Dec 07 2011

Matsuo Basho – Year’s end

Published by at 9:26 am under Poetry

Year’s end
by Matsuo Basho

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

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

/ Photo by derekGavey /

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.

Matsuo Basho, Matsuo Basho poetry, Buddhist poetry Matsuo Basho

Japan (1644 – 1694) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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.

More poetry by Matsuo Basho

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Matsuo Basho – Year’s end”

  1. karen Brownon 07 Dec 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Dear Ivan…Thank you for today’s poem…and i think quite fitting…as the year end is very close:)

    I have been enjoying your website very much and i have shared it with many friends…

    I really enjoy the photos..and sometimes use them as part of my morning meditation.

    I have tried to send you a donation, without luck..i don’t pal just wouldn’t work for me..but i will do it soon.

    Thank you for all your love and inspiration.


  2. Ivan M. Grangeron 07 Dec 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you, Karen. Notes like yours always mean a lot to me. And as to a donation… I apologize if PayPal was making things difficult somehow. If you want to email me directly at , I’ll see if I can help. You can also send donations via the mail to Poetry Chaikhana, PO Box 2320, Boulder, CO 80306. Most of all, I hope the site inspires good exploration and meditations! -Ivan

  3. Rosalindon 08 Dec 2011 at 1:25 am

    Love this haiku – the contrast between the clearly defined concepts of final,solid,firm and the illusionary nature of reality is striking – the end, the corners, swept, but all of it erased by the image of a floating world!

  4. […] Comments(3) […]

  5. Subhan Alion 08 Dec 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Commentary seems nicer than poem. In India year-end Holidays are not in plenty. When thirst will arise for spiritual poetry during Holidays, I shall re-look for past poems. Thank you a lot……… Subhan Ali, Ghaziabad, India.

  6. sandeon 08 Dec 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Just catching up after a hectic week of major leaguie family problems – so that word swept fits well – ‘i have done all i can do and preparation for the4 next new steps are ready’ is how i take it.

  7. Joanon 08 Dec 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Dear Ivan,
    Again and again, I’m awed by your choice of poem. It’s as if the Universe speaks through you. Yes, I nod at your interpretation of ‘swept’.. and move easily with the last lines
    ‘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.’

    May you be blessed again and again for the wonderful work you do.

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