Thursday, September 15, 2011

Basho: Sept. 15, 1644--Nov. 28, 1694

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, September 15 is the traditional date given for Basho's birth. As it comes shortly before the Fall Equinox, it would seem to be good date. Again, we will go around the year with Basho.


ah, spring, spring,
great is spring,

ah spring spring
how great is spring!
and so on

This one caught me by surprise. I was expecting some image (another cherry blossom haiku perhaps) of the wonders of spring and instead got hit by boredom. Even haiku poets get tired of writing about the same old thing. Or, perhaps this is a "finish it yourself" haiku.

I prefer the second version, for "etcetera" sounds a bit pompous, while "and so on" better conveys the tedium of yet another haiku about the glories of spring.


departing from an old friend

deer horns
developing their first branch:
our separation

deer antler
now branching at the joint

This haiku is more about separation than about summer. There's also a hint of sadness there that isn't obvious at first, at least it wasn't to me. Those branching antlers will never meet again. Is an "old friend" one who has been a friend for a long time or a friend who is getting old, or perhaps both. Could it be a quiet suggestion that they probably will never see each other again? This might be the final farewell.

I would go with the second version, but only by a slight preference. I don't like "joint," for it seems harsh, but "farewell" comes across more succinctly to me than "our separation." It echoes more clearly the hint carried by those antlers that branch and will never meet again.


autumn wind
through an open door--
a piercing cry

autumn wind's
mouth at the sliding door
a piercing voice

The harsh wind of Autumn accompanies the withdrawal of life outside that door. What is that "piercing voice"? Is it a cry of despair?

I would go with the first version this time. "Mouth" bothers me.


at a poor mountain temple,
a kettle crying in the frost,
the voice frigid

a poor temple
frost on the iron kettle
has a cold voice

There is an example of personification in these two versions, but what is being personified differs. In the first version, the kettle is crying amidst the frost with a frigid voice, but in the second, it is the frost on the kettle that has a cold voice.

I think I would go with the first version here, today anyway. Some might go for the second version because considering frost with a voice is certainly more striking.

Bonus haiku

wind from Mt. Fuji--
carrying it in my fan,
a souvenir for those in Edo

a Fuji wind
placed here on a fan
a souvenir of Tokyo

I just like the idea here--a fan carrying a breeze from Mt. Fuji.

I prefer the first version this time; the second line seems clumsy--"placed here on a fan".

a) these versions are from
Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
trans. David Landis Barnhill

b) these versions are from
Basho: The Complete Haiku
trans. Jane Reichhold


  1. In the first haiku, I like how Basho seems to mock the whole idea of composing a haiku about Spring. We usually think of breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly -- calling attention to the artifice even while inside it -- as a very modern kind of thing, but Basho proves it's nothing new.

  2. Amazing images, with so few words.

  3. RAB,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Yes, I suspect that much of what we consider "modern" has been around for a few centuries or even longer.

    I haven't seen this before from Basho, but then again, I've not even come close to have read half of his haiku.

    I will probably find a few more surprises as I read more of his works.

  4. Cheryl,

    That's what I find so interesting about haiku--that so much can be said with so few words.

  5. The only Basho I'm familiar with until today was this haiku Robert Crais used in the intro to his first book, THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT.

    Winter downpour -
    even the monkey
    needs a raincoat.

    I like the whole idea of distilling an experience into just a few words. For someone as wordy as me, it's a challenge. :)

  6. Yvette,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. That's a well-known haiku and frequently appears in haiku collections.

    It's mostly images, which convey an idea or inspiration or enlightenment.