Renku of summer 1694 to early winter death; Basho’s final renku, 8 undated pairs he composed by himself,
4 authorship-doubtful renku, and 2 pairs I found in another book.
The husband was adopted into wife’s family; for some time now he has had problems with his father-in-law, and they have not been very cordial to each other. This morning they greet each other with words that begin to repair their relationship. With her sister and husband taking over the household, a second daughter has gone to the provincial castle to serve in a daimyo’s household. On her day off she returns to her native home where her joy at seeing her father and brother-in-law starting to get along brings tears to her eyes. From the fancy lacquered box, she takes out things that remind her of her mother, her sister and husband, and their kids, looks at them, and returns them to the box. (Nowadays these would be photographs.)
The huge mountain “embraces” an inlet of the sea providing a safe harbor for a fishing village; as dawn comes, the villagers go about their work catching, gathering, and drying products from the sea.
“Embraced” suggests intimacy, so Basho follows with body odor.
Through the small forest behind the house, this family has direct access to the village center. They grow enough rice and vegetables that sustenance is no problem, so the father and wife’s husband adopted into this household speak to each other searching for how to use their power within the village to help neighbors who are not doing well. Japanese anthropologists may correct this translation or further explain the Japanese human experience here.
This man is no hermit or wimp; he encounters the world till his face is ruddy with health and energy. Basho goes back in time to this one as a baby on mother’s lap. As in a advertisement for baby food, we are sure this male baby gets the best. His sisters may not fare so well.
The three poets explore the motion and activity of white. Shiko begins with alive, flying, squawking white bird. Bokusetsu follows with inanimate, freezing, wet, falling white. Do you see the similarity? Also notice that neither Shiko nor Bokusetsu said anything about humanity.
Basho changes the focus to people. Adults in traditional Japanese culture used paste (made from the starch in wheat or rice flour) to attach paper to the wooden frames for shoji doors or screens, however we can also see this as a scene of small children exploring the use of moist, creamy, sticky paste to hold paper together. This is delicate work with the hands, so the palms must not have an accumulation of used paste on them.
Shiko says: I hang the socks on the garden wall in the New Year’s sunshine; moisture and odor from them rises to form “shimmers” in the air. Basho says: For New Years we visit people important to our lives; we took our kids along with us, but really they did not want to go. We told them to keep their cloths clean, but somehow their socks got sweaty. Bokusatsu says: on New Year’s visits, we have a lot to talk about family relationships, most of which we think children cannot or should not understand. As we talk, we hide our meaning in a maze of adult words with references to people and things they know not – but how much do the highly attentive language sponges pick up?
Izen changes these children into a woman “standing there to listen” to a man who hides his inner thoughts from her. As she lifts up her lantern to better see him, her face turns white with the realization of his true intentions. Basho has the woman disappointed by love play a sad piece on her lute , then put down the instrument; we hear her exhaustion in the thud her instrument makes on the slightly yielding tatami mat; From ethereal face above lantern, Basho creates a solid, distinct sound: thud.
Father (who may be drunk) insults his wife and daughter, saying horrible, vulgar things. A kotatsu - a heater (charcoal in Basho’s time, electric in ours) with a table on top and blanket to hold the warmth around the lower body - provides seating for four people. The mother and daughter prepare or serve food and drink to father and his guests. Father insults the females even when visitors are over, while the guests sit there shocked by what they are hearing; frozen in place, even at a warm kotatsu.
In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. the ferryman Vasudeva guides Siddhartha to learn from the river:
This monk has modern progressive ideas about children who have difficulty learning; he says they should be praised and supported, rather than criticized and taken down. Basho follows with pity for the learning disabled child: often under an orange tree, as in the garden of an abandoned house, fallen fruit lies in the dew and frost for months, sweet pulp oozing out cracks in the peel, looking altogether wretched – so the child’s brain rots from lack of stimulation. A wooden bath tub never filled with water dries out and cracks. If a section of the brain is hardly ever used, it also leaks. We can go out and buy a new bath tub, but when the brain leaks, all we can do is patch the cracks. So in childhood use it every day with praise, so leaks do not occur.
The mushroom is damp, so the leaf sticks to it. This happens at millions of places, but Basho, by paying attention to one occurrence, makes it exist forever. Although autumn days are clear and comfortable, the nights bring on winter with frost on the leafless unknown tree .
Here is a rather laid back scene: the shop of a herbalist with shelves holding thousands of substances used to improve health - yet no customers. The place is so laid back that no one does much of anything. The oldest son, heir to the household and business, has not in three years managed to impregnate his young bride. This is serious business. Women might be divorced for not producing a child within three years – however the problem may be with his contribution. Why haven’t they used the herbal remedies from the shelves to fix him or her up. Come on, you two! We need that heir!
Ensui envisions the moon taking a rest on the stone wall. Basho adds a living, breathing, fleeing animal. Both moon and deer appear low to the horizon, with the vast night sky above.
Baby cries that panicky scream that so upsets adults. Mother or babysitter busy with something else, to shut the kid up, thrusts baby into a cradle. Imagine the crying baby as a house under construction – busy, busy, busy with both carpenters inside the frame and around it, and roofers on top, sawing, hammering, moving things about, shouting to each other. As it grows dark, all leave and that house becomes absolutely silent. Such is the magical quieting effect a cradle has on the infant. Screaming, facial distortion, falling tears disappear into silence and peaceful breathing, thanks to the woman who puts baby into a cradle.
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 accumulate to his ending.
Cockscomb, often seen in Japanese gardens in autumn, so vivid a red drawing every eye to them; in front of the garden so the more in-your-face red. The color of passion suggests to Basho the turmoil in the heart of a teenage girl. He creates that turmoil, the daughter upset to hysteria, shaking all over, but also creates a compassionate mother – or someone like a mother – who manages to say the right words in the right tone to soothe and settle her down.
Blasts of adolescent hormones produce night sweats, copious perspiration which soaks her nightclothes and bedding, usually accompanied by emotional crying. After the mother calms down the daughter and she falls asleep, Shiko creates the dreams which soothe the brain to normal as a new sun rises. She awakes to bird song from a row of cages along with a breeze from the pines near the house. This is a wealthy mansion. In bed the wife hears carpenters beginning their work in another part of the house – but that does not interfere with the peacefulness in her part of the house – so again we feel the size and prosperity of the house. The sound of carpenters in her home, but far away, makes the wife at daybreak feel calm and peaceful, relishing her family’s prosperity along with the bird song and cool breeze.
A worker hired for the day decides he has hulled enough rice for today, and goes home. Such individualistic decision-making is unusual in Japan; such decisions are made by the group or by the boss. Basho continues on the theme of individual vs. group, and everyone in Japan can experience his stanza in today's marketplaces.
Men gather with their peers then take a nap, while their wives chatter in their local dialect with no inhibitions and much ribald humor about the young virgins deflowered by their sons, to then join the woman’s collective in this village. Ryoban objects to women speaking so freely because such liberated wives (he thinks) treat their kids like little emperors who grow up weak and unable to regulate body temperature within normal parameters.
After the sun sets on a romance, the moonlight is the passion that remains between two hearts. Basho makes sunshine laughter and moonlight tears. Instead of joking to cheer up the one sunk in misery, it is better to speak of the loss, and allow tears to console – for a new day will come with sun rising through the pine forest.
Kon says, “As a day ends at the end of autumn, a single road through the fields with no body on it, a deep unspeakable loneliness accumulates.” Of course, “this path” means his path of poetry. Of course the verse means many different things to different people. The next poet goes to the small farm enclosed by trees in the mountains where nobody goes except one lonely farmer. Whether “ tree covered by vines” simply describes the scene, or has a meaning related to humanity, is for us to realize.
Basho’s begins with a greeting to Sonome, his hostess, saying she is as pure and impeccable as a white chrysanthemum: Sonome responds with a process Japanese traditionally consider impure and defiling, yet Sonome says is pure: menstruation - the water (blood) with fallen crimson leaves (discarded lining of the uterus) are made to flow by the Moon: she extends Basho’s ideal of purity to woman’s body functions.
Having torn down their old house and building a new one, they spend their days at the construction site with a firepit to cook lunch. Sonome says camping is fine for guys, but she would go crazy without a proper stove and sink and other convenieces of a 17th century kitchen. The woman in her stanza did get hysterical, and was ready to return to her native home, an action which could lead to divorce - but then she thought about it some more, and resolved the matter in her mind: she stays here and by looking forward to the new home when it is built, endures camping out for a while longer.
Stanza-pairs at the end of volume 10 stand alone, usually both by Basho, undated.
To hone his art, Basho, by himself, practiced writing both stanzas.
The type of incense burner used in Japan looks remarkably like the head of an silkworm (which is actually a caterpillar). Because the ashes are wet, a lot of smoke comes out from the tiny holes in the burner, bringing to mind – or at least Basho’s mind -- the first steps in the development of silkworm eyes and mouths.
After eating the sweet luscious fruit, the kids play with scraps mother cut away from the fabric she needed to make an article of clothing, scraps of no interest to adults, but fascinating to the pure, naturally high mind of a child. From the munchies to having “lots of fun.”
In summer the balls of soft cotton fiber burst out from their buds, each as soft, white, and furry as a darling little white cat walking amidst the cotton plants. The second stanza switches to winter when cats, like old people, seek to be warm, inactive, and have no involvement with the absurdly changing world. A kotatsu – table with blanket all around, and a heater inside -- is large enough for people to rest their lower bodies inside – however a cat can get her whole body in, so she lies there getting high on the embracing warmth.
“Neck sinks into her collar” is a physical sensory avenue to her inner feelings: not only is she disappointed by the failure of gods to fulfill her desires: she no longer believes they listen at all, or that they even exist.
The BRZ interprets this stanza-pair: “Living simply in a hermitage, eating just two meals a day, washing and rinsing one’s bowl and eating utensils; having left the world to serve the Buddha, seeing and worshipping the Buddha nature in the stones and trees and ten thousand things.”
Basho begins with a single word of speech or thought to open the mind without specifying content. The second and third lines portray physical actions that evoke memories: taking the doll down from a shelf and looking at the face. The fourth line adds deep and reoccurring emotion, and the fifth provides the sad context for the entire scene: tuberculosis.
A woman dying of tuberculosis looking at the doll’s face and recalls her own young healthy face; she cries for her life ending; she hears and feels herself cough. Or a mother whose daughter is dying looks at the doll she played with long ago; the doll’s face reminds her of her child’s face; she weeps for her daughter lingering on, and hears her cough. Or the daughter has died, and mother must linger on, remembering that hacking cough.
Basho’s first stanza can be the actual experience of a child in school today, or the memory of a person who did not eat lunch surrounded by friends. Basho writes for us; he puts our actual experiences in words.
I feel that we should consider this stanza by itself, and present it as such in Basho4Humanity.
Here I present LEFT OR RIGHT which the stanza Basho wrote to follow it. This one goes somewhere else, to the 12th century where the warrior Kanefusa lived and died serving his master Yoshitsune. The link between first and second stanzas is for us to figure out – or as I said before, we can just leave this stanza out, and consider the first one by itself.
Basho honors the ancient practice of bartering, here part of Buddhism. Basho always describes spatial relations and physical activities.
Volume 11: signed by Basho yet author uncertain
I meet him by chance on a ferry boat – the situation is not very comfortable for either of us, although the river goes on flowing. The rock is so heavy it can only move if a thousand men pulled on ropes tied around it; so I can never bring his heart to mine. With no possibility of fulfilment, I can only throw away the love I feel.
These samurai, instead of fighting to the death, giving all for glory and honor, they are able to go home and support their wives and children. The road is long, two inglorious days in depressing weather, yet at least they are alive.
As it grows dark, the watchmen hold up lantern to get a better look at the faces of people entering the town. Here comes a man in a wedding procession; he must have some years behind him since he has attained the position of boss, and he is dressed up to look young and fine – however the watchmen can clearly see how fake his youthfulness is. In the context of Basho’s stanza, that phrase “at entrance” may take on a sexual meaning. If you like it that way, go for it.
Basho presents two brothers – like Hanzaemon and himself – the younger looking up to his future growth, the older down to his shorter past -- so without misfortune life fulfills itself. Ransetsu responds with the wish of young lads in the countryside everywhere, to take a break from the family small business and go see the magnificent shining City. Basho concludes with how Japanese make wishes, washing hands and mouth with water from a spring before the shrine, then wishing before the shrine building.
Found in Akabane’s “Treasured Words of Basho,” (芭蕉遺語集):
Floating grasses symbolize the ephemerality of human life, but she bundles and ties them into a firm stable pillow on which to rest her head and the brain within. In contrast to the “floating” in Rosen’s stanza, Basho presents the most substantial and eternal of all human relationships, that between milk-giver and milk-receiver, and specifically between a woman shell diver and her baby. These women stay down for a minute gathering sea creatures full of protein, minerals, and the omega 3 fatty acids which are primary components of the human brain. (For more on this, see B-6 BREASTFEEDING WITH BASHO or B-21 DIVING INTO HUMANITY.)
The words of Jesus may help us understand Basho’s meaning.