"The way of aloha (love) is really simple You give and you give and you give from here (the heart), until you have nothing else to give." Rell Sunn, Hawaiian woman surfing champion
“Basho love poetry” may sound like a contradiction in terms, for the imagf Basho as “impersonal, detached, and objective” is well-established in this world - although false. If we go beyond his haiku to look into his far
more numerous renku, we find vast resources of romance, passion, and sensuality, as well as other feelings
associated with love: shame, embarrassment, disappointment, frustration.
Sora portrays the rivalries among court ladies at the Imperial Palace – as in The Tale of Genji where a young woman, Kiritusbo,“summoned” by the Emperor, becomes his favorite. Other court ladies, led by his senior
consort, spread rumors about Kiritsubo; being women themselves, they know exactly how to shame a young woman, and she eventually sickens and dies.
Basho, however, aims for life, not death. The woman in his stanza, despite the gossip about her and the shame it brings, lying in bed beside him, carefully maneuvering her arm under his head without waking him, such is the delicacy of her devotion. Basho empowers women to overcome bullying and shame by concentrating on their feminine power.
Higashi Akimasa in The Love Poetry of Basho notes the sensuality comes not from the words about the body – “her slender forearm” – but rather from the unspoken suggestion of “the form of woman’s body in the
bedroom.” Higashi says
“This is a truly sensual love-stanza. Looking back over the history of Japanese tanka and renku, so daring a love verse is unusual, however should we not be a little surprised that the author was Basho said to be a paragon of wabi and sabi (lonely desolation)?”
Higashi does not answer his rhetorical question, however I will. The notion that Basho is a “paragon of wabi and sabi” is an illusion, based on a narrow selection of impersonal haiku. Once we broaden our selection to include his linked verses, he becomes a paragon of romance, passion, and physical sensuality.
The ‘rock’ is his heart -- one minute clear and trustworthy, the next minute hidden and unreliable. My heart’s turmoil as he keeps on changing signals is what the pines close to the sea endure during storms. This Basho is so passionate!
Walking together in town, the lovers are surprised to see, and be seen by, “the boss”. He is cool and does not say a word, but her heart shrinks with haji -- shyness, bashfulness, embarrassment. She wonders what he is thinking: does he imagine her naked and doing IT, does he condemn her for having sex without marriage? She clutches the handle to make the umbrella cover as much as possible without any movements that might attract the boss’s attention.
Miyawaki Masahiko, in Basho’s Verses of Human Feeling, says, “Probably no other following stanza so well expresses the sense of shame felt when one’s love becomes known to others."
Miyawaki’s comment carries this stanza-pair deep into the diverse realms of anthropology. Japan is said to be a “shame culture” rather than the “guilt cultures” of the Judeo-Christian world. Miyawaki is Japanese and writes about Japanese people, in particular Japanese women, but what about us, people in all sorts of different cultures, with different perceptual realities of love, young or old, married or unmarried, do we, or did we long ago, feel “shame” (or embarrassment or whatever we call it) when together with a sexual partner we are seen by an authority figure who gets the picture.
A servant girl chops dried vegetable leaves to serve on top of rice, but her mind is “elsewhere” Where is that? Basho answers: with her lover who is a packhorse driver. She wishes for a day they can both have off, so they can hang together. She wishes for not greens on top of mounds of soft white rice, and him on the horse, but him on top of her soft flesh; She wants him “inside making love,” inside a house, instead of out on the field where they usually make out, but also inside her.
In case we think Basho is not thinking of sex, the next poet assures us that he is. The thread seller collects thread spun by girls as piece-work, and goes around door-to-door selling it. Apparently he showed up later than expected and spied on the lovers, but made a sound which did belong so they noticed. “Coming” has the usual double meaning, one meaning for the thread seller, one for the lovers.
This is the robe she wore when she was with him. Irises are folded into clothing in storage to keep away bugs, but her feelings here are more romantic. The flower tucked away between the folds may be erotic, if we wish it so.”Afterwards” is a most suggestive word. Mono omoi, literally “thoughts of things” is an idiom for love or love’s desire.
Basho focuses on the female. Providing her with a name gives her an identity; with no male presence in the verse, he is only there in her memory. In the link between the stanzas is the teenage girl’s experience of first love.
The tuber taro grows in patches of enormous flappy leaves shaped like elephant-ears. The wild boar, a stout and ungentle beast with vicious tusks, really wants the underground starchy corms – however the leaves get in his way. The mess of ragged and torn elephant-ear leaves suggests, to Basho, the turmoil in the heart of one who waits in vain for love. His stanza -- with or without the wild boar -- goes out to all impoverished youths who learn to wait for love in a thin jacket allowing in the chill wind.
December 22nd, the Sun at its most distant point from us, his heart so distant from mine, how my desperation increases. Placing the scene on a porch attached to the house provides a background for us to imagine. Basho continues the focus on the female with concrete and specific female activities. She uses all her skill with cosmetics and clothing, and looks at him with all the charm she can muster, yet he does not return her gaze.
Basho focuses on the sound of a female voice, and places that sound in a specific place; a kitchen. The next poet moves from the kitchen through a narrow passageway to a room on the second-floor. This is where her boyfriend, another servant, resides. So this is a love poem. Needing to searching for the unstated and hidden meaning makes the poem interesting.
Here is a woman with love remaining for one married to another. She forbids herself access to her ink stone for fear she will lose control and write a letter to him, revealing her secret. She holds back her desire which gathers like water against a dam. Basho switches to the heavy constant rain that falls in the Japanese night. She sits at the window – which, because this is Basho4Now, we are free to imagine with glass -- and stares into the darkness and rain. Somewhere in those primeval phenomena, she finds consolation.
Love affairs can end as sadly as they did for Ono no Komachi, the most beautiful women Japan ever produced; when her beauty was all gone, she became a lonely old beggar. Like Komachi, this woman regrets the loss of those attributes which used to bring her love.
Someone gives her bowl of nourishing rice gruel; she sips it while tears of gratitude fall
on her aged wrinkled face to mix with the gruel drooling from her mouth. What is her story?
how did she fell this far into misery?
Basho asks a question of a woman who drank herbs to induce abortion. In a famous tanka by Ki no Tsurayuki, “young pines” evoke the memories of a child who has died. How long will the spirit of the child never born remain within you? Issun sends Basho’s question to a servant girl, adding a bit of information,
yet deepening the secrecy. Basho then asks her another personal and intimate question: “Will you yield to the hormones 0f desire, urging you to produce more life?
She still loves him, but sick and tired of him playing around with other women, she has closed her front gateway (double meaning alert). He parks his vehicle in the neighbor’s spot to enter a side door. Between the two properties stands a hedge of a tall citrus scrub whose branches divide into twigs ending in inch-long daggers. She thinks “If you want me, suffer as much pain as you caused me!!” He passed through the ordeal, and they slept together. A samurai always carries his sword – except in bed. In the morning, she hands him the “sword” which is the manhood he lost last night crawling on the dirt like a worm. He crawls back under the hedge to his carriage and leaves. The cycle is complete.
As her lover leaves to go out into the pouring rain, she stops his hands from pulling on his boots: "Stay, stay, stay – just a little bit longer.” Basho replies with a focus on her delicacy and fascination which make men feel protective and want to stay with her.
Before he leaves,
to his chilly jacket
her warmth given
When young they both
innocent in love
わかれんと /つめたき小袖 /あたためて
おさなきどちの / 恋のあどなさ
Wakaren to / tsumetaki kosode / atatamete
Osanaki dochi no / koi no adonasa
She puts on her lover’s jacket to absorb some of her body’s warmth for him to feel in the freezing dawn. To be so kind and considerate, she must be young and innocent, unspoiled by the sinful world, still able to care with her whole being. The first poet speaks only the female having such love. Basho replies that small children, both male and female, love with the totality of their hearts, without greed, anxiety, or discontent, giving themselves wholly and completely to love.
In her haste
The human story and a bit of slapstick comedy. She has to get him away from her house before dawn so neighbors will not see him. She has the lantern but stumbles about in the dark searching for the bamboo flask of oil. (The futons lie on the tatami, so there is no difference in height.) Then she steps on his boil, which is excruciatingly painful for him. In his night robe he screams “Owww!” while she struggles frantically and obsessively to apologize. The minutes pass by and the sky lightens. When finally he leaves, they do not feel so comfortable with each other.
Sone Hiromi, who has studied the Edo-era sex trade, says
“instances of individual prostitution in which a woman made a living without an employer or anyone watching over (or living off) her were extremely rare.”
"Play-women" usually did prostitution inside a brothel or "tea-house"; if they traveled about, they had pimp to protect them and make sure customers paid. Here, however, are independent sex-workers who travel together in a group strong enough to handle anyone who gives them trouble. Because they are free,
not slaves, they study the nature of love. In graffiti written on the wall at an inn, one of them sees a female name written with so deep a love that it is visible in the scribbles. She smiles at this evidence of love in
someone she has and never will meet. She speaks to him across the barriers of space, time, and circumstances. In the long pause in the middle segment is Basho’s vision of love.
Older sister waits for her boyfriend who takes the herd out in the morning and returns in the evening. He is late coming home, and she worries. The feelings in her chest upset the parts of her brain which make her fingers execute the fine motions to weave the fabric according to the local tradition. Crepe fabric has a crinkled surface, due to strong cross threads, and is popular for summer wear. Echigo crepe was first produced in a village west of Niigata. This is snow country. In his Snow Country Tales, Bokushi Suzuki says,
"In places where weaving crepe is customary, a bride is chosen first for her ability to weave crepe, and second for her demeanor.”
These girls were trained from an early age to find their identity in weaving. Thus the loss of her ability to weave tears apart her personhood.
On the side, we note that the Weaver and the Cowherd are the two stars (Vega and Altair), lovers in the romantic tale of Tanabata, so maybe this scene takes place in heaven
Seeking to kill his enemy rather than be killed, he waits hour after hour with his weapons before the gate, knowing not when or how the other will appear, sweeping dreams from his drowsy mind. In the nearby field stands a statue of the bodhisattva Jizo, Buddhist Guardian of the Roads who comforts those in distress and assists those in need. The warrior calls on Jizo for strength to stay awake and stay alive.
That lonely cry in the distance, is it real or in a dream? Is the ‘dog’ a real dog or a metaphor for man who seeks a wife to comfort him in distress and assist him in need. Here is the life of a warrior: his struggles against male enemies and against nature (the need to sleep), his use of religion to justify these
struggles, then (from Basho) his longing for female love.
To whom can she
Blackwood burns slowly giving off dark heavy smoke that accumulates over the walls and ceiling and inhabitants. Basho then pinpoints the daughter living within this shack in a mountain hollow where the sun never shines; he reaches into her heart. There are no available bachelors in her world, no one to marry a girl so grimy with soot and rickets from vitamin D deficiency. All she can do is long for a love she will never know.
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.
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 so heavy it can only be moved by a thousand men pulling on ropes tied around it; so I can never bring his heart to mine. With no possibility of fulfillment, I can only throw away the love I feel.
“Weak in love” means she falls for any boy or man she finds attractive, and will give her love to any good-looking guy who promises her love. The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet tried to protect Juliet, but that didn’t end so well. This nurse is Japanese so she is more diligent, holding an “iron shield” before the princess’ private parts.
“The daughter in a box” hides in her house, as an owl in the forest, occasionally heard but never seen,
until she emerges swiftly on silent wings to “grasp” love. Basho is pessimistic: she will only find sorrow.
Horse chestnuts are large, bulky, and misshapen.
The stanzas previous to the following focused on the coming of spring. Basho continues, then two other
poets contribute, and Basho concludes the quartet:
Her futon rolled up
Basho follows a stanza on the coming of spring by creating a young female, full of life gathering inside her, ready to flow out. She sits on the floor mat leaning against the futon – in evening, still rolled-up – wondering about, wishing for love. The futon behind her pelvis suggests what is rolled up inside that pelvis. She wishes to spread the futon out, and her body on it, so spring can come to her loins.
The girl who dreamed of love has lost her relationship with somebody she loved or wanted to love. This is the fault of the “asshole who lives next door” – Hiroaki Sato translates this as “insolent neighbor” – but I believe she is too pissed off for polite words. The KBZ offers this possibility: the girl and neighbor boy grew up as childhood friends, and were becoming lovers, when his father broke it up.
The beggar monk is usually driven away from the gate or kitchen door, but here the angry girl brings him into the house so she can share her disappointment and frushtration with him in ways she cannot manage with members of her household. Whatever he has suffered to bring him to this decrepit state enables him to feel her misery. By bringing in this totally unrelated man who has been rejected by society to interact with the girl who has no position in society, the poet challenges us to expand our minds to the diversity of possible communications between two people marginalized by patriachy.
She lives in a nice house, but on the property is an old hut with a thatched roof for storing farm and
garden tools. She tells the monk what she and the boy did under the thatch to make his father the asshole angry. Basho explores what is hidden and secret, the desires we are programmed to feel, the behaviors worldwide and throughout time to fulfill those desires, the shame and social consequences of making love