Year's end

by Matsuo Basho

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto
Original Language Japanese

Year's end,
all corners
of this floating world, swept.

-- from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Perhaps it's a little early to be speaking of the year's end just yet. Most of us are still focused on upcoming holidays first, but I came across this poem this morning and decided it was worth sharing right away...

That final word -- "swept" -- you almost trip over it with its abrupt stop.

"Swept" can imply several things, such as a ritual year-end cleaning, everything put in its place and ready for the new activity of the new year. But I like to imagine Basho is speaking on a deeper level, suggesting the Buddhist realization that everything is fundamentally empty, free, "swept" clean of thing-ness. When perceived deeply, the entire world reveals itself to be a fluid, "floating" phenomenon of becoming and interconnection. No object is truly solid or stable in solitary existence, other than in relationship to perception. The outer world is found to be a symbolic game of the mind. At the heart of everything is a pure, still, blissful spaciousness, pregnant with awareness; but it is only through the activity of the mind that anything is born into the appearance of form.

At "year's end," at mind's end, when the surface consciousness rests and its projections cease, the weight of things are "swept" away, leaving us standing in an amazing world that "floats" and dances upon open sky.

Reading this haiku, I don't pick up the broom; I set it down. All corners, they're already swept. Or I may just go through the motion of sweeping for the simple delight of movement.



Recommended Books: Matsuo Basho

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Haiku Enlightenment The Four Seasons: Japanese Haiku
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Year's end