Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Introduction to our upcoming month May 2015 "On the Trail with Basho".

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Basho (1644-1694) was a traveling poet, as was e.g. Santoka Taneda (1882-1940) or was Saigyo (1118-1190), Basho's great role-model. Basho modeled his life and poetry, in many ways, on Saigyo. Basho's poems (haiku) often contain references either to a poem Saigyo wrote on one of his journeys or to Saigyo's memorial home, which Basho visited several times.
In of his haibun Basho wrote: "Heels torn, I am the same as Saigyo, and I think of him at the Tenryu ferry. Renting a horse, I conjure up in my mind the sage who became furious. In the beautiful spectacles of the mountain, field, ocean, and coast I see the achievements of the creation. Or I follow the trails left by those who, completely unattached, pursued the Way, or I try to fathom the truth expressed by those with poetic sensibility".

In "Oki no Hosomichi" or "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" Basho is anxious to see a certain willow tree at Ashino on which Saigyo has written a poem:

the clear water of the stream
flows beneath the shade
of a willow by the roadside;
it was long indeed
that I stood there

© Saigyo (from the No-play "The Willow of Yugyo".)

I don't know who the translator was of the above poem (waka) by Saigyo, but as I was preparing this introduction to our upcoming month I ran into a wonderful translation of this same poem by Jane Reichhold, to whom I am so grateful that she gave me the opportunity and the permission to use her haiku for this month on Basho.
Here is her translation, a beauty:

along the way
where water is running
in the willow shade
I have stopped to rest
for a little while

© Saigyo (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

Saigyo's Willow (woodblock print)

As Basho finds this willow on which Saigyo wrote his waka, he writes the following haiku:

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

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

I found another "version" of this haiku translated into Dutch (my maiden language) by a fellow Dutchman, Aleid C. Swieringa, and I love to share my English translation of that haiku here also:

after the rice planting
the young girls left - and I
left the willow's shadow

© Basho (Translated from a Dutch version)

This Basho-month I hope to share the teachings of Basho. Part of his teaching was this admonishment:

"Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. Ans in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one, when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something, like a hidden glimmer there. However well phrased your poetry maybe, if your feeling is not natural - if the object and yourself are separate - then your poetry is not true poetry but merely your subjective counterfeit".

This admonishment is (in my opinion) the heart of Basho's teachings, and I hope to bring it into this month's posts and haiku.

I am looking forward to May 2015 in which we will go "on the trail with Basho" and are starting to become amazed by the beauty of ancient Japan caught in haiku written by Matsuo Basho, one of the greatest haiku poets ever ...

in his footsteps
we will explore the beauty
ancient Japan

© Chèvrefeuille

This was an introduction episode to May 2015 ... be patient ... we have not yet arrived there.