Basho's thoughts on...
• 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  >  Letters Year by Year  >  G-16


Letters of Spring of 1693

To Uko, Ensui, Kyokusui, and Kyoriku

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

1693 was a grim year for Basho; from the winter of 1692, he took his 33 year old nephew Toin sick with tuberculosis into his house to care for him until he died at the end of spring. Meanwhile, many of his followers were no longer following him because they had no interest in Basho’s new ideal of Lightness. Shirane describes how the Nagoya group were in 1684, “the primary force in first establishing the Basho style” but from 1691, “they turned their backs on Basho”, so by now in 1693 “almost all the Owari/Nagoya group had become estranged from Basho.”


We begin the year, however, with two rather upbeat letters, one to Uko and one to Ensui; although Basho is suffering at this time, he chooses not to tell any of this to them, instead focusing on positive memories they share and images of a hopeful future.

 

Since the spring of 1691 when she took the tonsure of a Buddhist nun, Uko has continued living with her husband and infant daughter in a wealthy section of Kyoto. Bessho Makiko notes that many woman haiku poets became nuns – after the husband passed on. Uko is the only nun-wife with an infant daughter. (Say what?)

 

Shoko -- a Japanese woman reading Basho’s letters to Uko in her native language -- gets the impression that Uko becoming a nun had little or nothing to do with Buddhism. Being a nun gave a woman freedom to travel and interact with many people, but Shoko suspects that Uko wanted to ensure that she would not get pulled into a relationship with another man if Boncho disappeared from her life—which does in fact happen this year. Boncho was quite enough.


I have a different idea. Uko became a nun because she did not want any more children. Sai-chan was quite enough. Officially sanctioned celibacy was the only way she could keep Boncho off of her. He was in his forties and concerned about appearing “old” and she still young and vibrant. So Uko was not “really” a nun, it was just a disguise, a tatemae for appearance, a means of contraception.


Letter 158 to Uko, February 23, 1693

 

When Otokuni came to Edo, I received
your letter and gazed at it with curiosity.
I congratulate you for living without misfortune.
I was healthy throughout the winter
and everyone says the Edo lifestyle suits me,
so you need not worry about me.
You are kind to say everything reminds you of me;
I too awake and asleep have only memories of you.
I can never forget how you cared for me
for such a long time.

 

As for the two haiku you sent me,
they do make the feeling enter.
I am glad to see your talent has not declined.


One haiku Uko sent to Basho was

 

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; if you touch them, skin rash.


Of the two, the verse FIELD IN SPRINGmade me see an image
of the awful rash on your thin hands and legs.

 

Uko gives no indication of where on her body she got the rash, but Basho sees it specifically “on your thin hands and legs” -- the parts of the body that come into contact with shrubs and wild growth as we walk through the field. Both in the haiku and in Basho‘s comment on it, we see much body consciousness. If Basho is so austere and monk-like how come he ‘sees’ a woman‘s legs in imagination? And the woman who is a Buddhist nun will not mind. Basho would not say anything offensive to her. Because he is not

austere and she is not really a nun.

 

The second haiku Uko sent Basho was her verse in Monkey’s Raincoat, where it appears with this headnote:


I am weak and often sick and to trim my hair was
too difficult, so this spring I changed the style.

 

‘Hairpins and comb
long ago – fallen petals
of the camellia

 

“Changing the style” means taking the tonsure. Uko begins with the beauty of her hair enhanced by ornamental pins and comb. But much of that hair is gone; the long black hair lies like a puddle on

the ground around her – the way many, many red petals of a camellia blossom lie together in a damp clump around the tree. Cherry petals are light and just float away. Camellia petals are solid and chunky -- the feeling of all that black hair on the floor.


From your verse in Monkey‘s Raincoat
people feel attracted. They ask me,
‘What sort of beauty is she? Is she ladylike?’
I reply, “She is not beautiful and she is not ladylike.
She became a nun only by the compassion in her heart.”
So discipline your heart to more and more compassion.

 

The readers of Monkey‘s Raincoat unfamiliar with Uko cannot tell from the headnote or the verse that she is a nun, and they think “A woman who writes a verse like this, how beautiful and ladylike she must be!”

 

Shoko and I considered various alternatives before she suggested ‘ladylike’ for teijo. I am not exactly sure what “ladylike” means, but somehow it fits. If they knew she was a nun they would not ask this. Nuns have given up all concern for beauty and ladylikeness. Uko seems to be enjoying her ordinary life while being a nun. Basho is telling Uko that the readers of her verse feel her femininity, when they should be feeling her Buddhism. Basho‘s response is not to offend her. Remember she is pretending to be a nun without actually renouncing her sensuality. If Basho said Uko is beautiful, that would imply that her nun‘s disguise is not

working; we can see through it. Uko, if we are going to pretend that you are a nun, we have to stop seeing you as a beautiful lady –- although that is what you are, even without your hair. We have to maintain the tatemae. Although you are pretending to be a nun, in reality, become ever more compassionate.


Boncho got into a dispute with Basho (Tanaka believes that Rotsu got annoyed at the way Basho handled the affair with Rotsu; see Letter 85 to Sora) and left the school. In the letter Basho reassures Uko that, in spite of her husband, he still supports her. Sometime around 1693 Boncho was convicted of a crime and

imprisoned – whether he is in jail at the time of this letter is unclear.

 

If Boncho can manage would be good,
one step in your favor.  Impermanence so swift. And again.

 

Either ‘I hope Boncho can stay out of jail’ or ’I hope he gets out soon. Meanwhile Uko is on her own with a small child. Mujo junsoku, ‘Impermanence so swift’ is one of the grand central  thoughts of the Japanese mind—that everything will pass away so soon. Basho writes it, then a repeat mark. Three years ago Uko was a doctor’s wife with a fine house and a tea cottage in a wealthy neighborhood of Kyoto; from now with

Boncho in jail Basho realizes that Uko will become very poor. Even when he gets out, no one will go to a doctor who is a convicted criminal.


Sometimes the best part of a Basho letter is the p.s.

 

With those jerks in Nagoya,
all lines appear to be down.
Much unfinished business.

 

Shoko says yatsubara domo, is a swear word, maybe the equivalent of ‘those assholes‘-- I think “jerks” is strong enough. Kyoriku called them Basho’s “disowned disciples.” Basho says communication with them is futsu, as when telephone lines are down after as storm or earthquake.


However, the hip cushion
you sent me two years ago --
this winter, I wrapped it around my head
and it kept out the cold.

 

Part 2 of the p.s. is best of all. Remember in letter 116,Basho thanked Uko for the cushion she made and sent him to keep his hips warm while sitting – well, this winter; he liked wrapping it around his head.  Tthis is the real Basho, not some austere saint or Buddhist hermit, but as Shoko calls him, ‘Dear Uncle Basho,’ a bit strange but still a pretty good guy.

 

Letter 159 to Kyokusui, March 14, 1693,

 

An unexpected problem has arisen so I must make a request.
If you have some money you can afford to send,
I will be grateful if you would lend me one ryo and a half.
I will certainly return it. (Yeah, sure)

 

Kon explains that this is enough cash to buy 240 kilograms of rice; In modern Japan, 10 kg. of rice costs between 3000 and 4000 yen, however at bulk prices, 240 kg. would cost about 60,000 yen, which

at modern exchange rates equals about $600.

 

I am involved in a secret act of salvation I cannot forego
and it is difficult to beg from the people in Edo.

 

Basho probably already did “borrow” money from Sampu, so it was “difficult to beg” for more.


So I make this request with no certainty
of the response inside your heart.
I will tell you the details we are face-to-face.

 

Mentioning Toin’s name in the letter would be too dangerous. What is the money for? The scholars suggest that Basho needs to pay for medicine for Toin who has tuberculosis of the lungs. But doctors in those days had no expensive treatments to use against tuberculosis – just Chinese herbs which do not cost that much. $600 is too much for some packets of tea.

 

Toin‘s undocumented job at Kyobashi (see Letter 95) provided for Jutei and the three children. Now Toin is sick and cannot work (and there is no sick leave or unemployment insurance) but Jutei and the three children still have to eat every day into the future. And pay rent? Unlike scholars who think only of the man, we keep in mind the needs of women and children.


p.s. I have made an unreasonable request.
It is a matter of haste,
so please let me have the money for a while.
It is impossible to cast away the dust in this floating world.

 

Shoko tells me that, to a Japanese perspective, the letter seems rather blunt. Basho just says “Gimme the money.” Conventional Japanese for such a letter would use far more polite terminology to circle around and around the issue.


Beginning 1693, Basho received a New Years’ letter from Ensui with a haiku telling of the birth of his friend’s first grandchild, a girl.


New Year‘s Day –
still an edge emerging
plum blossom

 

The phrase ‘still an edge emerging’ is from the Tale of Genji where it describes Genji’s young daughter, the Akashi Princess:


The Princess, still an edge emerging, is so pure,
we can only guess how her life will go

 

The Akashi Princess grows up to become Empress;

Ensui apparently has high hopes for his granddaughter.

 

Letter 161 to Ensui, April 9

 

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 feels 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.


We know your wife shall be thoroughly consoled…

 

Basho acknowledges that Ensui‘s wife did the work and suffered the hardship of raising the child who is now a parent, so now she will be consoled by seeing her granddaughter.


…In some way or another
my memories of our old village are of foods,
however I have not the heart of Fa-hsien,
rather I am greedy by nature, I guess.
Now I want to throw away everything and my
only wish is to go there soon and sit with thee.

 

The Chinese Buddhist monk Fa-hsien was some traveler. Starting in 399 at age 65, he WALKED from central China across the desert, over the Himalayas, and through India where for ten years he collected Buddhist texts and icons, then carried them to China by ship (a wise choice). Once in India, Fa-hsien was sick and had a longing for hometown Chinese food. Basho also has an attachment to the foods of his birthplace, but not because he is a saint like Fa-hsien; rather he is “greedy by nature, I guess”.

 

p.s.     Nowadays before my gate they catch whitebait
           and the children gather shijimi clams.
           At my hut I am devoted to eating only tofu.

 

Whitebait, slender herring-like fish, finger-length and semitransparent, early in spring swim up river from the bay. Caught in nets. they are eaten fried or in soup but also alive and still ‘dancing‘.


White bait –
black eyes open to
Dharma‘s net

 

The Dharma is the Law of Buddhism that all things must die and pass away. The startlingly black eyes of the silvery fish open to the Truth as the net takes them. Basho however is vegan, so no whitebait die for his protein. Shijimi are small clams, the shell only an inch long, so the tiny hands of children are efficient at gathering them. Shoko says they ‘taste good and smell good’. Soybeans and tofu contain isoflavones, chemicals which “convey the benefits (bone density, heart protection, reducing hot flashes) to post-menopausal women without increasing breast cancer risk -- so they might be a good choice for women around menopause – and probably contribute to the longevity of Japanese women. Men also

benefit from tofu (unless one is allergic to it) which may explain Basho‘s (and my) devotion to it.


Letter 167 to Kyoriku, end of April

 

Yesterday, Kikaku and Torin visited your lodgings,
and you sat together in happiness and wrote poetry,
but, as Torin knows, a sick person is in my house,
and since the 20th of last month, the disease has gradually
gotten severe. For five or six days now, the misery has been
intense, and he appears close to death.

Last evening Torin came over to nurse him all night long.
But this is tuberculosis and there is no quick end to it.
He left our hometown more than ten years ago,
now approaching twenty years,
and has not seen his old mother in all that time.

 

Basho escorted Toin out of Iga in 1676 because the boy was in trouble with the law, and had to live as a fugitive in the metropolis. 

 

His father died when he was four or five. so I have looked after him
as he reached 32 years. Misery together with transience,
it is difficult to stop thinking about him,
he brings pain without pause to my heart.
For these reasons, I cannot say when I will come visit,
and I request your understanding of this.

 

 

The splendor of cherry blossoms dwells on my heart,
and thinking this the sick person’s final blossom season,
I showed took him to see them, and he was joyful.

 

Thank you, Basho, for your compassion. Even in this

sad letter, Basho uses that word yorokobi, “joy.”

 

                                basho4humanity@gmail.com

 






<< Letters of 1692 (G-15) (G-17) Letters of Summer 1693 to Spring 1694 >>


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...
• 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