17 outstanding Basho love and sex poems with originals in Japanese and romanized so, if you know Japanese, note that the original is just as romantic and sensual as is the translation.
Google “Basho” and “love” and (aside from my own works) and you find expressions of Basho’s love for nature or for poetry -- not the sort of love Romeo and Juliet experienced. Google “Basho” and “sex” to find Basho haiku about “cats in love” and about flowers and bees suggesting sex, however to discover Basho’s visions of humans making the beast with two backs, we must look beyond the Basho verses known to the Western world. Basho did write a few haiku on romantic love, but these are somehow not so interesting. To experience his vision of lovers in love as well as doing the deed, we must look into his renku or linked verse composed by a team of poets, each writing a stanza somehow linked to the one before. In Basho’s stanzas, we find much in the way of romance, passion, and physical sensuality.
A single renku stanza, without the baggage of the previous stanza or the very different baggage of the following stanza, can apply to a wide range of circumstances: For instance, this stanza by Basho:
Lying in bed beside him, carefully maneuvering her arm under his head without waking him, gazing at his face attentive to any signs of waking, such is her delicacy, her devotion to touching him and moving around him with a fineness and sensitivity. EASING IN, by itself, can portray a woman with her lover, but we can also see a mother lying with her beloved child – and the verse is especially poignant if the child is sick or injured. We can use Basho’s words as tools to reach inside our own hearts.
Higashi Akimasa in his book 芭蕉の愛句, Basho no Aiku, The Love Poetry of Basho, notes the sensuality in this stanza comes not from the words about the body – “her slender forearm” – but rather from the unspoken suggestion of “the form of woman’s body in the bedroom.” Higashi says
This is a truly sensual love-stanza. Looking back over the history of Japanese tanka and renku, so daring a love verse is unusual, however should we not be a little surprised that the author was Basho said to be a paragon of wabi and sabi?”
Makota ni kannouteki na aiku de aru. Nihon no waka, renga no rekishi o sakanobotte mo, kore dake daitan ni yonde iru aiku wa mezurashii shi, shikamo sono sakusha, “wabi,” “sabi” no gongeno you ni iwarete iru Bashou de aru dake ni chotto odoroki de wa nakarou ka.
Higashi does not answer his rhetorical question, however I will. The notion that Basho is a “paragon of wabi and sabi” is an illusion,based on a narrow selection of impersonal and lonely haiku. Once we broaden our selection to include his linked verses, we find him to be a paragon of romance, passion, and physical sensuality.
Basho’s stanza together with the stanza that spawned it has more limited and specific meanings. In the stanza-pair on the next page, Sora portrays the rivalries among court ladies at the Imperial Palace – as in The Tale of Genji where a young woman, Kiritusbo,“summoned” by the Emperor, becomes his favorite and bears him a son, the “Shining Prince” Genji. Other court ladies, led by his senior consort, spread rumors about Kiritsubo; being women themselves, they know exactly how to shame a young woman, and she eventually sickens and dies.
Basho, however, aims for life, not death. In spite of the gossip about her and the shame it brings her, the woman in EASING IN manages to love the Emperor with all the gentleness in her heart. Basho’s stanza coming from Sora’s empowers women to overcome bullying and shame by concentrating on their feminine power both delicate and sensual.
Walking together in town, the lovers are surprised to see, and be seen by, “the boss”. He is cool and does not say a word, but her heart shrinks with haji -- shyness, bashfulness, embarrassment. She wonders what he is thinking: does he imagine her naked and doing IT, does he condemn her for having sex without marriage? She clutches the handle to make the umbrella cover as much as possible without any movements that might attract the boss’s attention.
The first stanza is the “interesting” one, and Basho’s a cliché seen in many films. (The first kiss in Japanese film occurred in a 1946 movie A Certain Night’s Kiss, behind an open umbrella, causing great controversy.) That cliché in FIGURES HALF HIDDEN perfectly complements and completes the human story in THE BOSS PRETENDS.
Miyawaki Masahiko, in 芭蕉人情句、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."
Koi o shirareta shuuchi o kore hodo migoto ni kakidashita
tsukeku mo nai darou.
Miyawaki’s comment carries this stanza-pair deep into the diverse realms of anthropology. Japan is said to be a “shame culture” rather than the “guilt cultures” of the Judeo-Christian world. Miyawaki is Japanese and writes about Japanese people, in particular Japanese women, but what about us, people in all sorts of different cultures, with different perceptual realities of love, young or old, married or unmarried, do we, or did we long ago, feel “shame” (or embarrassment or whatever we callit) when together with a sexual partner we are seen by an authority figure who gets the picture.
December 22nd, the Sun at its most distant point from us, his heart so distant from mine, how my desperation increases. Placing the scene on a porch attached to the house gives us a background to imagine. Basho continues the focus on the female with concrete and specific female activities. She uses all her skill with cosmetics and clothing, and looks at him with all the charm she can muster, yet he does not return her gaze.
Love starts out simple but somehow becomes “intense.” Basho’s stanza makes the most sense if this is a teenage girl. “Although the turmoil of young love takes away all my appetite, mother insists I eat, to build up my slender body. Why can’t she understand that I cannot eat while this turmoil rages within me? Mother, stop bugging me!” History books never tell us about mother-daughter conflicts, so we look to Basho for information. 300 years ago or today, the daughter thinking of love, but mother of nutrition, so no meeting of minds. May this stanza-pair be a lens through which mothers and daughters will see the other’s point of view.
Irises in clothing in storage keep away bugs, but her thoughts here are more romantic. This is the robe she wore when she was with him. San is, in Japan, the name of a town girl rather than one from a village. She has a bit of sophistication; she is not covered with rice-planting mud. Mono omo, is literally “thoughts of things” but is an idiom for love or love’s desire. The flower tucked away between the folds may be erotic, if you wish it so. Basho focuses on the female. Providing her with a name gives her an identity, with no male presence anywhere in the pair; he is only there in her memory. In the link is the teenage girl’s experience of first love.
Uma ni denu hi ha / uchi de koi suru
A servant girl chops dried vegetable leaves to serve on top of rice, but her mind is “elsewhere” Where is that? Basho answers: with her lover who is a packhorse driver. She wishes for a day they can both have off, so they can hang together. She wishes for not greens on top of mounds of soft white rice, and him on the horse, but him on top of her soft flesh; She wants him “inside making love,” inside a house, instead of out on the field where they usually make out, but also inside her. The thread seller collects thread spun by girls as piece-work, and goes around door-to-door selling it. Apparently he showed up later than expected and spied on the lovers, but made a sound which did belong so they noticed. “Coming” has the usual double meaning, one meaning for the thread seller, one for the lovers.
Uchi-yagamu /matsu ni mo nitaru/ koi o shite
Pines prefer soft loose soil, so grow well on seashores. The ‘rock’ is his heart -- one minute clear and trustworthy, the next minute hidden and unreliable. The turmoil in my heart as he keeps on changing signals is what the pines close to the sea endure during storms. This Basho is so passionate!
Basho asks a question of a woman who drank herbs to induce abortion. In a famous tanka by Ki no Tsurayuki, “young pines” evoke the memories of a child who has died. How long will the spirit of the child never born remain within you? Issun sends Basho’s question to a servant girl, adding a bit of yet deepening the secrecy. Basho then asks her another personal and intimate question: “Will you yield to the hormones urging you to produce more life?
Money getting tight, after tonight he cannot afford to rent a woman in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters. He realizes that the connection of his penis to a courtesan’s womb resembles the connection he had with his mother. When his opportunity to reconnect with a womb-an ends, he recalls the moment his navel cord was cut. To see Basho thinking of, comparing, exploring the penis and umbilicus disposes any notion that he was impersonal or detached or non-sexual.
He has enjoyed her body and spirit until midnight when a taiko, or great drum, sounds telling men who cannot stay the night they must leave the walled quarters. Parting from this woman he feels like being born, hearing for the first time sounds of the world unmuffled by the womb, a sound like thunder which he resents.
As her lover leaves to go out into the pouring rain, she stops his hands from pulling on his boots. "Stay, stay, stay – just a little bit longer.” Basho replies with a focus on her delicacy and fascination which make men feel protective and want to stay with her.
The human situation and a bit of slapstick comedy; she has to get him away from her house before dawn so no neighbors will see him. She has the lantern but stumbles about in the dark searching for the bamboo flask of oil. (The futons lie on the tatami, so there is no difference in height.) Then she steps on his boil, which is excruciatingly painful for him. In his nightrobe he screams “Owww!” while she frantically struggles to apologize. The minutes pass by and the sky lightens. When finally he leaves, they do not feel so comfortable with each other.
I offer you two possible translations of the first stanza:
Wiping the sweat from
Wiping the sweat from
sidelocks in disarray
Top: a romantic scene, as in the Tale of Genji where perfumed aristocratic men sneak into a lady’s bedroom for secret sex. Osoroshii translates to “afraid,” however Shoko says that from a
Japanese viewpoint, the woman is not “afraid of him” – in the Tale of Genji when a man “rapes” a woman he forces himself on her, however always without assault or injury to her body – so the
speaker in this translation has no fear of him physically hurting her. Shoko –a native Japanese woman and Instructor in Japanese language – explains that what this Japanese woman fears are the
consequences in family and society of this romance becoming known. In English we call this “worrying.”
Bottom: Another reality where men are not washed and perfumed, and more violent in sex. As he enters the room, she recognizes his putrid odor, recalling other times he has used her. She does not get up to greet him; rather she cowers on the futon, steeling herself for what is to come. Feel the ominous approach of this man she fears.
Whether we accept the romantic vision or the fearful one, Basho followed with his stanza about female activity with long straight hair.In between the two stanzas is the activity and sweat and sound of sex (or rape?) in the hot moist Japanese summer without air conditioning, sex aggressive enough to mess up her hair (and the rest of her). She sits on the futon, neither screaming nor weeping, but rather sliding her fingers down the hair beside her face to wipe off sweat and straighten the strands -- drawing power from her hair to recover from her ordeal. He is gross and cruel, while she is sensitive and dignified. She is stronger than he is: she has more endurance.
Apparently she has love remaining for a man married to another. She forbids herself access to her inkstone for fear she will lose control and write a letter to him, revealing her secret. She holds
back her desire which gathers like water against a dam. Basho switches to the heavy constant rain that falls in the Japanese night. She sits at the window – which, because this is Basho4Now, we are
free to imagine with glass -- and stares into the darkness and rain. Somewhere in those primeval phenomena, she finds consolation.
From the 17th century, at the Sanjusangendo in Kyoto, samurai competed to in a 24-hour period shoot the most arrows 120 meters to hit the target. A samuraii has given up his responsibilities and spends his days with a play-woman who “floats along” – doing no real work (according to men’s idea of work), just riding the waves of sexual desire and fulfillment. All his manhood poured into her has left him unable to shoot thousands of arrows in 24 hours. He who discharges too many of one sort of arrow cannot shoot so many of the other sort.
Doorway curtains are often seen in Japan today in the entrance to a shop or restaurant; you walk through the vertical slit between two side flaps. Here the curtain is in the doorway to a brothel.
Yes, sex does lead men into some pretty miserable “pools.” We see their drowned, waterlogged faces through the flaps of doorway curtain (like in the Lord of the Rings films, the faces in the Dead Marshes)
When we see the foundation of a house washed away by a tidal wave or typhoon with all the possessions of a family, we exclaim, “how weak and vulnerable is man against the forces of nature!” Dojo loach are slender eel-like fish, bottom-feeding scavengers, with some unique strengths: they can stay alive in poor-quality water, or cold water, or even periods of no water. Dojo loach are survivors, and soup made from then is considered an aphrodisiac. So old man, forget about that house washed away, have some dojo loach soup and be strong, strong in the loins, stronger than nature and time. Yeah, sure.
Not only in sex, but in every aspect of life, those on top stay on top – having fun and sex and leisure --
while those on bottom remain there for life.