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  >  Praise for Women  >  B-20


Shonagon to Basho



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

One thousand years ago, two women in Kyoto  – Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon – produced two of the greatest works of world literature, The Tale of Genji and the Pillow Book. In this article are  female-centered passages from the latter – some translated by Ivan Morris, some by myself -- along with similar visions from Basho nearly seven centuries later.


We begin with a conversation in which Basho tells a young follower to search for a “new approach to the heart” of Sei Shonagon. This is what I try to do with regard to seven topics:

Daybreak

Hulling rice

Hair before eyes

Pain

Hase Temple

Sex and respect for women

Woman divers

 

(Passages from the Pillow Book about children appear in article C-18 KIDS IN JAPANESE LITERATURE BEFORE BASHO.)

 

Otokuni – Chigetsu’s younger brother who she and her husband adopted to be their “son” -- tells the following story:


One night Old Man Basho and his followers
were gathered in the hut.
Discussing elegance, one person spoke out,

 

"I have read some ancient works in bits and pieces,
but never really explored Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book.
I do feel attracted to it."

 

 

Hearing this, Basho said,

 

Well, if exploring it becomes important to you,
I hope you will find a NEW approach to her heart

 

汝こころみん事を切に思はば其心にて新たに趣向あらまほしき.
Nanji kokoromin koto o setsu ni omowaba
sono kokoro nite arata ni shukou arama-hoshiki.

 

Basho responds that although the Pillow Book is ancient, you young people can discover a fresh, novel, youthful way to explore it. He separates from the old-man scholars who insist that we follow their

approach which they have perfected for decades before we wereborn. He says it is okay for us today to interpret a poem in a way the scholars, or even the author, never conceived. Okay to take the ball and run with it. The sentence is a good description of the purpose of Basho4Humanity: to find a fresh, new, and youthful path to the heart of ancient Basho.

 

Shonagon opens her Pillow Book with these words which are among the most famous in Japanese literature:


In spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful.
As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed
a faint red and wisps of purplish cloud trail over them

 

Basho, seven hundred years later, writes a descendant of her passage:

 

Daybreak…
the sky still purple
ho toto GI su

 

曙は / まだむらさきに / ほととぎす
Akebono wa / mada murasaki ni / hototogisu

 

The little cuckoo’s bright five-note call -- a three note trill on one pitch followed by a rise in pitch then the final trailing off. Ho toto GI su. The initial ‘ho’ calls our attention, then the two fast half-beats to-to lead to the intensity of GI and the su into silence -- announces the summer. The bird sounds breathless, as if striving to produce the five notes with utmost beauty. Basho says that Shonagon’s spring moment is still glorious on the first morning of summer, the season of the hototogisu. The haiku seems simple with

so few words, yet Basho has brought together Shonagon’s vision of the grandeur of daybreak, the color purple, and that inspiring bird call: Ho toto GI su

 

Shonagon and other court ladies went on an excursion to the countryside where she observed women hulling rice on a “machine,” an upper mortar rotated on a lower mortar, with rice grains between, rotated by two workers pulling a long pole:


...young women low-class but not dirty and the daughters
from a neighbor’s house; five or six of them threshed the rice,
and two pulled at a machine I had never seen before,
singing a song so strange we all laughed

 

Basho’s woman follower Chine on a journey, each night at a different inn, observed women hulling rice:


In a house across the way, young and old women
gather to hull rice while singing until late night,
with the door open, we hear them.

 

At each lodging
the rice-hulling songs
are different

 

Basho wrote:

 

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

 

After hours of exertion, the child takes a brief rest. Gazing at the bright moon may provide a momentary escape from Earth and the labor of a tired body.

 

Here is a lovely sketch of humanity from the Pillow Book and a somewhat similar portrait by Basho.


“A girl whose hair has been cut to shoulder length:
the hair falls before her eyes but instead of brushing it
back, she holds her head to one side to look at something.”

 

Wrapping rice cake
with one hand she tucks
hair behind ear

 

粽結う / 片手にはさむ / 額髪
Chimaki yuu / kata-te ni hasamu / hitai-gami

 

Rice cake is molded from sticky rice mochi or dough – however “wrapping rice cake” may symbolize any activity a woman or girl does with stuff she does want on her hair. Her long hair has come

loose from the band in back and fallen before her eyes. Her fingers and palms are covered with sticky residue. Without thinking or breaking her stride, she reaches up with the clean surface on the side

of her hand (above the thumb and forefinger) to tuck the hair behind her ear – with nothing getting on her hair. This is Basho’s Mona Lisa, his most graceful hidden woman.


Basho and Shonagon pay attention to and portray women: each have the delicacy and precision to draw such a moment out from the flow of everyday female life. Both Shonagon and Basho focus attention

on women’s hair.

 

Shonagon tells us of:

 

A girl of about eighteen with gorgeous hair
as long as she was tall flowing to her hem,
adorably plump with splendid white skin,
her face full of love and respect,
yet suffering from a terrible toothache,
her hair in front drenched from tears,
unaware of her hair’s disorder, she kept pressing her hand
against her flushed cheek, how charming.

 

Notice how Shonagon goes from “hair’s disorder” to a physical sensory image of hand pressing.

Basho and Yagi do the same in this renku stanza-pair:


Gradually
helped to sit up, she
combs her hair

Cat fondly caressed
by the one I adore

 

漸と / かきおこされて / 髪けづり
猫可愛がる / 人 ぞ 恋しき

 

Youyou to / kaki-okosarete / kami kezuri
Neko kawaigaru / hito zo koi shiki

 

Recovering from a long illness, with help she lifts herself to a sitting  position. As she runs the comb down the full length  of smooth black hair, she takes in its power. Then she caresses her adorable furry pet so kawaii! Watching her cuddle and pet this small living being, so soon after she was near death, makes me love her all the more.  The relationship between the two stanzas , from comb passing through long hair to hand through cat's fur, is deeply sensual.  

 

Here is another passage from Sei Shonagon about women, pain, and hair:

 

A young woman had a terrible pain in her chest.
Ladies in waiting, her friends, visited her one after another,                            while outside her room a crowd of young noblemen had come to inquire.           “How dreadfully sad!’ they exclaimed. ‘Has she suffered from this before?’
Their words were not from the depths of their hearts,
except for one man who sighed with deep distress
for he was her lover in secret, and glanced at her with reservations,
coming close but not too close, while he sighed,
interesting to watch. 
                                                               
Her beautiful long hair was pulled back and tied,
and saying she had to vomit, she sat up,
in such distress but very beautiful.

 

Shonagon combines images of woman's hair with images of her misery;  here is  another renku stanza-pair in which Basho writes about a woman's hair and the following poet adds misery. 

Until her hair grows back
she must hide her self

In the bitterness
of betrayal, squeezing out
milk to throw away

 

髪 はやす ま を /しのぶ 身 の ほど
偽りの / つらしと 乳を /しぼりすて

 

Kami hayasu ma o / shinobu mi no hodo
Itsuwari no / tsurashi chi o / shibori-sute

 

He seduced her with promises of love and devotion, but when she gave birth to a son, he took the boy to be his heir and abandoned her. With no place else to go, she entered a temple which takes in such women. She had to cut off her hair and stay in a cell. Only when her hair grows back can she can re-enter society. Her breasts still have milk which she has to squeeze out and throw away – while she recalls the baby that milk is produced for – such is the bitterness which fills her heart.

 

The Buddhist temple, Hase-dera in Sakurai (between Yoshino and Nara) founded in the year 686, has long been a place of pilgrimage for women who came here to pray to the famous Eleven-Faced Kannon, a 30-foot tall statue in relief of the Goddess of Mercy,carved from a single log of camphor, the largest wooden image in Japan. Shonagon tells of her experience here:


Visiting Hase Temple, settling in one area,
horrible commoners lining up behind,
so close together that their skirts get mixed, such a mess!                                      
Once my heart awakened, I came here,
terrified of the Hase River, I struggled up the log steps,
eager to worship the Buddha’s face, and hurried to an area,
but a bunch of bagworms, wearing horrible kimono,
were so distasteful, standing up, bowing deeply,
I just wanted to push them over.

 

Shonagon, the curmudgeon of a thousand years ago.

 

Basho writes of a very different experience at Hase Temple

 

Night in spring --
one hidden in mystery
temple corner

 

春の夜や こもりどゆかし 党の隅
haru no yo ya / komori do yukashi / tō no sumi

 

Finally, by the end of April in central Japan, enough warmth has accumulated so even the nights are warm and tranquil; it is a time for the heart to find solace and renew hope. Taking off our shoes at the entrance, we step quietly onto the finely polished hardwood floor. Before us rises Kannon-sama, five times our height, the compassion in her face and figure radiating to every corner of the temple. Over there, in a corner, someone barely seen in the faint lantern light sits in communion with the Goddess. Who is she? Why has she come here alone at night? What is she praying for? Women commonly pray to the Goddess of Mercy for love, to bear a child, for a child to succeed in school or life, or for relief from hardship. 


Age of the Gods unheard
love for a hundred coins

Bowing with respect
to that precious treasure,
the Pillow Book

 

 Because men listen not to the Gods, they purchase “love” from hookers. A “hundred coins” was about 2000

yen or 20 dollars today; a paltry fee to pay for a quickie at a roadside rest area. Basho would rather read the words of a woman divinely inspired. The Pillow Book is a collection of Shonagon’s opinions – and she

has an opinion about everything. Male chauvinists hate it when women express an opinion, so it is quite feminist for Basho to “bow with respect” to this book in particular. He says that reading the Pillow Book is better than sex.

 

Shonagon, Kikaku, and Basho each give us a portrait of the famous women shell divers who since antiquity have dived without equipment for the nutritious bounty of the sea:


After the woman has been lowered into the water, the men sit
comfortably in their boats, heartily singing songs as they keep
an eye on the mulberry bark cord that floats on the surface.
It is an interesting sight, for they do not show the slightest
concern about the risks the woman is taking. When finally
she wants to come up, she gives a tug on her cord and the men
haul her out of the water with a speed I can well understand.
Soon she is clinging to the side of the boat, her breath coming
in painful gasps.

                                                                                                         Shonagon

 

The ama of Ise dive to gather shellfish, leaving babies on the
boat with a man at the oars. When one at the bottom hears
her infant cry for milk, she rises to the surface and, still
gasping for breath, one hand holding on the side of the boat,
pushes her nipple forward to the child.

                                                                                                               Kikaku

 

Child of a woman diver
breastfeeds on the boat

                                                                                                                 Basho

 

For more on this see DIVING INTO HUMANITY: 

https://www.basho4humanity.com/topic-description.php?ID=1532275071

 

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com

 






<< Murasaki to Basho (B-19) (B-21 ) Diving into Humanity >>


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