"I know I'm stronger in the songs than I really am. Sometimes I need to hear it myself. We all need to hear those empowering songs to remind us." Beyonce. Basho reminds us of this in 9 verses.
Basho listens to music and song -- he rides on the sound -- to hear inside himself and inside the one playing or singing.
Daniel Levitin in This is your Brain on Music discusses the profound effect music has on the brain; he notes that his tears at weddings come not from the “sight of the hope and love of the bride and groom” but rather from the wedding music. Basho would have dug Levitin’s insight. Let the music in his verses take you to another place:
We saw this stanza together with previous stanza in the beginning of L-1 and with commentary in
L-3, and also in the Interlude in the beginning of L-13. It is the clearest and most direct statement of the path to empowerment through Basho verses.
I believe if women will look inside this single stana as well as inside the next stanza-pair. you will find inspiration and empowerment.
琴 引 娘 / 八ッ に なりける
koto hiki musume yattsu ni narikeru
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 ordinarily played by women. 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 stanzasconvey the diligence and constant effort of the female, the action of her hands producing order, rhythm, and beauty.
The daughter plays her mother’s koto here and now - and also plays it through themonths, years, decades of practice required to master the instrument. (The Japanese says yattsu which means "eight" however the Japanese counted birth as age one, so I subtract one year from all ages given.) Basho praises the young girl in the early stages of her discipline. Many students of child development – in particular the Swiss psychologist and epistemologist Jean Piaget known for his pioneering work in the succession of developmental stages – note the onset of a new stage at age seven.
According to the site Education.com
From age seven to ten, “the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain which control cognitive functions, grow enormously – more than at any other time in a person’s life. And at the same time, these lobes are making neural connections with the system that controls emotions. In other words, both thinking and feeling get a major overhaul starting at age seven.”
Since the frontal lobes initiate purposeful action, from age seven a child’s face takes on a clarity of purpose absent in small children.
Author Leonard Shlain, in Sex. Time, and Power, says,
The Catholic Church considers seven to be the age of moral understanding and uses it at the milestone for when a child can receive first communion. Confucian followers believe seven is the age of the beginning of wisdom. Many other cultures have used this age at a dividing line between innocence and the beginnings of a mature mind.
For Basho, in the 17th century, to specify age seven is astonishing; the sociological data brings profound depths to Basho’s stanza. We imagine the pride the hard-working mother feels hearing her 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.
Utsusemi mo / yoshino no yama ni/ koto hikite
In the Noh play The Feather Maiden a celestial maiden removes her feather robe and, while she bathes in a clear stream, hangs it on a tree. The first poet switches to the clothing ordinary people hang out on a line to air in the heat. Basho continues with imagery of both hot season and woman, and adds sound and music.
The juvenile cicada sheds its skin – or “exoskelton” or “shell” – in summer to emerge as an adult; the utsusemi, or abandoned skin, remains, on the bark of the tree. Utsusemi, in the Tale of Genji, is a
woman who resisted Genji’s romantic advances; one night he tried to force himself on her, but she escaped, leaving her outer robe behind in his grasp, giving her the name she is known by.
The Yoshino Mountains are far enough from Kyoto that she can play her koto in peace without Genji bothering her. The mountain trees are full of countless adult male cicadas making their “cries” by
rapidly vibrating abdominal membranes; the sound goes on and on all day long in the heat of summer, driving some people crazy, while Basho compares them to the streaming, expanding notes of a koto.
So, when you hear the clamor of cicadas, or hear the sound of a Japanese koto, recall this stanza-pair.
Consider the following haiku a riddle – a riddle that encourages us to appreciate the power in musical notes to move us: to ride the sound to an effect.
Chiru hana ya / tori mo odoroku / koto no chiri
Do you see the point? A proverb says “beautiful music can moveb dust.” Basho says that the tones from the koto rise to the roof and startles a bird sitting on the exposed beams, so the bird dislodges some dust which falls—like cherry petals fluttering down – onto the harp and the woman playing it. Although never mentioned, she is central to the verse: she makes the music and she notices the dust. In L-3 we saw Basho ride the sound of a mallet pounding cloth; here he rides it from the harp to the ceiling.
So far in this article we have seen Basho focus on the musical notes produced by the women from her koto, but Basho also paid attention to the feeling of the harp in her hands and upon her lap. The Tale of Genji, written by a woman as the 10th century became the 11th, is not only the world’s first novel, but the most extensive study of female psychology in ancient literature; it really should be called The Tale of Genji’s Women. The main female character, Murasaki, is introduced at age nine, and even so young, she has a character full of diversity worthy of attention. The following translation is by Edward Seidensticker:
A unique moment in world literature, this praise for the sensory-motor-musical intelligence of a young girl not even ten: she plays with dolls but also can listen to a difficult melody one time on one musical instrument and reproduce it on a completely different instrument. Little Miss Mozart.
Every theme in the passages from the Genji appears in the following trio: the young girl’s beauty and charm, long hair and difficulty combing it, age and maturity, her doll play along with her skill on a
Sick for many days, forbidden to wet her hair because this might bring on more sickness: so it has grown
tangled and messy and passing a comb through it is painful: young girls today may appreciate her hair’s “distress.” In spite of what Murasaki’s nurse says, the girl continues to lavish her affection on dolls – developing her consciousness and skills for caring for babies.
From Sukan’s ideal of loveliness, Basho jumps into body sensation; she hugs it on her lap as she would
a doll or a baby. His words – heavy in weight… hold in hands…lap – all so physical and intimate,
to recall the physicalness of Young Murasaki “leaning forward to press a string with her left hand.”
The Japanese does not distinguish present and past tenses. The next poet changed Basho’s child holding a harp to an old woman who held a harp when she was a court lady decades ago.
うたたねの / 夢さえうとき/ 御所 の 中
Utatane no / yume sae utoki / gosho no naka
She drifts awayin a snooze, yet her dreams contain no memories of her years of service to the Empress –
all that remains in her addled mind is the body-memory of the harp resting on her lap as she sat on her heels. So the poets play with and transform three things: music, sensations, and time.
You might ask why the following trio is in this topic, rather than L-6 Breastfeeding? Simply because the music is in Basho's stanza, while the breastfeeding is in the other poet's image.
The first two poets speak of a woman, of the love between the couple, the sadness of him being transferred to a distant place, then Basho adds the melancholy notes of the lute together with her distraught sobbing,
from evening through night till sun rise. Basho does not tell us what to think; instead he gives us boundaries in which we search for a meaning that fits within those boundaries.
Traditionally, in Japan, teenage and unmarried women plant rice seedlings to the paddy, their fertility believed to magically transfer to the deep mud where seeds will put forth.
In these songs Basho hears - he rides the sounds -- to the origins of “refinement” -- which means “poetry” as well as all of culture that refines us to a higher state.
Here is a rice planting song from Iwate-ken in the Deep North. Probably Basho never heard this particuar song, however I'm sure he would have enjoyed knowing it because it is full of lively action by women and the speech or thoughts of women. She is the center.
Rice produces more harvest per seed than other grains. The rice tax was rent paid to the daimyo who owns this province, 40 - 60% of the rice taken each year right after harvest. During harvest, the “Master” skims off some wealth to use for his private pleasure. The woman works hour after hour in the hot, bug-infested fields so the man can enjoy being with a woman who never works in the hot, bug-infested fields
Imo are ‘tubers’, the thickened starchy underground section of certain plants. Because tubers (a) provide much nutrition from ground too poor for other crops, (b) underground are protected from storms, and (c) can be stored for months without spoiling, tubers keep people alive during famine. Sato-imo, or taro, were the “village-tuber” – the stable food of peasants -- in Japan (in Hawaii, kalo, the ingredient for poi).
The song Imo arau, “Washing Taro,” found in a 1578 songbook, is far older than Basho:
A taro and a taro!
The speaker is a woman washing taro. She begins with a simple counting rhythm, similar to “one-potato, two-potato…” but also meaning “Does he have a mistress in the Capital and which one of us wll he prefer?” Taro are traditionally harvestedn the day of the harvest moon, the 15th of the 8th Moon.
‘Round’ refers to the shape of taro, of the full moon,and of certain parts of a woman’s body (“Tiny taro are preferred”). Women’s groups may enjoy singing the song, call and response. It has no assigned rhythm; each singer creates her own rhythm. Basho wrote:
In the river village women wash the dirt from the tuber taro. We see and feel their slender hands holding the variously shaped taro in the flowing stream. Either they sing Washing Taro to the famous 12th century poet Saigyo, or he sings to them, of the reality of marriage in Japan: she works hard every day, feeding herself and the children on staple foods like taro while he goes wherever husbands go, eating fancy foods in restaurants and enjoying pleasures he cannot find at home.
Basho’s several hundred poems about women, children, friendship, love, and compassion
are almost almost unknown both in Japan and in the West, yet may be the most pro-female,
child-centered, and life-affirming works in world literature.
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 feminist
protraits worldwide and preserve their wisdom for future generations