sentience – – haibun

“…we took rooms at an inn with…Mr. Kansho, who was in town to attend memorial services for the haiku poet Issho, locally renowned for his verse and devotion to craft. The poet’s elder brother served as host, the poet having died last winter.

Tremble, oh my grave–

in time my cries will be

only this autumn wind”

Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior,” translated by Sam Hamill, the Essential Basho, p. 29-30; an excerpt from Frank Tassone’s selection for Day 20 of November with Basho


Matsuo Basho had no idea that his words would still be known and cherished, in Japan and beyond, over 300 years after his death.


a window in time

open until


returns to the wind



©️2019 Ontheland

clouds gathering – – tanka

“After several days, clouds gathering over the North Road, we left Sakata reluctantly, aching at the thought of a hundred thirty miles to the provincial capital of Kaga. We crossed the Nezu Barrier into Echigo Province, and from there went on to Ichiburi Barrier in Etchu, restating our resolve all along the way. Through nine hellish days of heat and rain, all my old maladies tormenting me again, feverish and weak, I could not write.

Altair meets Vega


already the night is changed”

Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior,” translated by Sam Hamill, the Essential Basho, p. 27-28…quote selected by Frank Tassone for Day 19 of November with Basho

Suddenly this passage from Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior sinks in. After a gruelling day on the road, Basho’s spirits lift as he remembers that the next day is a special festival (Tanabata) celebrating the annual reunion of two lovers. For a response, I wrote a tanka finding words from Basho’s haibun for the first three lines:




gathering along the way

through heat and rain

tasting salt on our lips

the sea we left miles behind



©️2019 Ontheland

Tanabata Festival, woodcut by Ando, Hiroshiga

Tuesday – – haiku


a soft layer of snow

covers Monday’s ice



©️2019 Ontheland

On his trip to the Interior, Basho’s awareness is steeped in the presence of history-—what was is present now. The Basho quote for Day 17 of Frank Tassone’s November with Basho series concludes with this haiku:

Kisakata rain:

the legendary beauty Seishi

wrapped in sleeping leaves

Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior,” translated by Sam Hamill, the Essential Basho, p. 27

leaning in – – haibun

Leaning into the blizzard we enter a realm of footsteps and prickling clouds of snow. At first, effort overwhelms our concentration but we plod on until…there is a shift…what was hard is now a steady state of one step after the other, forward, forward into the night…a motion that could go on forever. Only when we stop do we feel lead in our legs, our burning ears, cheeks and toes.


steady march

tall winter moon

holding the light


©️2019 Ontheland

On Day 15 of November with Basho, Frank Tassone provides Basho’s account of his climb up the sacred Moon Mountain:

On the eighth we climbed Moon Mountain, wearing the holy paper necklaces and cotton hats of Shinto priests, following behind a mountain monk whose footsteps passed through mist and clouds and snow and ice, climbing miles higher as though drawn by invisible spirits into the gateway of the sky–sun, moon, and clouds floated by and took my breath away. Long after sunset, moon high over the peak, we reached the summit, spread out in bamboo grass, and slept…

…How many rising

clouds collapse and fall on

this moonlit mountain…

Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior,” translated by Sam Hamill, the Essential Basho, p. 24-25

Saguenay – – haibun

Rock cliffs towered along the banks of the Saguenay Fjord as the tour boat guide shouted into the wind. He beckoned us to peer far above at the renowned Statue of Our Lady of the Saguenay placed there in 1881 by a man grateful to have survived his fall into river ice. I strained to hear the story, but surrounded by the rushing river and the imposing rock, the monument seemed small in comparison.

ancient river

what legends drowned in these depths

pour to the sea

©️2019 Ontheland

The Saguenay Fjord was carved by glaciers of the last ice age. Located in the Canadian Province of Quebec, it flows into the St Lawrence River which drains into the Atlantic Ocean. Memories of our trip on the Saguenay came to mind on reading November with Basho Day 13. Here is an excerpt from the Basho quote offered by Frank Tassone:

Mountains rose from either side of the boat as we sped between the trees. The boat was only a tiny rice-boat not meant for all we carried. We passed Shiraito Falls where it tumbles under pines…

All the summer rains

violently gather–

Mogami River

Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior,” translated by Sam Hamill, the Essential Basho, p. 22-23

what remains – – haibun

How the years have flown from childhood to young adult to old age…the dreams pursued seem distant now…the tears, the yearning. Love and accomplishments were once castles to attain and defend.

Someday, someone else will open this desk drawer.


rattling with the paper clips

five tarnished keys



©️2019 Ontheland

Another haibun inspired by an episode of Basho‘s Narrow Road to the Interior. The following quote is from Day 11 of Frank Tassone’s November with Basho series:

The ancient ruins of Yasuhira–from the end of the Golden Era–lie out beyond the Koromo Barrier, where they stood guard against the Ainu people. The faithful elite remained bound to the castle–for all their valor, reduced to ordinary grass…

We sat a while, our hats for seat, seeing it all through tears.

summer grasses:

all that remains of great soldiers’

imperial dreams

Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior” translated by Sam Hamill

the place – – tanka

the place . . .

home of an ancient pine

on rippled rock

we commune with the waves

hear words in the spray

©️ 2019 Ontheland

Matsuo Basho visited many famous trees on his travels. One was the pine with twin trunks at Takekuma. This stop on Basho’s journey is the subject of Frank Tassone’s November with Basho Day 9 quote from the Narrow Road to the Interior. Basho’s words remind me of places I’ve been on the Canadian Shield.

Image: uploaded on Pixabay by prettysleepy1


courage – – haibun

It takes courage to live, courage to die, to shed tears, to mourn. We talk of swords, fights, and battles but it is the language of the carp (koi) that captivates me. Like the willow, the carp knows how to follow the wind…and when necessary, has strength to swim upstream. In an ancient myth, a school of carp finds itself travelling against the current. Some turn back but others persevere when they encounter a waterfall. After many attempts one jumps to the top and becomes a dragon.

In this era we tend to think that we know everything, while in fact there is so much we do not know about ourselves, about each other, and the natural world we live in…there are many unopened doors locked by deception, ignorance, and shame waiting to be opened when we dare.

fire dragon

born of koi

one with the wind



©️2019 Ontheland

Image : Koinobori, flags in the shape of koi (carp)

These ruminations were inspired by the seventh quote in Frank Tassone’s November with Basho series based on Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior:

Crossed on the ferry at Tsukinowa to the post town of Se-no-ue to see the ruins that were Sato Shoji’s house, beyond town to the left, near the mountains. We were told to look at Saba Moor in Iizuka, and we eventually came to Maru Hill where the castle ruins lay. Seeing the main gate sundered, the ancient temple nearby, seeing all the family graves, my eyes glazed with tears…

Sword, chest and wind-carp

all proudly displayed

on Boys’ Festival Day

Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior,” translated by Sam Hamil, The Essential Basho, pg. 11-12


half moon – – haibun

Unpleasant appointments loom in my calendar — though not always cushioned by pleasurable events, they are…this time. Nonetheless they continue to tap at the edge of my composure, vying for my anxious attention.

half moon

directly above

a fresh field of snow



©️2019 Ontheland

Prompted by Frank Tassone’s November with Basho Day 6:

A little anxious, thinking of the Shirakawa Barrier, thinking on it day by day; but calmed my mind by remembering the old poem, “somehow sending word home.” I walked through heavy green summer forests. Many a poet inscribed a few words at one of the Three Barriers–“Autumn Winds” and “Red Maple Leaves” come to mind. Then, like fields of snow, innumerable white-flowered bushes, unohana, covered either side of the road…


around my head

dressed for ancient rites [Sora]

(note: Sora was a poet and traveling companion of Basho during his travels through the North.)

Basho, Narrow Road to the Interior, translated by Sam Hamil, The Essential Basho, pg. 9

willow shade – – haibun

Words replay and reform under the sun and moon…on water, on mountaintops, in forests….Matsuo Basho thought of the poems of Saigyo on his 1689 trek. He visited a willow where Saigyo wrote this poem over 500 years earlier:

At the side of the road

The willow’s shade

Where clear water flows

Thinking “Just for a while”

I stayed on

~ Shinkokinshu

In Basho’s time Saigyo’s willow was by a rice field. He wrote:

Rice-planting done, they

depart — before I emerge

from willow shade

~ Narrow Road to the Interior

Willows border a rural road near my home. Their long branches add elegance to the flat terrain. William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) wrote of willows in autumn:

It is a willow when summer is over,
a willow by the river
from which no leaf has fallen nor
bitten by the sun
turned orange or crimson.
The leaves cling and grow paler,
swing and grow paler
over the swirling waters of the river
as if loath to let go,
they are so cool, so drunk with
the swirl of the wind and of the river—
oblivious to winter,
the last to let go and fall
into the water and on the ground.



willow shade

silent whispers

of ancestors


©️2019 Ontheland

Prompted by Frank Tassone’s Day 5 of November with Basho

Image courtesy of Pixabay