“…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.
“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:
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:
the legendary beauty Seishi
wrapped in sleeping leaves
Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior,” translated by Sam Hamill, the Essential Basho, p. 27
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.
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
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.
The Saguenay Fjordwas 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
Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior,” translated by Sam Hamill, the Essential Basho, p. 22-23
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.
all that remains of great soldiers’
Basho, “Narrow Road to the Interior” translated by Sam Hamill
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 Roadto 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.