1) images, ideas, emotions, sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind asleep 2) a state of abstraction; a trance 3) a condition or achievement longed for; aspiration, hope. Basho uses the Japanese for dream, yume in each of these three ways. with each meaning, a dream is different than current reality.
Here is one sentence in a letter to his woman follower Chigetsu in June of 1692. Basho is in Edo (now Tokyo) while Chigetsu is in Zeze beside Lake Biwa. Basho was in Zeze for much 1690 and 1691 and spent considerable time with Chigetsu. He left the area at the end of 1691, so for the past seven months he has not seen Chigetsu at all.
So, “in the (approximately) one year I have not seen you, reality has been like a dream, fleeting, an abstraction, a trance. Only the time when we were together was truly real.
She emerges from fertile mud to nourish her child from her breasts. This young peasant woman’s entire body is soiled and roughened by everyday exposure to dirt and mud full of night soil, with only hard mineral-laden water for washing. Still, she tries to keep her face clean and pretty, for baby to behold. As the tiny mouth sucks her nipple, she gazes into the eyes and forehead, searching to see the dreams – hopes, aspirations -- within.
Kon Eizo says "On a brilliant spring afternoon, the branches of the willow covered with green leaves seem to be sleeping, hanging loosing, swaying in the breeze. As a bush warbler within the willow branches sings its lovely song, the spirit of the willow in a dream transforms into an actual bird, and the voice becomes the bird’s heart.” So fine an example of Kon’s magnificent life-affirming commentaries.
A willow in Japanese culture always suggests the female, and the “lovely” insures that suggestion. The flexible hanging branches are a woman’s head of long straight hair hanging to her waist or longer. The bird calling somewhere in the thicket of willow branches becomes the soul of a woman somewhere in the thicket of her hair. When she sleeps, her dreams are birds flying away to the reality she dreams of.
Throughout the thirty years of Basho’s work, again and again we encounter the 3rd century BCE sage Chuang-tsu (or Zhuangzi) and it appears Basho’s mind was often pondering the teachings of this sage who along with Lao Tsu, created Taoism. Basho’s clear favorite of all Chaung-Tzu parables is that of waking up from dreaming he was a butterfly to wonder whether if actually he was a butterfly dreaming of being Chuang-Tzu. Basho rearranged the elements of this legend in various interesting ways:
Frogs can jump from place to place, but butterflies are infinitely more free in their flight – so would dreams also be freer than a frog’s.
May 18, 1690 Basho sent a short letter to Dosui, Kyokusui’s younger brother who shared Basho’s enthusiasm for Chuang Tzu. In the letter, Basho presents this haiku to his friend.
Basho scholar Kon Eizo elaborates: “You and I are one in our attraction to Chuang Tzu. We can give up all notions of distinction between us.” This idea often appears in Basho letters: that his own heart becomes one with the heart of his friend. More Basho works on dreams vs. reality appear in article E-4
CHUANG TZU TO BASHO.
A poor man named Rosei at an inn waiting for dinner to be prepared, fell asleep on a magical pillow and dreamed he was emperor of a fantasy land. After 50 years of glorious rule, he awoke to find dinner ready for him. Like the dream of Rosei, the countless tons of snow on the vast form of Mount Fuji are merely a dream.
On their journey to the Deep North, Basho and Sora went to Hiraizumi where three generations of the Fujiwara family built a magnificent culture only to have it wiped out in a single battle. In his journal account, he refers to the dream of Rosei:
Basho then tells of visiting the hilltop where the great hero of Japan, Yoshitsune, along with 16 samurai retainers fought the hordes of warriors attacking them, then Yoshitsune killed his wife and three-year-old daughter then himself so they would not be disgraced by being captured.
Since that epic tragedy came to pass, the grass on the hill has grown green and thick, then withered in the frost, 500 cycles. All that remains of the High Fortress are some stones scattered in the grass. These stones are physical remains of Yoshitsune and his retainers (and his wife and daughter who also fought and suffered). Basho sees not only what is physically there, but also what is hidden in Time, the ‘traces of their dreams’ lingering among the grass.
Father died in war when I was small, and I have grown up under the weight of that grief. Now, in the prime of youthful vigor, I look back over those years of dreams constantly reverting to that one moment on a battlefield I have never seen in reality. Miyawaki, assuming this teenager is male, says, “For a boy, his father is his model to learn from by observation, his goal in life. Having reached the age when now he can go to war, to see a dream of father in battle is the same as being on the battlefield himself. His regrets for his father can never be forgotten. The bond between father and son is well expressed.”
Basho creates the emotional turmoil in the adolescent girl, then he creates an understanding mother who uses her spiritual connection with her child to “say the right words in the right tone to soothe and settle her down” so she goes to sleep. Shiko brings in a rather modern psychological image; the turmoil and blasts of adolescent hormones have produced night sweats, copious perspiration which soaks her nightclothes and bedding. In her sleep, the girl’s dreams heal her body as well as her heart, as a new sun rises.
The first poet suggests that the words of the shy lovers to each other like a firefly crawling out the gap where the left side of the kimono folds over the right to cover the chest --an image of her heart emerging from her chest. Basho says our awareness of the Buddha’s Truth is weak when we are young and in love, but after a short night in a dream, we grow old and that weak awareness crawls out and takes flight.
Basho begins with a young woman who had a “secret man,” i.e. a married lover, but that relationship has ended, leaving her in shame; in a patriarchal society, the shame of an illicit relationship bears entirely on the woman. The second poet takes Basho’s image of shame into the world of dreams.
Morning glories grow on vines that twine sensuously, climbing over a fence or wall. She is shaken awake, her body twisted and turned, not by a person, but by a dream sent telepathically by her lover’s wife – as in the Tale of Genji, when the young prince is sleeping with Evening Glory, his jealous older lover sends a dream to awaken him -- while it kills her.
Such a “sending” appears in the first stanza here:
Disappointed in love, so she has cut her hair and tells him this in her sending. The traditional way to interpret “cutting her hair” is as “becoming a nun” – although Shoko says “not necessarily.” In Japan, women cut a number of strands as a declaration of giving up the past to move into a new future. Basho makes her see through the false love she thought was real, realizing that such love disappears as surely as the moon fades into the morning sky and gorgeous blue and purple morning glories wilt to become refuse in the rain.
Ordinarily a woman, unless she works on a boat, would not ride on one – so we get that this woman is indentured to a tour boat. Every night she has sex with different men, while only in sleep can she dream of true love – but the rocking of the boat wakes her to reality, her life as a sex slave on this floating brothel.
Tokoku, a wealthy rice dealer in Nagoya, got caught in some shady deal speculating on rice futures. His wealth was confiscated and he was sent into exile in a village at the end of a peninsula, a place so isolated only hawks come here.
Hawks fly high up in the sky, with no flapping of wings, floating for hours on the updrafts. There is nothing to catch up there. They are flying for the joy of it. The verse had a clear distinct purpose – to reassure Tokoku, to give him hope and help him pull together his shattered life.
Tokoku died in 1690 aged 30. The next year Basho wrote:
Yang is bright and hot, so to balance a weakness of yang, we dream of fire.
Yin is cold and wet, so water dream heals a decline of yin.
On his 1684 journey, Basho awoke one morning before dawn and got on the road:
He combines a slew of drowsy impressions: his body on the horse moving up and down, his mind slipping back into sleep to see vague wisps of dream, then suddenly awakening as he slips from the saddle, seeing the moon and the smoke rising from the stovepipes of many villagers boiling water for morning tea.
The traps are laid out in the evening; an octopus crawls in, thinking it a fine place to rest –then when the brief summer night becomes morning, the octopus cannot get out, and someone comes to make sushi out of the little fellow. Octopuses are highly intelligent, possibly more so than any other order of invertebrates. Maze and problem-solving experiments have shown evidence of a memory system that can store both short- and long-term memory. Does an octopus dream? Can an octopus who is alive and comfortable realize its life is soon to end? Can we?
Ranran, one of Basho’s first followers in Edo, died in 1693. Ranran’s younger brother Ranchiku notified Basho in a letter. Basho replied:
On his deathbed, in the middle of the night, just over three days before the end,
Basho awoke from sleep to dictate this verse:
(I reject the translation of no to “moor,” a sad lonely word appropriate for Withering Heights, but not for Basho.) “Fields” in Japan are covered with grasses and flowers, the home of many birds and insects. For 50 years Basho has wondered about the fields watching them change with the seasons. Fields are where Basho developed his seasonal awareness. “Fields” may represent 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.
“Everyone knows” that ON A JOURNEY TAKEN ILL was Basho’s last verse, and the desolate loneliness in that verse has been used to cement the “objective, detached, impersonal” reputation built over Basho. To break free from that Basho image, we note that according to accounts by both Kyorai and Shiko, after dictating this haiku in the middle of the night, Basho went to sleep. When he woke up the next day he dictated this verse to Shiko.
Kiyotaki ya nami ni chiri-komu ao-matsuba
Basho told both Shiko and Kyorai that this poem was a “revision” of a poem he wrote this summer, five months ago, at the Katsura River in Saga. The scholars cannot imagine CLEAR CASCADE belonging to this time, early winter, because the season in the verse is summer. According to them, CLEAR CASCADE does not count as Basho’s final haiku because it is a “revision” of the earlier verse and goes in the chronology in summer of this year where nobody notices it – however the “original” verse is altogether different, being about moonlight upon the ripples whereas this is about pine needles falling into the cascade. Pines keep their needles all year long, however in May the branches extend and new needles emerge on these new sections, by the end of summer, indistinguishable from the old ones further back on the branch. In reality green pine needles do not fall; the pine needles that fall are old brown ones – so this verse cannot be reality. It must be a dream. Basho wrote CLEAR CASCADE upon waking from sleep. Suppose he did see green pine needles falling, in a dream during this sleep that winter night– so this dream-verse does belong to the end of November, and is Basho’s final haiku. ON A JOURNEY TAKEN ILL also recorded a dream, a dream of winter desolation, the season and mood at present – but then Basho went back to sleep and his dreams took him out of reality, away from the misery of his final disease, back to summer beside the river in Saga.
The green in CLEAR CASCADE is a rejuvenation in Basho’s spirit, a reaffirmation of Lightness as the Way of Basho. Instead of an old man sadly dying we feel youth lightly passing onward. But this rejuvenation is merely an illusion, a lingering illusion of what is gone, for it occurred only in a dream -- however in Chuang Tzu’s butterfly dream, dreams become reality, so Basho’s deathbed dream lives forever in his final haiku.