Basho's thoughts on...
• Women in Basho
• 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
• 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-17


Poetry in Basho Letters:

More concentrated, imaginative, and powerful than ordinary speech.

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

 Poem: “an arrangement of words in verse, expressing facts, ideas, or emotions in a style more concentrated, imaginative, and powerful than that of ordinary speech.”  Verse:  “sequence of words arranged metrically in accordance with some rule or design.” As I translated Basho’s letters, I was struck by certain passages which were especially “concentrated, imaginative, and powerful.” Also I arrange most of my translations in poetic lines, each line a grammatical unit; this is the “rule or design.” I believe, with Leonard Shlain (in Sex, Time, and Power) that the vertical succession of lines, as in a supermarket list, allows the brain to process the information holistically.

 

From Letters to Ensui

We begin with poetry from Basho’s letters to his childhood and lifelong friend Ensui in their hometown of Iga. I believe that Ensui, four years older than Basho, served as a mentor for young Basho.  Basho was only 12 when his father died, and 18 or 19 year old Hanzaemon become head of the Matsuo family, too busy to hang with the young boy.  Ensui may have become a "big brother" at this time.  Basho's letters to Ensui express his special affection for this person who helped Basho become who he was.


In a 1688 letter to Ensui, Basho tells of parting from him a month before. Basho and his follower Tokoku were on a journey and passed through Nara which is only 18 miles from Iga. Ensui and another follower walked to Nara to spend time with the travelers before they continued their journey west. Basho writes:


Still in the shadowy twilight,
we arrive at our lonely lodging.
Just about now, you have reached home,
your wife, children, and servants
come out to welcome you,
you enter the bathtub of clear water,
and massage your swollen shins.

 

Basho feels he can share Ensui’s experiences across the barriers of space because their two hearts have bonded since childhood. The poetry of this passage contains certain elements we find often in

his linked verse:

 

1) that special “poetic” feeling of twilight, evening or morning

2) mention of personal relations (wife, children, servants),

3) welcoming the traveler home

4) physical sensory experience (entering clear hot water)

5) specific body parts and activities (massaging swollen shins).

 

Each of these five elements, as well as a similar spirit, appear in the final paragraph of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Sam has parted from Frodo, as Ensui has parted from Basho, and returns to his home where his wife Rose and infant daughter Elanor welcome him home.


Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill,
as day was ending once more. And he went on,
and there was yellow light, and fire within,
and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected,
and Rose drew him in , and set him in his chair,
and put little Elanor on his lap.
He drew a deep breath, ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.

 

I have arranged Tolkien’s word in poetic lines to highlight the similarity to the passage from Basho’s letter to Ensui. Notice the twilight feeling, personal relations, welcoming home, and physical sensations and activities: “yellow light and fire…drew him in …set him in his chair… put Elanor in his lap…a deep breath” then spoken words. Basho would have appreciated Tolkien’s art.


Here, from another letter to Ensui in 1691, Basho recalls a cherry blossom viewing picnic in Iga long ago;


Within the wireweed a wild cherry tree
on a ridge beside vegetable fields;
a thin hemp rope for laundry attached,
thatch at the eaves starting to collapse;

 

We pass through a gate in a fence covered with the noxious climber wireweed on our way to an old favorite cherry tree in full bloom. Attached to the tree a thin yet strong rope of hemp fibers holds nothing. The other end of the rope is tied to a dilapidated old house; the thatch at the center of the roof congeals into a solid water-proof mass, but around the edges can collapse. Again and again, Basho links his mind with Ensui’s through memories they share.

 

Scallions in vinegar-miso dressing,
boiled horsetails dipped in soy sauce,
these are what I most remember;

 

Scallions are green onions with long stem and almost bulbless root. Horsetails, tsukushi, are a spring plant with a top that looks like a round brush. And yes, taste does leave strong memories. In each one

of Basho’s letters to Ensui, he somewhere, mentions hometown foods.


Kyoya’s serious face searching for a verse,
Doho cracking jokes, here my yearning begins.

 

The camera moves to the humanity eating these foods in this rustic place: two old friends at the party, one struggling to think of a serious poem, the other having lots of fun. Kyoya is a merchant in Iga. Hattori Doho, the leader of the Basho circle in Iga, is an Instructor in the martial art of the Spear (so you don’t want to mess with him), and the head of a family related to the master ninja Hattori Hanzo -- but he too seems like a fun guy.


Through a flow of images -- natural surroundings, specific details about the place, favorite foods, and old friends -- Basho encapsulates his and Ensui’s experience of their hometown. The passage is a masterpiece of stream-of-consciousness; we flow with Basho, through Basho’s mind, from a specific place in Iga, picnic space, cherry tree to laundry line to roof to scallions and horsetails, Kyoya, Doho, yearning for memories of long ago. This is Basho’s mind.

 

Here Basho sings of Ensui’s newborn granddaughter who Ensui in a haiku called a plum blossom “still emerging” from the bud.

 

The plum blossom ‘still an edge emerging’
shall be especially treasured.
I am happy you have a grandchild,
my joy as great as yours.

 

The baby’s immaturity just shows that the best is yet to come. Basho experiences Ensui’s joy in his own chest. We cannot read this letter without feeling the warmth in Basho’s heart. He expresses it so clearly.

 

A year later Basho sends Ensui another poetic image of his  granddaughter:

 

In the spring of last year
the scent of plum blossoms I heard of
‘still an edge emerging,’
this year gradually to become fragrant and colorful,
so I guess how much you love her.

 

Bashoi wishes that this year the whole tree will become fragrant and colorful, as Ensui’s granddaughter who can now stand by herself goes out into the world. Again Basho transcends the distance between them, feeling Ensui’s love for his granddaughter in his own heart. He clearly, more clearly than any other male writer, affirms the worth of the infant female.

 

From Letters to Kyokusui

Eloquent is the poetry in Basho’s letters to his young samurai follower Kyokusui who lived in Zeze on the shore of Lake Biwa. After two years in the Kansai area, often in Zeze, Basho left to return to Edo in winter of 1691. Here from an inn in Okazaki, east of Nagoya, on the way, he looks back on his time in Zeze:


Pine-mushrooms and persimmons of Zeze,
I ate as many as my heart desired,
so now have no regrets about leaving.

 

Basho goes on to tell his feelings upon receiving letters from Kyokusui and another follower Shado in Zeze:


Wind blowing through rips in the paper window
moonlight shining through cracks in the door,
before a dirty lantern smelling of fish oil,
I quickly opened your letters
and tears soaked the pages.
In Shado’s letter he speaks of his gratitude
for three years of my hospitality, but truly
those two years my heart spent in Zeze,
whose kindness enabled that hospitality?


Basho means “your kindness enabled that hospitality”

 

Although this year and next I play in Edo,
to Zeze my heart points; with humility
I know not how, it is like my hometown.

 

 

Three years later, on his death bed, Basho requested that he be buried in Zeze at Gichuji Temple,

where he remains today.


The next spring, Basho wrote another letter to Kyokusui in which he portrays three types of poet: one,

 

 those wandering about without looking at the path;
they may be called the confused in poetry. . .

 

and two, 


 during the five minutes of an incense stick, they spin their schemes.   Soon as they're done, they get a kick out of the points they gain.
  like a young boy playing cards


 and then a third type:

 

Finally are those who effort with intention,
while soothing their emotions,
without needing to criticize others,
they are a vessel containing the true path.
They search for the faraway bones of Teika,
trace with their fingers the muscles of Saigyo,
wash and rinse out the intestines of Po Chu’i
and enter the one square inch of Tu Fu’s heart,

 

Like a musical riff, each of four phrases contains an active lively verb, an internal body image, and the name of famous poet, to suggest the poet exploring deep down under the surface.


In all the cities and provinces,
such poets cannot be counted on ten fingers.
So you may become one of these ten.
restrain yourself with moderation
and dedicate to your discipline.

 

From Letter to Kyorai,

As for the condition of poetry here in Edo:
among the samurai mansions in Yashiki-cho,
in the tenement houses on back roads,
at the back doors of houses on main roads,
in the guardsman’s huts, and toward the Kannon temple,
poetry-gambling is all the rage.

 

Basho means “just about everywhere” but he expresses this with many extra – unnecessary but interesting – images; each of these images calls up pictures. So we say the passage is poetry. Basho mentions his distaste for “poetry-gambling” in which poets competed against each other to win points, and poets made their living as contest judges.


Although they find joy in this practice
it merely sinks into shame and depravity.
With no thought of Newness or Lightness,
their poems strike against our ears,
artificially prepared as in a notebook
with crucified corpses and severed heads
scattered round and round the words,
old-fashioned and heavy-handed,
I cannot stand to hear one bit of them.

 

Poetry in Basho letters is sometimes rough, critical, and even hostile.  

 

Letters to Chigetsu

Why in letters to this widow lady in her sixties does Basho write so much about intimate body parts?


My sick bowels for 53 days now have felt fine
and this spring I will take care of my health
and become fierce as a demon.
Needing no cushion in the palanquin,
shoulders and hips painful, I entered Iga.

 

Basho counts the days he is free from his chronic disease – Really? Exactly 53! In a letter to a woman,        he tells the condition of his bowels; now that’s personal!


Your daughter-in-law always, always
breaking her bones till it hurts to see her.
and so we should feel gratitude.
I hope you will be very, very aware of this.

 

Basho speaks of the yome, Chigetsu’s daughter-in-law who came to this household decades ago. Without Abigail Adams to remind him, Basho “remembers the ladies.”


For one year a dream has been like reality.
On each of us old age presses. The day
may not be as far as today or tomorrow.

 

Seven months ago, Basho parted from Chigetsu in Zeze; he says the time apart from her is both reality and a dream.

 

Letters to Uko

The following tanka appears in one of Basho’s three letters to his woman follower Uko. He recalls when he stayed at her house, she performed the tea ceremony for her guest, and allowed Basho to sleep in the same room with her and her husband.


Each evening
kettle surely boiling,
how I miss
those three pillows in
the room where we slept

 

Uko sent Basho a present, a cushion she designed and sewed to fit around his hips while he sits to keep them warm this coming winter.


With your letter came the cushion
you made for my hips and sent to me
from the intention of your heart,
not from a shallow place within you,
and so I am grateful.
Now as we wrap chrysanthemums in cotton:

 

In the first frost
flowers start to feel cold,
my hip cushion

 

When finally I can go up to Kyoto, I will thank you more.

 

I would like to think Sai-chan is becoming obedient.

 

 

In the p.s. to the 1690 letter, Basho called Uko’s daughter “Tei.” In her letter with the hip cushion Uko must have used the correct name, so in this letter Basho gets it right. If Sai was one then, in the year past she has entered the ‘terrible twos,’ that period when every waking moment is devoted to proving independence from mama, and the child is first able to have effects on the world.  Japanese women today say the same about 2 or 3 year olds (otonashiku natta deshō).

 

                                             p.s. to 1691 Letter to Uko

 

 

For the letter you sent to Chigetsu
you have made me grateful.
Gentle your heart’s intention,
returning again and again.
Chigetsu also knows that feeling.

 

Chigetsu must have told Basho she got a letter from Uko. He praises the gentleness of woman, and also the solidarity of women. He seems to be building bridges between these two women followers.

 

  On his deathbed

 

Two days before his life ended in Osaka on November 28th,1694, Shiko helped Basho sit up, and he was able to write a final letter in his own hand to his 6-or-7 year older brother Hanzaemon who led the way in the Matsuo family of six children.


Before you I take leave
with regrets I make you bear.
Somehow relying on Mataemon,
as your final years approach
may you spend them with quiet heart
until they reach their fulfillment.
Arriving here no more can I say.

 

Mataemon was the son of Oyoshi, Hanzaemon and Basho’s little sister, adopted by Hanzaemon to inherit the household. The same day, Basho dictated his will to Shiko, mostly final messages to folks in Edo, and counted as Basho’s final letter. Here is one message to his patron who supported him both financially and spiritually and enabled Basho’s work.


This I say to Sampu: for so long your kindness,
even after death, shall not be forgotten.
As I now end at an unforeseen place
there can be no words of parting
nor any thoughts between us.
Keep on making an effort with your poems,
so you enjoy them as you grow old.

 

Sampu lived for 28 years after Basho’s death, and I am sure that every time he thought about poetry, he remembered Basho’s final words to him.

 

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com

 






<< Basho’s Zen Poetry (E-16) (E-18) Ride the Energy >>


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...
• Women in Basho
• 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
• 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