Dec 21 2012
by Matsuo Basho
English version by Gabriel Rosenstock
as ice bursts
the water jar
— from Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock
/ Photo by Clearly Ambiguous /
Ooh, I like this haiku. Don’t you?
It’s got sound to it– You can hear the jar crack and burst from the expanding ice.
We’ve got the natural element of water. Water in transformation, becoming ice.
And that very human moment of being startled awake, the transitional space between sleep and wakefulness.
All of that’s just reading this haiku on the most literal, surface level.
We can, if we choose, catch suggestions of enlightenment. Something within is transforming, expanding, bursting its container. The event awakens us.
The Poetry Chaikhana emails will resume after the New Year.
Have a magical Solstice tonight, the turning of the year from darkness back to light. Have a wonderful Christmas (if you celebrate it). And may the new path of the new year bring you new eyes and a renewed heart.
Much love to everyone!
Basho took his name from the Japanese word for “banana tree.” He was given a gift of a banana tree by a student and the poet immediately identified with it: the way the small tree stood there with its large, soft, fragile leaves. (See his banana plant haiku.)
Basho was probably born in 1644 in Iga Province outside of Kyoto, Japan. His father was a poor samurai-farmer.
As a teenager, Basho entered the service of the local lord, acting as a page. The young lord was only a couple of years older than Basho, and the two became friends, enjoying the playful exchange of haiku verses.
When Basho was still a young man, his friend and lord died. In reaction, Basho left home, abandoned his samurai status, and took to a life of wandering.
After several years, he settled in Edo (Tokyo), continuing to write and publish poetry. His haiku began to attract attention. Students started to gather around him. At about this time, Basho also took up Zen meditation.
Basho remained restless, even in his fame. A neighborhood fire claimed his small house in Edo leaving him homeless, and Basho once again took up the itinerant life, visiting friends and disciples, taking up residence for brief periods only to begin another journey. It was during this time that Basho composed some of his greatest haiku.
Basho returned to Edo in 1691 and died there in 1694.