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  >  Humanity and Friendship  >  D-06


Laughing Along

9 hilarious haiku, 6 haibun, 3 renku and a crazy cartoon, all by Basho

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

How can a writer so light-hearted and funny as Basho be judged as “serious, humorless” and “in a state of perpetual despondency”? Scholars unfamilar with his renku and haibun know not the funny works there – however many of his haiku are amusing. Maybe the scholars are so intent on seeing sabi, or desolate loneliness in Basho, that humor and fun passes by under their radar. I, on the other, strive to highlight the humor and enhance it with amusing commentary:

 

These rotten
verses even a dog
will not eat

 

Dogs will eat anything, even garbage, but this one passes on poetry. Let’s have fun with Basho!

 

Mugura used to be the name of any weed that grew thick and covered anything in its path. Basho here means kana-mugura (literally metal-mugura ) which has no pretty flowers and a tough wiry stalk with the strength to climb tall trees and buildings; also the underside of the many, many leaves are covered with tiny prickles so they stick to things like Velcro does. Kana-megura has no name in English and since ‘ironweed’ is already taken we call it “wireweed”

.In the mountains of Kai:

 

Mountain hick’s
lower jaw locked up
by wireweed

 

In the mountains of Kai (north-west of Mount Fuji) Basho meets an old guy, a wood cutter or someone like that. Basho tries to start a conversation but the man, being of rather limited intellect and verbal skills, just stands there staring blankly. Basho imagines that the wireweed all over the fence beside the road has grown up around the man’s jaw to lock it shut.

 

In MOUNTAIN HICK’S we see Basho’s comic genius. He blends together three elements:

1) Real situation: the hick standing there silent for some time.

2) Seasonal awareness: the nature of wireweed in the summer.

3) Fantasy image: the months and months the man would have to stand in that place for wireweed to actually surround his jaw.

From the various combinations of these three elements comes the absurd humor of this verse. The repetition of ‘w’ sounds following the repetition of ‘l’ sounds adds to the humor of the verse. Without those repeat sounds this haiku would not be so funny.

 

Somewhere back in the mists of time, someone in China decided that the star Vega is a Weaver married to Altair, the Cowherd. But they just played around and made love all the time and did not keep up with their weaving and herding duties, so the Sky Father banished them to opposite sides of Heaven’s River, which is where we now see them. Only on one night of the year, Tanabata, the 7th Night of the lunar 7th Moon, does the old man allow Vega to cross the River to join her husband for some heavenly sex. Basho is sympathetic and offers the Stars a solution to their problem.

 

Even Suigaku
would lend you his boat,
Starry River

 

“Suigaku” (“Water-scholar”) is the nickname of a man from Kyushu who invented various aquatic devices, including a water-wheel boat the Japanese, accustomed to oars and sail, found rather magical. He brought his boat to Edo and used it as a charter ferry for men to arrive in style at the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters on the banks of the Kanda River. People say Suigaku’s boat goes from Edo Bridge to the Yoshiwara in “the time it takes hair to sway.” So romantic, these Japanese. In EVEN SUIGAKU we see Basho’s comic genius. He blends together three elements:

1) Real situation: Mr. Suigaku’s business ferrying men across the river to the pleasure quarters.

2) Seasonal awareness: the clarity and brilliance of the early autumn sky for Tanabata.

3) Fantasy image: the romantic story of the Two Stars and its various embellishments through the centuries.

From the various combinations of these three elements comes the absurd humor of this verse. So look to the stars one summer or autumn night, locate Vega and Altair and Deneb -- the triangle of bright stars in the sky overhead --and then imagine it is raining and Mr. Suigaku has taken the night off from his usual business to ferry Vega across the River of Heaven to her waiting lover. It makes the night sky fun.

 

Sampu, one of Basho’s first followers in Edo, three years younger, was the eldest son of a fish mercantile house in Nihonbashi, financial center of Edo; his company supplied fish to the Shogun’s castle. In 1680, age 33, Sampu is taking over the business from his father. He also loves poetry and, having followed Basho for seven years, likes to have fun with his Poetry Master. Sampu arranged a contest in which many poets submitted verses for Basho to judge. The theme, chosen by Sampu, was ‘Vegetables.’ The verses were published along with Basho’s introduction which contains this bizarre succession of parodies. So, let’s talk about vegetables:

 

Intently I imagine the scene
at the Kanda Suda Produce Market:
fresh greens from outside a thousand villages
carried here strapped to kirin,
phoenix eggs wrapped in rice bran,
zingiber from within the snow,
early-spring watermelons,
the deep green of Korean ginseng leaves,
peppers from China becoming red...

 

Things start off real enough: Kanda Suda (across the river from Akihabara) was the largest produce market in the City – but the kirin, a legendary beast of ancient China, is not likely to be transporting vegetables in Japan. The phoenix, also legendary, burns to death and rises from the ashes, so really doesn’t need eggs, but if (IF!) she had them, and if there was a market for them, they would certainly need to be carefully wrapped in soft spongy rice bran to remain unbroken on the back of a kirin. (No bubble wrap or Styrofoam peanuts in those days.) Zingiber is a kind of ginger grown in the tropics, and watermelons do not ripen till mid-summer. Ginseng roots are a delicacy favored by some, but who would buy the leaves? The Chinese love to paint things red (Witness their restaurants); Basho imagines that because these are Chinese peppers, this makes them turn red in autumn. Communist peppers.

 

…all gathered here in Edo where wind
does not rattle branches of maize
nor does rain move ginger in the ground.
So we get time for this poetic theme, Vegetables.

 

His second line brings in a chant from a Noh play:

 

Country well-governed
wind does not rattle branches
so goes the reign

 

Do you see? He is indirectly (very indirectly!) praising the Tokugawa Shogunate for maintaining peace throughout Japan. The kamisama must be pleased because they have brought no severe typhoons (“wind does not rattle branches”) or floods (“rain does not move ginger in ground”) allowing Japanese (such as Sampu’s family) to build trade networks which bring produce from faraway provinces (and even from the Twilight Zone). Tokibi is maize, American corn, which the Japanese call ‘Chinese millet,’ although before it was in China, it had to come across the ocean from South America – but maize is a grain and doesn’t have branches.

 

Absurd as it is, the passage is praise for the prosperity brought by the Pax Tokugawa. Trade is flourishing. Markets are full of food and mothers can buy for their children. So much prosperity that Sampu can afford to leave his business to his subordinates while he spends his time on a poetic theme as mundane as ‘Vegetables.’ How the wealthy merchant must have enjoyed Basho’s parody of his expertise, food marketing and trade.

 

Sampu has presented me a light robe for summer wear:

 

Off I go
wearing my fine linen
cicada robe

 

Basho puts on his robe of linen as fine as a cicada wing, and goes flying, clumsily, around the room.

 

I am as wretched as anyone can be,
yet I know of one more pitiable than myself.
I speak of that Master of Crazy Poetry
who long ago trudged here to Nagoy
for he happens now to come to mind.

 

The Master of Crazy Poetry is Chikusai, the hero of a comic novel popular at this time, a doctor in Kyoto who became so obsessed with crazy poetry that he stopped seeing patients and set out for Edo in tattered paper coat and kerchief, calling out his poems. Upon arriving in Nagoya he set out a sign claiming to be “The Greatest Quack Doctor under Heaven”.

 

A Crazy Poem:

 

Withering gusts --
Don’t I look just like
Dr. Quackenbush

 

The savage winds have made a complete mess of his robes. The verse is a gag, but one that brings some cheer to Basho walking along in the bone-chilling wind and, with a bit of Groucho Marx in the translation, may amuse us 300 years later.

 

                        Diagram of a Snore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basho and his follower Tokoku, using the alias Mangiku-maru, were travelling together and sent a letter to Basho’s childhood friend Isen in Iga with this diagram enclosed. Imagine, a cartoon by Basho. When he was in Iga, Tokoku (Sorry, Mangiku-maru) stayed in Ensui’s house, so maybe with the help of this drawing Ensui can imagine the sound of his snore. Ten bu (parts) make a sun (inch) and ten sun make a shaku (foot). So, the bulging part of the snore is 47 inches wide and all that sound comes from a hole just 1.2 inches in diameter (I love the precision.) Then on the right side, the snore rattles along like a naga-mochi , a heavy wooden chest on wheels kept near the door, in case of fire, used to get valuables away from the house. However wheel technology is not so advanced in 17th century Japan (no axles, no shock-absorbers, just a wooden wheel on wooden axle) so the heavily laden chest shakes about as it rolls – which is how the snore ends. It is difficult for me to study this ‘diagram of a snore’ without laughing uncontrollably.

 

Yamanoue no Okura, 1000 years before Basho, wrote this R-rated tanka.

 

Gazing across
the River of Heaven
yearning for
you, my lord, to come
I loosen my sash

 

Tonight for Tanabata it is raining, so Basho and his buddy Sampu drink some sake and have some fun with the Tanabata legend He begins with a quick review of the various streams of the myth:

 

The night of Tanabata, wind and clouds fill the sky,
The banks of the Silver River drenched with Shining Waves,
the Magpie’s Bridge stakes washed away,
the rudder of One Mulberry Leaf broken off,
the Two Stars have lost their houseboat.

 

One legend says the Weaver crosses an Arch of Magpies clutching to each other over the River -- or she rides across the River on a leaf of paper-mulberry, kaji, similar to the word for ‘rudder’ allowing Basho to make another pun. Yagata means a residence with a roof, either on land or on water. Since we are talking about the “River” of Heaven here, we translate ‘houseboat’— sort of a floating love hotel—but since the ‘River’ is a total fantasy, the whole idea is nonsense. Basho nonsense.

 

Since this evening can only pass with deep regret,
I lift a lantern to honor the Stars
and think of those two poems by Komachi and Henjo
So here is my poem for Komachi:

 

The water high
star asleep on her journey
upon the rock

 

Basho plays around with this tanka by the famed 9th century beauty and poetess Ono no Komachi:

 

Upon this rock
asleep on my journey
it’s so cold,
Won’t you lend me
a ‘blanket of moss’?

 

“Robe of moss” (koke no koromo) is a ‘pillow-word’ that decorates the verse without actually meaning what it says. This is just a blanket, but the imagery of moss fits the ‘on a rock’ part and adds beauty to the phrase.

 

Henjo, a male poet of her time, replied,

 

Away from home
I have only one
‘blanket of moss’
Sorry, I cannot lend,
so let us sleep together

 

Henjo was a very typical man.

 

Now back again to the 17th century and Tanabata. The wealthy Sampu, who has generously supported Basho since he first came to Edo 20 years ago, is not quite satisfied with that “robe of moss.” It sounds pretty tacky to him.

 

So here is mine for Henjo:

 

On Tanabata
instead of “cannot lend”:
a silk raincoat

 

Sampu can easily afford to give (not lend) a silk raincoat (an expensive designer-label) to Vega waiting in the rain of Basho’s verse. We volley the ball from Basho to Komachi, over to Henjo, up to Sampu, and back to Basho.

 

The woman poet Chiyo-jo asks:

 

Stars’ meeting
which one of them
speaks first?

 

Her question is one which should concern feminists.

 

The nebu is a tree about ten feet tall with red-and-white blossoms In July. The two characters for the name of this tree mean ‘sleeping together, sharing pleasure’ because at night the leaves draw together like lovers in bed.

 

Those Two Stars
through sleep-together leaves
hate being watched

 

Because they are Japanese stars, they are shy about being seen. Basho down here on Earth, Basho imagines that the stars up there resent him watched them through such suggestive leaves. There are no love-hotels in Heaven, so the Two Stars have to ‘do it in the road’-- alongside the Milky Way, on Tanabata when everyone on Earth is watching. How do stars do It? With a condom, I hope. There are already enough stars.


Estrogen drives female cats into ‘heat’ several times a year, but early spring is most common. Only females go into heat, but their heat drives the males to emit testosterone driving them to aggression. The pathos of cats at the mercy of their hormones shows us how pitiful we are in love. Multiple males will be attracted to a female in heat. The males will fight over her, and the victor wins the right to mate. … When cats mate the male bites the scruff of the female neck so she cannot escape ... The male cat’s penis has spines which point backwards. Upon withdrawal of the penis, the spines rake the walls of the female‟s vagina, which may be the trigger for ovulation in cats. Thus the female gives a loud YOWL!! as the male pulls out of her. (I’ve heard that sound.)

 

The lady cat
over crumbling cookstove
she commutes

 

The sex-crazed she-cat ‘commutes’ (kayoi) through the kitchen, climbing the stove then jumping out the window, so many times a day on her trips outside ‘where the boys are’ that the baked clay structure is starting to crumble.

 

Fujiwara Teika wrote what may be the funniest of all classical tanka:

 

How I envy,
his voice unsparing
the stray cat
with all of his heart,
makes love to his wife

 

Basho wrote what may be the funniest of all haiku:

 

Like a saint
the dog stepped on by
cat in heat

 

Mataudo means ‘complete person‘ but is used sarcastically in comic plays to actually mean a fool. The lady-cat is so drunk on sex-hormones that she walks right on top of a dog. But the dog is asleep and only half wakes up and gazes around a bit, wondering ‘what was that?’, then goes back to sleep. Basho compares the dog to a ‘complete person‘, a saint who can face any situation with equanimity.

 

                                      Ode to a Crow

 

In the villages you ravage
the persimmon and chestnut treetops.
In the fields you lay waste to the crops;
don’t you know the harshness of farm labor?

 

Autumn is lovely, with sweet orange persimmons on the trees, tasty chestnuts escaping from their burrs, golden fields of rice stalks heavy with grain -- until the crows come by. Miserable crows!

 

Moreover you grab the sparrow’s eggs
and eat the frogs in ponds.
You search about for a corpse
and devour the intestines of a cow or horse.

 

Of course Basho feels sympathy for frogs in ponds. Crows do not follow the dying as vultures do,

but they do stalk about looking for something dead.

 

Finally it is said that for a squid
a crow will throw away life, or imitate
the cormorant and lose there too.

 

A crow sees a squid lying inert on the sea and thinks it ready meat, but then finds those ten arms stronger than its beak. Basho read somewhere (maybe in National Geographic) that a crow can be so consumed by greed that he dives into the water, trying to catch fish the way cormorants do, but since crows cannot swim at all, he drowns. (Sounds more like a turkey than a crow).

 

Crow, you make no attempt to gain wisdom.
With a heart like yours,
for all the greedy things you do,
you have been died black as ink.
If you were human, would be a monk who profits.
When even Buddha’s family hates crows,
the ordinary person wants no part of you.

 

Basho insults the crow with comparison to a monk who sells Buddhism for personal profit. “Buddha’s family” are those devote ones who really and truly feel compassion for all creatures – even mosquitoes and cockroaches – but they too succumb to the lower emotions when it comes to crows.

 

So now, be more discreet,
lest you end up on the arrow tip of Master Houyi
or be punished by the Three-Legged Golden Crow.

 

Houyi, in ancient China, was the God of Archery. The Chinese say the Sun is a Three-Legged Golden Crow. Actually, there were ten such suns living in a mulberry tree in the Eastern Sea. Each day one of the sun-crows would be driven through the sky. But one day in 2170 BCE, they grew tired of this routine and decided to all rise at once. Global warming was intense and everything started to die. Yao, the Emperor of China, asked the God of the Eastern Heaven for help. This God sent for Houyi who proceeded to shoot one sun-crow after another. Yao pleaded for him to let one sun live, and that is one we have today. And if that divine crow up there hears what you crows are doing on Earth, he (or she?) may blast you away.

What’s a crow going to do with three legs?

 

The large despised scavenger crow lords over the scene, strutting about in arrogance, cawing harshly, grabbing anything edible. Chigetsu wrote

 

Soo... you steal
offerings to the Gods—
village crow

 

The O-hotoki was a Shinto ceremony performed around Kyoto in the 11th moon. While a sacred dance was performed in front of the shrine, food such as mikan are offered to the kamisama in prayer for warmth in the winter to come. The na at the end of the upper segment expresses a sort of resigned contempt—for which I translate “soo…” Chigetsu captures the essence of our relationship with those miserable, arrogant birds that fly wherever they want, not giving a shit what we think of them and how they get their snacks.

 

The sea slug (or sea cucumber), a soft sac of rubbery flesh with inner tube from mouth to anus, flourishes

in winter among the rocks in shallow water. They are eaten raw in vinegar (by some folks).

Yum yum, sea slug!

 

Still living
frozen into one
sea slugs

 

A fisherman or woman has gathered sea slugs and left them in a bucket on the rocks. The head of a sea slug can hardly be distinguished from the other end, and here in the frozen slimy mess, one creature cannot be distinguished from another. The verse is bitter cold and gruesome, yet some may agree with me that it is one of Basho’s funniest haiku – a kind of sick funny.

 

Wearing imperial robes
he indeed is august
Full of sutras,
is his boat escorted
by a crocodile?

 

I bet you can hardly wait to find out what is going on here: A VIP on an Imperial mission wears purple robes forbidden to ordinary humans. He is august, inspiring awe and reverence. Basho makes him a monk sent by the Emperor of Japan to China to collect Buddhist scriptures and bring to Japan. And now for the final twist: in Japanese mythology, when “Her Augustness Luxuriant Jewel Princess” was pregnant and leaving the Kingdom of the Sea, her father, the Sea God, sent a crocodile to escort her boat. Now does the link make sense?


The God of Poverty inhabits a person or house to bring poverty and misery; nowadays, in manga and anime, he is depicted as a skinny dirty old man in rags.

 

Storehouses and fences
overgrown with water weeds
Seen by morning,
woman who stayed the night,
Goddess of Poverty

 

After a tsunami or typhoon, with no money to pay for repairs, man-made structures gradually disappear in the watery abundance. From this sketch of poverty, Bashō makes another bizarre link – to a one-night stand waking up, before she combs her hair or puts on make-up, as ragged and unkempt as “storehouses and fences overgrown with water weeds (That’s bad. Very bad). The Japanese have no female form of this deity; since she is a women, I have dubbed her “Goddess of Poverty.”

 

The Sarashina Journal, Basho’s most hilarious work, tells of his trip with Etsujin over the Kiso Road through the mountains of Nagano (the Japan Alps). Donald Keene remarks that, of all Basho’s prose works, this is the one paid the least attention. If people discovered how much humor and fun there is in this journal, it would demolish any notion that Basho was “serious and humorless.”

 

The senior among his Nagoya followers, a doctor named Kakei, does not think it a good idea for a middle-aged man with a chronic bowel disease to go on such a journey on foot, so he sends along a horse and servant. Basho describes his followers in action before the fellowship leaves.

 

They each exhaust themselves in their good intentions
but know nothing about the road or the inns
so all together their advice is pointless.
Everything gets confused and backwards,
although most of it was quite funny.

 

Thus Basho sets the tone for what is to come.

 

Somewhere or another
we come upon a pious monk of about sixty,
a grim sullen man without interest or humor.

Saying that the monk is “without interest or humor” makes him hilarious.

 

As he walks along in mincing steps,
doubled over from his load, his breath in gasps…
My travelling companion takes pity on him,
so we bundle the stuff from our shoulders
together with what’s on his back,
strap everything to the horse,
and I am made to ride on top.

 

Ruth Benedict, an anthropologist who studied the Japanese just after World War II, recognized that they are ruled by their concept of on, pronounced like the English word ‘own’. This small word can be translated ‘obligation,’ but Benedict emphasized that it means much more than that English word does. Benedict says, “On is in all its uses a load, an indebtedness, a burden, which one carries as best one may.” Doing a favor for a Japanese imposes a burden which can only be relieved by repaying the favor.

 

The dull and stuffy monk feels an on to Basho and Etsujin for helping him, so as they strap his trunk load of Buddhist artifacts to the horse, he begins to repay his obligation by insisting that their skimpy backpacks go on too. Still not satisfied, the monk refuses to let Basho walk, because that would suggest that the monk’s luggage was keeping Basho from riding. The reality that Basho was walking before they met the monk, and that he very much wants to continue walking now, does not matter. The monk persists, and so “I am made to ride on top” (sono ue ni nosu) perched on top of everything just to prove to this old fart that he is not imposing -- which he most certainly is.

 

Donald Keene notes that some scholars who believe Basho was a “poet-saint” are “shocked” at how unsympathetic he is to this poor old man—however, when that poor old man Don Quixote (or his counterpart in the Roadrunner cartoons, Wily Coyote) gets beat up and thrashed in one chapter after another, is that funny?

 

Is it funny when Groucho Marx insults the stout Margaret Dumont?

“We’ll tear you down and put up
an office building in your place.

 

If we allow it to be funny, it will be funny. So let us laugh, along with Basho:


That night we find lodging among the weeds
Recalling from the day scenes promising a poem
and verses begun yet abandoned, I take out my ink and brush.
As I close my eyes under the lantern,
tap my head, and lean forward with a sigh…


Basho lays the scene out before us with lively specific verbs: “take out… close… tap… lean forward.”


the pious monk we met on the road thinks that
I am suffering from the hardships of traveling,
so he tries to comfort me.
He speaks of the pilgrimages he went on as a youth,
of the glories of Amida - no end to them −
going on and on, telling what he thinks incredible,
and so interfering with my sense of elegance
that I cannot write.

 

Then comes the monk and his insufferable meddling, the way his phrases sound so boring, just like the monk himself. It’s all so comical. Because the monk talks, and talks, and talks of Amida, the Bodhisattva who vows to save all humanity, he must belong to one of the Pure Land sects which draw their vast memberships from the common people and seek salvation by endlessly repeating Namu Amida Butsu, “Devotion to Amida Buddha.” The sects teach that each repetition brings salvation not only to the chanter, but to all humanity. Like everyone else, they have their miracles and divine visions, all of which the monk tells Basho. The monk never asks, so he never learns that Basho belongs to the esoteric Shingon sect which does worship Amida, but through contemplation -- not by blabbing His Name all over the place.

 

Historian Charles Dunn notes that in the older sects of Japanese Buddhism – such as Shingon – the priests sought enlightenment only for themselves: “they were not remotely concerned with the masses.” The Pure Land sects were an innovation in Buddhism; they sought Enlightenment for everybody. They were do-gooders, as we see in Basho’s account.

 

Basho’s two passages on the ‘pious monk’ are his comic masterpiece, among the funniest moments in world literature. Compare this pious monk to a few other notorious windbags:

 

Polonius in Hamlet, Polonius who said,

 

“Give every man thy ear but few thy voice,”

 

then did exactly the reverse.

 

Or Dogberry in Much Ado about Nothing:

 

“But, masters, remember that I am an ass;
though it be not written down,
yet forget not that I am an ass.”

 

No, we won’t forget. Or Pumblechoock (love that name), the loquacious dum-dum in Dickens’ Great Expectations:


“Especially be grateful, boy,
to them which brought you up by hand.”

 

Basho uses fewer words than Shakespeare or Dickens, but through brevity – the soul of wit –

he reaches the same quality of humor.

 

“Know a fool by his many words”

                                                                                              Ecclesiastics 5:3

 

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com

 

 

 






<< Humanity Blossoms (D-05) (D-07) Six Close Friends >>


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