Basho grew up watching his four sisters (one older and 3 younger) interact with their mother. Through these four Mother/Daughter poems by Basho, modern mothers and daughters can explore their bonds.
This woman has enough work sewing before winter comes. She may “make ends meet” in autumn, but has to survive the rest of the year. Into this poor struggling home, Basho introduces a daughter and a koto, or 13-string harp, an instrument of refinement played only by women. (however this koto may symbolize the
string instrument of another culture. Basho belongs to you.) If the mother owns a koto, she must have been well-off in the past, but fallen on hard times. Notice the link between the form of needlework and the strings and frets on the harp. Both stanzas convey the diligence and constant effort of the female, the actionof her hands producing order, rhythm, and beauty.
The daughter plays her mother’s koto here and now -- and also plays it through the months, years, decades of practice required to master the instrument. Basho praises the girl in the early stages of her discipline.
We imagine the pride the hard-working mother feels hearing her seven-year-old daughter produce such beauty. With utmost subtlety and grace,through the powerful effect music has on the brain, Basho portrays the bond between mother and daughter, the hope for a better future that the growing and learning girl evokes in her mother, hope rising on the lovely notes emerging from her seven-year old fingers on the harp.
Basho suggests, in a stanza suitable for a modern parenting magazine, the turmoil in the heart of a teenage girl: she broods over thoughts of love, upset to hysteria. shaking all over. Basho creates that emotional turmoil, then also creates a compassionate and understanding mother to calm down her daughter, to say the right words in the right tone to soothe and settle her heart.
Shiko makes the passion psycho-somatic; the blasts of adolescent hormones produce night sweats, copious perspiration which soaks her nightclothes and bedding, usually accompanied by emotional crying. After the mother in Basho’s stanza quiets down her daughter so she falls asleep, Shiko creates the dreams which end the turmoil and return the brain to normal as a new sun rises.
Basho portrays the mother caring, with sensitivity and wisdom, for her daughter, acting not for herself, but rather to serve another person. Sam Hamill, a scholar who knows only Basho's haiku and not his renku, claims that Basho was “at times, cold-hearted, inhuman” – however the poems unknown to Hamill
contain much itawaru, caring for others.” (See article D-4 Compassion.)
In 1690 Kyokusui begins and Basho follows:
Love starts out simple but somehow becomes “intense.” Basho’s stanza makes the most sense if this is a teenage girl speaking of her mother. “Although the turmoil of young love takes away all my appetite, mother
insists I eat, to build up my adolescent body. Why can’t she understand that I cannot eat while this turmoil rages within me? Besides, she knows I am trying to stay slender! Mother, stop bugging me!”
History books never speak of mother-daughter conflicts, so we look to Basho for information. 330 years ago or today, the daughter thinks of love, but mother of nutrition, so no meeting of minds. May this stanza-pair be a lens through which mothers and daughters see the other’s point of view.
Where did Basho learn to think from the teenage daughter’s point of view? From the four sisters who grew up together with him? From Oyoshi, the youngest of the four, a teenager while he was in his twenties? Oyoshi, whose name appears four times in Basho letters, where no other sister’s name appears even once?
Father (who may be drunk) insults his wife and daughter (or an old woman harasses her daughter-in-law and granddaughter), saying the most horrible, vulgar things. We recall Tokuza’s statement that
“criticism of women’s intelligence, autonomy, and moral worth wasessential to the total subordination of women that society demanded.” In a misogynistic society, abuse of women is so commonplace no
one pays attention to it.
Shiko, though he is a Japanese man, does pay attention, however his portrait of oppression has no context, no situation in which the oppression occurs and that can help explain it. Basho could have followed with more about the father, the wife, or daughter, but this is NOT what he does; instead he creates an environment and other people around that oppression.
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 -- is square and provides seating for four people, so we imagine the father sitting with three guests. The mother and daughter – in this society – would not be at the kotatsu, but rather prepare or serve food and drink to father and his guests. Father (or grandmother) 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: their silent disapproval of father’s behavior is suggested. They and we imagine how abusive he becomes when no one outside the family is watching. Basho thus completes and fulfills Shiko’s feminist vision, yet leaves us room to imagine more of this family.
Mother works from sun up to sun down; finally she takes a break in the evening, to wash her long black locks. Beside the well, she rubs a cotton bag of wet rice bran powder between her hands; the saponin or
soap-like foam that emerges through the permeable fabric has been used for shampoo, as well as face and body wash, since ancient times. Rice bran is rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals which moisturize and strengthen hair, protect it from ultraviolet rays, and prevent hair loss.
A mallet was used for pounding handspun cloth after washing to soften and smooth it, for pounding rice
to remove the hulls. This can be an individual mother giving her daughters work to do in the evening, or can be iconic, a symbol for all mothers passing on the torch to their daughters, first the older, then the younger, for as many girls as there are in the household. She gives them Light – a bit of the Sun emerging from a lantern – and Work, the long tradition of females working day and night without complaint, simply working, generation after generation – only taking time off to care for their hair.
"Lighting lantern" can represent education -- the means to overcoming poverty and oppression.
"Providing a mallet" can represent the empowering of women. The joy of renku is to discover the link between the two stanzas. Here the link is “preparing for the future.” The chemical composition of rice bran prepares a woman’s hair to remain beautiful and silky for decades. The mallet gives weight and power to
the slender hands and arms of the female so she can her work for decades, and pass her power onto her daughters, who are the future of humanity.
The daughter feels lost and tries to re-absorb herself in mother. She turns away from the Moon which represents growing up and having monthly periods like those of Moon and mother. Such is their bond.