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  >  Women in Basho  >  L-21


Women in Basho Prose

If verses are snapshots, here are videos.

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

So far in Women in Basho we have explored 184 renku and 42 haiku of Basho’s poetic attention to women. In this article we continue exploring images of women flow through his essays and journals.

       

From Basho's Introduction to Kikaku's poetry anthology, 

 


Long ago the face of Lady Seishi hiding in her sleeves
along with Little Murasaki cast in gold,
then within bedrooms of imperial consorts
ivy hangs from the clothes hangers,
while in the lower classes, daughter
raised in a cocoon along with her mother,
bride fighting in rage against mother-in-law.

 

The passage, written in 1683, overflows with women of every sort: famous and ordinary, young and old,  beautiful and not. The ancient Chinese beauty Seishi and the famous Yoshiwara prostitute Little Murasaki are discussed at length in L-11 Attraction. 

 

The Song of  Everlasting Sorrow by Bo Juyi  (Po Chu’i),  a narrative poem in 120 stanzas, sings of Yang Yuhuan or, as she has usually been known, Yang Kuifeh. She was born in 719, early in the reign of her future husband, the Emperor Xuan Zong.  In 733 when she was 14, she was given in marriage to the son of the Emperor. Four years later the Emperor’s favorite died and the Emperor was lonely -- so he took his son’s wife. First, to deflect any criticism he made her a Taoist nun for seven years, then in 745, after he gave his son another wife, he raised the 26 year old to a newly created rank in Imperial Consorts, calling her Guifei, ‘Precious Queen’.  Although the emperor had 3000 consorts to choose from,  he lavished his attention only on the Lady Yang so that in the neglected bedrooms of his other ladies, ivy vines entered through holes in the wall to reach the clothes hangers.

 

According to the current class ranking, merchants are the lowest class even when rich.  In wealthy families, each generation raises the daughter “in a cocoon” to protect the precious little girl from getting knocked up – until finally she gets married only to fight with her mother-in-law. Basho the Soc

 

 From Journal of a Withered Field, of 1684

 

Basho’s mom died in 1683 while he was in Fukagawa. The next year he returned to Iga to visit her grave and spend time with his brother Hanzaemon and his sister Oyoshi who has married but not to leave her native home; instead she and her husband were adopted by Hanzaemon to inherit the household.  

 

Mid-October back in my hometown
the ‘forgetting grasses’ outside my mother’s room
have withered and not a trace remains.
Everything changes to the past.
From the same belly sidelocks white,
eyebrows starting to wrinkle, all we can say is “Still alive.”

Without a word my brother opens an amulet case.
“Pray to this lock of mother’s white hair.
Like the child returning to Urashima with a jeweled box,
your eyebrows are white too.” For a while we cried.

 

The young boy Taro of Urashima village (no connection to the tuber taro) was carried down by a sea turtle to the palace of a sea-goddess and stayed there for a while. Before he returned to his home, she gave him a jeweled box which (as usual in these stories) she told him to never look inside. Back on land he discovered that decades had passed and everyone he knew was dead. In despair he opened the box and a whiff of smoke arose, turning him into an old man with white hair. 

 

From his journal Backpack Notes

 

Basho arrives in Iga in January, 1688 to be with his family for New Years


If my father and mother could be here,
of the love we felt long ago so sadly,
only memories remain in excess.

 

                               -------------------------------------------

 

In the Battle of Ichinotani, in 1184 on the beach at Suma (western Kobe), the Genji forces led by Yoshitsune, overwhelmed the Heike clan who had possession of the infant Emperor. Yoshitsune with 30 samurai on horseback climbed the cliff and hung their troop-bell from a pine tree at an overlook. The Genji attacked from two sides and Yoshitsune’s warriors dashed down the cliff, setting fires. The surviving Heike panicked and ran for their boats to escape. Basho, 500 years later, describes the scene:

 

 

From Bell-Hanging Pine, gazing down below,
I see the mansion of the Emperor.
The chaos of that era, the clamor of that day
images gather floating across my mind:
Empress Dowager reverently hugging the Infant,
the Royal Mother’s legs catching in her royal skirt,
all the noble folk tumble onto the cabin boat,
court ladies run back and forth with precious items,
lutes and harps wrapped in cushions and futons
are thrown onto the boat,
delicacies for the Emperor spill to become food for fish,
vanity boxes scatter like seaweed discarded by divers.
A thousand years of sadness linger on this shore
even in the sound of waves breaking.

 

Notice the remarkably well-organized structure:

an introductory section of four lines,

seven vivid photographic images each with one or more lively active verbs,

and a two-line closing statement.

 

The only power the Heike still have is possession of the Emperor, so they hold him close. The Empress Dowager, Kiyomori’s widow, carries her six-year-old grandson, the royal Infant, a living descendant of the Sun Goddess. Her daughter has more mundane problems. The feeling of confusion piles up with each of the seven images, then releases in “sound of the waves breaking.”

 

The amazing thing about this passage is the absence of men. In the actual battle, there were thousands of men here, killing each other or dying horrible deaths, yet Basho has eyes only for the women and what they are doing to survive and continue their commitment to their clan in this madness created by men. By focusing on the women trying to save their lovely noble possessions, Basho may be suggesting that they are more heroic than the so-called “heroes.”

 

 

From his travel journal A Narrow Path in the Heartlands 

Basho explores the women he met on his journey with Sora to the Deep North in 1689:


We went to visit the Cauldron of Eight Islands.
My travelling companion Sora says,
“This shrine belongs to Tree Blossom Princess
who also has a shrine on Mount Fuji...

 

Sora studied Shinto so can speak of these matters, although probably Basho made up this speech.  This shrine in Tochigi has absolutely no connection to Tree Blossom Princess, the Goddess of Mount Fuji, who.

married Ninigi, the grandson of the Sun Goddess. When she become pregnant after only one night with him, he accused her of doing it with someone else. 

 

She entered a doorless chamber and set fire to herself
to prove she had been faithful to her pledge,
and so gave birth to Gods-Born-From-Fire
which is why this place is called “Caldron” of Eight Islands.

 

Since she was telling the truth, she did not die from burning, but instead from her caldron (i.e. womb) she gave birth to three baby gods.  Nice story, but this is NOT why this place is called "Caldron of Eight Islands."  Basho is having some fun with us us, while he brings our attention to one of his favored themes: the faithfulness of women and goddesses. (See Women with Goddess.)  In the 20th century, this shrine in Tochigi built itself a pond with eight islands, so the hordes of tourists would have something to see and take pictures of; everyone assumes the islands have some connection with Basho, although they have none. 


                                        ---------------------

 

Basho and Sora lost among the fields of Tochigi find a farmer at work who loans them his horse who will lead them out of the maze, then can be let go to return to master.  

 

Two little ones follow in the footsteps of the horse,
one a tiny princess who says her name is Kasane,
an unfamiliar name but a gentle one

 

We see this is a Time of Peace; small children are not afraid of strangers – and also, Dad was doing childcare while farming. Kasane is fortunate to have a father like this.  Basho's feeling for this little girl remains with him, and a year later, when someone asks him to name their newborn daughter, he named her Kasane. To see the consciousness that sprouted in Basho's mind from the name Kasane - which means in space "to pile up in layers" and in time "to reoccur again and again" - see C-14 Blessings Unto Kasane.

 

                             ---------------------------

 

Lady Tamamo was a courtesan of a 12th century Emperor:

 

“Her body mysteriously always smelled wonderful, and her clothes never became wrinkled or dirty. Tamamo was not only beautiful, but also infinitely knowledgeable in all subjects. Although she appeared to be only 20 years old, there was no question she could not answer. Because of her beauty and intelligence everyone at court adored her and the Emperor fell desperately in love with her.”

 

But then the Emperor became ill. An astrologer discovered Tamamo was actually a witch-fox in human disguise who had seduced the Emperor in a devious plot to take the throne. Suddenly she disappeared from court. Warriors tracked and killed the fox who turned into an enormous stone that killed anything that touched it – until a hundred years later a Chinese priest exorcised Tamamo’s evil spirit.

 

Does this story sound ‘for real’? Probably not. That’s the point. When we hear an old story about a woman found to be a witch, we can be pretty sure the story has gone through many tellers – invariably men – who have embellished it for their own purposes. A “witch” usually turns out to be an intelligent woman who wanted to decide her own life, which so irritated the local men that they declared her a witch and killed her. History tells the story from the men’s point of view. It sounds like someone very powerful got very envious of Tamamo. Who was the real woman behind this legend? Can we ever know her story as she would have told it?

At first this passage will not appear to be about women, but actually it is:


The Stone’s poisonous vapors have yet to seep away,
and bees and moths of many sorts died and piled up
till the true color of the sand cannot be seen.

 

The lies and half-truths glued together by malice and sexism have died and piled up till the true color of a woman cannot be seen. 

 

                         -------------------------------------

 

Nearby, in an old temple,
remain the tombstones of one family.
Among them, the stones marked for the wives of two brothers
are especially pathetic. Although they were women,
so the fame of their heroic bravery shall be heard
with awe in this world, we shed tears on our sleeves.

 

Basho says these women were kaigaishii, a word usually used for men, meaning 'gallant, heroic, brave, hard-working' - but instead of writing it in the  Chinese characters (甲斐甲斐しい)appropriate for male warriors, he writes in hiragana(かいがいしき)the feminine script used by women, which makes the reader pause to wonder about gender and related topics. History and literature remember the men while women (aside from romance) are forgotten, however Basho honors these two widows for going on through the lonely years doing the best they could for their children and household.  Only Basho would consider this female conduct as being as gallant and heroic as their husbands dying in ferocious battle to protect a hero. 

 

                                -----------------------------------

 

The emperor was so taken with his love for the Lady Yang (see above) that he ignored affairs of state, leading to disaster. The Lady Yang’s cousin was Counselor to the Emperor but appears to have been deficient in wisdom. He incited General An, a friend and supporter of the Emperor, to rebel. An’s forces drove the Emperor from the Capital.  The Imperial Guard, incensed at the mess the cousin created, killed him and his family, and demanded that the Emperor kill the Lady Yang as well. The Emperor tried to convince them to let her live, but they insisted so he had someone else strangle her in another room. This plunged the Emperor into everlasting sorrow.  But a Taoist sage pitied the emperor and offered to go into a trance and find his beloved. “He climbed to Heaven, entered the Earth, searching everywhere.”   (Like Oda Mae Brown in the movie Ghost)  Finally he found her on a magic island in the Eastern Sea.  She told the Emperor through the medium that she still loved him, that she would love him forever. The medium was even able to bring back some mementos from her. In the Song of Everlasting Sorrow are these words:

           

In the sky we wish for birds to share wings
on Earth we wish for branches to entwine
Heaven long, Earth eternal, yet some day consumed,
This sorrow, a fabric with no end in time.”

 

The Tale Of Genji opens with Lady Kiritsubo who becomes   the Emperor’s favorite and bears him a son (we call him Genji,  the name he later receives). The Emperor is so entranced with Kiritsubo that he ignores affairs of state, causing much disapproval within the court (recalling Xuan Zong and the Lady Yang).

Kiritsubo bears the brunt of the bad-mouthing by court ladies.  Especially concerned about the Emperor’s love for Kiritsubo is the Kokiden Lady, the Emperor’s senior consort and the mother of the Heir Apparent, who is three years old when Genji is born. Genji is so remarkably bright in both looks and intelligence, and the Emperor obviously favors him over the older child, that there is talk that the Emperor might switch the succession to Genji. The Kokiden Lady, not so pleased with this, puts out such bad vibes that Kiritsubo sickens and dies, sending the Emperor into grief – and then on the night of Kiritsubo’s funeral,  Kokiden insists on playing loud happy music on her harp far into the night.  (Bitch!)


Murasaki Shikibu has the Emperor lament:

 

Morning and evening, the content of our words;
“to line up wings and exchange branches”
were the vows we made,  to no avail,
for such is life  everlasting sorrow

 

The Emperor says Kiritsubo died because “such is life.” It was her destiny, not Kokiden’s fault nor his own fault for abandoning his first wife to play with a younger, sexier model, but the ‘fate she was born with, everlasting sorrow.

 

Now the images from the Song of Everlasting Sorrow and the Tale of Genji reach Basho in

A Narrow Path in the Heartlands: 


Between the pines each pair of lovers lies in the cemetery,  
their vows to ‘share wings and entwine branches’
in the end become thus, the sadness overwhelming.

 

If we read the three passages together, we see that Murasaki rewrote Bo-Juyi, and Basho rewrote both of them. Both Bo-Juyi and Murasaki use the images of wings and branches in the context of Emperors and consorts, special people, different from you and me. Basho democratizes the images, bringing them into the world of ordinary people. No matter who we are, no matter how sincerely we share  wings and entwine  branches, all end up in the cemetery.

 

                           ------------------------------------------

                         

At the Bay of Matsushima

 

Islands beyond count, towering like fingers to heaven
or lying flat on their bellies across the waves
some pile up in double layers or fold in triple,
branching right or stretching left some carry behind,
some hug in front, beloved children or grandchildren.
The pines are deep green and so bent by the waves
their crookedness seeming to be inherent --
the scene as a beautiful women adorns her face.

 

To each island cling one or a few pine trees, trunks and branches bent to fantastic angles. Basho’s geological descriptions must rank as the strangest yet most vivid ever written. He paints the scene with lively specific verbs – towering, lying flat, piling up, folding, branching, stretching, carry behind or hugging in front.  


 “Their crookedness seems as if inherent” means the crookedness is NOT inherent but seems to be.  No matter how the pines are bent and twisted in the wind, they retain their inherent pine-tree straightness.

 Adaptation by an individual does not alter the genome. Only selection through generations changes inherent nature. So too, in a woman; she adorns her face with make-up, but the real beauty lies within, unchanging. When we focus on Basho’s female imagery, we encounter the reality of a woman’s life: in this passage, her child-bearing and her beauty both outer and inner.

 

    

                       -------------------------------------------

 

For the Cove of Kisa drenched by rain so common on this gloomy coast facing Siberia, Basho envisions the tragic beauty of Lady Seishi, one of the Four Great Beauties of Ancient China, born in 506 BCE - 22 centuries before Basho - said to be most beautiful when frowning, and the men in her life gave her plenty to frown about.  See L-11 Attraction

 

Matsushima like laughter, Kisagata like a grudge;
Sadness added to loneliness to torment the soul of Earth.

 

The melancholy sadness of the Cove of Kisa and the Lady Seishi contrasts

with the sunshine and sparkle  of Matsushima and the woman who adorns herself. 

 

                      ------------------------------------

 

Hearing the voices of two indentured prostitutes at an inn west of Niigata:

 

As I pull in my pillow to go to sleep,
from the next room to the front
I hear two young female voices.
An older man joins in and from their conversation
it seems they are play-women from Niigata
on a pilgrimage to the Ise Shrine.

 

Contrary to male scholars' assumptions, these women are not traveling prostitutes in elegant kimono; they are indentured to a brothel in Niigata, but do not take this occupation on a pilgrimage. Only as pilgrims, in pilgrim’s robes, without much luggage, would they be allowed to pass the provincial barrier gates. 

An extensive discussion of this passage apears in C-6  Play Women from Niigata


The man came as far as this barrier
to see them off and will return tomorrow
so while writing letters for him to take back
they speak of this fleeting existence:

“As white waves strike the shore drifting along,
in the world of prostitution reduced to misery,
our vows inconstant, how did our everyday karma
become so wretched?” I hear entering sleep.

 

The play-women’s lament expresses the misery of all women enslaved to the sex trade: the degrading pretense of sex without vow of fidelity. The speaker claims no understanding of karma—since no human can actually know what is destiny and what is the result of personal choice or the actions of others—but she wonders—as every woman trapped in sexual slavery must wonder — how could her life which began with her family could have turned out this way?  For more on the lives of "play-women," see  W-20 Brothel Slavery.

 

The next morning as we start out, they approach.
“The safe way unknown, road we travel is gloomy,
the uncertainty makes us sad…

 

Yet for all the weakness and uncertainty they express,  they had the courage to leave Niigata without husbands, intending to walk more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) in which they could be be robbed, raped, or killed.  The widows of the Sato brothers suffered the loss of their husbands, but they still had fine houses to live in.  The play-women from Niigata went on a pilgrimage with nothing to comfort them; they only had their inner strength to endure hardship and misery, but they also had something else: eachother.  

May we follow in your esteemed footsteps,
appearing and disappearing?
By your robes, we see your holiness.
Would you share the Blessings of the Compassionate One
and tie the bond that brings us into Buddhism?”
they ask with tears falling.

 

Sora wrote a completely factual diary of this journey, and although he mentions them being at Ichiburi, he says nothing about any play-women.  Some scholars take this as evidence that Basho made up this story to add to his journey - however it is also possibie that he heard their voices through the wall while Sora was already asleep, but the account of meeting them in the morning is fictional. 

 

With pity for them, I reply,

“we must visit too many places.”
Just follow the way people go.
Certainly you will be under the Gods’ protection.”
So we abandoned them, the pathos unceasing.

 

Whether Basho actually encountered these play-women, or invented his account, he focuses on their inner strength to endure hardship and misery; thus they contrast with the two widows of the Sato brothers who Basho praised for their "heroic bravery."  Each woman in both pairs has a source of strength no single woman has: solidarity.  

 

“For if one should fall, the other shall lift up her companion.
But woe to her who is alone when she falls
and has not another to lift her up.”
                                                             Ecclesiastics 4:10
                      -------------------------------------

 

In Fukui looking for an old friend:

 

Enticed into a hidden corner of town, I find a dubious shack
grown over with clinging vines and gourds, cockscomb and
broom trees blocking the door. “Yeah, in here, for sure.”
When I knock on the gate a forlorn old lady emerges.

 

He finds a house that looks about right for his friend:all covered with vines and gourds and shrubs.

 The climbing vine evening glories (cousin to morning glories)  grows in thick coils around things; in autumn the flowers are gone, but the vines end in large spherical gourds. Hechima is another twining plant that produces gourds, but these are cylindrical like bottles.Cockscomb, on stalks up to 3 feet, has composite flowers – flowerets in countless multitudes stick together to form a crest,as on a rooster’s head, in remarkably vivid  burgundy red.The broom tree, another 3-foot tall scrub, has a profusion of twigs which are used to make brooms. All these colors and shapes decorate the house of his friend.


 When I knock on the gate, a forlorn old lady emerges  

 

And from this luxuriant and eccentric house  comes the wonderful old lady. Through dialogue, Basho gives life to this kind considerate old woman married to an aging hippy.

 

 

“From where hast thou come, pious monk,
on thy pilgrimage? The master hath gone
to visit someone in the neighborhood.
If thou hast business, call on him there.”
I figure this must be his wife; as if in that tale of long ago.

 

"That tale long ago" is, of course, the Tale of Genji, which contains so many women that it ought to be called The Tale of Genji's Women. Through dialogue, Basho gives life to this kind considerate old woman.  She is very old-fashioned, very polite, and very kind – so Quaker speech suits her well.   She said nothing funny or profound or scandalous -- like the ordinary people we see interviewed on Japanese television today, speaking of ordinary events and actions. Japanese viewers feel a personal relationship to these folks who are just like themselves or their parents, relatives, or people in their hometown. This old woman near the end of Basho's journal, so full of kindness and consideration, corresponds to the lovely little girl Kasane near the beginning.                                      

 

From the haibun Wife of Akechi 

The journey past, Basho travels on to Ise where he stays at the home of his 18 year old follower Iugen, who is a priest at the Ise Shrine, and lives with his even younger wife.

 

In the realm of Ise I am able to stay at Iugen’s house.
His wife, her heart one with his, sees to everything
faithfully, soothing my heart after my long journey.
The wife of Lord General Akechi cut off and sold
her long tresses to provide funds for a banquet.
Such devotion comes to mind now

 

The teenage wife, as would any Japanese woman, wanted everything to be absolutely perfect for her husband’s Poetry Master, so she used all her skill and care to arrange the flowers in the alcove just right, cook a traditional Japanese meal for Basho, arrange the bathing room so it would be easy for his old tired body to get a relaxing hot soak, and set the futon room for his convenience and restful sleep. He notices her efforts and consideration for his needs, and sees in them her commitment to her husband (“her heart one with his”) and the household she has married into.

 

Akechi Mitsuhide was a major player in the Warring States period, the 130 years of alliances, betrayals, slaughter and revenge that occupied the powerful men of Japan from 1467 to 1603. He assassinated Oda Nobunaga, and changed the course of Japanese history.  He and his wife, Tsumaki Hiroko, had six children, the most famous being Tama, her Christian name Gracia, the model for “Mariko,” the heroine of James Clavell’s Shogun.

 

Akechi was expected to cater a poetry gathering for many VIP guests, but lacked the funds to do so in the style required.  If the gathering did not go well, Akechi would lose face, which in this fiercely competitive group could mean the end of his career. Hiroko did the one thing she could to get the funds: she cut off and sold her floor-length black hair.  (In Shogun, Mariko tells this story Basho likes so much.)  So Basho compares Iugen’s wife to this noble, self-determined, and resourceful lady of the past. Imagine the boost this gives to these two struggling young people; imagine the boost it gives to the self-esteem of the wife.  Like “Curley wife” in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, she has no name. Unlike Curley’s wife, however, Iugen’s wife is in control of her herself and devoted to the success of the household she has married into. 

 

The haibun Blessings unto Kasane

 

 

In the spring of 1690, Basho was asked to choose the name for a newborn girl: he named her Kasane after the five-year-old girl he met in Tochigi. Kasaneru, in the dimension of space means "to pile up in layers" and in the dimension of time "to occur again and again, in succession"  so the days and months "pile up in layers."  He wrote this haibun and tanka to bless her life. 


During my pilgrimage to the Deep North,

in one of the villages there was a little girl
who looked no more than five years old.
She was so small and indescribably charming
that I asked her name and she said Kasane.
What an interesting name!
In Kyoto rarely is it heard
so I wonder how has it passed down
and what is that “layers, again and again”?

 

The farmer and wife in Tochiji wanted a special name for their daughter, not just a name fashionable in the capital city. What were they thinking of when they linked her heritage and destiny to this lovely multi-faceted word?


“If I had a child this name she would receive”
I said in jest to my traveling companion
and now, unexpectedly, through an acquaintance
I have been called on to be Name-giving Parent.

 

Without being biological parent, Basho gets the magical opportunity to give life through a name, and through a poem.

 

Spring passes by
again and again in layers
of blossom-kimono
may you see wrinkles
come with old age

 

Both the meeting with the girl in Tochigi and the tanka Basho wrote to her newborn successor are discussed in Blessings Unto Kasane.

 

 

From a haibun at the end of summer 1693

Basho mourned for the death of his nephew Toin till the end of summer  1693 when he shut his door to all visitors and refused to go out for a whole month – though Jirobei stayed with him part-time and did light cooking for his granduncle.  The following essay was his “Explanation for Why the Gate is Closed”:

 

Beneath plum blossoms on the dark mountain
unknown to people, unexpectedly
we may be stained by the fragrance.
On a hill of deep longing,
with no one to guard the gate,
somehow indiscretions occur.
Many have wet their sleeves on a pillow of waves
with a mermaid, selling home and ruining life…
 

When Basho brought his nephew Toin out from Iga in 1676,  was the 15 year old escaping? Did he commit some ‘indiscretion’  in Iga so he had to spend the rest of his life as a fugitive in Edo, never to see his home or mother again?   Is this what Basho means by “selling home and ruining life”?  Did Basho write this passage for Jirobei, to steer him away from "indiscretions"?

 

Prose about Madame Sonome

Sonome ("Garden Women"), daughter of a priest and official at the Ise Shrine, married to an eye doctor, known for her beauty. Now in 1694, fourteen days before Basho’s death:

 

Madame Sonome told me that for long she has wished to invite me over,
so for the evening of November 14th we made preparations to gather at her home.

 


Basho as guest of honor begins:

 

White chrysanthemum
No speck of dust rises
To meet the eyes

 

Basho said:

 

 

“This is a verse about the beauty of Sonome’s elegance.
Because I knew that today’s one meeting
would be the remnant of a lifetime,
I thought to watch for a vision in this hour."

 

Basho usually writes of ‘seeing’ what is hidden, but here he speaks of concentrating on the woman actually before his eyes -- for this will be his final chance to see her.

Ten days later, on November 25, 1694, Basho recalled a haiku he wrote this past summer:

 

River Katsura 
no dust in the ripples
summer moon

 

About this haiku, Basho said, 

 

“This being indistinguishable from the dust
on the white chrysanthemum of Madame Sonome,
and thinking that this too is the deep-rooted illusion of what is gone,
I change the verse to:

 

Clear cascade
into the ripples fall 
green pine needles

 

The verse he wrote beside the river in Saga was a vision of Basho’s ideal of purity (“no dust in the ripples”) seen in the moonlight on the swift flowing water. But then, 11 days ago, Basho saw an even more perfect image of purity in the white chrysanthemum of Madame Sonome: thus he says the verse he wrote in Saga is no longer worthwhile and must be revised to CLEAR CASCADE which was Basho's final haiku.

 

 According to scholars, however, CLEAR CASCADE does not count as Basho’s final haiku because it is a “revision” of RIVER KATSURA and goes in the chronology in summer of this year. But how can a “revision” of a verse be an entirely different poem: the original about moonlight; the “revision” about pine needles?

 And what does this mumbo jumbo about the “deep-rooted illusion of what is gone” have do with the original verse or its ‘revision’? Basho wrote CLEAR CASCADE upon waking from sleep. Suppose he did see green pine needles falling, in a dream during this sleep that winter night– so this dream-verse does belong to the end of November, and is Basho’s finale. His dreams took him out of reality, away from the misery of his final disease, back to summer beside the river. The green in CLEAR CASCADE is a rejuvenation in Basho’s spirit, another (though not the final) casting off of the heaviness and negativity of Japanese thought, a reaffirmation of Lightness as the Way of Basho. Instead of an old man sadly dying we feel youth lightly passing onward. But this rejuvenation is only an illusion, a deep-rooted illusion of what is gone.  The pine needles fall into the rushing water, swirl about, and rush away leaving no traces of their existence, no possibility of ever being seen gain. The flow never returns and what is gone is gone forever. 

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com






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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