Basho told Doho:
Haikai wa ki ni nosete subeshi
Aizuchi ashiku hyoushi o sokonau
Basho illustrates with each following stanza how to ride the energy of the previous stanza without ruining the rhythm.
The water is falling into a dream, or the observer is falling into a dream, because of the magic in this realm.
The Sun Goddess Amaterasu has a female face, and as she rises behind the ultimate mountain of Japan, She bumps her forehead on the jagged peak. Ouch!
He abandoned his family long ago to join the fun and games in the pleasure-quarters; he no longer goes there, but has not returned to them. Instead he stays in seclusion, without responsibility for anyone but himself. Sometimes he peaks in on them and wonders what would of happened if… then he returns to his seclusion. Sometimes in his auditory brain he recalls a particular merrymaking song along with memories of the place where he heard and sang it.
In Shinto purification rituals; a priest or miko (female shaman) waves the wand with paper streams left and right to absorb unclean energy. The most defiling event, according to Shinto, is death, so at a funeral, many ritual wands are used and defiled, so must be burned. The dove, messenger of Hachiman, the god of war, and patron saint of the Genji warrior clan, and white, the color of that clan, reveal this to be the funeral of a warrior . The mirror represents his pure soul but his blood shed in war stains the mirror to occlude the moonlight.
The kingfisher is a bright blue bird. Basho puts women on center stage;. The girl’s head becomes a stage where a flower, or a bird, descends gracefully and mysteriously as a classical dancer.
The image of a young lord of noble birth at the hunting grounds has a long romantic tradition which Kikaku suggests in his stanza; in this context, “clouds” suggest sex. Basho makes the “young lord” the oldest son of the village headman. Our oldest daughter, our “first princess,” is marrying, or dreaming of marrying, the future head of the most prosperous family in this village. The words “shall be nurtured” are chosen to express Basho’s good wishes for her future in her new family, wishes that everyone in the household will support her in her roles as wife and mother. Basho gives Hope to the young female that everyone in the family she marries into will “nurture” her throughout the decades to come. Throughout the patriarchal world, women will understand this hope.
Kikaku teases Basho for his obsession with Chuang Tzu’s butterfly dream, the point beginning that Basho is too clumsy to catch the insect midair. Maybe he could hit one in his dreams, but dreams are not reality. Basho responds that Kikaku’s stanza is so “rotten” that a dog, who will eat garbage, passes on this one.
A man enthralled with the beauty of the Yoshiwara courtesan Little Murasaki had a statue cast of her slender graceful body entirely in gold. People made fun of his obsession with her charms. Basho counters with a woman with huge breasts, like Otafuku, a legendary character described as a “full-checked, plump peasant woman laughing happily.” Apparently she is a shell diver darkly tanned from all-day exposure to the sun, but Japanese men prefer slender women with light skin, so no one will make a golden statue of her.
The “iron bow” suggests the folk tale of Yuriwaka betrayed by a subordinate and abandoned on an island, but returning to take vengeance with his gigantic bow (a story similar to the Odyssey). Kikaku expresses the masculine “boldly” fighting for vengeance (or whatever men seek), then Basho reaches for the ultimate creative female. No sweat little girl, she is a fierce tigress. In Imperial China, a tiger represented the highest general (while a dragon was Emperor and phoenix the Empress) but every tiger has a tigress in the background. Daybreak is the Sun-Goddess giving birth to the day and to life.
Basho begins this quartet with a young woman who had a “secret man,” i.e. a married lover, but that relationship has ended, leaving her in shame; in a patriarchal society, the shame of an illicit relationship bears entirely on the woman. Morning glories grow on vines that twine sensuously, climbing over a fence or wall. She is shaken awake, her body twisted and turned, not by a person, but by a dream sent telepathically by her lover’s wife – as in the Tale of Genji, when the young prince is sleeping with Evening Glory, his jealous other woman sends a dream to awaken him - while it kills her. Full of shame, she cuts off her hair as if to cut off her self. The Asian weed kudzu has invaded and spread over much of the southern U. S. – like the lies they told to hide their affair.
Basho takes her to the arms of her mother who quiets her down, helping her accept her shame and go on with her life. The daughter turns her back on the Moon which represents female sexuality – what got her into this mess in the first place. She hides from the Moon, facing into mother’s body.
The average age of death for play-women was about 22, so a woman still in the Yoshiwara play quarters after thirty years is most unusual. The experience has aged her hair more than the rest of her. She wrote the nembutsu prayer for salvation from the bodhisattva Amida: the BRZ, gives absolutely no explanation for this stanza; every Japanese gets the meaning without a doubt.
Heat shimmers - light refracting through moisture rising from the ground warmed by the spring sun - are the Sun-Carpenter building a mansion for the provincial lord who gets to live in such a psychedelic house.. She is the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, Queen of Photosynthesis, who builds many things – such as all plant life -- with her light. The next poet goes deep, deep inside the bride’s body, into her uterus where millions of egg cells “blossom” – a positive joyful word –preparing to become brides (and husbands) in the future. Although none of the egg cells in the female fetus do any developing until this girl enters puberty, still their presence represents life carrying life forward, while Sun and Earth work together producing grains to feed all those children.
A woman make herself beautiful before and while giving birth – as Mother Earth puts on green make-up. The lovely infant rice plants look like ordinary grass, showing no sign that four months later they will yield the staple food of Asia. We watch Basho’s mind go from rice sprouting to woman giving birth to the child she loves, then returns to Mother Earth giving birth to countless billions of plants. Woman merges with Earth, each making herself beautiful.
Basho says that the Moon which has watched every country rise, continue, and fall is like a mirror which reflects that history. By gazing at the Moon, or at a mirror, he seeks to recall the past. Music is one more way to turn vision back and connect with the past. Modern composers try to make pieces new and different, but traditional music, as for the koto, continuously evokes the past. Every composition contains reflections from older compositions, recalling the years that have passed since then; this is the fascinating part. Moon, memory, mirror, and music: each of these connects us with the past, so each one of them interesting.
He seduced her with promises of love and devotion, but when she gave birth to a son, he took the boy to be his heir and abandoned her. She entered a temple which takes in such women, had to cut her hair and stay in a cell. Only when her hair has grow back can she can re-enter society. Her breasts still have milk which she has to squeeze out and throw away – while she recalls the baby that milk is produced for – such is the bitterness in her heart.
The “delusion” is that reality will be kind or fair to us. A stupa is a pagoda-shaped wooden tablet set up by a tomb with phrases written for the repose of the dead's soul. This, unlike her baby, will remain. The spirit of the dead child, a shadow figure, has returned for a moment to warm and console mother with the gift of fire. Later on when she builds a fire, she will feel her child’s presence.
The shadow figure becomes a vagrant who has found an empty house whose owner has succumbed to poverty; he burns the cabinets and shelves and other wood lying around so he will not succumb to hypothermia. Both the owner and the vagrant are shadows, vestiges of humanity, leftovers after the dignity has been squeezed out.
A court lady took the tonsure upon the death of her emperor and left Court to live in the ordinary bustle of Kyoto streets. When another nun, a friend of hers still at Court, comes to visit, the first nun asks about the cherry blossoms she used to know and love. Butterfly is an image of feminine elegance, whereas the obnoxious climbing weed mugura, “wireweed,” grows wild over anything in its path without the slightest hint of elegance. The second nun exclaims “Imagine you, a person of the Imperial Court, among these lowly gossips” while she chokes up with tears filling her nasal passages.
Talking with the brothel’s customer in bed, I realize he is my cousin; we probably have never met, but he spoke of a relative who is my relative. Basho then takes an amazing leap into coincidence, al la Dickens: this cousin also was the one arranged to marry me, but something happened and my family needed money, so they sold me to a brothel. And now here he is, in bed with me, only for one night.
The night before the great battle; we are outnumbered and have no advantage. “Our necks will be sent” means we die in battle. Kosanda is my retainer; in gratitude for the years he has served, in recognition of our vow to face death together, I hand him my cup of sake to hold while I sing one song, my final song in this life. So men use music, war, and sake for self-glorification.
A bamboo fence has been completely washed away. The waves engulfed a temple and washed away a wooden or bronze image of the Buddha. We know this because we are fisher folk who have captured a huge fish (or whale?) and while we gut it we discover the Buddha there in the stomach. Would a fish really eat a wooden or bronze statue of zero food value and likely to get caught in the throat? I don’t think so.
Another interpretation is possible – but you may not like this one either: Buddhism speaks of death as “entering Nirvana” and a dead person as a “Buddha” – so what the fisher folk found in the fish’s stomach was the hair and nails and other indigestible parts of a human being, someone washed away along with the bamboo fence.
“Lady Love” is a courtesan who fulfills her job, to make her customer feel like he is the most important fellow in the world, and also order lots of expensive sake. He is even willing to die for such a lover – yet we must keep in mind that this is all pretense and acting. She will not tear up her expensive kimono. She no more loves him than she will love tomorrow’s customer. In fact, she abhors his gullibility and hates playing these stupid games with him.
The observation of a single petal falling from a poppy brought him enlightenment, and he took his name as a Zen monk from that incident. Thoughts of Zen leads Basho to the sky and celestial bodies. The slender crescent on the 3rd night of the lunar month rises from the east during the day, but cannot be seen until evening in the west. The solemn toll of the temple bell darkens the east where there is no moon, but the crescent moon keeps the west light.
The slender edge of moon is somehow like a single falling poppy petal.
The day is calm and peaceful, yet empty.
A kotatsu is a heater under a table with a blanket all around.
When a person dies, the spirit leaves the body which no longer has an internal source of heat.
The thermodynamics of life.
The family has adopted a son-in-law from the far northern island of Hokkaido where (from a mainland Japanese point of view) there are no attractive women – but many bears. He can barely speak a few words of Japanese so is frustrated in trying to communicate with his bride; he just stands there, “a wordless butterfly in a haze” gazing as the beauty he has been given. Miyawaki points out that she may not be “beautiful” to our standards but, compared to what he has seen before, she is Aphrodite.
Riding west past the 25-miles of Mount Fuji to a healer in Kyoto who will remove the tumor. The round conical hats of East Asian farmers, worn to ward off rain and snow as well as sun and wind, have the same shape as Mount Fuji. Either I, or the mountain, wears a conical hat and rides the horse; either I bounce up and down from the movement of the horse, or the multimillion ton mountain moves up and down from the movement of my eyes on horseback.
“Dew” is the forces of time and weather that wear out and decay all things: all that remains where the coffin was. The coffin bearers carried it away, and it never again will be seen. The country where the battle took place and soldiers died does not destroy the old, damaged armor, and has no reason to keep it, so they send it to the country of the deceased. After coming home from the disastrous invasion of Korea, a soldier whose armor was not torn apart, lives in peace until he too disappears in a coffin.
The old woman lives out her life with no purpose except to drink and writes in detail her misery gambling over dice.
Fire turns the bones of a Buddhist saint into sarira, the pearl or crystal-like bead-shaped objects found among the cremated ashes of Buddhist spiritual masters – however in his stanza, Basho seems to be looking at small round stones in the cascade; the clear water flowing over them shining in the morning sun makes them appear like sarira from the Buddha himself. Throughout the stanza, we keep on wondering what is real and what is illusion.
Subjects are often unstated in Japanese, so we can told who is experiencing what; in this case, who is sitting on the stone seat. Cherry blossoms are usually a symbol for transience because they appear for just one week and disappear so quickly, however here they represent eternity, for they keep on coming back every spring, always the same.
Basho sends this verse in imagination to women of the world along with silkworms, a symbol for constant and flawless production of the highest quality of material.
Disappointed in love, so she has cut her hair and tells him this in her sending. The traditional way to interpret “cutting her hair” is as “becoming a nun” – although Shoko says “not necessarily.” In Japan, women cut a number of strands as a declaration of giving up the past to move into a new future. Basho makes her see through the false love she thought was real, realizing that such love disappears as surely as the moon fades into the morning sky and gorgeous blue and purple morning glories wilt to become refuse in the rain.