winter of that year he judged two haiku contests, and when they were published as Haiku Contests in Eighteen Rounds (Juhachiban Hokku Awase), he wrote a commentary on each match. In the summer of 1680 The Best Poems of Tosei's Twenty Disciples (Tosei Montei Dokugin Nijikkasen) appeared, which suggests that Basho already had a sizeable group of talented students. Later in the same year two of his leading disciples matched their own verses in two contests, "The rustic haiku Contest" ("Inaka no Kuawase") and "The Evergreen haiku Contest" ("Tokiwaya no Kuawase"), and Basho served as the judge. that winter his students built a small house in a quiet, rustic part of Edo and presented it to their teacher. Several months later a banana tree was planted in the yard, giving the hut its famous name. Basho, firmly established as a poet, now had his own home for the first time in his life.

II. Second Metamorphosis: From Poet to Wanderer
Basho was thankful to have a permanent home, but he was not to be cozily settled there. With all his increasing poetic fame and material comfort, he seemed to become more dissatisfied with himself. In his early days of struggle he had had a concrete aim in life, a purpose to strive for. That aim, now virtually attained, did not seem to be worthy of all his effort. He had many friends, disciples, and patrons, and yet he was lonelier than ever. One of the first verses he wrote after moving into the Basho Hut was:

Shiba no to ni Against the brushwood gate
Cha o konoha kaku Dead tea leaves swirl
Arashi kana In the stormy wind.

Many other poems written at this time, including the haiku about the banana tree, also have pensive overtones. In a headnote to one of them he even wrote: "I feel lonely as I gaze at the moon, I feel lonely as I think about myself, and I feel lonely as I ponder upon this wretched life of mine. I want to cry out that I am lonely, but no one asks me how I feel."

It was probably out of such spiritual ambivalence that Basho began practicing Zen meditation under Priest Butcho (1642-1715), who happened to be staying near his home. He must have been zealous and resolute in this attempt, for he was later to recall: "...and yet at another time I was anxious to confine myself within the walls of a monastery." Loneliness, melancholy, disillusion, ennui - whatever his problem may have been, his suffering was real.

A couple of events that occurred in the following two years further increased his suffering. In the winter of 1682 the Basho Hut was destroyed in a fire that swept through the whole neighborhood. He was homeless again, and probably the idea that man is eternally homeless began haunting his mind more and more frequently. A few months later he received news from his family home that his mother had died. Since his father had died already in 1656, he was now not only without a home but without a parent to return to.

As far as poetic fame was concerned, Basho and his disciples were thriving. In the summer of 1683 they published Shriveled Chestnuts (Minashiguri), an anthology of haikai verses which in its stern rejection of crudity and vulgarity in theme and in its highly articulate, Chinese-flavored diction, set them distinctly apart from other poets. In that winter, when the homeless Basho returned from a stay in Kai Province, his friends and disciples again gathered together and presented him with a new Basho Hut. He was pleased, but it was not enough to do away with his melancholy. His poem on entering the new hut was:

Arare kiku ya The sound of hail -
Kono mi wa moto no I am the same as before
Furugashiwa Like that aging oak.

Neither poetic success nor the security of a home seemed to offer him much consolation. He was already a wanderer in spirit, and he had to follow that impulse in actual life.

Thus in the fall of 1684 Basho set out on his first significant journey. He had made journeys before, but not for the sake of spiritual and poetic discipline. Through the journey he wanted, among other things, to face death and thereby to help temper his mind and his poetry. He called it "the journey of a weather-beaten skeleton," meaning that he was prepared to perish alone and leave his corpse to the mercies of the wilderness if that was his destiny. If this seems to us a bit extreme, we should remember that Basho was of a delicate constitution and suffered from several chronic diseases, and that his travel in seventeenth-century Japan was immensely more hazardous than it is today.

It was a long journey, taking him to a dozen provinces that lay between Edo and Kyoto. From Edo he went westward along a main road that more or less followed the Pacific coastline. He passed by the foot of Mount Fuji, crossed several large rivers and visited the Grand Shinto Shrines in Ise. He then arrived at his native town, Ueno, and was reunited with his relatives and friends. His elder brother opened a memento bag and showed him a small tuft of gray hair from the head of his late mother.

Te ni toraba Should I hold it in my hand
Kien namida zo atsuki It would melt in my burning tears -
Aki no shimo Autumnal frost.

This is one of the rare cases in which a poem bares his emotion, no doubt because the grief he felt was uncontrollably intense.

After only a few days' sojourn in Ueno, Basho traveled farther on, now visiting a temple among the mountains, now composing verses with local poets. It was at this time that The Winter Sun (Fuyu no Hi), a collection of five renku which with their less pedantic vocabulary and more lyrical tone marked the beginning of Basho's mature poetic style, was produced. He then celebrated the New Year at his native town for the first time in years. He spent some more time visiting Nara and Kyoto, and when he finally returned to Edo it was already the summer of 1685.

The journey was a rewarding one. Basho met numerous friends, old and new, on the way. He produced a number of haiku and renku on his experiences during the journey, including those collected in The Winter Sun. He wrote his first travel journal, The Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton (Nozarashi Kiko), too. Through all these experiences, Basho was gradually changing. In the latter part of the journal there appears, for instance, the following haiku which he wrote at the year's end:

Toshi kurenu Another year is gone -
Kasa kite waraji A travel hat on my head,
Hakinagara Straw sandals on my feet.

The poem seems to show Basho at ease in travel. The uneasiness that made him assume a strained attitude toward the journey disappeared as his trip progressed. He could not look at his wandering self more objectively, without heroism or sentimentalism.

He spent the next two years enjoying a quiet life at the Basho Hut. It was a modest but leisurely existence, and he could afford to call himself "an idle old man." He contemplated the beauty of nature as it changed with the seasons and wrote verses whenever he was inspired to do so. Friends and disciples who visited him shared his taste, and they often gathered to enjoy the beauty of the moon, the snow, or the blossoms. The following composition, a short prose piece written in the winter of 1686, seems typical of his life at this time:

A man named Sora has his temporary residence near my hut, so I often drop in at his place, and he at mine. When I cook something to eat, he helps to feed the fire, and when I make tea at night, he comes over for company. A quiet, leisurely person, he has become a most congenial friend of mine. One evening after a snowfall, he dropped in for a visit, whereupon I composed a haiku:
Kimi hi o take Will you start a fire?
Yoki mono misen I'll show you something nice -
Yukimaroge A huge snowball.

The fire in the poem is to boil water for tea. Sora would prepare tea in the kitchen, while Basho, returning to the pleasures of a little boy, would make a big snowball in the yard. When the tea was ready, they would sit down and sip it together, humorously enjoying the view of the snowball outside. The poem, an unusually cheerful one for Basho, seems to suggest his relaxed, carefree frame of mind of those years.

The same sort of casual poetic mood led Basho to undertake a short trip to Kashima, a town about fifty miles east of Edo and well known for its Shinto shrine, to see the harvest moon. Sora and a certain Zen monk accompanied him in the trip in the autumn of 1687. Unfortunately it rained on the night of the full moon, and they only had a few glimpses of the moon toward dawn. Basho, however, took advantage of the chance to visit his former Zen master, Priest Butcho, who had retired to Kashima. The trip resulted in another of Basho's travel journals, A Visit to the Kashima Shrine (Kashima Kiko).

Then, just two months later, Basho set out on another long westward journey. He was far more at ease as he took leave than he had been at the outset of his first such journey three years earlier. He was a famous poet now, with a large circle of friends and disciples. They gave him many farewell presents, invited him to picnics and dinners, and arranged several verse-writing parties in his honor. Those who could not attend sent their poems. These verses, totaling nearly three hundred and fifty, were later collected and published under the title Farewell Verses (Kusenbetsu). there were so many festivities that to Basho "the occasion looked like some dignitary's departure - very imposing indeed."

He followed roughly the same route as on his journey of 1684, again visiting friends and writing verses here and there on the way. He reached Ueno at the year's end and was heartily welcomed as a leading poet in Edo. Even the young head of his former master's family, whose service he had left in his youth, invited him for a visit. In the garden a cherry tree which Yoshitada had loved was in full bloom:

Samazama no Myriads of things past
Koto omoidasu Are brought to my mind -
Sakura kana These cherry blossoms!

In the middle of the spring Basho left Ueno, accompanied by one of his students, going first to Mount Yoshino to see the famous cherry blossoms. He traveled to Wakanoura to enjoy the spring scenes of the Pacific coast, and then came to Nara at the time of fresh green leaves. On he went to Osaka, and then to Suma and Akashi on the coast of Seto Inland Sea, two famous places which often appeared in old Japanese classics.

From Akashi Basho turned back to the east, and by way of Kyoto arrived at Nagoya in midsummer. After resting there for awhile, he headed for the mountains of central Honshu, an area now popularly known as the Japanese Alps. An old friend of his and a servant, loaned to him by someone who worried about the steep roads ahead accompanied Basho. His immediate purpose was to see the harvest moon in the rustic Sarashina district. As expected, the trip was a rugged one, but he did see the full moon at that place celebrated in Japanese literature. He then traveled eastward among the mountains and returned to Edo in late autumn after nearly a year of traveling.

This was probably the happiest of all Basho's journeys. He had been familiar with the route much of the way, and where he had not, a friend and a servant had been there to help him. His fame as a poet was fairly widespread, and people he met on the way always treated him with courtesy. It was a productive journey, too. In addition to a number of haiku and renku, he wrote two journals: The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel (Oi no Kobumi), which covers his travel from Edo to Akashi, and A Visit to Sarashina Village (Sarashina Kiko), which focuses on his moon viewing trip to Sarashina. The former has an especially significant place in the Basho canon, including among other things a passage that declares the haikai to be among the major forms of Japanese art. He was now clearly aware of the significance of haikai writing; he was confident that the haikai, as a serious form of art, could point toward an invaluable way of life.

It was no wonder, then, that Basho began preparing for the next journey almost immediately. As he described it, it was almost as if the God of Travel were beckoning him. Obsessed with the charms of the traveler's life, he now wanted to go beyond his previous journeys; he wanted to be a truer wanderer than ever before. In a letter written around this time, he says he admired the life of a monk who wanders about with only a begging bowl in his hand. Basho now wanted to travel, not as a renowned poet, but as a self-disciplining monk. Thus in the pilgrimage to come he decided to visit the northern part of Honshu, a mostly rustic and in places even wild region where he had never been and had hardly an acquaintance. He was to cover about fifteen hundred miles on the way. Of course it was going to be the longest journey of his life.

Accompanied by Sora, Basho left Edo in the late spring of 1689. Probably because of his more stern and ascetic attitude toward the journey, farewell festivities were fewer and quieter this time. He proceeded northward along the main road stopping at places of interest such as the Tosho Shrine at Nikko, the hot spa at Nasu, and an historic castle site at Iizuka. When he came close to the Pacific coast near Sendai he admired the scenic beauty of Matsushima. From Hiraizumi, a town well known as the site of a medieval battle, Basho turned west and reached the coast of the Sea of Japan at Sakata. After a short trip to Kisagata in the north, he turned southwest and followed the main road along the coast. It was from this coast that he saw the island of Sado in the distance and wrote one of his most celebrated poems:

Araumiya The rough sea -
Sado ni yokotau Extending toward Sado Isle,
Amanogawa The Milky Way.

Because of the rains, the heat, and the rugged road, this part of the journey was very hard for Basho and Sora, and they were both exhausted when he finally arrived at Kanazawa. They rested at the famous hot spring at Yamanaka for a few days, but Sora, apparently because of prolonged ill- health, decided to give up the journey and left his master there. Basho continued alone until he reached Fukui. There he met an old acquaintance who accompanied him as far as Tsuruga, where another old friend had come to meet Basho, and the two traveled south until they arrived at Ogaki, a town Basho knew well. A number of Basho's friends and disciples were there, and the long journey through unfamiliar areas was finally over. One hundred and fifty-six days had passed since he left Edo.

The travel marked a climax in Basho's literary career. He wrote some of his finest haiku during the journey. The resulting journal The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no Hosomichi), is one of the highest attainments in the history of poetic diaries in Japan. His literary achievement was no doubt a result of his deepening maturity as a man. He had come to perceive a mode of life by which to resolve some deep dilemmas and to gain peace of mind. It was based on the idea of sabi, the concept that one attains perfect spiritual serenity by immersing oneself in the egoless, impersonal life of nature. The complete absorption of one's petty ego into the vast, powerful, magnificent universe - this was the underlying theme of many poems by Basho at this time, including the haiku on the Milky Way we have just seen. This momentary identification of man with inanimate nature was, in his view, essential to poetic creation. Though he never wrote a treatise on the subject, there is no doubt that Basho conceived some unique ideas about poetry in his later years. Apparently it was during this journey that he began thinking about poetry n more serious, philosophical terms. The two earliest books known to record Basho's thoughts on poetry, Records of the Seven Days (Kikigaki Nanukagusa) and Conversations at Yamanaka (Yamanaka Mondo), resulted from it.

Basho spent the next two years visiting his old friends and disciples in Ueno, Kyoto, and towns on the southern coast of Lake Biwa. With one or another of them he often paid a brief visit to other places such as Ise and Nara. Of numerous houses he stayed at during this period Basho seems to have especially enjoyed two: the Unreal Hut and the House of Fallen Persimmons, as they were called. The Unreal Hut, located in the woods off the southernmost tip of lake Biwa, was a quiet, hidden place where Basho rested from early summer to mid-autumn in 1690. He thoroughly enjoyed the idle, secluded life there, and described it in a short but superb piece of prose. Here is one of the passages:

In the daytime an old watchman from the local shrine or some villager from the foot of the hill comes along and chats with me about things I rarely hear of, such as a wild boar's looting the rice paddies or a hare's haunting the bean farms. When the sun sets under the edge of the hill and night falls, I quietly sit and wait for the moon. With the moonrise I begin roaming about, casting my shadow on the ground.
When the night deepens, I return to the hut and meditate on right and wrong, gazing at the dim margin of a shadow in the lamplight.

Basho had another chance to live a similarly secluded life later at the House of the Fallen Persimmons in Saga, a northwestern suburb of Kyoto. The house, owned by one of his disciples, Mukai Kyorai (1651-1704), was so called because persimmon trees grew around it. There were also a number of bamboo groves, which provided the setting for a well-known poem by Basho:

Hototogisu The cuckoo -
Otakeyabu o Through the dense bamboo grove,
Moru tsukiyo Moonlight seeping.

Basho stayed at this house for seventeen days in the summer of 1691. The sojourn resulted in The Saga Diary (Saga Nikki), the last of his longer prose works.

All during this period at the two hideaways and elsewhere in the Kyoto-Lake Biwa area, Basho was visited by many people who shared his interest in poetry. Especially close to him were two of his leading disciples, Kyorai and Nozawa Boncho (16?-1714), partly because they were compiling a haikai anthology under Basho's guidance. The anthology, entitled The Monkey's Raincoat (Sarumino) and published in the early summer of 1691 represented a peak in haikai of the Basho style. Basho's idea of sabi and other principles of verse writing that evolved during his journey to the far north were clearly there. Through actual example the new anthology showed that the haikai could be a serious art form capable of embodying mature comments on man and his environment.

Basho returned to Edo in the winter of 1691. His friends and disciples there, who had not seen him for more than two years, welcomed him warmly. for the third time they combined their efforts to build a hut for their master, who had given up the old one just before his latest journey. In this third Basho Hut, however, he could not enjoy the peaceful life he desired. For one thing, he now had a few people to look after. An invalid nephew had come to live with Basho, who took care of him until his death in the spring of 1693. A woman by the name of Jutei, with whom Basho apparently had had some special relationship in his youth, also seems to have come under his care at this time. She too was in poor health, and had several young children besides. Even apart from these involvements, Basho was becoming extremely busy, no doubt due to his great fame as a poet. many people wanted to visit him, or invited him for visits. for instance, in a letter presumed to have been written on the eighth of the twelfth month, 1693, he told one prospective visitor that he would not be home on the ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth, suggesting that the visitor come either on the thirteenth or the eighteenth.3 In another letter written about the same time, he bluntly said: "Disturbed by others, Have no peace of mind." That New Year he composed this haiku:

Toshidoshi ya Year after year
Saru ni kisetaru On the monkey's face
Saru no men A monkey's mask.

The poem has a touch of bitterness unusual for Basho. He was dissatisfied with the progress that he (and possibly some of his students) was making.

As these responsibilities pressed on him, Basho gradually became somewhat nihilistic. He had become a poet in order to transcend worldly involvements, but now he found himself deeply involved in worldly affairs precisely because of his poetic fame. The solution was either to renounce being a poet or to stop seeing people altogether. Basho first tried the former, but to no avail. "I have tried to give up poetry and remain silent," he said, "but every time I did so a poetic sentiment would solicit my heart and something would flicker in my mind. Such is the magic spell of poetry." He had become too much of a poet. Thus he had to resort to the second alternative: to stop seeing people altogether. This he did in the autumn of 1693, declaring:

Whenever people come, there is useless talk. Whenever I go, and visit, I have the unpleasant feeling of interfering with other men's business. Now I can do nothing better than follow the examples of Sun Ching and Tu Wu-lang,4 who confined themselves within locked doors. Friendlessness will become my friend, and poverty my wealth. A stubborn man at fifty years of age, I thus write to discipline myself.
Asagao ya The morning-glory -
Hiru wa jo orosu In the daytime, a bolt is fastened
Mon no kaki On the frontyard gate.

Obviously, Basho wished to admire the beauty of the morning-glory without having to keep a bolt on his gate. How to manage to do this must have been the subject of many hours of meditation within the locked house. He solved the problem, at least to his own satisfaction, and reopened the gate about a month after closing it.
Basho's solution was based on the principle of "lightness," a dialectic transcendence of sabi. Sabi urges man to detach himself from worldly involvements; "lightness" makes it possible for him, after attaining that detachment, to return to the mundane world. man lives amid the mire as a spiritual bystander. He does not escape the grievances of living; standing apart, he just smiles them away. Basho began writing under this principle and advised his students to emulate him. The effort later came to fruition in several haikai anthologies, such as A Sack of Charcoal (Sumidawara), The Detached Room (Betsuzashiki) and The Monkey's Cloak, Continued (Zoku Sarumino). Characteristic verses in these collections reject sentimentalism and take a calm, carefree attitude to the things of daily life. they often exude lighthearted humor.

Having thus restored his mental equilibrium, Basho began thinking about another journey. He may have been anxious to carry his new poetic principle, "lightness," to poets outside of Edo, too. Thus in the summer of 1694 he traveled westward on the familiar road along the Pacific coast, taking with him one of Jutei's children, Jirobei. He rested at Ueno for a while, and then visited his students in Kyoto and in town near the southern coast of Lake Biwa. Jutei, who had been struggling against ill health at the Basho Hut, died at this time and Jirobei temporarily returned to Edo. Much saddened, Basho went back to Ueno in early autumn for about a month's rest. He then left for Osaka with a few friends and relatives including his elder brother's son Mataemon as well as Jirobei. But Basho's health was rapidly failing, even though he continued to write some excellent verses. One of his haiku in Osaka was:

Kono aki wa This autumn
Nan de toshiyoru Why am I aging so?
Kumo ni tori Flying towards the clouds, a bird.

The poem indicates Basho's awareness of approaching death. Shortly afterward he took to his bed with a stomach ailment, from which he was not to recover. Numerous disciples hurried to Osaka and gathered at his bedside. He seems to have remained calm in his last days. He scribbled a deathbed note to his elder brother, which in part read: "I am sorry to have to leave you now. I hope you will live a happy life under Mataemon's care and reach a ripe old age. There is nothing more I have to say." The only thing that disturbed his mind was poetry. According to a disciple's record, Basho fully knew that it was time for prayers, not for verse writing, and yet he thought of the latter day and night. Poetry was now an obsession - "a sinful attachment," as he himself called it. His last poem was:

Tabi ni yande On a journey, ailing -
Yume wa kareno o My dreams roam about
Kakemeguru Over a withered moor.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Haiku Collection

an ant moves along
the silhoutte of a leaf

little bloom
a bee gently sips
careful of his steps

the hydrangea
under the lens
a graduation party

grey clouds over
the abandoned castle
secrets behind the walls

double joy
carnations join garden buddha
to cheer up he world

Haiku Collection

crowded table
all that matters
his scribbling; "I love you".

in the mist
your image and warmth
so vivid

all in white
her longing for someone
to mark a trail in her life

lazy afternoon
spent listening to cicadas
and differentiating blooms

when dady's seat
was big enough for both of us -
thirty years ago

bringing a human
touch to the garden
a lady in stone

early morn
at the bustop
thinking about Twin Towers

a lovely topic
to warm up a visit
right at the entrance - a bloom

Haiku Collection

when he says
"I love you"
the blooms trumpet it to my heart

table manners -
the flamingo always
a mirror while dining

autumn end
the last remaining
maple fiery charm

dried river
childhood curiosity of
treasure under the flow ebbs

in the country
only the grand bridge
to remind me of the world beyond

at the dock
the sweet music
of lapping waves

on a bare wall
the rich harvest
from our corn fields

human thoughts
at last travel
faster, higher than the clouds

Slow, but we learn
to appreciate the snail
for its symmetry

Haiku Collection

a precise step
a focussed thought
one, two and three

thick long tresses
to the foot
the indian yogi's vow

wrapped in

humbly the buddha
shows us a path
if only we would look for it

in the rocks
stories of yesteryears
if we care to look inside

setting sun
crickets and frogs
play sendoff tune

the koi fish's
debut dance
the backdrop a cheerful sky

midnight tears
wet my pillows
another girl tied his tie

Haiku Collection

abandoned house
the pan and stove
stir my desire to cook

longing -
to grow

foray into the world
step by step

door opens
for those who know
where they want to be

the unseen rules
sand dune

the order
outside the teahouse

the patriotic song of
a country also heard
heard in its waterfall

opportunity knocks
on the door of the man
with a clear goal

thought patterns
each step brings
out its beauty

Haiku Collection

childhood friends
always waiting for their perch

intimately open
the door for him
to the tea ceremony

taking all routes
to be close
to the Holy Buddha

busy town square
the pigeons
joining in the fun

the mist
spreads thinly over the green
surreal touch

joyous tune
oiling a
tired heart

tokyo night photo
desires for younger days
surge back

bowl - the clear tinkle
it makes
when empty

Haiku Collection

the field
blazes with the red
of the giant rose

all these neons
a million shadows
my turmoil

this blue
in the bloom
the silhoute of diana's eyes

whichever way you go
looks like you're imprisoned

spring glory
the monk's solitary walk
abundant sakuras

in the park
the joy of
being alone

Haiku Collection

the fallen flowers suddenly
dance to a different tune

falling autumn leaves
we touch every topic
in our talk

on the slim red flower
the gentle grasp of
a dragonfly

closing the distance
the sail pierces
the golden sky
the moon casts us
in a shadow play

the sea
paints the sky
over and over

in the ripples
my predicarment

begging bowl
the boy hungers
for love too

on the fallen tree
morning glory's
triumphant climb

this scarlet night
and the full moon
moses on mount senai

dimly lit room
the repelling
cold wind

telling son
knowledge is useless
unless he learns how to use it
blue bottle
a bee lost in

a dance
stretching its petals
the lily

floral dance
learning it
from the lily

in a frantic span
to measure the sky

holding up
the sky for us

rain shows sun
its innate shine

temple bell
children more raucuous
than the chime

new outfit
the buddha

Haiku Collection

where's the wind
to cheer us up?

early spring
the trees politely
spread their buds

blurred print
a fish swims
in my mind

criss crossing
the sky
words of men

dawn sea
waves and light
dance with breeze

dawn sea
waves, light and breeze
dance in unison

amusement park
the children doing voiceover
for the animals

the child neighs for
his horse

spring of life
the nectare
the butterfly seeks

night city ruin
my goosebumps rise
like forts

amusement park
remembering late dad's
mickey mouse pose

mom's grapes
the sweetness
in her

Haiku Collection

the covered woman
longs to uncover the world
of the scantily clad

between the leaves
fate plays a game
pleasure, pain

dilapidated door
the sun yet never
misses its entrance

late into spring
bluebells still straining
to look their best

the right crispness
her bread to start
each new day

house's little corner
the presents mom taught us
to give loved ones

after the rain
droplets on leaves
our first encounter

scaling the hill with son
the pleasure to have him
hit the summit first

Haiku Collection

all this towering pride
tell me a place with no
male chauvinism

waving goodbye
to the day too
our shadows

is there anywhere
God does not show
his artistic talent?

different worlds
the world
many many worlds

in the field
a lone tree bidding goodbye
to the day

spring buds
the earth bursts forth
with fresh greetings

the bright red rose
after the rain
a collection of wet dreams

a ballet dancer's envy
fresh soft lily
swirling out of itself

lighting up winter morn
snow sprinkled
frosted berries

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Haiku Collection

identity zone
each stone, each blade of grass
plucks at the heartstrings

the eyes sweeping
all the corridors
secret love

kept out of the
soccer field
a lost dream

spring morn
sakuras coax me
to dance away

myriad bells
on temple floor
ring our hearts

fruits of success

a mind game

a fortress
ancient war

feelers, antenna ....
all my fanciful gadgets
thirst for love

violets sighs
"Roses are smarter
but we need fun too".

letting lose
in my own steps

the shattering rain
a consolation
after, a suicide

graces, colours
and scents
enchanting walk

hidden forces
the light, wind, earth
the world goes on

numbing my mind
the noises here since
ancient times

dewdrops on petals
his first kiss
so soft on the lips

ungrateful friends
the sand drops off as soon as
it clings to us

Haiku Collection

in the shoes'
wear and tear
my memory of papa

between the beauty of the shell
and a torn leaf
a ravaging snail

on the abandoned field

first light
enjoying each step
to the summit

first light
tracking the way
to the summit

saffron bloom
a bee dispenses a lesson
in meditation

alone in the mountain
he calls out to let his echo
warm him up

standing in line
with the windmills
I blow towards the wind

carousal horses
children's laughters
carry me back to childhood

wild berries
sweetness on life's

no more friendly bark
the ledge empty
my pet dog gone - forever

Cleopatra's necklace
Mark Anthony's
Heartshaped rubies

marriages are made
in the heaven
fate binds

warm opportunities
the ice melts to quench
my thirst

the tree
where we said goodbye
it has died too

Haiku Collections

late grandmom's favourite
bowl now carries her stories
for my children

all these neons
a million shadows
accompany my loneliness

the energies
of the year pour forth
in step to the summer heat

pet horse
the swish of its hair
eggs me on

in my garden
all my plants
fighting for attention

after his
the room so empty

my heart caught
by the leaps of waves
and children on jungle gym

our seats
in the garden
so vacant without you

a stroll by
the bamboo grove
a lesson in walking tall

bathed in
autumn dusk
shadowed by giant cypresses

Haiku Collection

the real and imagined
seeks each others out

beauty in the eyes of beholder
crawlies join their
own kinds

special liking
in the empty chapel
the whispers of prayers

a monster fungus
a jungle walk
made unforgettable

bright and gay
summer's heat fuels
our dance beats

bright spring
my koi fish
kisses the sky

Haiku Collection

art speaks
through our

the consolation
after the typhoon

our childhood tryst
- the little boat
still there

sleepless night
my tired face
needs a coverup

Haiku Collection

two berries
so close to each other

the zig zag lines
the mind works patterns
into a pattern

abandon house
eerie echo accompanies
every of my words

gracefully giving
the wood its other face
carved crane

being who
we are for your sake
no strings attached

in my own world
putting a part of the world
onto a canvas

Haiku Collection

in a hurry to own zero thought
it eats up every cell, vein

light green cherries
fight with leaves
- for attention

always betraying it
- shell of
the snail

gently uncovering
his sweetness
the carress

our physique
so close there are parts
we wont ever see

Haiku collection

Swan Song
they wait for turn
to strut their stuff

at the gate
a rustling yellow carpet

white plum blossom
the leaves make exit
to showcase its radiance

riveting like his moustache
his jazz inches

spring blazing bloom
the scarecrows too
have come alive

elixir of life
the bee bends over
with no reservation

tea leaves
in the cup
an autumn lake

our morning walk
the clouds change its costume
from white to grey

autumn leaves
butterflies flit
in the winds

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Collection of Haikus

chinese new year
a spread of red in
the sitting room

spring mountains
ballet dancer
and spiralling lace

on my finger

dusk dance
shadows in
the light

a seat in the blankness
of the mind

my skin and mother earth
there are patches
we wont want to show