Basho's thoughts on...
• Women in Basho
• Introduction to this site
• The Human Story:
• Praise for Women
• Love and Sex in Basho
• Children and Teens
• Humanity and Friendship
• On Translating Basho
• Basho Himself
• Poetry and Music
• The Physical Body
• Food, Drink, and Fire
• Animals in Basho
• Space and Time
• Letters Year by Year
• Bilingual Basho 日本語も
• 芭蕉について日本語の論文
• Basho Renku, 芭蕉連句
• BAMHAY (Basho Amazes Me! How About You?)
• New Articles


Matsuo Basho 1644~1694

The only substantial
collection in English
of Basho's renku, tanka,
letters and spoken word
along with his haiku, travel
journals, and essays.

The only poet in old-time
literature who paid attention with praise
to ordinary women, children, and teenagers
in hundreds of poems

Hundreds upon hundreds of Basho works
(mostly renku)about women, children,
teenagers, friendship, compassion, love.

These are resources we can use to better
understand ourselves and humanity.

Interesting and heartfelt
(not scholarly and boring)
for anyone concerned with
humanity.


“An astonishing range of
social subject matter and
compassionate intuition”


"The primordial power
of the feminine emanating
from Basho's poetry"


Hopeful, life-affirming
messages from one of
the greatest minds ever.

Through his letters,
we travel through his mind
and discover Basho's
gentleness and humanity.

I plead for your help in
finding a person or group
to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material,
to edit and improve the material, to receive 100%
of royalties, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide
and preserve for future generations.

Quotations from Basho Prose


The days and months are
guests passing through eternity.
The years that go by
also are travelers.



The mountains in silence
nurture the spirit;
the water with movement
calms the emotions.


All the more joyful,
all the more caring


Seek not the traces
of the ancients;
seek rather the
places they sought.



Basho Spoken Word


Only this, apply your heart
to what children do


"The attachment to Oldness
is the very worst disease
a poet can have."


“The skillful have a disease;
let a three-foot child
get the poem"


"Be sick and tired
of yesterday’s self."


"This is the path of a fresh
lively taste with aliveness
in both heart and words."
.

"In poetry is a realm
which cannot be taught.
You must pass through it
yourself. Some poets have made
no effort to pass through, merely
counting things and trying
to remember them.
There was no passing
through the things."


"In verses of other poets,
there is too much making
and the heart’s
immediacy is lost.
What is made from
the heart is good;
the product of words
shall not be preferred."


"We can live without poetry,
yet without harmonizing
with the world’s feeling
and passing not through
human feeling, a person
cannot be fulfilled. Also,
without good friends,
this would be difficult."


"Poetry benefits
from the realization
of ordinary words."


"Many of my followers
write haiku equal to mine,
however in renku is the
bone marrow of this old man."


"Your following stanza
should suit the previous one as an expression
of the same heart's connection."


"Link verses the way
children play."


"Make renku
ride the Energy.
Get the timing wrong,
you ruin the rhythm."


"The physical form
first of all must be graceful
then a musical quality
makes a superior verse."

"As the years passed
by to half a century.
asleep I hovered
among morning clouds
and evening dusk,
awake I was astonished
at the voices of mountain
streams and wild birds."


“These flies sure enjoy
having an unexpected
sick person.”



Haiku of Humanity


Drunk on sake
woman wearing haori
puts in a sword


Night in spring
one hidden in mystery
temple corner


Wrapping rice cake
with one hands she tucks
hair behind ear


On Life's journey
plowing a small field
going and returning


Child of poverty
hulling rice, pauses to
look at the moon


Tone so clear
the Big Dipper resounds
her mallet


Huddling
under the futon, cold
horrible night


Jar cracks
with the ice at night
awakening



Basho Renku
Masterpieces

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet
Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven


After the years
of grieving. . . finally
past eighteen
Day and night dreams of
Father in that battle


Now to this brothel
my body has been sold
Can I trust you
with a letter I wrote,
mirror polisher?


Only my face
by rice-seedling mud
is not soiled
Breastfeeding on my lap
what dreams do you see?



Single renku stanzas


Giving birth to
love in the world, she
adorns herself



Autumn wind
saying not a word
child in tears


Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus


Easing in
her slender forearm
for his pillow


Two death poems:


On a journey taken ill
dreams on withered fields
wander about

Clear cascade -
into the ripples fall
green pine needles




basho4humanity
@gmail.com




Plea for Affiliation

 

Plea For Affiliation

 

I pray for your help

in finding someone
individual, university,

or foundation - 
to take over my

3000 pages of material,   
to cooperate with me 

to edit the material,
to receive all royalties 

from sales, to spread

Basho’s wisdom worldwide,
and preserve for

future generations.


basho4humanity

@gmail.com

 



Home  >  Topics  >  The Human Story:  >  A-16


Anthropology in Basho

28 Basho renku, 6 haiku, 4 letters for anthropologists to explain

Legend:
Words of Basho in bold
Words of other poets not bold

Anthropology being the study of human characteristics, customs, and social relationships, all Basho works on humanity are anthropology, however here are works highlighting ten themes familiar to anthropologists, so Basho may bring insights to this field.


Household inheritance 
Women at work 
Teenage Girls
Thieves in society 
Parental negligence and child welfare 
Compassion for abandoned children 
Effects of war on society 
Individuality and the Group
Neighbors caring for each other 
Succession of Generations

 

Basho expresses his “compassionate intuition” for humanity in both normal and difficult circumstances.

 

 

Household Inheritance

In traditional Japan the ie, or household, was “the basic unit of social organization” and a constant concern within the mind of every person. Each family sought to continue by having a head-of-the-family in each generation who passes the household onto the next generation, preferably the oldest son and his wife.To prevent an ie from dying out, a family without a capable son would adopt a “son,” often by marrying him to a daughter – or they would adopt both of them. 


Our first princess
in headman’s household
shall be nurtured

 

Our oldest daughter, our “first princess,” is marrying, or dreaming of marrying, the future head of the most prosperous family in this village. The word “nurtured” expresses Basho’s good wishes for her future in her new family, wishes that everyone in the household will support her in her roles as wife and mother. So often Basho focuses on the female, the positive, the hopeful.

 

Showing no signs
of being busy, the shop
of a herbalist

Three years have passed

yet bride has no child

 

A rather laid back scene; the shop of a herbalist with shelves holding thousands of remedies and supplements - yet no customers. The place is so laid back that no one does much of anything. The oldest son, heir to the household and herb business, has not in three years managed to make his young wife pregnant. This is serious business. Women could be divorced for failing to produce a child in three years of marriage. (Ignoring the possibility that the problem might be in his contribution.) Hey you two, take some remedies from those shelves, and get going! Come on! We need that heir!

 

Father and son-in-law

greeting to make-up -
Castle servant
in her home village
close to tears

Things from lacquered box

taken out and put back

 

This is a household in which the husband has been adopted into the bride’s family and lives with them, so this young man, looking forward to power in the future, must adapt to his wife's father holding onto power from the past.  For some time now, they have not been very cordial to each other. This morning they greet each other with words that begin to repair their relationship.


With her sister and husband taking over the household, a second daughter has gone to the provincial castle to serve in a daimyo’s household. On her day off she returns to her native home where her happiness at seeing her father and brother-in-law starting to get along brings tears to her eyes. We know this castle servant is sensitive to her feelings and concerned about relationships within her family. From the fancy lacquered box, she takes out things that remind her of her mother, her sister and husband, and their kids, looks at them, and returns them to the box. (Nowadays these would be photographs.) Basho’s stanza does no morethan simply experess physical activity yet draws emotional energy from the two previous stanzas.  This too is Anthropology. 

 

The town so old,
no household without
a persimmon tree

 

The bright orange globes on the trees of his hometown Iga are a striking image of autumn, and of prosperity, and Basho’s mind goes back to all the autumns he has spent in this place of his birth and maturation, in each autumn seeing persimmons on the same trees – and then his mind goes back even further to the long years before he was born, and persimmons were on the trees of that era. “The town so old” means that the families here at present have been here for centuries, and every family has enough of the pie to stay together, prosperous and happy. Basho’s ‘greeting verse’ to his hometown presents a vision of social harmony with no major misfortunes, relationships between old and young generations mutually satisfying, so people have stayed in town and worked hard to keep their household go on generation after generation – and of course, the vision contains hope that this past will continue into Iga’s future.


From back door to village
shortcut through the woods

Enough to eat,

father and son-in-law talk
of helping others

 

Through the small forest behind the house, this family has direct access to the village center. They grow enough rice and vegetables that sustenance is no problem, so the father and wife’s husband adopted into this household speak to each other searching for how to use their power within the village to help neighbors who are not doing so well. I hope Anthropologists, both Japanese and Western, will further explain the  human experience here.

 

According to a common generalization, Japanese society limits personal freedom, but reality is more complicated than that.  The oldest son has no freedom at all; he must stay in his native home, and work to continue the household.  His younger brothers have all the freedom in the world, so they innovate and create.  Basho's  older brother Hanzaemon and Basho are perfect examples. 


Today too they play

all day giving advice

In father’s time
prosperous, the doctor’s
younger sons

 

They do no work; all they do is play around and offer advice: “Well, you could do this…” and “Maybe so and so will help.” Basho explains their laxness; they are the second and third sons of a successful doctor; while the oldest son takes over papa’s medical practice, they live at home with no gumption of their own, but lots of advice for others, and lots of leisure time to hang out together. 


Crest on the kimono

shall melt in the dew

Grown children
squabble over who
shall inherit

 

The family crest represents the household unit. “To melt in the dew”is a metaphor for the household dissolving. Father has died without deciding a successor, and the adult children argue over who will follow him as head. Usually the oldest son succeeds, however if there is no oldest son, or if the family decides that he will not do a good job, another son may prevail, or someone unrelated may be adopted into the family to inherit. If everyone could simply agree and all support the same one to inherit, everything would work out and the “crest on the kimono” would continue –but no one is willing to give up their position, all their energy goes to squabbling, and eventually the family dies out.


   Women at Work 

Basho observes and records the customs of woman doing labor.  

 

Lunch break at a traveler’s rest:

 

Leaving azaleas
in a bucket, behind them
she tears dried cod

 

A woman in a rustic roadside rest area has gathered azaleas from the mountain and brought them inside to arrange in a vase, but a customer (Basho) comes in, so she places the flowers temporarily in a bucket in the center of the room, and goes to tear off some strips of dried cod for him to munch on with his tea. After the noon rush is over, she will get back to arranging them in a vase. Sitting at a table, he sees her in the kitchen, from his point of view, behind the flowers; the flowers appear as superimposed on her. She is the center of the verse: she mediates between the delicacy of azaleas and the roughness of her hands tearing the flesh of dead fish.  Basho sees women as central in his Anthropology. The verse shows us the busyness of women – preparing food for both family and customers, along with a thousand other chores, while still finding time to make the place pretty with flowers.  

 

Willow’s coolness
skewering small sea bream
fisherman’s wife

 

At the end of summer on the Japan Sea coast near Niigata, Basho  takes a photograph, like the photographs in National Geographic, showing the nature of a place, as well as the nature of the season, and the nature of a woman: While the day is still exhaustingly hot, in the cool shade of a willow tree a woman pierces fish with metal pins to roast them over the fire in her sunken hearth. She bends over to see what she is doing, as the long straight leafy branches bend over her, swaying gracefully.  Once again, the woman mediates between delicacy and the roughness of working with dead fish. The skewer goes in through the gills and out the mouth. The sound of “skewering” contains the feeling of the metal pin puncturing the bloody flesh. 

This is the power of the verse: it takes us beyond our ordinary consciousness to enter the reality of a woman who does this kind of work every day so her children or grandchildren get the protein, minerals, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids in small fish.


Basho gave the following as a greeting verse to a prosperous farmer whose home he visited:

 

Threshing rice
the uba's good fortune,
chrysanthemums

 

Throughout Japanese culture, chrysanthemums are a symbol of longevity and hardiness, standing tall on perfectly straight stalks, the multitude of petals in a large showy ball, their color and fragrance untouched by the cold and frost of autumn ending. After rice is harvested and dried, the grains must be threshed from the stalks by shaking the stalks, or pulling them through a comb-like device with metal teeth. In all farming societies, after-harvest is a time for celebration.

 

In between these two vivid seasonal references is the uba or aged wet-nurse. She is the center of the verse. Probably she was the wet-nurse of the householder who stayed on with the family to perform the roles of women: babysitting the children, helping in the kitchen and on the farm, assisting the woman of the household in childbirth.   Basho praises the woman for maintaining her vigor into old age. The image of chrysanthemums – the Japanese Imperial Crest –ensures that we take the verse as praise. Kon-sensei, as usual,goes right to the heart of the verse in one short, simple sentence:


       “Implied in the word uba is the prosperity of the whole family.”

 

Once again, Basho makes a woman an Icon, a symbol for something greater than herself.


A young woman goes to the Big City to live, work, and marry. Pregnant, she returns to her natal home where her mother can care for her before and during birth, then help out with the newborn.

 

Sister from the Capital
here to have her baby

Weaving folded
at back door she lights
flower incense

 

Basho fulfills the theme of pregnancy with the specific actions of this woman. Every item of clothing the family wears must be made from plant fibers, first spinning them into thread, next weaving the thread into fabric on a loom, then cutting and sewing the fabric. It has been estimated that to make a single adult house robe from plant fibers required 30 hours of work. The kitchen in a wooden and wood-burning farmhouse produces and contains many odors. Without chemicals, plastics, or electric appliances, a woman does what she can to keep the place from smelling. Weaving fabric for baby clothes, spreading sweet aroma throughout the kitchen, she generates positive energy for the new life: the ordinary but eternal work of women to keep children warm and house fragrant. How Basho must have watched his mother and four sisters to absorb their household consciousness.


This renku stanza-pair and the following one are discussed at greater length in the article Women at Work

 

Glaring about

she orders the children
to “behave!”

While roasting balls of miso
some ash she puffs away

 

The kids are scattered around the room so mom at the central hearth has to "glare about" to address them all, not that they listen.  She is roasting balls of soybean paste on wooden skewers to make a side dish. A bit of ash from the fire has gotten on the sticky miso. Watch her bring the skewer close to her mouth and puff the ash away. The astonishing delicacy of this action even the fingers of elves could not perform is the polar opposite of her glaring and shouting at her kids. Both ordering and puffing are her breath, her life force, her prana.  Basho shows us no romance, no tragedy, no immorality or morality, nothing extraordinary:  he only focuses on the woman expressing her life-force as whole, positive, and iconic. 

 

Basho's follower Shiko and Basho also portray the oppression of women: 

Vulgar words to insult

the wife and daughter

All the guests
sit there cold, freezing
at the kotatsu

 

Father (who may be drunk) insults his wife and daughter, saying the most horrible, vulgar things. In a misogynistic society, abuse of women is so commonplace no one pays attention to it. Shiko, though he is a Japanese man, does pay attention. He portrays the oppression of females common in Japan, yet his stanza occurs in a vacuum. Basho could have followed with more about the wife and daughter, but this is not what he does; instead he creates an environment and other people around that oppression.


A kotatsu -- a heater (charcoal in Basho’s time, electric in ours) with a table on top and blanket to hold the warmth around the lower body while sitting -- is square and provides seating for four people, so probably the father is sitting with three guests. The mother and daughter – in this society – would not be sitting at the kotatsu, but rather preparing or serving food and drink to father and his guests.

 

Father insults the females even when visitors are over, while the guests sit there shocked by what they are hearing; frozen in place, even sitting at a warm kotatsu. We imagine how much worse his abuse gets when no guests are present. We also wonder how the wife and daughter support eachother against his abuse. Basho completes and fulfills Shiko’s anthropological vision, yet leaves us boundless room to imagine more of this family.

 

Teenage Girls 

 

Youngest daughter hates
the mole on her face

Robe for dancing
aimlessly she folds it
inside the box

 

The mole does not interfere with her intelligence or motor ability, but everyone who meets her sees it, and consciousness of this saps her self-confidence. Growing up together with sisters who have no moles, she hates the unfairness of this, but there is nothing she can do about it.

 

(For kuyamu, the dictionary says “regret, be sorry for,” however I remember when my daughters were teenagers, they used “hate” for a song or a dress or a food they did not like. I told them “hate” was too extreme, and they should use a more moderate term, but they kept on using “hate.” Now I understand that for a teenage girl to say she “hates” something is an expression of the teenage-girl qualities Shakespearean actress Janet Suzman describes in Juliet and Ophelia: “the appalling worries, the despair, how passionately one feels about every little thing.”)


Someone who cares for the daughter’s happiness has given her a gorgeous robe for dancing in the local shrine festival, but she is too ashamed of her mole to show it to the whole town. Basho always focuses on simple physical activities – folding the robe inside the box – to convey complex emotional states.

In between the physical “youngest daughter” and “mole on her face” is the vivid emotion of “hates.”

In between the physical “robe for dancing” and “she folds it inside the box” is the disappointment, frustration, hopelessness swirling about in “aimlessly.” The flow of emotional energy from “hates” to “aimlessly” produces a masterpiece of ordinary uncomfortable teenage-girl experience.


In 1690 Kyokusui begins and Basho follows:

 

From slender threads 
love gets so intense 

Though my thoughts
are of love, "eat something!"
she commands me


Love starts out simple but somehow becomes “intense.” Basho’s stanza makes the most sense if this is a teenage girl speaking of her mother.

 

“Although the turmoil of young love takes away all my appetite, mother insists I eat, to build up my adolescent body. Why can’t she understand that I cannot eat while this turmoil rages within me? Besides, she knows I am trying to stay slender! Mother, stop bugging me!”

 

History books never speak of mother-daughter conflicts, so we look to Basho for information. 330 years ago or today, the daughter thinks of love, but mother of nutrition, so no meeting of minds. May this stanza-pair be a lens through which mothers and daughters see the other’s point of view.

 

Where did Basho learn to think from the teenage daughter’s perspective? From watching the four sisters who grew up together with him? From Oyoshi, the youngest of the four, a teenager while he was in his twenties? Oyoshi, whose name appears four times in Basho letters, where no other sister’s name appears even once?

 

The boss pretends

not to see their love
yet he knows

Figures half-hidden
behind the umbrella

 

Walking together in town, the lovers are surprised to see her (or their) boss coming the other way.

He is cool and does not say a word, but her Japanese heart shrinks with haji -- shame, shyness, bashfulness, embarrassment.” Haji is the Sun Goddess hiding in her Rock Cave or any woman today covering her mouth or eyes with her hand. Here she clutches the handle to make the umbrella cover as much as possible without any movements that might attract the boss’s attention.  She wonders if the boss

imagines her naked and "doing it,"  if he condemns her for having sex without marriage? 

 

Renku scholar Miyawaki Masahiko, in Basho’s Verses of Human Feeling, says,

 

“Probably no other following stanza so well expresses the sense of shame

felt when one’s love becomes known to others.”

 

Miyawaki is Japanese and writing about Japanese people, in particular Japanese women, but his comment turns the verse into anthropology.  Japan is said to be a “shame culture” rather than the “guilt cultures” of the Judeo-Christian world - and it is  important to remember that "shame" may not be the right word for you to relate to this experience: instead you may prefer "embarrassment" or "shyness" or "bashfulness"

or maybe a generalized "discomfort".  Guilt comes from an offense to God or religion, and such an offense can never be hidden, since God knows everything.  Shame (or whatever we call it) comes from an offense to family or society, which is very often hidden.  The words "hide" or "hidden" occur very frequently in Basho

poems of humanity, for he is a master at portraying the effects of "shame" on the Japanese psyche, especally for females.  See the article Hiding from Sight.

 

But what about us, people in all sorts of different cultures, with different perceptual realities of love, young or old, female or male, married or unmarried, straight or gay, do we, or did we long ago, feel “shame” when our love is seen by an authority figure who gets the picture?

 

For 34 Basho verses on Teenage Girls click here:

 

 

Thieves in Society

 

Thief of rice plants
released from the net

Viewing the moon,
the love from his parents
was not enough

Dew which has fallen,
where does it go?

 

A rogue tried to steal rice from the field, but the villagers caught him and held him in a net – but then the sight of the moon enlarged their hearts so they decided that the poor guy’s parents did not love him enough and so he can be forgiven. (How amazing to see so "liberal" a consciousness three centuries ago.) Our lives are as inconsequential as dew disappearing in the warmth of morning, we know not where we came from, nor where we are going, so compassion is appropriate.

 

From an early age
blaming all on the Gods

Again a chicken
stolen from the coop -
this morning’s moon

 

Basho portrays an individual who blames everything on divine forces. The next poet asks do we blame the robbery on the thief, or on ourselves, or on the Gods? We wonder who would do such a thing, and is this the same thief who stole a chicken before? A morning moon was in the sky all last night, so did the thief watch that moon while he broke into the chicken coop and took the chicken?


 

Startled by clappers
a window in the thicket

Sister cries
for her life married
to a thief

 

Chosetsu begins with someone in a house or shack startled by ordinary autumn sounds in a rice-growing village, a person who lets the trees and shrubs around the place grow wild so only one window can be seen. Is that window an eye watching the road, armed and ready to defend his freedom? Basho confirms that he is a thief, but focuses on his “wife ” -- probably without ceremony or vows; in Japanese he is merely “taking her along with him.” Chosetsu’s stanza is profound social realism, but an masculine anti-social realism; Basho looks rather at the female side of the gender coin. His seven simple words plug us into the desperation and ugliness in a woman’s life together with such a threatened man. The link between renegade male and submissive female can give rise to a library of sociology. Basho’s “compassionate intuition” for this “sister” is one of those innermost secrets he alone realized.

 

For many more verses on the Oppression of Women, click here: 

 


That one night
a thief came to visit --
end of the year

 

365 is too many to remember, so we hold the year in memory associating with one particular event:        the year he was born, the year they were married, etc. It is strange to return home and find that someone has been in the house, leaving no knowledge of his identity – and this occurrence is recalled at year’s end, as well as long after: that was the year the “thief came to visit”

 

Parental Negligence and Child Welfare

 

The crying child's

face is such a mess

Renting a room
they make no fire
to boil rice

 

The parents do not wipe the snot off their kid’s face, so germs produce skin infection and pus smeared together with dirt and tears. They seem to be transients who do not go to the trouble of maintaining a fire  in the sunken hearth for the hour or more it takes to boil rice; instead of eating “meals” (which in Japan means with rice) they live on snack foods high in salt and saturated fat. The snotty-faced kid does not get much in the way of nutrition. The observations of the two poets resonate across time and culture.


Majestic Chinese
gables on tile roof
of a herbalist

A child well-treated
should not be skinny

 

This dealer in medicinal herbs is so prosperous his house has a roof of heavy ceramic tiles (most houses at this time had roofs of thatch). The Chinese gables at the ends are most impressive; they make the place look like a temple. Growing up in a rich house, where knowledge of herbal remedies and how to use them is second-nature, why is this child so sickly? Basho creates the question but gives no hint of an answer. Such is life; we can only observe, but never understand.

 

Compassion for Abandoned Children

Wind from the pines
blows steadily on and on
past midnight

There’s an abandoned child”
reports the gatekeeper

 

Shiko sets the place, near pine trees; the weather – the wind blow zun zun, continuously, not so strong a wind, but it never lets up - and the time. Nowhere does Shiko say anything about human life. Basho follows with an abundance of humanity – not only the child and the gatekeeper, but also the one who left the child outside the temple or mansion and snuck away in the dark, and the narrator, either a priest or owner of the mansion woken up by the gatekeeper; all these people are contained in Basho’s words. Who abandoned this child? Why? Will the priest or mansion owner take in the child? We contrast the inconstancy of the parents with the steadiness of the chill wind.


The aged nun has
a story to tell

Filled with pity,
her message to rescue
abandoned child

 

The first poet creates  an aged nun who tells a story with much  feeling. Once upon a time she got the chance to save a life. Basho portrays compassion in a nun whose life is devoted to Buddha, the Compassionate One. Ordinary masculine Buddhism would preach the virtue of non–interference, accepting the fate of this child to die and return to Buddha, but Basho sees a more feminine Buddhism,

 in which the nun reaches out to help one in need.

 

For more on these poor children, see article  Abandoned Child

 

                      Effects of War on Society            

 

Here are four Basho visions of war. In the article  DREAMS OFWAR/ LIGHT OF PEACE are thirteen more.

 

The next pair of stanzas, both by Basho, portray the Warring States Period from 1467 to 1567 when central government did not function and provincial lords and religious sects constantly feuded with swords and arrows. 

 

Even monks
and old men regardless
forced to march
Earth pounded into mochi,
a poor ritual offering

 

All the men, even bald monks and grandpas, were conscripted into the armies. No one was able to grow much food so there was famine. Without enough rice, people mixed in dirt with mochi to make the sacred rice-cake offerings to the divine spirits -- who will be dissatisfied and continue to send us this endless war.


To become a nun?
parting in the night

By moonlight
she looks deeply at him
in battle gear

 

He goes to join the troops gathering at night, so early morn they can go into battle. If he dies, she can only survive as a nun. She looks deeply into his eyes in the moonlight, seeing the division in the road tomorrow will bring, either the world with him alive or the same world with him dead.

 

In the cold wind
at sunset, long-drawn-out
cries of hawks

Foretell the heads to fall
in tomorrow’s battle

 

Koeki’s stanza is magnificent by itself, but even more stunning is the way each element – the wind, the sunset, the “long-drawn-out cries” – feeds energy into Basho’s ode to Fate. In the link between the stanzas is the horror and cruelty of war. He took the elements Koeki provided and blended them into that great question of existence which can never be answered: Is death ordained? Or random?

 

After the years
of grieving... finally
past eighteen... 

Day and night dreams
of Father in that battle

 

Father died in war when I was small, and I have grown up under the weight of that grief.

Now, in the prime of youthful vigor, I look back over those years of dreams constantly reverting 

to that one moment on a battlefield I have never seen in reality.


Renku scholar Miyawaki Masahiko, assuming this teenager is male, says,

 For a boy, his father is his model to learn from by observation, his goal in life.

Having reached the age when now he can go to war, to see a dream of father in battle

is the same as being on the battlefield himself. His regrets for his father can never be forgotten.

The bond between father and son is well expressed.”


I pray that children and teens who lose a parent to war or terroism will explore this verse, especially as they approach eighteen, and counselors who work with bereaved teenagers will show it to them.  The clear straight-forward expression of grief may be consoling. 

 

Individuality and the Group 

Here are two stanza-pairs, one from the beginning of Basho's poetic life, then one from the end. First,    from the first sequence in which he participated, in spring of 1665 in his hometown Iga; second, from a

sequence written in Iga in October of 1694, 29 and ½ years later:

 

Impatient with people
who provoke with words

When pushed
again pushing back
in a crowd

 

People can be really obnoxious. Basho (1644-1694) counters with his take on what his contemporary Isaac Newton (1642-1727) called the Third Law of Motion – although Basho’s version is more human and personal. An eye for an eye. What goes around, comes around. You provoke me with words, I provoke you back. It gets very complicated because we are in a crowd with many different action/reactions occurring at once.


Hulling rice
enough done for today
I go home

By myself jostling
through marketplace

 

A worker hired for the day decides he has hulled enough rice for today, and goes home. Such individualistic decision-making is unusual in Japan; such decisions are made by the group, or by the boss. Basho continues on the theme of individual vs. group, and everyone in Japan can experience his stanza in today's marketplaces. Notice how similar BY MYSELF JOSTLING is to WHEN PUSHED, although they each come from rather different previous stanzas. So Basho explores the various relationships between individuals and groups in his society.

 

A group of female servants is working together in the kitchen around the wood-burning stove.

 

That clique of
smart-ass co-workers
hates on her

Cinder burns her hem
so she rubs it out

 

Kyokusui portrays the underhand cruelty of teenage girls who think they are so great to one who does not fit in with their clique. Saibari, literally “talent stretcher,” is someone with a little talent who pretends to be an expert – so “smart-ass co-workers” they are. Basho focuses on the young female responding to a physical problem – a cinder from the fire burns a hole in the hem of her house robe – with simple direct action that immediately puts it out. She does not fuss over the bit of burning matter, or complain about it, or get angry at it. She simply crushes it between her thumb and forefinger.

 

Basho suggests that the person who bullied develop what we today call “attitude.” She does not give up and submit, nor does she get upset in fighting back -- cool and calm, with her attitude, she “rubs it out.”  She rubs out the power of the bullying to upset her.  

 

Her semblance of power
pebbles thrown in vain

Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus

 

His boat has left harbour. She tries to reach the boat with pebbles – i.e. her love -- but her slender arm cannot throw them any distance against the wind. From the weakness of the lone woman, Basho switches to a chorus of women allowing one woman to lead them, so their sound goes far. He praises the solidarity which empowers women.  To see more Basho verses on Empowering Women, click here: 

 

Neighbors Caring for Eachother 

 

Here Basho on the road replies to a letter from Sora in Fukugawa, Basho’s home neighborhood,

where lives Basho’s nephew Toin

 

I am greatly relieved to hear that Toin is managing.
Even if he cannot do so well, so long as he does not fall over,
there is merit in that. Remind him not to be negligent.

 

Reasearch assistant Shoko gets the feeling that Toin has some degree of disability; even without modern psychological terms,  Basho describes his nephew’s problems with considerable accuracy. 

 

Four years later, Toin has died from tuberculosis, and his  widow, the nun Jutei, is dying from the disease she caught from him. Basho, on a journey so Jutei and her two daughters have a place to live, writes to Ihei in Fukagawa, on July 24th

 

In this season Rihei has no work in his craft
so you should take care he at least is not annoyed.
And would you do the same for Jutei?
And Ofu, with summer coming on, is she okay?
Please write and tell me details of her condition.

 

There is no evidence for who Rihei was.  So much of Basho’s letters consist of messages of caring for people  (and so we must give up all ideas that Basho is impersonal or desolate). He has been an “uncle” to these people since he moved to Fukagawa 13 years ago, and he continues to be involved with them when travelling. He is especially concerned about Jutei - not knowing that she died yesterday, July 23rd. Kon believes that the younger of Jutei’s daughters is 11 at this time. Basho only mentions Ofu in his letter, not Masa, so it appears the younger girl suffers some health problem her sister is free of. The Japanese summer is mushi atsui, day after day of sultry, muggy heat which makes all health problems worse. Basho is worried about his grandniece’s delicate health. Anthropologists, take note!

 

Jutei died on July 23. Six days later Basho receives a letter from Ihei telling this , and replies the same day.

 

              Letter 204 to Ihei, July 29, 1694

 

Jutei was a person without happiness
and Masa and Ofu the same unhappiness;
to express my thoughts is difficult.
I must send a separate letter to old Kosai,
however both of you read this quick letter.
For all the effort you went to, the various kindnesses you performed,
which you told me about in your letters, I am most grateful…
Anyway, manage things as best you can.
I suppose Rihei is upset; tell him to calm down
and not lose his composure.

 

From his letter, we learn who Basho was and how neighborhood people in this era cooperated to help neighbors in need.

 

                            (from Basho’s Will, November 26, )

 

This I say to Ihei: this year you went the limit
in many ways to help Jutei. I know thanks should
be said in person, but these certainly cannot be.
The two persons remaining have lost their direction
and must be upset. Please consult with Old Kosai
and others so proper decision is made for them.

 

Basho thanks Ihei for helping Jutei die in peace. The “two persons remaining” are Jutei’s daughters, Masa and Ofu, now orphans. On his death bed, in his Will, Basho cares about how his grandnieces will manage. We see Basho caring for Humanity. 

 

Basho's Will is counted as his final letter; to see all of his final letters, click here. 

 

Succession of Generations

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet

Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven

 

This woman has enough work sewing before winter comes. She may “make ends meet” in autumn, but has to survive the rest of the year. Into this poor struggling home, Basho introduces a daughter and a koto, or 13-string harp, an instrument of refinement played only by women. (however this koto may symbolize the 

string instrument of another culture.  Basho belongs to you.) If the mother owns a koto, she must have been well-off in the past, but fallen on hard times. Notice the link between the form of needlework and the strings and frets on the harp; just as the mother applies her fingers to the threads, the daughter applies her fingers to the harp strings.  Both stanzas convey the diligence and constant effort of the female, the action

of her hands producing order, rhythm, and beauty.


The daughter plays her mother’s koto here and now - and also plays it through the months, years, decades of practice required to master the instrument. Basho praises the  girl in the early stages of her discipline.

Author Leonard Shlain says "Cultures worldwide consider age seven the beginning of wisdom and moral understanding," but provides no references to back this statement up, and I ask anthropologists if they agree, for I believe the statement gives profound meaning to Basho's stanza. We imagine the pride the hard-working mother feels hearing her seven-year-old daughter produce such beauty. With utmost subtlety and grace,through the powerful effect music has on the brain, Basho portrays the bond between mother and daughter, the hope for a better future that the growing and learning girl evokes in her mother, hope rising on the lovely notes emerging from her seven-year old fingers on the harp.

 

By moonlight washing hair
with rice bran lather

Lighting lantern
and providing a mallet
to each child

 

Mother works from sun up to sun down; finally she takes a break in the evening, to wash her long black locks. Beside the well, she rubs a cotton bag of wet rice bran powder between her hands; the saponin or

soap-like foam that emerges through the permeable fabric has been used for shampoo, as well as face and body wash, since ancient times. Rice bran is rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals which moisturize and strengthen hair, protect it from ultraviolet rays, and prevent hair loss.


A mallet was used for pounding handspun cloth after washing to soften and smooth it, for pounding rice

to remove the hulls. This can be an individual mother giving her daughters work to do in the evening, or can be iconic, a symbol for all mothers passing on the torch to their daughters, first the older, then the younger, for as many girls as there are in the household. She gives them Light – a bit of the Sun emerging from a lantern – and Work, the long tradition of females working day and night without complaint, simply working, generation after generation – only taking time off to care for their hair.  

 

Even for us today, for women do not do physical work hour after hour, this stanza-pair promotes the empowerment of women, so long as we embrace the links between three images:


rice brain shampoo empowers a woman's hair; 

"lighting lantern" can represent education: the means to overcoming poverty and deprivation  

a mallet gives weight and power to the slender hands and arms of the female or child.   

 

Bringing these three images together forms a most powerful trio to empower women worldwide. 

 

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com






<< To Be a Man (A-15) (A-17) Dreams of War / Light of Peace >>


The Three Thirds of Basho

 

 

I plead for your help in finding a person or group to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material, to edit and improve the presentation, to receive all royalties from sales, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide and preserve for future generations.

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com
Basho's thoughts on...
• Women in Basho
• Introduction to this site
• The Human Story:
• Praise for Women
• Love and Sex in Basho
• Children and Teens
• Humanity and Friendship
• On Translating Basho
• Basho Himself
• Poetry and Music
• The Physical Body
• Food, Drink, and Fire
• Animals in Basho
• Space and Time
• Letters Year by Year
• Bilingual Basho 日本語も
• 芭蕉について日本語の論文
• Basho Renku, 芭蕉連句
• BAMHAY (Basho Amazes Me! How About You?)
• New Articles


Matsuo Basho 1644~1694

The only substantial
collection in English
of Basho's renku, tanka,
letters and spoken word
along with his haiku, travel
journals, and essays.

The only poet in old-time
literature who paid attention with praise
to ordinary women, children, and teenagers
in hundreds of poems

Hundreds upon hundreds of Basho works
(mostly renku)about women, children,
teenagers, friendship, compassion, love.

These are resources we can use to better
understand ourselves and humanity.

Interesting and heartfelt
(not scholarly and boring)
for anyone concerned with
humanity.


“An astonishing range of
social subject matter and
compassionate intuition”


"The primordial power
of the feminine emanating
from Basho's poetry"


Hopeful, life-affirming
messages from one of
the greatest minds ever.

Through his letters,
we travel through his mind
and discover Basho's
gentleness and humanity.

I plead for your help in
finding a person or group
to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material,
to edit and improve the material, to receive 100%
of royalties, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide
and preserve for future generations.

Quotations from Basho Prose


The days and months are
guests passing through eternity.
The years that go by
also are travelers.



The mountains in silence
nurture the spirit;
the water with movement
calms the emotions.


All the more joyful,
all the more caring


Seek not the traces
of the ancients;
seek rather the
places they sought.



Basho Spoken Word


Only this, apply your heart
to what children do


"The attachment to Oldness
is the very worst disease
a poet can have."


“The skillful have a disease;
let a three-foot child
get the poem"


"Be sick and tired
of yesterday’s self."


"This is the path of a fresh
lively taste with aliveness
in both heart and words."
.

"In poetry is a realm
which cannot be taught.
You must pass through it
yourself. Some poets have made
no effort to pass through, merely
counting things and trying
to remember them.
There was no passing
through the things."


"In verses of other poets,
there is too much making
and the heart’s
immediacy is lost.
What is made from
the heart is good;
the product of words
shall not be preferred."


"We can live without poetry,
yet without harmonizing
with the world’s feeling
and passing not through
human feeling, a person
cannot be fulfilled. Also,
without good friends,
this would be difficult."


"Poetry benefits
from the realization
of ordinary words."


"Many of my followers
write haiku equal to mine,
however in renku is the
bone marrow of this old man."


"Your following stanza
should suit the previous one as an expression
of the same heart's connection."


"Link verses the way
children play."


"Make renku
ride the Energy.
Get the timing wrong,
you ruin the rhythm."


"The physical form
first of all must be graceful
then a musical quality
makes a superior verse."

"As the years passed
by to half a century.
asleep I hovered
among morning clouds
and evening dusk,
awake I was astonished
at the voices of mountain
streams and wild birds."


“These flies sure enjoy
having an unexpected
sick person.”



Haiku of Humanity


Drunk on sake
woman wearing haori
puts in a sword


Night in spring
one hidden in mystery
temple corner


Wrapping rice cake
with one hands she tucks
hair behind ear


On Life's journey
plowing a small field
going and returning


Child of poverty
hulling rice, pauses to
look at the moon


Tone so clear
the Big Dipper resounds
her mallet


Huddling
under the futon, cold
horrible night


Jar cracks
with the ice at night
awakening



Basho Renku
Masterpieces

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet
Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven


After the years
of grieving. . . finally
past eighteen
Day and night dreams of
Father in that battle


Now to this brothel
my body has been sold
Can I trust you
with a letter I wrote,
mirror polisher?


Only my face
by rice-seedling mud
is not soiled
Breastfeeding on my lap
what dreams do you see?



Single renku stanzas


Giving birth to
love in the world, she
adorns herself



Autumn wind
saying not a word
child in tears


Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus


Easing in
her slender forearm
for his pillow


Two death poems:


On a journey taken ill
dreams on withered fields
wander about

Clear cascade -
into the ripples fall
green pine needles




basho4humanity
@gmail.com




Plea for Affiliation

 

Plea For Affiliation

 

I pray for your help

in finding someone
individual, university,

or foundation - 
to take over my

3000 pages of material,   
to cooperate with me 

to edit the material,
to receive all royalties 

from sales, to spread

Basho’s wisdom worldwide,
and preserve for

future generations.


basho4humanity

@gmail.com