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  >  The Physical Body  >  F-02


Hands

5 Basho haiku, 10 renku, 2 haibun, 1 letter about human hands

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

Hands  evolved to do work, and Basho paid profound attention to women's hands  at work. May his poems deepen your exerience of these products of millions of years of evolution. Here are  18 portraits of hands and what hands do, and four more by his woman followers.


 

Wrapping rice cake
with one hand she tucks
hair behind ear

 

A mother preparing sweets for the children bends over a bucket of rice dough, forms into cones, wraps leaves of bamboo grass around each one, and ties with a strip of rush – however you can make this haiku your own by having “wrapping rice cake” be a symbol for any sort of work you do with stuff on your hands you do not want on your hair. You could be planting or harvesting, weeding, preparing food, housecleaning, grooming a horse, making pots, or any of a hundred other jobs – this is Basho for Now. 


Some long hair moist with sweat has come loose from the band in back and fallen before her face. Her fingers and palms are coated with residue. Without thinking or breaking your stride, she reaches up with the clean surface on the side of her hand above the thumb and forefinger to tuck the hair behind your ear – with nothing getting on your her hair. Women in every land and every time where hair is worn long make this precise, delicate, and utterly feminine movement with the side of the hand around the ear. This is Basho’s Mona Lisa, his most graceful and delicate hidden woman – and we notice how it contains both hair and hands. The one hand tucking hair behind ear while working is alive and vital – and we compare the two shining hands of the Mona Lisa resting on her pregnant belly.

 

By moonlight
my poor mother is seen
beside the window 

She would hide fingers
stained with indigo 

 

The speaker is far – both in distance and time – from mother, however the moonlight recalls an image of her long ago at night weaving or sewing fabric in that light from above through the open window without glass. From this iconic maternal image, Basho zooms in on an astonishingly trivial but intimate human detail:

her fingers stained from years of dying cloth with indigo, she feels the need to cover them with fabric to hide that strange inhuman color in the moonlight. The blue tint draws the eyes in our minds to her fingers – where we see the ‘traces’ of all the  work she has done with those fingers. Shimasue says “fingers

stained with love.”

 

Renku scholar Miyawaki Masahiko says,

“In the behavior of mother hiding her fingers, the child separated far from her realizes her personality. The moonlight conveys the feelings in the child’s heart along with memories of mother working in desperation to raise us in spite of poverty.”


Miyawaki shows us how to find the icon, the profound meaning, in Basho’s words. The link – the thoughts that take us -- from Iugen’s stanza to this astonishingly trivial but intimate human detail shows the vast range of Basho’s genius. Only Basho could conceive of a link such as this, a link so personal and bodily yet so full of heart.

 

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet

Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven

 

This woman has enough work sewing before winter comes. She may “make ends meet” in autumn, but has to survive the rest of the year. Into this poor struggling home, Basho introduces a daughter and a koto, or 13-string harp, an instrument of refinement played only by women. If the mother owns a koto, she must have been well-off in the past, but fallen on hard times. Notice the link between the form of needlework and the strings and frets on the harp. Both stanzas convey the diligence and constant effort of  female hands producing order, rhythm, and beauty. The daughter plays her mother’s koto here and now - and also plays it through the months, years, decades of practice required to master the instrument. Basho praises the young girl in the early stages of her discipline. Cultures worldwide consider age seven to be the beginning of wisdom and moral understanding – which may lead us to the link Basho created in this masterpiece of renku humanity.


We imagine the pride the hard-working mother feels hearing her seven-year-old daughter produce such beauty. With utmost subtlety and grace, through the powerful effect music has on the brain, Basho portrays the bond between mother and daughter, the hope for a better future that the growing and learning girl evokes in her mother, hope rising on the lovely notes emerging from her seven year old fingers on the koto.

 

Traditionally rice was planted by the young women of the village in hope that their fertility would magically transfer to the fields. At a village where, centuries before, women rubbed dye on silk fabric over a large rock with an intricate checkered surface to produce mottled patterns that became famous throughout the land:


Hands remove
rice seedlings, long ago
rubbing dye

 

The female hands gently separating the countless tiny roots of the seedling from the dirt of the nursery bed, careful not to damage them, are the same hands which centuries ago rubbed dye onto cloth: the same hands – the same DNA, the same precision and delicacy – inherited from mother to daughter in this village in the heartlands. Dorothy Britton notes Basho “contemplates with obvious delight the physical grace of nubile young women’s hands busy at their traditional task of transplanting new rice” –

 

For us, with heat and work, ‘tis often known,

Not only sweat, but blood runs trickling down,

Our wrists and fingers; still our work demands

The constant action of our laboring hands

                                                 Mary Collier, The Woman’s Labour (1739)

 

Easing in
her slender forearm
for his pillow

 

Carefully maneuvering her hand and arm under his head without waking him, such is her kindness and devotion. Without using the word “love,” Basho sketches the gentle, caring nature of woman’s

love. His stanza is remarkably physical, active, and sensual in a mere seven words. .

 

Basho’s woman follower Chine wrote

 

Put in water
hands better be wiped,
the autumn wind

 

Chine is so fundamental, so sensory, so conscious of her hands: where skin is wet, how the wind penetrates! In our time we provide warm water to many people, yet still hundreds of millions in the temperate zone who work in unheated water can appreciate her hands’ awareness of the need to wipe them well with a towel, so they endure the work for decades of the four seasons.

 

Chine’s verse on women working in cold water has an ally in this verse by another woman follower Chigetsu:

 

Hands stopped
by the bush warbler,
kitchen sink

 

Chigetsu portrays her hands at work in the freezing cold well water of February, then the bright call of the bush warbler takes her consciousness away from her hands.


Another woman, Uko wrote about her small daughter Sai:

 

I shall breathe
on your frostbit hands --
big ball of snow

 

She breathes warmth on her daughter’s red and inflamed hands. Mom and Sai-chan rolled the ball of snow together.


Uko send Basho a letter containing two of her haiku. Here is one:

 

Field in spring—
from which of the grasses
came this rash?

 

Uko went walking through a field in spring, and got a skin rash. Her verse carries the mind from the vast field of miscellaneous grasses and shrubs to Uko‘s own body. As life emerges in the fields so do plant substances that cause allergic reactions in this season. The leaves of shrubs have prickles on them, and if you touch them, skin rash.


                        From Letter to Uko, dated February 23, 1693

 

As for the two haiku you sent me,
they do make the feeling enter.
I am glad to see your talent has not declined.
Of the two, the verse FIELD IN SPRING
made me see an image of the awful rash
on your slender hands and legs.

 

Uko gives no indication of where on her body she got the rash, but Basho sees it specifically “on your slender hands and legs” -- the parts of the body that come into contact with shrubs and wild growth as we walk through the field. Both Uko's haiku and Basho‘s comment on it contain much body consciousness, in particular feminine body consciousness. 

 

Lunch break at a traveler’s rest:

 

Leaving azaleas
in a bucket, behind them
she tears dried cod

 

Azaleas bloom in May on long straight stalks dividing into twigs each with a cluster of young green leaves and flowers of pink or soft red petals. A woman in a rustic roadside rest area has gathered azaleas from the mountain and brought them inside to arrange in a vase, but a customer (Basho) comes in, so she places the flowers temporarily in a bucket in the center of the room, and goes to tear off some strips of dried cod for him to munch on with his tea. After the noon rush is over, she will get back to arranging them in a vase.

Sitting at a table, he sees her in the kitchen, from his point of view, behind the flowers. Seen from where he sits, the flowers appear as superimposed on her. She is partially hidden by them.


The verse is full of action with two lively specific verbs, ikeru‘to keep alive by putting in water’; and saku, ‘to tear’ -- a rough sounding word with the feeling of coarse hands tearing off slices of fish flesh. This roughness is the harsh reality of common woman’s life. The delicacy of the azaleas reconciles that roughness. Both verbs have the woman as their subject. She is the center of the verse. She mediates between the delicacy of the flowers and the coarseness of her hands’ work. The verse shows us the busyness of women – preparing food for both family and customers, along with a thousand other chores, while still finding time to make the place pretty with flowers.

 

After a quarrel

the soft rubbing sounds
of hands wringing

White tissue paper
soaked by her tears

 

Two hands twisting around each other in “wringing” produce faint, unobtrusive pressure sound – in Japanese sara sara -- which most people would not even call sound. The activity and sound of a woman’s hands contain her feelings of upset and loss of selfconfidence. Basho completes the image with the physical-ness of

tissue paper in her hands soaked by her tears.

 

She grabs some bran
to wash her oily hands

The bill collector,
if only he had such
a heart of love

 

The hairdresser removes oil from her hands by absorbing it in handfuls of rice bran, then washing away. From this touchy-feely interaction of oil, powder, and hands may suggest a variety of bodily and sexual images. Basho jumps from bran on oily hands of a hairdresser to an entirely different sort of person who comes to the house – the man who collects installments due for things bought on credit. He handles no hair, oil, or bran; only money. We might even say he has a “heart of money.” Basho says he needs “a heart of

love” -- more involvement with physical stuff we can feel and move around with our hands.


In a hurry
he leaves his letter
near the door

Coins held in her hand
the grandmother cries

 

Apparently the husband is deserting his family. He does not sit down with them to explain or say good-bye, he does not even come into the main part of the shop. He just leaves a letter of exclamation and a few coins inside near the door. We feel his shame and his weakness, there in Ensui’s words. His mother holds the coins in her hand, and cries for her son who is abandoning his responsibility, for her daughter-in-law and grandchildren who now have no one to support them. .

 

 Turning below the hill

 I see a waterfall

 Where his arrow
 will go, the hunter
 waves his hand

 

 A traveler enjoys his freedom to move through space (notice how every word is spatial), to be refreshed by nature, to drink from the pool below the falls.  Basho, in a remarkable twist, adds tension to the scene.  The pool also attracts animals and a hunter who aims to shoot one.  With his hand he warns the traveler away from the water.  The tension is between hunter and his prey, as well as between traveler who loves freedom and is refreshed by nature and hunter with his dangerous weapon who prohibits freedom and kills nature.   

 

 Pole for drying cloth,
icicles long and short

With one hand
on abacas he records
sales of rice

 

At a cloth dyer’s, cloth hangs from a bamboo pole to dry. Now in midwinter icicles have formed from the poles, some long, some short. Both of his hands are portrayed: one hand moving the beads on the abacas, one hand writing down on paper. The soroban, or Japanese abacas, imported from China in the 14th

century, was widely used by merchants, and is still taught in Japanese primary schools to help children grasp the concepts of numbers and decimal places. The way to learn numbers is through hand activity, not only movements of the eyes in reading, but the moving of beads up and down.

 

Such a marvelous mind had Basho: to separate one aspect from the scene of icicles – the row of spires all starting at one height but each going down a different length -- and transfer that aspect to the row of bead columns each a different number of beads below the horizontal bar to represent multi-digit numbers.

 

Incessantly
falling mixture of
sleet and hail --

Palms of hands wiped,
making crafts with paste

 

 Bokusetsu portrays inanimate, freezing, wet, falling white with no hint of humanity.  Basho changes the focus to people;  it could be someone using paste to attach white paper to the wooden frames of shoji window panels, however I instead see  children in the 17th century Japanese equivalent of a kindergarten. Children love being outside in snow, but not so much in sleet and hail. Better to be inside, exploring the use of moist, creamy, sticky paste (made from the starch in wheat or rice flour) to hold paper together. This is delicate work with the hands, so the palms must not have an accumulation of used paste on them.

 

Even to the sound
of hand blowing nose
plum in full bloom

 

The plum blossoms are so lovely that even the sound of someone blowing his nose against his hand (I think they call this a “farmer’s blow”) cannot interfere with my appreciation of their beauty.

 

In the preface to his famous travel journey, A Narrow Path in the Heartlands, Basho writes about his oppressive desire to leave on a journey.


The gods of travel beckoned
till my hands could hardly hold onto things,
so I mended my torn breeches,
changed the cords on my sedge hat,
and burned moxa on some points. . .

 

Basho follows “my hands could hardly hold on to things” with a list of three skilled tasks he performed with his hands. When we notice this incongruity, the passage becomes humorous.


In his essay on the death of his long-time close friend and supporter  Ranran, Basho writes one sentence on the bond of father and son through their hands.


I remember a New Years past
Ranran holding hands with a small boy
came to my door of weeds and said
it would be good if I gave the lad a name.

 

A samurai dad walks holding hands with his little son. (Say what?!) Pay attention; this is Anthropology. Maybe some samurai were not so strict and ‘manly’ as we imagine today. When Ranran heard the name Basho chose:


The flush of Ranran’s joy, even now, has not left my eyes

 

On the 15th day of the 2nd Moon (in 1694, March 10th), is the anniversary of Gautama’s Death and Entrance into Nirvana. The temple is crowded, mostly with old people sitting on their heels, heads bowed to an image of Buddha, chanting a mantra over and over again while they meditate. Each worshipper uses a string of 108 sacred beads to keep count of the repetitions without thinking, so they can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra:

 

Nirvana ceremony --
between wrinkled hands
prayer beads click

 

Women live longer than men, so always are more numerous in an aged population. Also, in old age women turn more to religion, while men turn to alcohol. The verse does not indicate gender, but I think Basho will allow us to see these hands as female. With devotion accumulated through years of worship, she turns her thumb clockwise around another bead each time she repeats the mantra. The verse takes the mind on a journey from the vastness and antiquity of Buddhism, to the smaller yet vivid tactile image of two aged female hands moving beads between them, then ends in the simple sound sensation of their clicking. In Basho’s final spring, even a verse about Buddhism focuses on body parts – again the hands -- and physical touchy-feely sensation along with clear distinct sound.


From her position as healer, (Ma’s) hands had grown
sure, and cool and quiet.

John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath

 

Wind from the east
blows from the west, then
from the north

The pulse in my wrist
is my great concern

 

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the wind gets inside the body to cause disease – so in Japanese both “wind” and “a cold” are pronounced kaze. A wind that changes direction produces disharmony in the body, so disease defeats the body’s defenses. Diagnosis of the pulses at the wrist gives the doctor detailed

information on the state of the internal organs and the whole complex of yin and yang energy. Basho, a month before his death, knows that any disharmony or disease in his body could accumulateto his ending.


Basho spent much of his final autumn in his hometown Iga, then on October 26th, 1694 left town to continue his journey. Here is the verse he wrote upon leaving. The name of the town, Iga, also means the burr that surround a chesnut.

 

Autumn departure
their hands spreading out
chestnut burrs

 

Both Basho and autumn are departing. The hands spreading out belong to his friends and followers imploring him to stay here just a bit longer. Likewise the chestnut burrs are spreading out to reveal the deep brown of the chestnuts inside. The hands spreading out reveal the hearts behind them.

 






<< Faces (F-01) (F-03 ) Long Black Hair >>


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