Sunday, March 6, 2016

Carpe Diem #933 Rain

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Welcome at a new episode of CDHK. In this month inn which we explore the haiku writing techniques of Matsuo Basho, I love to share a little bit of background about this one of the four greatest, in my opinion he was the greatest, haiku poets ever.

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

Bashō was born Matsuo Kinsaku around 1644, somewhere near Ueno in Iga Province. His father may have been a low-ranking samurai, which would have promised Bashō a career in the military but not much chance of a notable life. It was traditionally claimed by biographers that he worked in the kitchens. However, as a child Bashō became a servant to Tōdō Yoshitada, who shared with Bashō a love for haikai no renga, a form of cooperative poetry composition. The sequences were opened with a verse in the 5-7-5 mora format; this verse was named a hokku, and would later be renamed haiku when presented as stand-alone works. The hokku would be followed by a related 7-7 addition by another poet. Both Bashō and Yoshitada gave themselves haigō, or haikai pen names; Bashō's was Sōbō, which was simply the on'yomi reading of his samurai name of Matsuo Munefusa. In 1662 the first extant poem by Bashō was published; in 1664 two of his hokku were printed in a compilation, and in 1665 Bashō and Yoshitada composed a one-hundred-verse renku with some acquaintances.

Yoshitada's sudden death in 1666 brought Bashō's peaceful life as a servant to an end. No records of this time remain, but it is believed that Bashō gave up the possibility of samurai status and left home. Biographers have proposed various reasons and destinations, including the possibility of an affair between Bashō and a Shinto miko named Jutei, which is unlikely to be true. Bashō's own references to this time are vague; he recalled that "at one time I coveted an official post with a tenure of land", and that "there was a time when I was fascinated with the ways of homosexual love", but there is no indication whether he was referring to real obsessions or even fictional ones. He was uncertain whether to become a full-time poet; by his own account, "the alternatives battled in my mind and made my life restless". His indecision may have been influenced by the then still relatively low status of renga and haikai no renga as more social activities than serious artistic endeavors. In any case, his poems continued to be published in anthologies in 1667, 1669, and 1671, and he published his own compilation of work by him and other authors of the Teitoku school, Seashell Game, in 1672. In about the spring of that year he moved to Edo, to further his study of poetry.

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

On his return to Edo in the winter of 1691, Bashō lived in his third bashō hut, again provided by his disciples. This time, he was not alone; he took in a nephew and his female friend, Jutei, who were both recovering from illness. He had a great many visitors.

Bashō continued to be uneasy. He wrote to a friend that "disturbed by others, I have no peace of mind". He made a living from teaching and appearances at haikai parties until late August of 1693, when he shut the gate to his bashō hut and refused to see anybody for a month. Finally, he relented after adopting the principle of karumi or "lightness", a semi-Buddhist philosophy of greeting the mundane world rather than separating himself from it. Bashō left Edo for the last time in the summer of 1694, spending time in Ueno and Kyoto before his arrival in Osaka. He became sick with a stomach illness and died peacefully, surrounded by his disciples. Although he did not compose any formal death poem on his deathbed the following, being the last poem recorded during his final illness, is generally accepted as his poem of farewell:

tabi ni yande yume wa kareno wo kake meguru

falling sick on a journey
my dream goes wandering
over a field of dried grass

© Basho (This is his Jisei or dead-poem)


In this new episode, next to his biography, we are looking at another nice haiku written by him in which he uses a specific haiku writing technique. In this episode we make a slight connection to one of the other greatest haiku poets ever, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902).

Here is the haiku by Basho for this episode:

a rainy day
the autumn world
of a border town

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

In the way of Basho

In this haiku Basho uses the so called "sketch" or "shasei" technique. Though this technique is often given Shiki's term "shasei" or "shajitsu" it's not really a technique which is invented by Shiki. This technique has been in use since the beginning of poetry in Asia. The poetic principle is "to depict the thing just as it is". There are some inspirations for haiku that are best said as simply as possible. Shiki wrote his haiku almost all with this "shasei", but Shiki realized himself in 1893 that the overuse of this technique could produce many lackluster haiku, so it should never be the only method employed in a haiku.

While I was preparing this episode I ran through all the haiku by Basho to find a few other examples of this "shasei" and I ran into these beauties in which he used "shasei":

early autumn
the sea and rice fields
one green

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

Do you see the scene? It's just as it is. In early autumn the rice fields are fully green and so those the sea. It's just a haiku depicting the thing just as it is. 

how glorious
young green leaves
flash in the sun

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

It's obvious ... in spring as the plants and trees start to become green again the sun shines upon them and make them glorious. Just as it is.

Frozen Bamboo (forest)
A last example of this "shasei" technique in a haiku by Basho. This haiku is one of my favorites (as are all his haiku of course):

during the night
the bamboo freezes
a morning of frost

© Basho (Tr. Jane Reichhold)

Aren't these haiku beauties? They just depict the scenes Basho saw as they were and that makes (in my opinion) haiku real and the poetry of nature.

My response

I had a tough task to create a haiku with this "shasei", but I think I succeed in a great way, I know that sounds a bit immodest, but I am proud on this "shasei" haiku.

thousand daisies
around the farmer's house -
lowing of a cow

© Chèvrefeuille

Do you see the real scene, the scene as it is? I think so. It's a depiction of a real scene which I saw a while ago ... and it came in mind as I was thinking about my "shasei" haiku.

Here is another:

cobweb scattered
by the fluttering of wings
a blue butterfly

© Chèvrefeuille 

the Honeysuckle in front of my house guards the gate © Chèvrefeuille

And for closure one from my archives:

the Honeysuckle
in front of my house
guards the gate

© Chèvrefeuille

Well ... I hope you did like this episode on "shasei" and I hope it will inspire you to write a "shasei"- haiku yourself.

This episode is open for your submissions tonight at 7.00 PM (CET) and will remain open until March 9th at noon (CET). I will try to publish our new episode, onions, later on. Have fun!


  1. ja hoor, daar mag je trots op zijn. ;-)

    1. Dank je wel Joanna. Awesome to read a Dutch comment here.

  2. Rich essay Chev, about a thee I agree with very, very much. True, repeated haiku in this genre may tire the reader, but successful haiku stating what \is\ are among the finest in my opinion. For example your last one there.