Thursday, December 3, 2015

Carpe Diem #872 our journey continues: across the field; one patch of a rice field; roots of elegance

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Our journey continues ... this is the third episode of December in which we are walking together with Basho and his companions the narrow path into the deep north. It's an awesome journey ... and ... how I wish to make that trip somewhere later in my life.


Taking leave of my friend in Kurobane, I started for the Murder Stone, so called because it kills birds and insects that approached it. I was riding on a horse my friend had lent me, when the farmer who led the horse asked me to compose a poem for him. His request came to me as a pleasant surprise.

across the field
the horse pulls toward
the cuckoo

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

The Murder Stone was in the dark corner of a mountain near a hot spring, and was completely wrapped in the poisonous gas rising from it. There was such a pile of dead bees, butterflies, and other insects, that the real color of the ground was hardly discernible.

I went to see the willow tree which Saigyo celebrated in his poem when he wrote, "Spreading its shade over a crystal stream." I found it near the village of Ashino on the bank of a rice-field. I had been wondering in my mind where this tree was situated, for the ruler of this province had repeatedly talked to me about it, but this day, for the first time in my life, I had an opportunity to rest my worn-out legs under its shade.

one patch of rice field
when it was planted I left
the willow tree

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

Saigyo's Willow

After many days of solitary wandering, I came at last to the barrier-gate of Shirakawa, which marks the entrance to the northern regions. Here, for the first time, my mind was able to gain a certain balance and composure, no longer victim to pestering anxiety, so it was with a mild sense of detachment that I thought about the ancient traveler who had passed through this gate with a burning desire to write home. This gate was counted among the three largest checking stations, and many poets had passed through it, each leaving a poem of his own making. I myself walked between trees laden with thick foliage with the distant sound of autumn wind in my ears and a vision of autumn tints before my eyes. There were hundreds and thousands of pure white blossoms of unohana (Deutzia) in full bloom on either side of the road, in addition to the equally white blossoms of brambles, so that the ground, at a glance, seemed to be covered with early snow. According to the accounts of Kiyosuke, the ancients are said to have passed through this gate, dressed up in their best clothes.

white flowers in my hair
I walk through the gate into the deep north
my only gala dress

©  Sora (Tr. Chèvrefeuille)

Credits: White flowers of the Unohana (Deutzia)

Pushing towards the north, I crossed the River Abukuma, and walked between the high mountains of Aizu on the left and the three villages of Iwaki, Soma, and Miharu on the right, which were divided from the villages of Hitachi and Shimotsuke districts by a range of low mountains. I stopped at the Shadow Pond, so called because it was thought to reflect the exact shadow of any object that approached its shore. It was a cloudy day, however, and nothing but the grey sky was reflected in the pond. I called on the Poet Tokyu at the post town of Sukagawa, and spent a few days at his house. He asked me how I had fared at the gate of Shirakawa. I had to tell him that I had not been able to make as many poems as I wanted, partly because I had been absorbed in the wonders of the surrounding countryside and the recollections of ancient poets. It was deplorable, however, to have passed the gate of Shirakawa without a single poem worth recording, so I wrote:

roots of elegance
on this trip to the far north
rice-planting song

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

Credits: barrier-gate of Shirakawa

Using this poem as a starting piece, we made three books of linked verse.

There was a huge chestnut tree on the outskirts of this post town, and a priest was living in seclusion under its shade. When I stood there in front of the tree, I felt as if I were in the midst of the deep mountains where the poet Saigyo had picked nuts. I took a piece of paper from my bag, and wrote as follows:

"The chestnut is a holy tree, for the Chinese ideograph for chestnut is Tree placed directly below West, the direction of the holy land. The Priest Gyoki is said to have used it for his walking stick and the chief support of his house."

chestnut in bloom
without being seen
by travelers

© Basho (Tr. Chèvrefeuille)

(note: this last haiku was included in “Narrow Road”, but wasn’t part of the original. I, however, had to bring it up here ... just because ...)


What a joy to go on foot straight through the beauty of the wild ancient Japan. It wasn’t an easy journey for Basho who had a chronic disease of his intestines. For this episode I didn’t compose an all new haiku, just because of the few translations by me.

This episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until December 6th at noon (CET). I will (try to) publish our new episode, our first CD-Special by Georgia (winner of the “peace of mind” kukai, later on.