Basho's thoughts on...
• What Children Do: Basho Honors the Young
• 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
• Women in Basho
• 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-14


Humanity on the Narrow Path



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

Prose passages from Basho's travel journal selected for their expression of humanity, overflowing with human life, activity, and speech expressed in a plethora of lively, active verbs, so Basho takes us along with him and his traveling companion Sora, through the heartlands of Japan, the rugged backward northern areas where people still live close to their cultural roots.  Note that the actual journey occured from spring to autumn in 1689 - but Basho did not compose A Narrow Path in the Heartlands until 1694, five years later,

and added some fictional elements.

 

Haiku in the journal are usually not included, to concentrate our attention – mine and yours – on Basho’s prose.  A great deal of prose also does not appear here; I have selected only passages which move me with their portraits of men, women, and children. To escape from the “Basho Image” – austere, detached, impersonal – that has formed around him, we focus on the wonder of his portraits of humanity. His descriptions of natural scenery, shrines, and temples are certainly wonderful, but here are not included. Here is only humanity.


Brower and Miner note a “sinuous forward pressure” in Japanese literary prose: the words press forward, like water always accumulating power to the final words and final image. Basho is the master of this. As usual in Basho4Humanity, prose is sectioned off into phrases each occupying a single line, making them prose poetry, enabling the images to stand out in our consciousness.

 

Basho’s preface to A Narrow Path in the Heartlands begins with words tsukihi wa hakudai no kuwakaku ni shite… every high schooler in Japan is forced to learn, along with other famous lines from the classics, to pass an exam (as Shoko recalls in the A-4 Preface) and most come out of the experience with a lifelong distaste for that old-fashioned “literary” stuff. As adults they probably can recall the first few words of the passage, but only as relics from their school education, having no relevance to anything of today. We can transcend their judgments.

 

The days and months are guests passing through Eternity,
the years that go by also are travelers,
and those who float through life on boats
or face old age leading the mouth of horses
make the day-by-day journey their home.
Many of the Ancients even died on a journey.

 

Humanity enlivens every phrase: days and months are “guests” who visit us then go elsewhere, years too are “travelers,” the vivid active images of boat people "floating through life" and horse guides "leading the mouth of horses,"  then the poets and sages long ago who died while traveling (as Basho will do five years after his journey).

 

I too, in years past,
a solitary cloud enticed by the wind,
could but think of vagabonding
and went off to wander the seacoasts.
Last autumn I cleared away the cobwebs
from my rundown hut by the river. . .

 

Arranging phrases vertically, in poetic form, as in a supermarket shopping list, allows the brain to process them holistically. Throughout Basho prose and poetry, the key words are the verbs expressing life and human activity: "enticed... vagabonding... went off to wander... cleared away." 

 

. . .however as the year soon ended
and spring began under misty skies
I was by some unknown deity seized
with a madness to cross the Gate of Shirakawa.
The gods of travel beckoned
till my hands could hardly hold onto things,
so I mended my torn breeches,
changed the cords on my sedge hat,
burned moxa on some points ...

 

More and more active lively verbs: "seized with a madness... cross...beckoned." Basho follows “my hands could hardly hold on to things” with a list of three skilled tasks he performed with his hands: "mended breeches...changed cords...burned moxa." When we notice the incongruity, the passage becomes humorous.

 

and now with the moon at Matsushima already over my heart,
I have given where I lived away to another,
and drift over to Sampu’s tea cottage.

 

Matsushima is 200 miles north of Edo where Basho is, but where he will be in six months. The moon there already “over my heart” is a typical Basho expression of the spirit transcending barriers of space and time.

 

The wealthy merchant Sampu has through the years provided both the money Basho needed to live and the spiritual sustenance that kept him going. (See Sampu: Patron and Close Friend) He allowed Basho to spend the first night of his trip in style; since Sampu is wealthy, his tea cottage mst be a masterpiece of design and carpentry, a remarkable place for Basho to sleep the first night of his journey. The whole passage builds up to its final expression of gratitude to Sampu, making Sampu’s name live through the centuries.  Basho says in his Will:

 

           This I say to Sampu: for so long your kindness,
           even after death, shall not be forgotten

 

                               ------------------------------------

 

Beloved friends gathered from evening,
to ride on the boat with us and see us off. 
At a place called Senju we came down from the boat.
Thoughts of the 3000 leagues before us flooded my chest
as I seperated from the streets of illusion tears I shed.

 

Friends of Basho and Sora gathered at Sampu's house and rode with them up the Sumida River to Senju (in Adachi-ku), starting point of the Nikko Road to the North.  "3000 leagues" (more than 7000 miles) is an idiom for a vast distance; the actual distance was less than one-quarter that, but still very far walking and occassionally riding a horse. 

 

                       ---------------------------------

 

We went to visit the Caldron of Eight Islands.
My traveling companion Sora says,
“This shrine belongs to Tree Blossom Princess
who also has a shrine on Mount Fuji...

 

Sora studied Shinto so can speak of these matters, although probably Basho made up this speech.  This shrine in Tochigi has absolutely no connection to Tree Blossom Princess, the goddess of Mount Fuji, who.

married Ninigi, the grandson of the Sun Goddess. When she become pregnant after only one night with him, he accused her of doing it with someone else. 


She entered a doorless chamber and set fire to herself
to prove she had been faithful to her pledge, 
and so gave birth to Gods-Born-From-Fire
which is why this place is called Caldron of Eight Islands."  
     

Since she was telling the truth, she did not die from burning, but instead from her caldron (i.e. womb) she gave birth to three baby gods.  Nice story, but this is NOT why this place is called "Caldron of Eight Islands."  Basho is having some fun with us us, while he brings our attention to one of his favored themes: the faithfulness of women and goddesses. (See Women with Goddess.)  In the 20th century, this shrine in Tochigi built itself a pond with eight islands, so the hordes of tourists would have something to see and take pictures of; everyone assumes the islands have some connection with Basho, although they have none at all. 

 

                   ------------------------------------------- 

 

On the last day of the Third Moon we stay
at the foot of Mount Nikko. The innkeeper says,
“My name is Buddha Gozaemon. People call me this
because I maintain honesty in all matters.
You may for one night cast yourselves down
on this pillow of weeds and rest.”

 

Most of us, as we grow up, begin to deceive people with a façade. This innkeeper is one who does not. He simply is himself, never realizing that to compare himself to the Buddha, even if he is only repeating what others say about him, is socially unacceptable and makes him look foolish. Because he actually is as honest as he says, he gets away with it.

 

Now what sort of Buddha would arise from this corrupt dirty world to help beggars in monk’s robes on a pilgrimage?
I stop my thoughts to watch this innkeeper and find him to be
without cleverness or discrimination, a stubbornly honest man,
an example of what Confucius called,
“the virtue of fortitude and rugged honesty,”
a hereditary character of utmost praise.

 

Basho identifies a genetic quality in this innkeeper, a quality of honesty and goodness that is inherited, that quality Confucius saw in his idealizaton of a superior man or "gentleman." 

 

From the inn, Basho and Sora go to visit the Toshogu Shrine at Nikko which enshrines the spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who from 1603 established the national peace and social harmony in which common people can afford to be honest and kind. Western scholars tell us the Tokugawas were cruel and capricious dictators, but Basho, who actually lived in these times, says different. Basho the Anthropologist.

 

His Honorable Light now shines everywhere under Heaven
and benefits overflow to the Eight Corners of the Land,
so in the lives of the four classes of citizens
there is reassurance and calm.

 

The four classes of citizens are samurai, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants.   Since a man's career is decided by his birth, he spends no time searching for a career or struggling to decide what to do, 

so there is "reassurance and calm."  

 

In a place called Kurobane on the Nasu plateau
lives an acquaintance of mine
so we set off across the plain,
taking the straightest course we can
towards a village visible in the distance,
but it begins to rain and grow dark
so we spend the night in a farmhouse.                                                              
As light comes we again set off through the fields.
A horse has been left out to pasture.
Our sighs reach a man cutting weeds,
a husband of the fields, but not unkind,
and he says, “How can I help?
You know, these fields divide one way and another,
and travelers new to the area may find it difficult
to stay on the path. I’m worried,
so you take this horse and where he stops let him return,”
he said, as he loaned us the horse.

 

This “husband of the fields” seems content with his life. When two strangers come wandering through his fields, he stops working to chat with them, and is even willing to loan them his horse with no guarantee that it will be returned.  The kindness and consideration Basho puts into his speech is an expression of the "honorable light shining everywhere under heaven" thanks to Tokugawa Ieyasu.  

 

Two little ones follow in the footsteps of the horse,
one a tiny princess who says her name is Kasane,
an unfamiliar name but a gentle one.

 

We see this is a Time of Peace; small children are not afraid of strangers – and also, Dad was doing childcare while farming. Kasane is fortunate to have a father like this.  Basho's feeling for this little girl remains with him, and a year later, when someone asks him to name their newborn daughter, he named her Kasane. To see the consciousness that sprouted in Basho's mind from the name Kasane - which means in space "to pile up in layers" and in time "to reoccur again and again" - see C-14 Blessings Unto Kasane.

 

The kindness of father together with the openness of daughter combine to form an image of peaceful village life - and we note how unusual this is, for many Western books say village life at this time was “constant humiliation and back-breaking toil…”  Historian Susan Hanley and Agricultural history expert Sato Tsuneo and the other authors in Tokugawa Japan paint a much happier picture: villagers cooperating for the prosperity of all, peasants in Japan at least as well off as peasants anywhere in the world at this time.

 

                      ------------------------------------------

 

When Basho moved into a hut in Furukawa (now Koto-ku, Tokyo) in the winter of 1680, the Zen priest Butcho was staying a few minutes walk away.  Basho apparently went to Butcho's place to meditate and study with the priest, although there is no evidence that Basho committed himself to Zen Buddhism now or at any time in his life. (See E-5 FRIENDS IN ZEN). Butcho returned to his home in Chiba in the summer of 1682, but Basho held onto respect for the Priest; in 1689, on the journey to the Deep North, he went to visit the ruins of a hermitage where Butcho stayed and meditated years before: 

 

To see the traces of Butcho's hermitage 
we lean on our staffs and people proceed to come along,
most of them young - so the road becomes boisterous
until without noticing it we reach the foothills . . .

 

Basho portrays human interaction, being with young people so vigorous and high-spirited that he forgets where he is. Later on in this passage, Basho talks about ancient Chinese Zen monks, but I instead highlight his captivation with  these ordinary young people so alive and energetic he forgets where he is.

 

                              -----------------------------------

 

From here we go to the Lifekiller Stone.
The custodian of the castle sends us by horse.
The man leading my horse says,
“Might I receive a vertical poetry cord?”

 

Since ancient times, tanka have been written on rectangular cards. For the shorter haiku, slender vertical cards have come into use. The man’s request shows an awareness of developments in contemporary poetry and of Basho’s role in them, an awareness Basho is pleased to find out here in the boondocks. Nakane Chie notes that, “in China and Korea scholarship was a prerequisite of the upper-class group” but in Tokugawa Japan “the people were stimulated to develop a vigorous popular culture.” So Basho is showing us that in his time literacy and even knowledge of poetry reached the peasants.

 

The Lifekiller Stone lies where a mineral spring
emerges from underneath the mountain.

 

Lady Tamamo was a courtesan of a 12th century Emperor:

 

“Her body mysteriously always smelled wonderful, and her clothes never became wrinkled or dirty. Tamamo was not only beautiful, but also infinitely knowledgeable in all subjects. Although she appeared to be only 20 years old, there was no question she could not answer. Because of her beauty and intelligence everyone at court adored her and the Emperor fell desperately in love with her.”

 

But then the Emperor became ill. An astrologer discovered Tamamo was actually a witch-fox in human disguise who had seduced the Emperor in a devious plot to take the throne. Suddenly she disappeared from court. Warriors tracked and killed the fox who turned into an enormous stone that killed anything that touched it – until a hundred years later a Chinese priest exorcised Tamamo’s evil spirit.

 

Does this story sound ‘for real’? Probably not. That’s the point. When we hear an old story about a woman found to be a witch, we can be pretty sure the story has gone through many tellers – invariably men – who have embellished it for their own purposes. A “witch” usually turns out to be an intelligent woman who wanted to decide her own life, which so irritated the local men that they declared her a witch and killed her. History tells the story from the men’s point of view. It sounds like someone very powerful got very envious of Tamamo. Who was the real woman behind this legend? Can we ever know her story as she would have told it?


The Stone’s poisonous vapors have yet to seep away,
and bees and moths of many sorts died and piled up
till the true color of the sand cannot be seen.

 

The lies and half-truths glued together by malice and sexism have died and piled up till the true color of a woman cannot be seen. 

 

                    -------------------------------------------------

 

Women and girls centuries ago in a village in Fukushima produced the famous mottled Shinobu-zuri pattern by rubbing dye on two-layer silk on a certain rock with an intricate checkered surface. Basho and Sora came here to search for the stone. 

 

Children from the village come by and tell us,
“A long time ago the stone was on top of the hill,
but people coming and going so tore up the barley
to try their hand at rubbing,
that the farmers got real mad at the experiment
and rolled the stone down here where it fell face down.”
Well, that sounds like it could have happened.

 

Basho and Sora came here hoping maybe to see some ‘traces’ of the ancient cloth dyeing -- but all they could find was some old rock half-buried in the ground. Their young informants explained, in their rustic northern dialect, in that breathless way children tell stories, that hordes of sightseers tore up the surrounding barley fields to rub on the rock and see if they could get some color (huh?) that the farmers, annoyed with the damage to their fields, eliminated the tourist attraction altogether.

 

Basho uses dialogue to convey the character of people: the words of the farmer who loaned them his horse reveal the kindness and consideration of this village man; the words of the man pulling their horse show his knowledge of poetry. These children at Shinobu managed to tell a complicated story  so this strange old guy from who knows where could understand. Basho is showing us that children in these days, even out in the boonies, were bright and lively and communicated well. He always sees the positive in humanity.

 

                      -------------------------------------

 

The two Sato brothers died defending the great hero Yoshitsune from his enemies.

 

Nearby, in an old temple, remain the tombstones of one family.
Among them, the stones marked for the wives of two brothers
are especially pathetic.

 

Basho pays attention not to the male warriors, but rather to their wives:


Although they were women,
the fame of their heroic bravery
is heard with awe in the world,
so we shed tears on our sleeves.

 

Basho says these women were kaigaishii, a word usually used for men, meaning 'gallant, heroic, brave, hard-working' - but instead of writing it in the four Chinese characters for this word, he writes in hiragana, which makes the reader have to pause to think about the meaning. History and literature remember the men while women (aside from romance) are forgotten, however Basho honors these two widows for going on through the lonely years doing the best they could for their children and household.  Only Basho would consider this as being as gallant and heroic as were their husbands who died in ferocious battles. 

 

Where else in world literature does any male author honor women this way? 

Penelope in the Odyssey resists the suitors for years until her husband finally came home to wipe them out. 

Emilia in Othello stands up against Iago to tell the truth in her magnificant display of moral courage. These are the women we should listen to and study.  Basho tells of the Lady Gio who fought against the dictator Kiyomori in the renku STORM OVER NINOMIYA in L-17 WOMEN IN BUDDHISM. In B-13  EMPOWERING WOMEN are six more verses of women being heroically brave. 

                     ------------------------------------------

 

We stayed at a hot spring. After taking a bath, we find lodgings,
a poor miserable hut with thin straw mats on a dirt floor.
Having no lantern, we lie down by light from the sunken hearth.
As night deepens, rain falls continuously, thunder roars,
the roof leaks on us, and fleas and mosquitoes bite us;
with sleep impossible, even my chronic disease acted up,
until I nearly fainted.

 

Verbs everywhere.  

 

                   ---------------------------------------

 

Later on, Basho and Sora find a stone marker for an ancient castle now in ruins:

 

Mountains crumble, rivers flow, roads renewed,
stones buried and hidden in the earth,
trees growing old and replaced by young trees,
Time passes and eras change,
so traces of them cannot be confirmed.
Here, without a doubt, is a memorial of a thousand years.
Now before my eyes, I examine the hearts of ancient people.
One virtue of travel, the joy of being alive.

 

Haruo Shirane says of this passage:

 

 Parallel syntax is combined with contrastive or corresponding words -

mountain and river, rocks and trees, old age and youth, travel and life,

to generate a folksong type of rhythm and a Chinese poetic pattern.

 

Basho accurately describes his way of thinking based on traditional Japanese thought, always focusing on connections to the past, which produced so many poems until now, 1689.  After this journey ends, however, Basho begins to reject this past-oriented thinking, to instead focus on NOW with his new poetic ideal, Lightness, a rejection of the old and heavy. 

 

                            -------------------------------------

 

Basho describes the beauty of Matsushima Bay, considered one of the three most beautiful scenes in Japan, with a parade of lively active verbs

 

Islands beyond count, towering like fingers to heaven
or lying flat on their bellies across the waves
some pile up in double layers or fold in triple,
branching right or stretching left,
some carry behind, some hug in front,
beloved children or grandchildren.

 

Basho sees the earth as female

 

The pines are deep green and so bent by the waves
their crookedness seeming to be inherent --
the scene as a beautiful women adorns her face.

 

 The earth, like a woman, adorns herself with green make-up. 

 

                               Giving birth to 
                               love in the world, she
                               adorns herself

 

                         ----------------------------------

 

The hero Yoshitsune, his wife and infant daughter, and sixteen retainers, died on a hilltop in Hiraizumi (Iwate-ken) 500 years before Basho came here

 

Yes, in this High Fortress,
Yoshitsune and his select retainers took refuge —
great achievements of the moment
to become clumps of wild grass.

 

                                    Summer grasses
                                    great warriors, the traces
                                    of their dreams

 

This haiku is discussed in Dreams of War / Light of Peace. This prose passage and the very famous haiku are the high point of Basho's journal.  Basho constructs his prose so many of the incidents up to here correspond to incidents that follow.  The incidents shortly before Hiraizumi correspond to those shortly; the ones long after correspond to those long before. They correspond both through similarity and trough contrast -- often like the link between two renku stanzas.  By exploring these similarities and contrasts, we learn how Basho's mind functions.  

 

                             -------------------------------------------

 

From Narugo Hot Springs we cross Babypee Barrier
into Dewa Province. This being a road few travelers use,
the gate keeper looks at us with suspicion,
but finally opens the gate.
We climb a long slope and as day is ending,
find a border guard’s hut and ask to stay the night.
For three days battered by wind and rain,
with nothing to do, on this mountain we abide.

 

Our host says “From here into Dewa
across high mountains the road is hard to distinguish,
so you better hire a guide. “Okay,” I reply.
We ask around and find a superb young man.
Wearing a curved sword and carrying a staff of oak
he strides before us.

 

This young hunk in his youthful vigor practically strides from the page with his “superb” body, sword, and staff.  His young right-now-living power contrasts with the only-a-dream power of the heroes who died on the hilltop centuries ago. 

 

“Uh oh, today something is going to happen,”
is my bitter thought as we come behind. Just as our guide said,
the mountains so thickly forested not one bird sings,
dark as night under the trees. . .
pushing through clumps of bamboo grass,
wading streams, stumbling across boulders,
our bodies bathed in cold sweat,
eventually we reached a village on the Mogami River.      
Our guide tells us,
“On this road there’s always trouble.
I am happy I was able to see you here safely,”
and so joyfully we part.
Still to hear these words makes my chest throb.

 

What a nice young man! strong, helpful, polite to old people. He could use his strength to bully, but instead he uses it to help people, and this makes him happy. He too is a product of the Pax Tokugawa.

 

                          ---------------------------------

 

For the Cove of Kisa drenched by rain so common on this gloomy coast facing Siberia, Basho envisions the tragic beauty of Lady Seishi, one of the Four Great Beauties of Ancient China, born in 506 BCE - 22 centuries before Basho - said to be most beautiful when frowning, and the men in her life gave her plenty to frown about.

 

Matsushima like laughter, Kisagata like a grudge;
Sadness added to loneliness to torment the soul of Earth.

 

The melancholy sadness of the Cove of Kisa and the Lady Seishi contrasts with the sunshine and sparkle  of Matsushima and the woman who adorns herself. 

 

                           ------------------------------------------------

According to the journal, at the provincial barrier gate at Ichiburi, west of Niigata City:


As I pull in my pillow to go to sleep,
from the next room to the front
I hear two young female voices.
An older man joins in and from their conversation
it seems they are play-women from Niigata
on a pilgrimage to the Ise Shrine.

 

Contrary to male scholars' assumptions, these women are not traveling prostitutes in elegant kimono; they are indentured to a brothel in Niigata, but do not take this occupation on a pilgrimage. Only as pilgrims, in pilgrim’s robes, without much luggage, would they be allowed to pass the provincial barrier gates. 

An extensive discussion of this passage apears in C-6  Play Women from Niigata

 

The man came as far as this barrier

to see them off and will return tomorrow
so while writing letters for him to take back
they speak of this fleeting existence:

“As white waves strike the shore drifting along,
in the world of prostitution reduced to misery,
our vows inconstant,
how did our everyday karma become so wretched?”
these words I hear as I enter sleep.

 

The play-women’s lament expresses the misery of all women enslaved to the sex trade: the degrading pretense of sex without vow of fidelity. The speaker claims no understanding of karma—since no human can actually know what is destiny and what is the result of personal choice or the actions of others—but she wonders—as every woman trapped in sexual slavery must wonder — how could her life which began with her family could have turned out this way?  For more on the lives of "play-women," see  W-20 Brothel Slavery.

 

The next morning as we start out, they approach.
“The safe way unknown, road we travel is gloomy,
the uncertainty makes us sad…
May we follow in your esteemed footsteps,                                      appearing and disappearing?
By your robes, we see your holiness.
Would you share the Blessings of the Compassionate One
and tie the bond that brings us into Buddhism?”
they ask with tears falling.

 

With pity for them, I reply,
“we must visit too many places. Just follow the way people go.
Certainly you will be under the Gods’ protection.”
So we abandoned them, the pathos unceasing.

 

 Sora wrote a completely factual diary of this journey, and although he mentions them being at Ichiburi, he says nothing about any play-women.  Some scholars take this as evidence that Basho made up this story to add to his journey - however it is also possibie that he heard their voices through the wall while Sora was already asleep, but the account of meeting them in the morning is fictional. 

 

Whether Basho actually encountered these play-women, or invented his account, he focuses on their inner strength to endure hardship and misery; thus they contrast with the two widows of the Sato brothers who Basho praised for their "sturdy diligence."  Each woman in both pairs has a source of strength no single woman has: solidarity.  

 

“For if one should fall, the other shall lift up her companion.
But woe to her who is alone when she falls
and has not another to lift her up.”
                                                             Ecclesiastics 4:10
                                 -----------------------------------------

 

At a place where Basho and Sora can either stay on the main road to Kanazawa or take a side trip to see a place famous in an old poem, a local advises them:

 

“From here it’s about a 12 mile walk along the shore,
in the shadow of that mountain.
There’s only a few squalid fishermen’s huts
and no one will give you a place to stay.”
So we continued on the road to Kanazawa.

 

This incident is in contrast to the squalid huts where they did stay at an hot spring. 

 

                ----------------------------------------------

 

Sora has taken ill in the intestines and since
he has relatives in Ise, at Nakashima, he rides on ahead.
The sadness of one leaving, the anguish of one staying,
like wild ducks parting to lose their way in the clouds...

 

The next night I stay as a pilgrim in the temple Zenshoji…
Sora stayed here last night. He left this verse for me.

 

All night long
hearing the autumn wind
from hills in back

 

I too listen to autumn wind, lying in the monks’ quarters,
with the approach of dawn clear voices chanting sutras,
then to the sound of a gong we enter the dining hall.

 

Basho uses sound sensations to convey the feeling of a Zen temple in the early morning - however note that he remained in bed (on a futon) to hear the monks chanting through the walls; he did not get up to attend the service - so we see his lack of commitment to Zen self-discipline. 

 

Today in a hurry to reach Echizen,
as I step down from the temple…
several young monks holding paper and ink stones
pursue me to the stairway.

 

As Basho steps down the temple stairs to the ground, the young monks “pursue” him (another active lively verb) eager to get a poem from Basho poem (in our time, it would be a selfie). He focuses on the vigor and enthusiasm of these young, bald headed men.  They are in contrast to the young joyful folks who accompanied Basho to the traces of a Zen priest's hermitage in Tochigi. 

 

                  -----------------------------------------

 

There being only three leagues to Fukui,
after supper I set forth, faltering on the twilight road.
Here once lived an old hermit named Tosai.
In what year did he came to visit me in Edo?

 

More than ten years ago it was.
I wonder how old he has become or if is he not dead?
When I ask someone, he tells me.
“Oh, he’s still alive. Over that way,”
Enticed into a hidden corner of town,
I find a dubious shack grown over with clinging vines
and gourds, cockscomb and broom trees blocking the door.

 

Many times in renku, Basho leaps from a scene of nature to an image of a person;

this is what he does here:

 

“Yeah, in here, for sure.”
When I knock on the gate a forlorn old lady emerges.
“From where hast thou come, pious monk, on thy pilgrimage?
The master hath gone to visit someone in the neighborhood.
If thou hast business, call on him there.”
I figure this must be his wife; as in that tale of long ago.

 

"That tale long ago" is, of course, the Tale of Genji, which contains so many women that it ought to be called The Tale of Genji's Women.  This old woman near the end of Basho's journal, so full of kindness and consideration, corresponds to the lovely little girl Kasane near the beginning.

 

Eventually I find Tosai and stay there for two nights.
When I travel on to see the moon over Tsuruga Harbor,
he comes along, his kimono skirt tucked up in a funny way,
my high-spirited guide to the road.

 

Tosai correspoonds to Kasane's father. Each man breaks up the stereotype for men in the era. 

Kasane's father by being kind and thoughtful; Tosai by tucking his kimono up in unusual way. 

                    --------------------------------------

 

By morning the sky has cleared, and I am taken by boat
to Iro Beach to gather small colored shells.
It is seven leagues across the bay,
but a man named Tenya, with greatest care,
has provided box lunches and bamboo sake flasks,
and put many servants on the boat,
so in the time it takes the wind to pass, we arrive.

 

Tenya operates a tour boat business, so here he provides his usual service to Basho for free.  

He is the contrast to the innkeeper Gozaemon. 

 

On the beach are just a few fishing huts
and a small desolate temple of the Hokke sect.
Here drinking tea and warming sake,
we endure the lonely twilight feeling.

 

                    ------------------------------------

 

Rotsu came up to this bay and accompanied me to Mino.
Rescued by a horse, I entered Ogaki town.
Sora from Ise came to meet me,
and Etsujin made his horse fly here.
We all gathered in Joko’s house.
 Zenzenshi, Keiko father and sons, and more,
 day and night came to visit,
as if meeting was a resurrection,
 all the more joyful, all the more caring.

 

Basho pours on the humanity, filling the cup to the brim with humanity, and this passage at the end of the journal correspons  to the "beloved friends" who rode with Basho and Sora on the boat to Senju at the beginning. 

 

With only four words in Japanese, Basho conveys his ideal for humanity 

 

               “all the more joyful, all the more caring”
         且よろこび、且いたはる    katsu yorokobi, katsu itawaru

 

And Basho applies these words to Sampu who allowed Basho to sleep the first night of this journey in his tea cottage. We recall all the various joyful and caring people Basho met on this journey: Sora, the innkeeper Gozaemon, the farmer and his daughter at Kurobane, the horse guide, the young folks on the road to Uganji, the children at Shinobu, the young hunk who guided them through the mountains of Dewa,  the villager who advised them to stay on the road to Kanazawa, the wife of Tosai and Tosui himself, Tenya, and finally Rotsu, Sora, Etsujin, and the rest. So we say Basho is the poet of joyful, caring humanity. 

 


basho4now@gmail.com

 






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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...
• What Children Do: Basho Honors the Young
• 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
• Women in Basho
• 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