Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Carpe Diem #870 prologue: a door of grass; spring departing; how glorious

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Welcome at the first episode of December 2015. This month we will walk the narrow road to the deep north together with Matsuo Basho. As I have promised I will bring all the 50 haiku from "The Narrow Road Into The Deep North" this month, so for starters I have the first three haiku of this world famous haibun by Basho for you all and for your inspiration. I also will try to bring Basho's world alive again ... through telling you all a little bit more about the places Basho visits in his haibun.
By the way all haiku within the episode are by Matsuo Basho in a translation by Jane Reichhold.


Days and months are the travelers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling.
There are a great number of the ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind- filled with a strong desire to wander. It was only toward the end of last autumn that I returned from rambling along the coast. I barely had time to sweep the cobwebs from my broken house on the River Sumida before the New Year, but no sooner had the spring mist begun to rise over the field than I wanted to be on the road again to cross the barrier-gate of Shirakawa in due time. The gods seem to have possessed my soul and turned it inside out, and the roadside images seemed to invite me from every corner, so that it was impossible for me to stay idle at home.
Even while I was getting ready, mending my torn trousers, tying a new strap to my hat, and applying moxa to my legs to strengthen them, I was already dreaming of the full moon rising over the islands of Matsushima. Finally, I sold my house, moving to the cottage of Sampu, for a temporary stay. Upon the threshold of my old home, however, I wrote a linked verse of eight pieces and hung it on a wooden pillar.
kusa no to mo   sumi kawara yo zo   hina no ie
a door of grass
the resident changes for a time
a house of dolls

It was early on the morning of March the twenty-seventh that I took to the road. There was darkness lingering in the sky, and the moon was still visible, though gradually thinning away. The faint shadow of Mount Fuji and the cherry blossoms of Ueno and Yanaka were bidding me a last farewell. My friends had got together the night before, and they all came with me on the boat to keep me company for the first few miles. When we got off the boat at Senju, however, the thought of three thousand miles before me suddenly filled my heart, and neither the houses of the town nor the faces of my friends could be seen by my tearful eyes except as a vision.

Credits: Cherry Blossoms in Yanaka
spring departing
birds cry and in the fishes'
eyes are tears

With this poem to commemorate my departure, I walked forth on my journey, but lingering thoughts made my steps heavy. My friends stood in a line and waved good-bye as long as they could see my back.
I walked all through that day, ever wishing to return after seeing the strange sights of the far north, but not really believing in the possibility, for I knew that departing like this on a long journey in the second year of Genroku I should only accumulate more frosty hairs on my head as I approached the colder regions. When I reached the village of Soka in the evening, my bony shoulders were sore because of the load I had carried, which consisted of a paper coat to keep me warm at night, a light cotton gown to wear after the bath, scanty protection against the rain, writing equipment, and gifts from certain friends of mine. I wanted to travel light, of course, but there were always certain things I could not throw away either for practical or sentimental reasons.  
Credits: The shrine of Muro no Yashima
I went to see the shrine of Muronoyashima. According to Sora, my companion, this shrine is dedicated to the goddess called the Lady of the Flower-Bearing Trees, who has another shrine at the foot of Mt.Fuji. This goddess is said to have locked herself up in a burning cell to prove the divine nature of her newly-conceived son when her husband doubted it. As a result, her son was named the Lord Born Out of the Fire, and her shrine, Muro-no-yashima, which means a burning cell. It was the custom of this place for poets to sing of the rising smoke, and for ordinary people not to eat konoshiro, a speckled fish, which has a vile smell when burnt.
I lodged in an inn at the foot of Mount Nikko on the night of March the thirtieth. The host of my inn introduced himself as Honest Gozaemon, and told me to sleep in perfect peace on his grass pillow, for his sole ambition was to be worthy of his name. I watched him rather carefully but found him almost stubbornly honest, utterly devoid of worldly cleverness. It was as if the merciful Buddha himself had taken the shape of a man to help me in my wandering pilgrimage. Indeed, such saintly honesty and purity as his must not be scorned, for it verges closely on the perfection preached by Confucius.

Credits: Mount Nikko Shirane

On the first day of April, I climbed Mt. Nikko to do homage to the holiest of the shrines upon it. This mountain used to be called Niko. When the high priest Kukai built a temple upon it, however, he changed the name to Nikko, which means the bright beams of the sun. Kukai must have had the power to see a thousand years into the future, for the mountain is now the seat of the most sacred of all shrines, and its benevolent power prevails throughout the land, embracing the entire people, like the bright beams of the sun. To say more about the shrine would be to violate its holiness.

how glorious
young green leaves
flash in the sun


I wonder how would it be to really live in his time and see the beauty of ancient Japan? Of course I can imagine that, but ... well it would be awesome to walk in his footsteps for real. I hope to bring that feeling into this month's episodes.

Several years ago, and I think I have told you this earlier, I read "Narrow Road" and wrote my own "Narrow Road" inspired by Basho's famous haibun and this was my first haiku which I wrote after the preface of my own narrow road:

the last night
I couldn't sleep -
a Nightingale sings

© Chèvrefeuille

followed by a verse with farewell words:

a farewell verse
scribbled on a receipt
don't forget me

© Chèvrefeuille

This last haiku I used also in one of my novels I wrote several years ago.

As you all know these episodes are to inspire you to write all new haiku. Of course no obligations this month to follow the spirit of Basho, but it would (of course) be great to read all new haiku inspired on "Narrow Road", which can be seen as Basho's path to enlightenment ... this famous haibun has a very deep spiritual meaning and I hope to bring that spiritual meaning to life also.

This episode (published a little bit later than planned) is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until December 4th at noon (CET). I will (try to) publish our new episode, a new episode of Haiku Writing Techniques, later on.  


  1. What a stupendously rich post .. thank you so much Chèvrefeuille! Bastet

  2. The last one sets the bar extremely high. Well done! What an achievement!

  3. I'm always amazed when I read 'a door of grass' - it's definitely one of my favourite haiku.