Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Carpe Diem's Oku no Hosomichi Station #2, Departure

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

We are on our way to the Deep North and today we depart together with Basho and his companion Sora with the boat to Senju. This station has strong lines with a classical Japanese novel which was written in the 11th century. That novel is "The Tale of Genji".

The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji Monogatari?) is a classic work of Japanese literature written by the Japanese noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the 11th century, around the peak of the Heian period. It is sometimes called the world's first novel, the first modern novel, the first psychological novel or the first novel still to be considered a classic. Notably, the novel also illustrates a unique depiction of the livelihoods of high courtiers during the Heian period. While universally considered a masterpiece, its precise classification and influence in both Western and Eastern canon has been a matter of debate.

The first classic roll of the Tale of Genji

As I told you earlier this week the classical haiku poets, also Basho, leant sometimes lines from the classical literature or poetry. In his Narrow Road to the Deep North Basho used several classical sources of literature and poetry. This second station has strong influences from the Tale of Genji. Let us go on our way and look what this second station will bring us.

Basho departed on May 16th in the western calendar. So hestarted his journey to the Deep North in late spring as the cherry trees are in full bloom. However in his journal, the departing was in March. The day before his close friends gave a goodbye party and they certain wrote a renga together to give Basho something to read while on his way. They also gave him goodbye presents to give him strength.
As he departs he is accompanied by his friends who would keep him company for the first few miles. His friends take a last farewell and left him and his travel companion Sora at Senju. 

Credits: Senju (Woodblock by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)
It's there that Basho starts to be desperate as he thinks of the 2400 km ahead of him. His eyes fill with tears and blurrs his vision. He writes his first haiku on this journey there in Senju.
This station in his journey has several pointers towards other classical Japanese poetry. For example were Basho talks about the cherry blossoms he thought at a poem by Saigyo Hashi (1118-1190).

having seen them long
I hold the flowers so dear
that when they scatter
I find it all the more sad
to bid them my last farewell

And the haiku he wrote in this first station has a touch of "The Tale of Genji". And as he writes about the moon, the waning moon, he refers to the "broom tree" chapter of "The Tale of Genji".
The poem from "The Tale of Genji" he refers to is the following:

even this spot, so fair to view
with moon, and Koto's gentle strain,
could make no other lover true,
as me, thy fond, thy only swain

A wonderful poem with a strong sacred or secret love in it. I imagine the scenery of this poem. A tranquil garden, the full moon in the sky, cherry blossoms in full bloom, the sweet song of the Nightingale and then the sweet sound of the Koto. A scenery overwhelming with true love.

Credits: Japanese Garden

This scenery is quit what we see in the scene of sation 2 of "The Narrow Road to the Deep North". It's March (following the ancient lunar calendar), every spring, the cherry trees in full bloom, the sound of the water around the boat Basho took to Senju, and the strong love of his companions towards him.

As Basho says farewell to his friends in Senju he has tears in his eyes, a strong sadness, a strong emotion which we can read back in the haiku which he wrote at his departure:

the passing spring
birds mourn, fishes weep
with tearful eyes

A strong farewell verse, could be even a Jisei (death poem) this emotional haiku in which Basho says: "I am part of nature and nature feels my pain and sadness". Here we see another Zen-Buddhistic base ... Oneness ... Humans are not only the keepers of nature, but they are also part of nature. This is also one of the base-rules of haiku. Haiku is sometimes called "Nature's Poetry" because haiku is about nature and the role of humans in nature. The poet isn't only the poet, but he/she is also part of the haiku, part of nature.
Another strong Zen-Buddhistic feeling described in our first episode of "Oku no Hosomichi". Selflessness. Basho sold his house, his material life, and in this second station he 'sells' his immaterial life by saying farewell to his friends. Now he is really alone and only in the companionship of Sora, a loyal disciple of Basho. Both are on their way to Enlightment and they will walk together, on straw sandals, cane in hand, their belongings tight upon their back ... a journey of 2400 km ... on foot.

farewell verse
as I depart from the train station -
forget me not

(C) Chèvrefeuille (your host)

Credits: First page of Basho's "Narrow Road to the Deep North" (Dutch page)

Hereafter I will reproduce the text of this second Station of "The Narrow Road to the Deep North".

Station 2 - Departure

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.

the passing spring
birds mourn, Fishes weep
with tearful eyes

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.

Well I hope you enjoyed the read and next week we will go on together with Basho and Sora on our way to the Deep North.



  1. HAIKU ON BASHO'S STATION 2 (Namaste) -

    behind me blossoms
    before me ways on straw shoes...
    march rain floods my eyes............... opie

  2. hardships on the road
    as I pass the cherry trees
    my first stumbling steps

  3. oh no! stomach growls
    why did I ever eat them...
    those green bananas.........................tsk tsk.....opie

  4. Loving this series so much.