Basho's haiku, renku, letters, and spoken word about Jirobei, his traveling companion on this final journey, about the two girls left home, and about children in general.
In 1694: Basho has various reasons for going on another journey west to Kansai: to visit his brother Hanzaemon and sister Oyoshi, and to hang out with old friends in his hometown, and in Kyoto and Zeze; to mediate the disputes occurring among his followers in Nagoya and Osaka. Also, Jutei is sick with the tuberculosis she picked up from her husband, Basho's nephew Toin, who died of it. She has no income yet three children dependent on her: They need a place where they can live for free. Basho lives alone in his three room “hut” although the boy Jirobei stays with him part-time and does light cooking. Basho would have let all five of them move in, but the place was not really big enough for an old man, sick widow, Masa believed to be about 13, Ofu 11, and an about 15 year-old boy who just lost his father. We imagine that the boy and his hormones were a bit difficult to live with at this time in a young girl’s life. The perfect solution was to take Jirobei with him and let the females have the place to themselves.
Every item in this chapter is chronological – as in real time – so as we read we travel with Basho and Jirobei through the final five months of Basho’s life. The article ends with Jirobei waving a bamboo pole at flies while Basho dies.
Sora accompanied Basho and Jirobei to Odawara where they spent the night of June 3rd. He climbed with them to the barrier gate at Hakone Pass (elevation 725 meters) then returned to Edo while Basho and Jirobei continued their journey west. Meanwhile Jutei and her daughters moved into Basho’s place. Here from a letter Basho sent to Sora on June 8th.
Basho nowhere tells us his grandnephew’s age. Evidence suggests that Jirobei was about 15, and in Basho’s description he sounds like a 15 year old boy, able to move about nimbly and quick, but without much endurance – until pushed by day-after-day of exertion to develop endurance (as in Japanese middle-school athletic clubs). Basho did something - observing teenagers and recording their behavior - that Homer did in the Odyssey with Telemachas (see c-19 KIDS IN WESTERN LITERATURE TILL SHAKESPEARE) and I am searching for any other author in olden times who did this.
Because the Oi River was flooding from heavy summer rains, they had to stay in Shimada for three days before they could cross. A month later on the journey, Basho sent another letter to Sora:
In 1688 at Suma Basho pushed an eleven-year-old to overcome his reluctance to climb a mountain. That boy, by “grabbing onto azalea bushes and bamboo grass roots” got to the top, and Basho called him a “priest of the road” (See C-12 PROSE AND LETTERS ABOUT CHILDREN)
but he only had to deal with Basho for one afternoon. Jirobei has to go on day after day, league after league, in the rain and wind.
“Thanks, Uncle!” People on one-way journeys rent the horse at one post-station, and leave it at another, so it has to be returned anyway. After another 60 miles down the road:
Basho has noticed something very important about children and even teenagers: that given the right input they develop as a whole being, transcending yesterday’s self. Given a few days of concentrated input, they change. In a few weeks of natural communication with local children, a “foreign” child will pick up their language and their accent. After just ten days of Basho’s Boot Camp (even with a three-day furlough) Jirobei discovered an energy no one knew he had. He changed from being a wimpy 15 year old to a robust young man, who can just walk and walk, carrying a backpack, without tiring. Basho’s ends this passage in his letter with a very beautiful antropological phrase:
Jirobei is getting his education on the road, talking non-stop with Japan’s greatest poet.
Kyorai tells how in Nagoya Basho defended his new style of Lightness against followers accustomed to more traditional poetry
Not what children say, or how children appear, but what children do (kodomo no suru koto). Children’s actions are whole – not split up by the conflicting parts of the adult self. Children see things invisible to an adult; lose a needle in the grass; ask a child to find it. Children can learn in minutes or days what adults cannot learn in months or years of practice. With their low ratio of body weight to surface area (their Lightness), flexible joints, and superlative sense of balance, they achieve what adults will not even attempt (skateboarding or ballet, for instance). Their small size allows them to take advantage of physical features and spaces adults do not notice. Basho would have agreed with George Nissen, who as a college student in 1934 invented the trampoline. Nissen said, to be creative:
You’ve got to watch kids. You learn from kids.
And sometimes you have to act like a kid.
A while ago we saw a farmer lead the horse away with a load of brushwood; now, sometime later, they return, the brushwood replaced by a barrel of sake for those who have worked together planting rice throughout the village. In a hidden space and time, that brushwood became a sake barrel.
At about eight months of age, a baby realizes that things happen outside his or her own perception. Before this powerful realization, babies do not notice anything special when someone or something goes into hiding then reappears. After the change (at Ensui’s grand-daughter’s age) they find it most amusing. For years the young child is fascinated by ‘peak-a-boo’ (Japanese inai inai baa). Basho, at age 50, still has that child-like appreciation for what disappears then reappears with a difference.
To not-get-tired of children, we need to be one with them, giving up the heavy complications of adulthood, having the playful spirit of a child. Adults who cannot do this, or refuse to try, get no blossoms.
Sampu owns a business so, like a modern shachō (company director), has a highly respected position in Japanese society. He financed the building of Basho’s three room “hut” in Fukagawa where Jutei stays with her two daughters. The mother is sick, so Masa and Ofu are in charge of the house. As we see below, two neighbors, Ihei and Basho’s cousin Torin, are keeping an eye on things. On July 13th from Zeze, Basho writes to Sampu:
We can learn so, so much about Japanese society here:
1) The importance of serving tea “properly” to a guest, especially a
2) the involvement of neighbors in caring for a family in need;
3) the ability of young teenage girls to rise up and get the job done
3) the concern about fire in a land of wooden houses;
4) Basho tells Sampu not to go to any trouble,
then tells him to go to the trouble.
On July 24, Basho wrote a letter to Ihei, his neighbor in Fukagawa:
Basho only mentions Ofu, not Masa, so it appears the younger girl suffers from 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. (Just imagine there is no air conditioning anywhere on Earth.) Also in her house work -- as in villages worldwide today – the young teenage girls breathe in wood smoke full of particles that lodge in their lungs (p 136) and cause “consumption” (tuberbulosis of the lungs) . Basho is worried about his grandniece’s delicate health.
On July 29th Basho receives a letter from Ihei telling of Jutei’s death. He responds the same day:
We have seen hints of why Jutei and her daughters were unhappy. I believe both Jutei and her husband Toin were fugitives from the law, or from her parents, constantly having to hide their identity, which must have severely limited their family’s opportunities for happiness. On page 116 we saw that Toin tended to “fall over” and “be negligent” and there was “discord between parent and child, brother and sister.”
When Basho received word that Jutei had died, he wanted Jirobei to return immediately to handle his mother’s affairs and see his sisters, but for two weeks none of Basho’s followers were available to escort the teenager the 300 miles to Edo. In a letter to Sampu, August 14, 1694, Basho writes:
Jirobei and his attendants traveled to Edo and back to rejoin Basho in Iga in September. So this summer and autumn Jirobei traveled more than 1200 miles, or 2000 kilometers, much of the way on foot. Teenagers can do anything. Basho, Jirobei, Shiko, and Izen left Iga to go to Nara and then Osaka. Here Basho wrote this haiku:
Basho in just six words creates an epic confrontation; the child poised in the center of the verse between two eternal forces: fear of the Unknown on one side and Clear Light on the other. The verse is a profound work of deep relevance to all children and all those who care for children In order for the verse to empower children, we focus on its expression of the clarity of the trustworthy and supportive attendant. As Basho approaches his own death and merging with the infinite, he offers children an attendant to walk along with on the road to knowledge, an attendant as clear and radiant as the Moon
On his death bed at a boarding house in Osaka, four days before the end, Basho chose two teenagers, his grandnephew Jirobei and an Osaka youth named Donshu, to attend him.
Shiko is not in the room and records what he hears through the wall: The stick of India ink being rubbed in the well of an ink stone, so Basho’s haiku is written down by a teenage boy.
“Fields” are land not used for rice or vegetables, but rather covered with grasses and wildflowers, the home of insects and birds. “Fields” may also be the body while dreams are the spirit which animates the flesh for a while and then passes on. In the spring and summer and autumn of life, dreams wander about fields bright in the sunshine and alive with birdsong. But then comes winter, time for dreams to wander off into eternity.
This famous haiku is the essence of sabi, that “medieval aesthetic of old age, loneliness, resignation, and tranquility” that scholars relish in Basho – although Basho himself preferred Lightness. Although Basho did in fact write one more verse (see next page) scholars have taken ON A JOURNEY TAKEN ILL to be Basho’s final wisdom. Higuchi Isao says the verse is: “a most fitting conclusion to the life of Basho, who pursued sabi all his life.” No! Basho did not pursue sabi all his life – and this was not his final poem.
Immediately after reciting ON A JOURNEY TAKEN ILL, Basho spoke to Shiko of what actually he pursued:
…as the years passed by to half a century
asleep I hovered among morning clouds and evening dusk,
awake I was astonished by the voices
of mountain streams and wild birds.
Here we have the essence of Basho: his “astonishment” at the physical world, at “mountain streams and wild birds,” an active lively and youthful astonishment with none of that “old age, loneliness, resignation, and tranquility.” Basho then went to sleep. When he awoke in the morning Basho recited to Shiko “a revision” of a verse he wrote this summer beside the river in Saga – however the original verse was about moonlight falling on the ripples while the “revision” is altogether different – as different as night and day.
Instead of an old man sadly dying on a withered field, we gaze in wonder at young green life flowing away in the fast-moving mountain stream. CLEAR CASCADE is a rejuvenation in Basho’s spirit, a casting off of ON A JOURNEY TAKEN ILL, reaffirming Lightness as the Way of Basho -- even on his deathbed.
Basho wrote both poems on his deathbed. ON A JOURNEY TAKEN ILL is world-famous and everywhere represents Basho, “the poet of sabi.” Yamamoto Kennichi tells us Basho made the image of a traveler on a withered moor “symbolize his entire life” – however I believe the scholars have made that image symbolize their version of Basho’s entire life. CLEAR CASCADE is known to scholars, but ignored. All agree that it is a revision of the summer poem, and goes into the chronology at that time, where nobody notices it or realizes that it actually was Basho’s final poem.
If Basho is to be a poet for old men to study, then ON A JOURNEY TAKEN ILL has all the desolate loneliness they could wish for – however Basho again and again rejected that misery of long ago. In Iga this autumn, the old man wrote a poem of Spring to his followers all aged like himself:
Although your faces and my face are wrinkled and pockmarked by the ravages of time, the poems that emerge from our minds can be as lovely, fresh, and vibrant as the first cherry blossoms to appear on their branches. If Basho is to be the poet of youth and aliveness, then we need CLEAR CASCADE and UNLIKE OUR FACES as counterweights to the gloom and doom of ON A JOURNEY TAKEN ILL.
On November 26th Shiko helped Basho sit up and he was able to write a short letter in his own hand to his older brother; the final words before his signature stand out:
“Grandma” is Hanzaemon’s wife who has no children or grandchildren. Basho watched his little sister Oyoshi grow from birth through the years of play and innocence, the development of purpose and ability, teenage hopes and turmoil, getting married and having children -- and now she and her husband have been adopted by Hanzaemon to inherit the household In his final written words, Basho acknowledges the two women in the house who have grown the family’s food, made their clothing and maintained it, and cleaned up after them, for decades until that “power declines.”
(From Basho’s Will)
The “two persons remaining” are Basho’s grandnieces Masa and Ofu, now orphans. Parents provide the “direction” in which a child goes. Ihei and Kosai, two men in Fukagawa, take care of neighbors in hardship. On his deathbed, in severe intestinal cramps and pain, Basho cares about these two young girls; he requests the neighborhood’s assistance for them