What Women Say About This Material:
“The primordial power of the feminine emanating from Basho’s poetry” Ceci Miller
“Basho shows an appreciation for women far beyond what we have been led to expect
from a Japanese man of this era.”
…the astonishing range of social subject matter and compassionate intuition
that Basho reveals in his links.
Michele Root-Bernstein Ph. D
I am an American who has lived in Japan for three decades; the company I created, Asabo Workshop, designs, builds, and sells developmental play equipment for children. I have studied and translated Basho in Japanese for more than thirty years as a hobby, without university affiliation, and have everyday discovered works which appear nowhere in English.
I am amazed that Basho is the most famous of all Japanese poets, yet so, so much of his work is unknown both in Japan and the West. It appalls me that his magnificent observations of women, as well as men and children, are unknown to humanity, are not taught in schools, do not appear in books and journals, are not cited by historians, sociologists, anthropologists worldwide. In this world of so much negativity and sensationalism, we need Basho’s positive, life-affirming words to remind us of what Sam (Sean Astin) said in the Lord of the Rings:
There is much good –, a positive gentle feminism which neither protests nor demands, but rather focuses on women as whole beings, conscious and acting with power on the world – in Basho and it’s worth fighting to overcome the judgments of Basho -- “literary,” “impersonal,” “old-fashioned,” “lonely,” “for a select group” -- by people who have almost no knowledge at all of his works on women.
Jeff Robbins: email@example.com
Translations and Commentary
Two Early Feminists
No, Woman, No Heavy
Links of the Feminine
I am well-aware that this self-publication contains typographical, grammatical, and formatting errors;
I am doing the best I can without funds or affiliation. Do not simply criticize my inadequacies; repair them
and share these glorious feminine words with women of the world.
Compiling the vast range of Basho’s works on humanity is far too great a job for a hermit like me to do alone. I hope to give the material and copyright to someone or some organization who, with my support,
will do a better job than I can.
This material belongs not to me, but to you, women of the world. Please take this mission over
and share it with your sisters all over the world, so I can die in peace
This book offers several hundred portraits, both physical and emotional, of Japanese women by the 17th century male poet Basho, among the earliest and most numerous, diverse, and insightful female-centered works in World Literature. Historian Louis Perez expresses the standard view that in Japan “the literary elite (of which Basho certainly is) scarcely eluded to commoner women at all, and if they did it was mainly in a pejorative sense.” Women Central, by revealing Basho’s profound appreciation for ordinary women, overturns an old and obsolete roadblock so we may enter a new realm of praise for women.
Despite the strict patriarchal society he lived in, Basho produced a gentle feminism which neither protests nor demands, but rather focuses on women as whole beings, conscious, and active: a feminist legacy ancient because it came to life a full century before Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and new because nearly all these works have been completely neglected by both literary scholars and feminists, yet can inspire and empower modern women of all nations, races, social classes, religions and education.
世 の 愛 を /産みけん人 の / 御 粧
Yo no ai o / umiken hito no / on-yosoi
She makes herself beautiful before and while giving birth – to a child, or a project, or an idea; within her beauty is the power of regeneration, the nurturing of life. In his few simple words Basho presents an ideal, the “full circle” some women experience, and others would if not for the oppressive conditions of patriarchy they live in.
盗 人 に /連れ添う妹が / 身をなきて
Nusubito ni / tsuresou imo ga / mi o nakite
Basho portrays the oppression which denies women the fullness of life. This “marriage” is informal; in Japanese, the thief is “taking her along” with him. These are ‘sketches’ – a few brush strokes and much blank space for you to fill in with imagination. Do not simply read the poem once and go on to something else; roll the words around inside your mind, as you search for the experience of the woman hidden in the words. Who is this “sister” and what are her circumstances? How does she live? Discover her, create her, find her in yourself. Search for clues to her in the commentary on page 39 where it appears with the previous stanza by another poet, as well as from your own experiences of living with male decadence.
Basho takes us inside a woman’s emotions, while hiding those emotions within his words:
花 咲けば / 又 来て のぼる / 塚 の 上
Hana sakeba / mata kite noboru / tsuka no ue
Each year in this season she comes here to climb the hill of her grief
Throughout the ages in most every society, women have been marginalized – relegated to a lower or outer position – in life, as well as in literature; in most novels, plays, and poetry written by men, men have all the central roles, while women are secondary. In The Descent of Woman, Elaine Morgan says
A very high proportion of the thinking on these topics is androcentric in the same way as pre-Copernican thinking was geocentric. It’s just as hard for men to break the habit of thinking of himself as central to the species as it was to break the habit of thinking of himself as central to the universe.
Or to break the habit of thinking of himself as central to the verse. Basho however has no trouble creating an image entirely female. He can be and often is gynocentric, placing the woman in the center of the image, with no male presence at all:
粽 ゆう / 片 手 に はさむ / 額 髪
Chimaki yuu / katate ni hasamu / hitai-gami
Her fingers and palms coated with doughy residue, she cannot use them to tuck her hair behind her ear, so she does so with the side of her hand above the thumb and forefinger. In every land and every time where hair is worn long, we see this exquisite motion of the side of the hand around the ear. This is Basho’s Mona Lisa: his most graceful hidden woman. Only Basho pays attention.
The terms “female centrism” and “gynocentrism” come from the mind of Lester Ward (1841–1913), the sociologist who first systemized the new academic discipline and became the first president of the American Sociological Association. He concluded that women were naturally superior to men and advocated equal rights. Japanese feminist Hiratsuka Raicho (see pages 63 and 343) says “I was fascinated by his chapter on “female centrism” in Pure Sociology (1903) and drew on it in developing my own ideas about feminism.” Despite his eminence, Ward’s sociological feminism has been neglected and forgotten by both his successors and the feminists who should follow Raicho’s fascination. Despite Basho being the most famous of Japanese poets, his female centric works appear in Japanese anthologies buried among five or six hundred pages, read by a few old men but ignored by everyone else, not translated into other languages, so neither literary scholars nor feminists knows of this profound legacy. This book aims to bring these verses beyond the scholars into the hearts of women worldwide and in the future.
Basho makes no biological, historical, or feminist claims, so no controversy. He simply portrays the female (woman or girl) in the center of attention. Thus “female centrism.”
ゆるされて / 女 の 中 の / 音頭 取り
Yurusarete / onna no naka no / ondō tori
A subtle communication flows within the female group, allowing one voice to lead the others, so their combined voices go far. All that Black women say about choral singing applies to this verse, and furthermore the verse applies to movements for political change.
When women in the movement use “herstory,” their purpose is to emphasize that women's lives, deeds, and participation in human affairs have been neglected or undervalued in standard histories.
The “woman’s lives deeds, and participation in human affairs” portrayed in Basho poetry and prose works has been neglected and undervalued in standard accounts of his works. Basho’s male followers seem not to have noticed all the herstories their Master told – and through the centuries, scholars have not noticed – so the serious, austere, male-oriented Basho image has spread throughout the literary world. Though the women in Basho are central, they have been marginalized by scholars, so that outside of Basho4Humanity, no one conceives of Basho empowering women – and yet only Basho could write so feminine as verse as:
乳 を のむ 膝 に / 何 を 夢 みる
chi o nomu hiza ni / nani o yume miru
As the tiny mouth sucks her nipple, she gazes into the baby’s eyes and forehead, searching to see the dreams within. (To further explore this remarkable Basho stanza, see it on pages 82 to 83.)So long as women refuse to see the herstories in Basho’s work – because schools and men have told them they do not exist – women are doing men’s work, marginalizing women. Only by bringing the women in Basho away from the margins to the center of our consciousness, can we take back the sun of his female-centric genius.
Here are my translations of 254 Basho haiku and renku stanzas plus stanzas by other poets complimenting his, with Japanese originals and Romanization to deter scholars from claiming I am “mistaken” or made these verses up in English. No; they come from Japanese anthologies:
Kon Eizo’s Complete Basho Haiku Anthology
Complete Basho Renku Interpretative Anthology (11 volumes)
This font is used by all poetry and prose
in bold for Basho’s own words.
The different fonts for renku stanzas by Basho and another poet
highlight the separation between two minds, and encourage us to search for the links between them
I realize that some people consider this font
too lively, child-like, and jaunty for serious writing,
but I find it ideal for Basho’s Lightness.
As Basho said “Let a three-foot child get the verse”
This font ‘stands out’ better than other fonts,
and Basho says “standing out makes the verse.”
The thick lines of bold face resemble
the India ink Basho himself used.
Ordinary print is used for commentaries I have translated from Japanese in the anthologies listed above and in the Complete Anthology of Japanese Literature, volumes 70 and 71, and Miyawaki Masahiko’s Basho’s Verses of Human Affection, then modernized and Americanized with feedback from woman readers.
My aim in translation is to re-create the original: no more, no less, to reproduce Basho’s words in English with nothing – or very little – extra from my mind or another mind to help you understand. My efforts for your understanding have gone rather into the commentaries on the same page as Basho’s originals. You never need to look in the back of the book for the clues to his riddles; instead look immediately before or after the translation. Japanese also rely on commentaries on the same page to find Basho’s hidden meanings. In my commentaries I have followed documented evidence from Japanese Basho scholars, however from that base I fly freely through the worlds of knowledge - through Japanese children’s songs, folktales, biography, biology, anthropology, child development - whatever is fun and interesting or sometimes sad and interesting, whatever will make Basho more entertaining or inspiring to modern women and men who love women. My purposes are
To have fun with Basho;
To learn more about women from Basho
To discover the warmth in Basho’s heart
Literary scholars may not approve of my “having fun with Basho,” not caring for the jokes, anecdotes, and stream of consciousness wandering—but Basho4Humanity is not 4scholars, but rather for ordinary people who like reading to be fun, enjoy learning about the diversity of women, and are inspired by their life and consciousness.
My presentation of Basho’s works is in no way finished; I am constantly revising them, searching for the best way to communicate Basho’s feminist wisdom. If you find my commentaries excessive or deficient, leave them out and present the translations with better or more appropriate commentaries. These poems belong not to me, but to you, women of the world.
Men reign supreme throughout the centuries of world literature before modern times, however Judith Cook, in Women in Shakespeare reviews the wide range of women with personalities in 16th and early 17th century plays, yet most of them are “either suffering victims or outright villainesses…It would be wrong, therefore, to say that only Shakespeare in his time created believable and fascinating roles for women. The difference lies in his ability to write convincingly and beautifully for so many different types of women.” Cook quotes A.L. Rowse’s glorification of Shakespeare’s,
fixation on women, his fascinated adoration of them, his sympathetic understanding of all varieties of feminine nature, his unquenched ardour, his undyling love of women – all this is utterly obvious from beginning to end of his work…hence the most marvelous gallery of female characters in literature.
Elizabeth Winkler in her article Was Shakespeare a Woman notes that
The critic John Ruskin said, “Shakespeare has no heroes—he has only heroines.” A striking number of those heroines refuse to obey rules. At least 10 defy their fathers, bucking betrothals they don’t like to find their own paths to love. Eight disguise themselves as men, outwitting patriarchal controls—more gender-swapping than can be found in the work of any previous English playwright. Six lead armies.
Most literary critics and professors, who are mostly men, do not see this fascination and adoration of women in Shakespeare. They instead consider him as the “embodiment of the patriarchal authority of the Western canon.”
Likewise for Basho: the literary scholars for 300 years have ignored “his ability to write convincingly and beautifully for so many different types of women” producing “the most marvelous gallery of female characters in literature,” or they have de-empahsized the femininity in the verses – to maintain their notion that Basho, being one of the Japanese literary elite, “scarcely eluded to commoner women at all, and if they did it was mainly in a pejorative sense.” They deprive their students and readers the vast resource for female empowerment in these Basho works.
The feminism of Shakespeare and of Basho is powerful, yet only in sections of their work. Most of Shakespeare’s plays are men talking to and fighting each other. Likewise for Basho: in a complete Basho anthology, these female-centered verses are separated by numerous nature-centered or male-centered works – however the feminism of Basho, like that of Shakespeare, stands out from the centuries of misogyny. Only Shakespeare (or whoever wrote his plays) could create the joyfulness of Rosalind or the moral courage of Emilia; Only Basho honors the succession of female wisdom through the generations:
定らぬ / 娘 の 心 / 取しづめ
Sadamaranu / musume no kokoro / tori shizume
Basho portrays both compassionate mother and developing daughter. Mother manages to say the right words in the right tone to soothe and settle down her offspring who is just like she was 20 years before. The stanza is incomplete as written; your job is to fulfill it and make it evoke your experience as a mother and/or daughter. The commentary with the stanza in L-7 Mother as Icon may help you do so.
Modern Japanese feminist artist Tabe Michiko says, "I am opposed to the idea that art should be depressing,
serious, and monotone. This idea is deeply rooted in Japanese men’s sense of beauty." Literary scholars maintain the notion that Basho followed in this tradition of “depressing, serious, and monotone” poetry, but actually he rejected that tradition which he called Oldness; he created a new and original form of Japanese poetry he called “Lightness” -- poetry about ordinary people and ordinary activities, without tragedy,
desolation, or anything literary. Basho, like all of us, sometimes was sad – especially in the autumn -- and some of his poems are lonely and desolate – and these are the ones which have been translated -- however the majority of his work is upbeat and positive, full of life and activity.
In his final year, Basho defined Lightness in gentle words which may appeal more to women:
Let the scholars have their “impersonal, detached, and objective” Basho – while we discover Basho4now -- in this volume, the astonishing variety of his warm, personal, lively works about women.
Unlike other collections of Basho which include only his haiku and travel journals, Basho4Humanity abounds with the vast uncharted wealth of his contributions to renku, linked verses composed by a team of poets, each writing a stanza linked to the one before. The 194 renku stanzas by Basho in this volume reveal the depths of his feminine consciousness. He said,
Many of my followers write haiku equal to mine,
however in renku is the bone marrow of this old man.
Basho realized that renku, not haiku, contained the inner core of his reverence for humanity and especially for women. Sometimes I present single stanzas of Basho which travel freely through any female reality because they carry no baggage from another stanza.
吾 顏の / 母 に 似たる も / ゆかしくて
Waga kao no / haha ni nitaru mo / yukashikute
As Gregor Mendel studied peas to discover the nature of descent through generations, Basho is attracted to the human face where he fascinated to see descent through the female line – but there is much more to learn and experience from exploring Basho’s stanza together with the one before or after – as you can do with this stanza in L-10 Her Face
The next two stanza-pairs demonstrate the “bone marrow” of Basho poetry, the “compassionate intuition that Basho reveals in his links.”
Children scattered about the room, mother at the sunken hearth in the center has to “glare about” – staring fiercely all around‐to address them all, not that they listen. The stanza abounds with human activity in three lively verbs: “glaring about,” “orders,” and her spoken command “behave!” along with the activity of the children: crawling, running, climbing, arguing, fighting, breaking or swallowing things, this winter day in 17th century Japan.
Meanwhile she is broiling balls of miso, soy bean paste, on skewers to make a side dish. A bit of ash from the fire has gotten on the sticky miso. She lifts the skewer close to her mouth, purses her lips, and puffs a burst of air at the ash to propel it from the miso. The astonishing delicacy of this action even the fingers of elves could not perform is the polar opposite of her glaring and shouting at her kids – yet both ordering and puffing are her breath, her life force the yogis call prana.
In Western literature women face romance and/or tragedy with beauty or virtue, ugliness or evil. Basho says nothing at all about any of these. He searches for and discovers a different quality in a woman: she is simply alive and expresses her life-force in a way which is whole, positive, conscious, and active. This is the heart of his womanism: he perceives an ordinary, low-class, woman of color as central and worthy of praise.
Basho told his followers:
The following stanza-pair demonstrates his meaning.
Single layer cotton cloth hangs on a line in the sunshine; overhead a lark sings brightly rising to heaven. A group of only girls, so no males to dominate them, no female accommodation to male nonsense, just girls being themselves, in their pretty robes, going to have fun, chatting and laughing with each other, complement the clarity and freshness of the first stanza. Clean white fabric, skylark, cherry blossoms, and group of happy girls, all rise up together.
Basho takes the energy of sunshine and birds from Rikyu, and uses it to create the sparkling rising joy of young human females; not the joy of females to amuse men, but female joy with no male presence anywhere; the joy few men recognize, but Basho embraces.
Such is the “heart’s connection” - the joy all girls would experience if not for the oppression and restrictions of patriarchal society, the joy which could fill the world.
I request your assistance in getting out the word on the warm affectionate Basho who wrote
hundreds of poems about women and children, about friendship, love, and compassion;
hundreds of Basho works unknown to almost all, yet maybe the most pro-female, child-centered,
and life-affirming works in world literature Feedback will be greatly appreciated.