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  >  Poetry and Music  >  E-11


Basho on How to Write Haiku

17 statements from his letters and spoken word

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

From his letters to followers and spoken word recorded by followers, I have culled 17 Basho statements on how to create a haiku, advice from the greatest of haiku poets to you writing haiku today. Three statements are from a letter Basho wrote in 1681 to his follower Biji. Throughout this letter, Basho repeatedly condemns “oldness” in poetry; as he later said to his follower Doho:. Oldness is the worst disease a poet can have. By “oldness” I believe he means what is “conventional, conforming to standards.”


1     Settling for standards and searching for reason
        places one in the middle grade of poets;
        one who defies standards and forgets reason
        is the wizard on this path.

 

 

2      Without a sense for how to use ordinary words,
        you will get mixed up in oldness.

 

Basho also put this idea in positive terms:

3         Poetry benefits from the realization of ordinary words
            Haikai wa eki no zokugo o tadasu nari

 

This Basho haiku illustrates his mastery of the use of ordinary words

 

 Sama zama no        Many, many
koto omoi-idasu      things come to mind,
sakura kana             cherry blossoms

 

Basho’s words are completely, utterly simple. No complications: seven ordinary words with the most basic grammar possible in Japanese and likewise in English. He says absolutely nothing new about cherry blossoms or memories – instead he ‘sums up and conceals’ a thousand years of poetic expression on these flowers and the memories that pass from one cherry blossom season to the next. The plain and ordinary words are “realized” through the thousand years of associations of Japanese life with cherry blossoms.

Thus ordinary words take on extraordinary meanings and feelings.

 

4       Know that a poem combines things . . . Poetry is
         the experience of the heart which goes and returns.. .

 

       Ami no ko ga            Fisherman’s child
       kujira o shirasu        to announce a whale
       kai fuite blows         on a shell

 

This single renku stanza combines the intriguing trio of child, whale, and shell; we start with medium-size child, then move out to enormous whale, return to small shell in boy’s hand, then spread out to fill the area with sound, the whale swimming away, the adults running to their boats, the boy watching excitedly from his post. So much life and aliveness.


5       “The skillful have a disease;
          Let a three-foot child get the poem

 

That disease is “oldness,” conventionality, heaviness in writing. A three-foot child would be five or six,       so have little higher cortical function to circumvent native spontaneity of the lower brain.


6       Only this, apply your heart to what children do.

 

Children’s actions are whole, not divided by the endless conflict of adult concerns.

Strive to write poetry with that wholeness.

 

        Ko no moto ni               Under the trees
        shiru mo namasu mo   soup, vinegar salad, and
        sakura kana                  blossoms hurray!

 

The scene the same in Basho’s time as in ours. The cold of early spring has passed, but there is still a chill in the air. Under a canopy of pinkish white blossoms, on ground scattered with petals, we lay out our favorite foods. The soup is brought to the picnic in an iron pot and heated over a fire. Namasu is raw vegetables (or

sometimes fish) sliced thin, and marinated in vinegar, popular at celebrations. Amidst the excited chatter of girls and women in their blossom kimono, the songs and laughter of relatives and friends, some more petals have fallen on the food. At the time of this verse, the Master said,


7    “As I gained some feeling for the rhythm 
        in this verse on blossom-viewing, I made Lightness.”

 

Haruo Shirane defines Lightness as: “a stress on everyday common subject matter, on the use of vernacular language, and on a relaxed rhythmical seemingly artless expression” -- each of these conspicuous in UNDER THE TREES.

 

Basho says that Lightness comes from the kakari, or rhythm of the words. Shirane, from his native Japanese ear, describes the rhythm in UNDER THE TREES in Japanese: the verse “starts slowly with four successive ‘o’ sounds (ko, no, mo, to) and then plunges into a strong consonant beat: (ni shi-ru mo na-ma-su mo sa-ku-ra ka-na) with each new syllable seeming to pick up speed, and then ends on the emotive, exclamatory kana, thus suggesting the inebriated mood of a cherry blossom party.” The final kana is “emotive, exclamatory,”

so HURRAY! We are celebrating the season of warmth and new Life. Lightness is Us, real people having fun, sharing food.


To those who love Western poetry, Basho’s verses of Lightness will seem so simple and Light they feel like nothing – but they leave the reader feeling good -- as opposed to Heaviness which relies on heavy word associations and allegory to make the reader feel sad. Even without tragedy, sensationalism, or negativity, Basho reaches into the human heart:- in this verse, through taste sensations – soup which could be so many possibilities and raw vegetables imbued with the sour of vinegar. Taste images bring us back to

the times when we ate those foods, times we celebrated together.

 

8      Now in my heart the form of poetry
        is as looking into a shallow stream over sand
        with Lightness both in the body of the verse
        as well as in the heart’s connection

 

9      Do not allow your verse to be artificial.

 

Basho compares an artificial verse by Kikaku with his own naturally occurring verse:


Koe karete                        Hoarse shriek
saru no ha shiroshi            monkey’s white fangs
mine no tsuki moon           over the peak

 

Shio-dai no                       Salted bream
haguki mo samushi          their gums so cold
uo no tana                         a fish store                                 

“Along a street in the desolation of winter, a few salted bream are lined up on a tray in a fish store. The lips drawn back in death reveal gums frightful in their coldness.”  (Kon) 

 

Basho said


        No one surpasses Kikaku in exaggeration,                                                   so let us  forgive him.
10      The verse HOARSE SHRIEK is Kikaku.
          ‘Gums of salted bream’ is the poetry of my old age.
           The lower segment, “A fish store,” saying only that, is my style.

 

Basho in his old age has discovered something else: Lightness. Poetry can be excellent without heavy and exaggerated imagery; instead of monkeys shrieking and jagged mountain peaks like monkey fangs, poetry can reveal ordinary scenes in daily life. Kikaku wrote his verse from imagination, not from any actual

experience of monkeys or mountains or the moon. It has nothing to give us; once the shock is over, nothing in the verse can we learn. “A fish store” is Basho’s genius. Another poet would have ended the poem with something bold, striking, philosophical, or religious. Basho however just says “A fish store”, with all its daily life associations in smell and sound and sight. Any woman in the temperate zone near the sea can see Basho’s haiku right before her eyes when she goes shopping in winter. Kikaku’s verse is suitable

only for people off in some fantasy world where monkeys shriek. It is literary and “old.” Basho’s verse is REAL and Light.


11       In the verses of other poets 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.

Words from the heart are good. Words from other words are not.

 

12     A stanza may have extra sounds, 3, 4, even 5 or 7;

         if the phrase has good resonance, it is okay – however if even
        one sound stagnates in your mouth, scrutinize the expression.

 

Basho advises that we speak the verse out loud to insure that the phrases have “resonance” (hibiki) and do not “stagnate” in the mouth -- like water in a stream stuck behind a wad of fallen leaves, old, foul, and heavy -- but rather flow with natural rhythm that resonates in the listener’s ear. For many years I have enjoyed the natural resonance I hear when I speak:


Many, many,
things come to mind
cherry blossoms.

 

Recently I considered changing the middle segment to “things brought to mind” or “thoughts come to mind” – but when I spoke these phrases out loud, I found that they “stagnate” in my mouth. “Things come to mind” is natural English and resonates.


Basho told Kyorai:

 

13        This is a path of a fresh lively taste
            with aliveness in both heart and words

 

In a letter of 1690, Basho offered the following summary of the qualtities of Lightness, 

 

14       According to your various talents, make the verse
           from your heart, whether linked verse or haiku,
           neither heavy nor merely spinning about.

 

and this haiku as an example:

 

There is a man
 covered by a straw mat,

 glory of spring 

 

A beggar sleeps under a straw mat in the freezing cold New Year’s weather. He has an identity, a human dignity within the glory of spring. If not for fortune, I could be him. The verse goes straight to its sociological meaning; it does not “spin about” aimlessly, yet is not “heavy”; it does not shove that meaning at the reader’s face.


15 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.

 

To write poetry, you must “pass through things.”

 

 On the saddle
sits their ‘little monk’ —
 daikon-gathering

 

Kara tsubo ni /kobouzu noru ya /daikon-hiki

 

This is not an actual apprentice monk but rather an ordinary kid whose head has been shaved close. Because ‘daikon gathering’ in Japanese tradition suggests a happy family excursion, I have added in “their”: we feel not this is not just any little boy, but “their little monk”— the youngest son loved by the whole family.         Basho told Doho:


16 - “To have the little boy stand out
in relation to the daikon-gathering
was the making of this verse”

 

The image of “little monk” makes the child “stand out,” the bald round head on a child‘s body sitting on the horse high above the horizontal field, watching his elders at work. (See the painting.) This “standing out” is what “makes” the verse. The light color and roundness of the boy’s head are “cute,” while pulling gargantuan white radishes from the ground is dirty and rough. The important word here is “stand out.” Unless something “stands out in relation” to something else, there is no poem.

 

Two months before his death, although it was autumn, to his long-time followers aged like himself、Basho wrote a Spring verse.


      Kao ni ninu                      Unlike our faces
      hokku mo ide yo              may our haiku emerge
      hatsu-zakara                    as first blossoms

 

Though our faces are wrinkled and pockmarked by the ravages of time, our poems can be as fresh and vibrant as the first cherry blossoms to emerge on their twigs. About this haiku Basho said:


17        The physical form, first of all, must be graceful、
            then the musical quality makes a superior verse.

 

For the “physical form” to be “graceful,” I believe the verse must have a consistent rhythm of beats.

Basho speaks of a “quality of turning" so the words have an accent and are not flat or boring - yet even with all that “turning,” the rhythm is a steady four beats per measure. By translating with a consistent four -beat rhythm 3 beats and pause / 4 beats without pause / 3 beats and pause – and using ordinary English words which (I hope) resonate, I aim for the graceful physical form with a musical quality Basho describes.

 

                         basho4humanity@gmail.com





<< Dying with a Smile (E-10) (E-12) My First Renku Journeys >>


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