a small space
between wit and wonder
left vacant

Monday, June 16, 2014


(Page 1 of 3)
202 Basho Verses

A Collection of English Translations 
by Dr. Gabi Greve
from the
 Matsuo Basho Archives –– World Kigo Database

A study resource compiled by Elaine Andre, 2014

Selected translations from the 1031 verses by Matsuo Basho (1644 – 1694)

for study purposes only – use by permission –

Matsuo Basho - Bronze Sculpture - Otsu City, Shiga

This archive and its 2 other links:
This page: listed by the 1st romaji word: 
'ajisai' to 'Kiyotaki'
Page 2: 'kochira' to 'saru'
Page 3: 'sasa' to 'zoosui'

List of Romaji for Verses in This Document:

Related Links:
Basho: Yume - 9 Dreams
Basho: Art & Sculpture
Basho: 64 Ueda Translations

How to use this resource:
Each verse, (below), is listed in the alphabetical order of the 1st word in romanji - the phoenetic equivalent for pronouncing Japanese words (shown below in bold font above its English translation). 

Dr. Greve’s translations appear in a contrasting color to the rest of the text. Most of the kanji and/or hiragana, as well as additional information (links to resources, and background information), have been omitted for brevity.

To locate the verse in the WKD – Matsuo Basho Archives:
2. Find the alphabetical links under “-CONTENTS-“ (right-hand column)
3. Click the link appropriate to the 1st word of the romaji (as shown below)
4. Scroll down to the entry listed by its romaji
5. Click on it to navigate to the page where the verse is listed
6. Scroll down to the matching entry

Notes: to navigate to verses in the Matsuo Basho Archive of the WKD that are not included in this study, located them by the first word in the Romaji, as described above.
Dr. Greve updates the information from time to time, so please check for additions or corrections to her entries. 
(This collection for study purposes - June, 2014.)

Translations by Dr. Gabi Greve

ajisai ya katabira doki no usu-asagi
these hydrangeas -
time for a linen kimono
in light blue

Basho age 41.
usugi - the color named usugi, asagi: color #edd3a1
katabira - unlined (linen) kimono

aki ki ni keri mimi o tazunete makura no kaze

autumn has come -
the wind has come to visit
my ear at the pillow

Basho age 34
This hokku is in the style of the Danrin School with a personification of the autumn wind.

There is also a waka by Fujiwara no Toshiyuki:

aki kinu to me ni wa sayaka ni miene domo
kaze no oto nizo odorokaenuru

Autumn has come
Without realizing clearly
With eyes, however,
The sound of wind
Surprises us.

aki no iro nukamiso tsubo mo nakari keri

Kukuu, Kuku had asked Basho for a hokku that he could add to a scroll painting of priest Kenkoo Kenko called "Nukamiso tsubo".

he does not even have
a pot in the colors of autumn
for fermented miso paste . . .

Written in 1691, Basho age 48
Kenko did not have much possesions, some say only one pot to wash his hands and take his meal. He kept this possession on his daily walks praying for food.

nukamiso salted rice-bran paste for pickling, barley miso
WASHOKU - Miso, Miso paste
This is kept in special pots with a lid, even now in the "color of autumn".

This hokku is one sentence and has the cut marker KERI at the end of line 3.
It is best to start the translation from the end.

Yoshida Kenkoo, Yoshida Kenko (1283? – 1350?)
Tsurezuregusa - "Essays in Idleness"

aki no kaze Ise no hakahara nao sugoshi

wind of autumn
the graveyard at Ise
now even more dreadful

Written in 1689, Basho age 46
Basho at the graveyard of priest Arakida.
sugoshi, sugoi, is a very strong emotional expression.

Arakida is the name of the priest family caring for Ise shrine. This is the Arakida family graveyard.
Arakida Moritake (1473 - August 30,1549), (dates vary, now celebrated on September 15) was a famous waka and haikai poet. Moritake is the ancestor, forefather of haikai poetry together with Basho from Iga

There is a waka by Saigyo, using SUGOKI:

fukiwatasu kaze ni aware o hitoshimete
izuku mo sugoki aki no yuugure

aki totose kaette Edo o sasu kokyoo

ten years ten autumns -
now I think of Edo
as my hometown

Basho has lived in Edo now for ten years and feels it is his home now. He sets out on a trip to his hometown in Iga, Ueno.

totose - an expression from the Genji Monogatari.
Hashi Hime, Hashihime
sono hito mo kashiko ni te use haberi ni shi nochi, totose amari nite

A pictorial subject based on "The Lady at the Bridge" Hashihime, Chapter 45 of GENJI MONOGATARI (The Tale of Genji).

The last ten chapters of the Tale are known as UJI JUUJOU (The Ten Books of Uji). This chapter, the first of the ten, introduces the Eighth Prince Hachi no miya 八宮, a half-brother of Genji, and his two daughters, Ooigimi and Naka no kimi, who live with him in his self-imposed retirement at Uji (south of Kyoto). The prince is known for his piety and wisdom. Kaoru, whose serious character is engendered by deep misgivings about his paternity, begins to study under Hachi no miya.

Eventually he learns from Ben no kimi, the daughter of *Kashiwagi's wet nurse, that he is not in fact Genji's son, but rather the illegitimate son of Kashiwagi. The scene most frequently chosen for illustration shows Ooigimi playing a lute biwa and Naka no kimi a harp koto under the moon and clouds while Kaoru secretly peers in through a break in the villa's bamboo fence.

This scene survives in a section of the earliest illustrated version (12c) in the Tokugawa Art Museum.
Source: Jaanus

ame no hi ya seken no aki o Sakai choo

this rainy day -
(I leave behind) the autumn of the every-day-world
entering Sakai town

Matsuo Basho, age 35, in 1678

seken ... has a special notion as a place including the hardships and vicissitudes of every day life.
Even on such a rainy day
This world's autumn has
A border with the pleasure quarter.
(Tr. Thomas McAuley)

a rainy day
the autumn world
of a border town
(Tr. Jane Reichhold)

ano naka ni maki e kakitashi yado no tsuki

into this roundness
I want to draw a maki-e painting -
moon over my inn

it's inside I'd like
to line with lacquer:
moon at the inn
(Tr. Barnhill)

On that sphere
I'd draw with gold and silver -
O'er an inn the moon.
(Tr. Nelson/Saito)

Basho age 45
Nozarashi Kiko. At a lodging in Kiso, where he was offered a rustic sakazuki sake cup with a simple maki-e lacquer motif or even a plain one with no image at all.

Maki-e, literally “sprinkled picture,” is Japanese lacquer sprinkled with gold or silver powder as a decoration using a makizutsu or a kebo brush. The technique was developed mainly in the Heian Period (794–1185) and blossomed in the Edo Period (1603–1868). Maki-e objects were initially designed as household items for court nobles, they soon gained more popularity and were adopted by royal families and military leaders as an indication of power.

ariake mo misoka ni chikashi mochi no oto

even dawn gets closer
to the last day of the year -
the sound of pounding mochi

Written in 1693, Genroku 6, Basho age 50
This was the last time he spent the New Year in Edo. It is also the last time for him to spend the New Year, he died on the road in the following year, Genroku 7.

Kigo for mid-winter
sound of pounding mochi, mochi no oto , pounding mochi in the cold, kantsuki)

Basho's hokku is an allusion to a waka by the famous poet Yoshida Kenko, Yoshida Kenkoo. 1283? – 1350? :

aritodani hito ni shirarenu mi no hodo ya
misoka ni chikaki ariake no tsuki

asacha nomu soo shizuka nari kiku no hana

drinking morning tea
the monk becomes peaceful -
chrysanthemum flowers

Inviting friends for the tea ceremony was a well-loved entertainment of the learned poets of Edo.
The tea ceremony comes with a saijiki of its own.
At temple Soozuiji, Katada, Otsu town

asagao ni ware wa meshi kuu otoko kana

by the morning-glories
I am this rice-eating
fellow . . .

In response to Kikaku's firefly poem with morning glories a man eats breakfast — that is what I am asagao I ni I ware I wa I ...
based on the proverb "Some worms eat nettles":

kusa no to ni ware wa tade kuu hotaru kana                  
within the grassy gate
a firefly eats nettles –
that is what I am

Compared to Kikaku (who liked nightly outings with the ladies) Basho states: I am a serious type, getting up early (with the asagao) and eat my rice cooked properly (gohan o itatdaite imasu).

Master Basho, wishing to warn against his disciple's dissipation, copied the priest Honen's pledge against drinking, added this hokku to the end, and sent it to Kikaku

Other translations:

with morning glories
a man eats breakfast
--that is what I am
(Tr. Ueda)

one who breakfasts
with morning glories:
that's what I am
(Tr. Barnhill)

asamutsu ya tsukimi no tabi no ake-banare

six in the morning -
my trip for moon-viewing
ends at dawn

Written on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (full moon day) in the year 1689

It is said Basho wrote 15 haiku wandering around in this night, which were recorded by Miyazaki Keikoo (? - 1725), a haiku poet in Mino (Gifu), a samurai from Ogaki
This was the last one when it became light.
It is also a kind of pun of ake-mutsu and akarui, to become light in the morning.
Asamutsu is also the name of a bridge he crossed in Fukui.
Oku no Hosomichi - Basho in Tsuruga

Another translation:

Around six in the morning
my moon viewing journey
breaks off at break of dawn
(Tr. Liza Dalby)

asatsuyu ya nadete suzushiki uri no tsuchi

morning dew -
the cool earth on the melon
when I pat it

Basho talks about the makuwa uri, an Oriental melon. He liked to pat them to feel the coolness. This haiku was written in 1694.

Other versions:

asa-tsuyu ni yogorete suzushi uri no doro

In the morning dew
Dirty, but fresh,
The muddy melon.
(Tr. Blyth)

In monring dew,
dirty, but oh so very cool--
mud on the melon.
(Tr. Carter)

Wet with morning dew
and splotched with mud, the melon
looks especially cool
(Tr. Alan Chung?)

Makoto Ueda gives a version of the haiku as:

asatsuyu ni yogorete suzushi uri no tsuchi

in the morning dew
spotted with mud, and how cool--
melons on the soil

asayosa o taga Matsushima zo katagokoro

Basho was planning his trip to Sendai and Matsushima (Oku no Hosomichi) and was looking forward to see this famous place:

day and night
it is only Matsushima -
my great longing

This last haiku has no season word. Basho argues that if it has a well-known place name like Matsushima, there is no need for a season and it will be in the section of "miscellaneous" haiku. 

[miscellaneous: Zappai]

asu wa chimaki Naniwa no kareha yume nare ya

by tomorrow
the Chimaki leaves from Naniwa will become dry
and become a dream . . .

Basho age 34.
Tomorrow is the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the Boy's Festival or Seasonal Festival of the Fifth Month, Tango no Sekku.
This hokku has the cut marker YA at the end of line 3.

This refers to a waka by Saigyo:

Tsu no kuni no Naniwa no haru wa yume nare ya
ashi no kareha ni kaze wataru nari

In the land of Tsu,
that glorious Naniwa spring -
only just a dream?
Over the dead leaves of reeds
a harsh wind blows.

(Tr. Sam Hamill)

awa hie ni toboshiku mo arazu kusa no io (an)
awa hie ni mazushiku mo nashi kusa no an

foxtail and barn millet
are not scarce at all -
this thatched hut

Written on the 20th day of the 7th lunar month, 1688, Oi Nikki

At the home of Chookoo Choko in Nagoya.
Greeting hokku for a kasen with his disciples.

Choko was a priest at the temple Gedatsu-Ji in Nagoya. In the temple compound was the "grass hut" Chikuyooken, Chikuyo-Ken, "Hermitage of Bamboo Leaves". Basho observes that the priest had enough to eat, but it was very simple fare, just all kinds of millet, not even rice.

ayamegusa ashi ni musuban waraji no o

I shall tie
irises to my feet -
sandal thongs

Grass of the sweet flag -
I shall use them to tie
my straw sandals
(Tr. Shirane)

I will bind iris
Blossoms round my feet―
Cords for my sandals!
(Tr. Keene)

It looks as if
Iris flowers had bloomed
On my feet -
Sandals laced in blue.
(Tr. Yuasa)

Basho on his way from Sendai to Hiraizumi.

In 1689 Matsuo Basho crossed the Natori River and entered Sendai, Miyagi on ‘ The Narrow Road to Oku.’ It was the day they celebrate by converting their roofs with ‘Sweet flags’, or Calami’. He visited there around the time of the Sweet Flags Festival (5th day of Fifth Month, also called the Boy’s Festival), when sweet flags were displayed on the eaves of houses to drive away evil spirits, or they took “Shobuyu, or (bath with floating sweet flag leaves)” baths.
The leaves keep mosquitoes and snakes away with strong fragrance. As the strong fragrance was believed to drive away bad air, people began to take baths with sweet flag leaves. Furthermore, the plant ‘Sweet Flag’ was believed to be a symbol of the samurai’s bravery because of its sharp sword-like leaves. Even now many families with young boys enjoy “Sweet Flag Bath (shobu yu)” in the Boy’s Festival on May 5.  - Akita Haiku

ayu no ko no shirauo okuru wakare kana

young ayu sweetfish
are seeing off the whitefish
and say good bye . . .

Written in 1689. Matsuo Basho and a bit of "personification"

The whitefish are the first to go upstream to spawn, the ayu follow them one month later.
Basho and Sora (whitefish) are ready to depart for "Oku no Hosomichi" and he has to leave his young disciples (ayu no ko) behind at Senju.

This hokku has the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.
Oku no Hosomichi - - - Station 2 - Departure at Senju

bashoo uete mazu nikumu ogi no futaba kana

we planted the banana tree
but now I hate the first sprouts
of the ogi reeds . . .

having planted the bashoo,
now I despise them:
the reed sprouts
(Tr. Barnhill)

Written in the spring of 1681
This hokku has the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.

His disciple Rika had given him one banana plant and this is his "thank you" hokku. They had planted it at his new home, later called the "Basho An". Basho worries that the fast-growing reeds might take away the nourishment for his banana tree.

ogi - common reed, Miscanthus sacchariflorus

After exploring the "family ties" of Basho, we next read a bit about his living quarters, the "hut" or hermitage.

bashooha o hashira ni kaken io no tsuki

one banana leaf
placed on the pillar -
the moon above my hut

Matsuo Basho, age 49
After he had come back from three years travelling, his friends had set him up again at Bashoan, the Banana Hut at Fukagawa, Edo. His discipled had take off one leaf and written eight haiku on its backside. This was placed on one of the pillars. From his hut, Basho enjoyed to watch the autumn moon.

In the accompanying text, Basho compares himself to two Chinese sages, who also enjoyed the banana plant leaves:
Zhang Hengqu (1020-1077) and Huaisu (725-785).

"The monk Huaisu ran his brush along it;
Zhang Hengshu gained strength for his studies
just by gazing upon the emerging leaves."

byoogan no yosamu ni ochite tabine kana

like a sick goose
fallen ill on a cold night
I sleep on this journey . . .                                     
(Paraverse Gabi Greve)

a wild goose falls
ill in the cold night;
itinerant sleep
(Tr. Haldane)

a sick goose
falling in the night’s cold:
sleep on a journey
(Tr. Barnhill)

Written in 1689, Basho age 47.
Basho was visiting friends at the temple Honpuku-Ji in Katata (Katada) and fell ill himself. His disciple Mikami Senna cared for him.
This hokku has the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.

Ando Hiroshige - Descending Geese at Katata
One of the 8 scenes of Omi

chi ni taore ne ni yori hana no wakare kana

I fall to the ground
closer to the roots to bid farewell
to this cherry blossom . . .

falling to the ground,
returning to the roots:
a flower’s farewell
(Tr. Barnhill)

Down on the ground,
bowing to the very roots -
farewell to flowers
(Tr. Hamill)

Written at the death of his Zen teacher, priest Tandoo, Tando in 1686.
Not much is known about this priest.

hana here is a reference to the cherry blossoms in spring.
This hokku has the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.

The poem is a honkadori to an waka by Sutoku-In (Sudoku-In)
the retired Emperor Sutoku (1119 - 1164)

chichi haha no shikiri ni koishi kiji no koe

Father, mother dear!
I hear as I mourn for you –
hear the pheasant's cry!

The voice of the pheasant;
how I longed
for my dead parents!
(Tr. Blyth)

Written in 1688, Basho age 45
at Mount Koyasan. He had been to Iga Ueno to celebrate the important 33th death anniversary of his father.

There is also a waka by Gyoki Bosatsu (Gyooki Bosatsu) (668-749 AD) Gyōki

yamadori no horohoro to koe kikoeba
chichi zo omou haha ka to zo omou

to the cry of a pheasant
I wonder:
Could it be my father?
Could it be my mother?
(Tr. Ueda)

choo mo kite su o suu kiku no namasu kana

a butterfly also comes
to sip vinegar from pickled
chrysanthemum petals . . .

This hokku has the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.
Written in autumn of 1690

Chooshoo no haka mo meguru ka hachitakaki

are they walking around
the grave of Choshoshi ?
Hachitataki ceremony

Basho remembers Kinoshita Choshoshi (1569 - 1649)

fuji no mi wa haikai ni sen hana no ato

fuji beans
as theme for our haikai -
after the flowers

Seki, where Izen lived, was quite famous for its wisteria flowers, but when Basho arrived, it was autumn. So he composed this poem for his host, Hirose Izen, who had come all the way from Seki.
(Maybe Izen was insecure about the various possibilities of haikai and this was an instruction for him.)
For Basho, anything at hand was worth a subject for a greeting poem and haikai session. This shows his true haikai spirit.

Matsuo Basho, Oku no Hosomichi at Oogaki / Ogaki

Fuji no yama nomi ga chausu no ooi kana / cha-usu

Mount Fuji
like the tea-grinding mill
carried by the lice . . .

Basho age 33
To compare Mount Fuji to a cha-usu, a mill for grinding tea leaves, has been done since olden times.

This is complete fiction to show the greatness of Mount Fuji.

There was a popular song in Edo to which Basho is referring:

The lice are carrying a tea-grinding mill
carrying it on their back
just trying to climb over Mount Fuji.

It was also a popular game to cover a tea-grinding mill with strong washi paper to make it look like Mount Fuji.

Fuji no yuki Rosei ga yume o tsukasetari

snow on Mount Fuji -
Rosei creates the world
in his dream

Basho age 34
He compares the fresh white snow of mount Fuji to the mountain of silver which the young Rosei saw in his dream.

The proverb is:
Kantan no Makura - Pillow of Kantan
Kantan yume no makura
Kantan is a city in China.
Kantan is now also a famous Noh Play

Rosei no yume, Kantan no yume

Quote: the Chinese tale of Lu Sheng, in Japanese: Rosei), (713 - 741)
a young man who falls asleep in the Zhao capital of Handan), and dreams of glory but wakes to find that the millet at his bedside has not even begun to boil. However, in the manner of a roman à clef the reader is given visual and textual clues that the characters actually represent contemporary figures such as the kabuki actor Segawa Kikunojō II and these figures' personal lives are parodied.

summer grasses--
traces of dreams
of ancient warriors

"... The emphemerality, the dream-like nature of such "ambitions" (yume), is foreshadowed in the opening phrase of the prose passage ("in the space of a dream," 'issui no yume'), a reference to the Noh play 'Kantan', about a man (Rosei) who napped and dreamed a lifetime of glory and defeat while waiting for dinner. ..." - Harao Shirane

Rosei kantan issui no yume 
Lu Sheng's Transient Dream at Handan

furazu tomo take uu hi wa mino to kasa

even if it does not rain
they plant on bamboo planting day -
a mino-raincoat and a rain-hat

According to the old Chinese tradition, bamboo planted on the 31 day of the fifth lunar month, this bamboo would certainly take roots and grow well. This custom was also appreciated in Japan, where bamboo planting began just at the beginning of the rainy season.
Basho uses the expression "mino to kasa" to describe the looks of the farmers planting bamboo.

furusato ya hozo no o ni naku toshi no kure

my home town -
I weep over my navel string
at the end of the year

Written in 1687, Oi no Kobumi
This hokku has the cut marker YA at the end of line 1.

Japanese mothers keep the umbilical cord as a memento of the birth of their babies.
heso no o, hozo no o - umbilical cord
When Basho has the chance to hold it in his hands again in Iga Ueno, he is overwhelmed with the memories of his late mother and father.

furusato - a very important feeling in Japan

fuyu shiranu yado ya momi suru oto arare

no winter is known
in this home - hulling rice with the sound
of hail

Written in 1684, Basho age 41.
This hokku has the cut marker YA in the middle of line 2.

Basho visited the area around Takenouchi Village and Nagao.
He observed a son hulling the rice carefully to give good food to his old mother.

The mountain village of Nagao in the province of Yamato is not so far from the capital and thus not quite a typical "mountain village" . . .
It has the atmosphere of the "Holy Horai Mountain" of ancient China.

hoorai Buddhist mountain Horai - a mountain in China, where people would live forever.

The farmer had built a separate room (inkyobeya) for his aging mother in the back yard.
The village is located close to Temple Taimadera.

Chris Drake wrote:

fuyu shiranu yado ya momi-suru oto arare

hail hits a house
where there are no winters --
rice-hulling sounds

This is a late autumn hokku from the middle of the 9th month (October) in 1684, when Basho was visiting someone in the Nagao area south of Nara, not far from Taima Temple, where Chujo-hime was believed to have woven her large Pure Land Mandala.

The man, a wealthy farmer, was warm-hearted and took care of his aged mother very well. He built her a small house behind the main house where she could have some privacy, and he designed a garden around her house that looked like Mt. Horai (Penglai in Chinese) on the legendary Daoist Island of Immortality located somewhere out in the eastern sea. On this island there were said to be no winters or pain, fresh fruit was always available, and an elixir of immortality could be taken. Basho says the farmer designed the garden as the closest thing possible on this earth to the island's elixir of immortality, since he wanted his mother to live many more years.

Hearing and seeing this, Basho greeted the man with the above hokku. It has irony, hyperbole, and humor. The house (actually two houses, the main house and the mother's smaller house in the garden) is so warm with human feeling that winter never really comes to it, and yet the first hail of the winter seems to be falling on it now, making quite a racket. How could this possibly be? The answer of course is that the sound isn't made by hail but is the somewhat similar loud grinding sound made by people just outside hulling rice with a stone or earthen mortar. In this way Basho praises his host more strongly by denying the opposite, telling him his house is truly a Daoist paradise on earth filled with familial love and warmth in which the closest thing to winter isn't related to winter at all: the hail-like sounds turn out to be related to the source of warm food.

The farmers just outside or perhaps in a special workroom of the house aren't beating the rice but are operating one or more advanced mortars (invented in China) in which a revolving upper grindstone has replaced the less efficient pestle used in earlier centuries.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the first site below you can see a contemporary picture from the Edo period of five farmers operating a hulling mortar with a long wooden crankshaft.
Chris Drake

momisuri - hulling rice, polishing rice  
kigo for late autumn

ha ni somuku tsubaki no hana ya yosogokoro

the camellia blossom
goes against the leaf -

Basho age 41 or later

yoso gokoro, yoso-gokoro ... the heart goes astray . . .

hamaguri no futami ni wakare yuku aki zo

the clamshell
divides in two and leaves
this autumn . . .

(like) a clamshell
divided in two we depart now
into this autumn . . .

The kakenotoba word with a double meaning here is

Futami - two bodies
This expression can be interpreted in many ways.

Here Basho thinks of his physical separation from Sora, who has been his faithful companion on the road for so many weeks.

Basho also thinks of the body of his elder brother Matsuo Hanzaemon, who had been home keeping the Basho family estate ever since Basho left him, more than 24 years ago.
His brother loved hamaguri clamshells.

There are also translations, which interpret FUTAMI as a place name in Ise.

Dividing like clam
and shell, I leave for Futami -

hana ayame ichiya ni kareshi Motome kana

this Ayame iris
has withered over night
like actor Motome . . .

Written on the 5th day of the 5th month in 1688, in Osaka. Basho age 45.

Basho saw a performance with this young actor on the 4th day of the 5th lunar month, probably at Yamatoya Jinbei za. But by next morning, the actor had died. It is not quite clear what happened.
Basho was quite perplexed by this news and wrote this requiem for him.

The hokku has the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.

WKD: ayame / Ayame iris  
A favorite flower for the Boy's Festival of the 5/5 day.

Yamatoya Jinbei I, First Generation (? - 1704) Kabuki Actor and Theater Group Leader in Kamigata (Osaka and Kyoto).
Yamatoya Jinbei II - Second son of I. Acted first on the Soun-Za in Kyoto in 1701.
Yamatoya Jinbei III - He is famous for playing female roles at the Soun-Za. In 1747 he also performed other roles.

hana ni ukiyo waga sake shiroku meshi kuroshi

cherry blossoms in this fleeting world
my ricewine is white
my rice is black

Amid the blossoms' joy
a cruel world: My wine is cloudy and
My rice unmilled.
(Tr. haikubandit)

Basho age 40
The meter of this poem is 6-7-5.

He is quite poor and has to drink "nigorizake", a cheap white type.
His rice is not hulled and white, but "black", because he has to eat unhulled genmai brown rice.

hana ni yoeri haori kite katana sasu onna

drunk by cherry blossoms
a lady wearing a haori coat
and a sword

Basho age 38 to 40.
At that time, ladies never wore haori coats or had a sword in the sash. That was samurai wear.
Maybe someone was using this as costume? When drunk with blossoms, all things seem possible.
The meaning is not quite clear.

hana no kumo kane wa Ueno ka Asakusa ka

cloud of blossoms
is that the bell from Ueno
or Asakusa?

haru mo yaya keshiki totonou tsuki to ume 

spring is slowly

taking shape -

moon and plum blossoms  

Written in 1693.
Probably an inscription to a painting
The extra joy of seeing the moon with the plum blossoms, making the arriving of spring even more pleasant.

- Komojishi shuu, Komojishi Shu Collection -

hatsu yuki ya saiwai an ni makariaru

first snow -
I am lucky to be here
in my own hut

Written on the 18th day of the 12th lunar month 1686, Basho age 43

This day was also considered as the 31st day of the 1st month 1687
Other sources place it on the ninth day of the 12th lunar month.
On that day he wrote about the first narcissus.

Basho was fond of "first snow" and made some trips to friends when he heard the good news. Now finally it has started snowing on his own home and he is happy to be there.

makari aru - an emphatic verbal prefix, shows his great joy about the snow.

hito shigure tsubute ya futte Koishikawa

a winter drizzle
and now - some hailstones falling
at Koishikawa

Written in 1677, Basho age 34
The cut marker YA is in the middle of line 2.

The name Koishikawa used to be written with the Chinses characters means small stones, Basho here uses a pun with the hailstones.

Koishikawa is a locality within Bunkyo, Tokyo. It is located nearby with the same name are two well regarded gardens: the Koishikawa Botanical Garden (related to Tokyo University) in Hakusan, and the Koishikawa

hito-koe no e ni yokotau ya hototogisu

a single call
comes across the inlet -

Basho was referring to a poem by Su Dongpo, Su Dungpo (So Toba):

hokku nari Matsuo Toosei yado no haru

this is a hokku -
Matsuo Tosei's
home on New Year

1679, Basho age 36
On the first morning of the New Year
In 1678 he had put up his "shop sign" Tosei and become a professional Haikai Master.
This hokku shows his strong self-confidence in his new profession.

Toosei "Green Peach" was the nom de plume of Basho at that time.
He sounds almost like a tweeter [tweet], sharing his joy and expectations with the world.
Later on, Issa uses the expression ora ga haru - "My Spring", my New Year.

WKD: "spring in this lodge", "spring in my home" - yado no haru.
kigo for the New Year
Maybe Basho was the first to use this expression?

ie wa mina tsue ni shiragami no hakamairi

all family members
with canes and white hair
visiting graves

Matsuo Basho, 1656, at the local shrine of his village at Iga Ueno
He had come home after a long time to celebrate O-Bon, the Ancestor Festival, with his family.

O-Bon, a most important festival for the ancestors

ikameshiki oto ya arare no hinoki-gasa

so harsh
the sound - hail
on my traveler's hat

Basho listens to the sound of hail bouncing off from his hat. This is the only hokku where he uses ikameshii, so it must have been quite frightening and special.

This hokku has the cut marker YA in the middle of line 2.

ikameshii - solemn, stern, harsh, grave, dignified
hinokigasa - "cypress hat" cypress-bark hat

Nozarashi Kiko, 1684

iku shimo ni kokoro Baseo no matsukazari

frost comes and goes
on the pine decoration
of my home

kokorobase is a word play Basho uses to imply himself (Baseo), someone with a sincere heart.
How often the frost comes on the pine, the green does not change and stands there in endurance.

Written in 1686, New Year

imo arau onna Saigyoo naraba uta yoman

a woman washes taro -
if Saigyo were here
he would compose a poem

- - - - - other possibilities

a woman washes taro -
if I were Saigyo
I would compose a poem

a woman washes taro -
if she were Saigyo
she would compose a poem

Basho on his way to Ise shrine -

At Saigyoo-dani / Saigyō Valley, Uji Yamada. The sacred Isuzugawa river flows through this valley.

One day Saigyo had to take shelter in the valley in a farmhouse because of heavy rain.
The wife of the owner did not want him to stay, but he offered her a poem. So she wrote a poem back and let him stay over night.
And now Basho had passed this place, with his memories of the story about Saigyo.

The "imo" is a taro potato, grown in the mountain regions of Japan.

Saigyō’s waka:

yo no naka o itoo made koso katakarame
kari no yadori o oshimu kimi kana

It's hard to despise
the whole world
as a borrowed lodging,
but that you should begrudge me
even one night's lodging!
(Tr. John Corrigan)

inasuzume cha no kibatake ya nigedokoro

sparrows in the rice paddies
the field of tea plants
is your place to flee

Written in the autumn of 1691 at temple Gichu-Ji

This hokku has the cut marker YA at the end of line 2,
but in fact line 1 is separate and lines 2 and 3 belong together.

sparrows in the rice paddies
this field of tea plants -
yes, your place to flee

Rice-field sparrows
find the tea plantation
is their place of refuge.
(Tr. Aitken)

Rice-field sparrows
can escape from hunters
in the groves of tea
(Tr. Addiss)

rice-field sparrows
in the tea fields —
their refuge
(Tr. Barnhill)

Sparrows in the rice paddy
consider the tea bushes
their hideout
(Tr. Dalby)

inochi koso imo dane yo mata kyoo no tsuki

the source of life
in these taro seed potatoes - again
the moon of tonight

Basho about 25
Written in Iga Ueno, before moving to Edo.

The cut marker YA is in the middle of line 2.

kyoo no tsuki is the "moon of the taro potatoes"
This hokku has the okashimi teasing flavor of the Danrin school of hokku.

Sato-imo. satoimo, Taro potatoe  
kigo for all autumn
- - - - - and
taneimo, tane-imo, seed potato of taro
kigo for mid-spring

imo meigetsu "taro moon"
the full moon in mid-autumn of the lunar calendar.
It was custom to boil the new sprouts of the taro and prepare a soup with it
"to nourish the life of all generations".
from one satoimo there are some generations

oyaimo - parent potato
koimo - child potato
magoimo - grandchildren potato

irozuku ya toofu ni ochite usumomiji

they are starting to change color ...
a slightly red maple leaf
falls on my tofu

Basho age 34.
The whiteness of the Tofu is stressed by the color of the fallen leaf.

iwa tsutsuji somuru namida ya hototogisu

rock azaleas
colored by his tears -
this hototogisu

Basho age 24

The flowers are red like blood.
The inside of the mouth of the cuckoo is so red that it looks like blood when the bird is singing.

iza saraba yukimi ni korobu tokoro made

let us say goodbye
until we fall and slip
while watching the snow

Iwakura waterfall and temple Daiun-Ji with a memorial stone

ka o nokosu ranchoo ran no yadori kana

the remaining fragrance
of the room curtain
in a lodging of orchids . . .

Written around 貞亨元年 , Basho age 41 to 51.
Basho visited the retired priest Etsudoo / Etsudo, while he was still alive or maybe after his death.
It is not quite clear what kind of orchids priest Etsudo kept in his garden or room.
The cut marker KANA is at the end of line 3.

ranchoo, tobari, curtain, hangings, partition of a room
In this poem it might be the curtain in front of a miniature shrine for a statue in a room.

kachi naraba Tsuetsuki-zaka o rakuba kana

"I rented a horse at the village of Hinaga ... so I could ride up Walking-stick Hill. But my pack-saddle overturned and I was thrown from the horse.”

if only I had walked
the steep slope Tsuetsuki-zaka
(but even though,) I fell from my horse

if only I had walked
Walking-stick Hill:
falling from my horse
(Tr. Barnhill)

This hokku has no season word.
The cut marker KANA is at the end of line 3.
It is difficult to translate, keeping the meaning of the place name understandable without a long footnote.

The slope Tsuetsukizaka, "slope to climb with a walking stick"
is in Mie prefecture, Yokkaichi, between the villages Uneme and Ishiyakushi, on the way to the great shrine at Ise.

After the legendary hero Yamato Takeru no Kami had fought with the wild deities of Mount Ibukisan, he was so tired that he had to use a stick to walk this slope.

Yamato Takeru, first Deity of Renku

[Basho argues that a place name may substitute for kigo. Listed as 'micellaneous' - Zappai]

kagemachi ya kiku no ka no suru toofugushi

waiting for sunrise ...
the tofu skewer smells
of chrysanthemums


celebrating till sunrise ...
the tofu stick smells
of chrysanthemums

It seems more natural to inverse the Japanese, which has the tofu skewers as the last line.

Written in the ninth month of 1693, Genroku 6, at the home of Taisui.

kagemachi, lit. "waiting for shadows", refers to a custom of the Edo period to invite guests on an auspicious day of January, May or September for a good meal to stay awake all night and wait for the sunrise. In September, you could sit in a chrysanthemum garden and enjoy the flower exhibitions.

Also called himachi, waiting for the sun.

kaki yori wa nori o ba oi no uri mo sede

rather than oysters
it's dried seaweed one should sell
when one is old

Basho has no need for oysters because he is of age, but to stay healthy he ate dried seaweed.
Written in the spring of 1687.
It seems he observed an old man with a shoulder carrying pole, selling oysters, and wondered if the lighter seaweed would not be a better deal.

kakitsubata kataru mo tabi no hitotsu kana

kakitsubata iris -
to talk about it is one of the joys
when travelling

Matsuo Basho (1688)
Oi no Kobumi.
Basho is visiting with the paper merchant Yasukawa Yaemon in Osaka

kakurega ya tsuki to kiku to ni ta san tan  

this hermitage -
the moon, chrysanthemums and
three tan of rice paddies

Written in the ninth lunar month of 1689, Basho age 46
Greeting hokku for Boku-In (Bokuin) at Ogaki.
On his trip to Oku no Hosomichi.
Basho had also visited Boku-In in 1688 (Oi no Kobumi)
Tani Bokuin (1646 - 1725)

tan - an old unit of measurement measure of about 9.91 ar.

This hokku reminds of a waka by Zen master Ikkyu about living in the mountains, with three tan of paddies, some miso paste, a young attendant and fresh water - all you need to be content.

Kamakura o ikite ideken hatsu-gatsuo

you made it
past Kamakura alive -
first Katsuo bonito

Basho age 49
Basho was well aware of the customs of Edo, where the first Katsuo was an expensive delicacy unknown in his homeland, Iga. The bonito from Kamakura was then carried to Edo as a present to the Shogun.

hatsugatsuo no shinku
offering first katsuo bonito

During the Edo period, Kamakura was famous for the first bonito to be fished at the beaches of the inlet. The very first ones were offered at Hachimangu with prayers for a good fishing season. This was usually done in January or February. In newer years, the first fish of the year landing on the beach of Kamakura was called "ofuri" and offered to the deities.

kami haete yoogan aoshi satsuki ame

my hair has grown
my face is pale -
samidare rain

Basho age 44

Basho is looking in the mirror and sees his pale face. It reflects his poverty and the mood of the long rainy season of Japan.

samidare (literally, rains of the fifth lunar month)

There are more than 400 kigo related to the rain in Japan.
We have the rainy season and the typhoons with a lot of damage, we have flooding and rain rituals.
For the farmers of the Edo period, proper rainfall was a matter of life and death, because it affected the rice harvest.
Rain was called the "Water of Heaven", tensui.

Strong emotions are attached to some kinds of rain:

spring drizzle (harusame) leads to romance -
long summer rain (samidare) makes us melancholic -
cold showers in autumn and winter (shigure) show the uncertainty of all things.

kamigaki ya omoi mo kakezu Nehanzoo

within the fence of the shrine -
what a surprise to find
(a statue of) Buddha lying down to die

The "fence of the Gods" at Ise Shrine and the statue of Buddha lying down to die

During this time, the distinction between Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine was not so distinct and many religious places housed both.

This hokku was written on the 15th day of the second lunar month, the ceremony for the Nehan Buddha.

This was composed at the Ise Shrines, on the 15th day of the Second Month, and Bashō is expressing his surprise (and pleasure) at something which, however much sanctioned by ancient custom, is still astonishing, namely, the fusion of Shintō and Buddhism. This amalgamation took place at the beginning of the 9th century a.d., when the Shington Sect developed the doctrine of Ryōbu-Shintō,1 or Shimbutsu-Kongō2 by which the gods of Shintō were recognised as manifestations or incarnations of the Buddhist divinities.
Source: Blyth on Basho

kanashiman ya Bokushi seriyaki o mite mo nao

Does he grieve?
Mo-Tsu sees the dropwort
being cooked

Written in 1680, Basho age 37

Bokushi Mozi, Mo-tsu is a Chinese scholar. (460- 380 BC ?)
Legend knows that he grew sad when he observed white silk threads being dyed with various pigments.
The seri dropwort gives an appetizing smell when cooked, but looses its color.

Mo Di (Mo Ti), better known as Mozi (Mo-tzu) or Master Mo,” was a Chinese thinker active from the late 5th to the early 4th centuries BCE. He is best remembered for being the first major intellectual rival to Confucius and his followers.
... The most famous of these theses is the injunction that one ought to be concerned for the welfare of people in a spirit of “impartial concern” (jian’ai) that does not make distinctions between self and other, associates and strangers, a doctrine often described more simplistically as “universal love.”

kao ni ninu hokku mo ideyo hatsu zakura

I will write hokku
that do not resemble my face -
first cherry blossoms

(or in plural)

we will write hokku
that do not resemble our faces -
first cherry blossoms

1694, Autumn
Basho was at Iga, Ueno, his homeground. He was discussing haikai with his student, Iga Toho, and most probably wrote this hokku to teach him a lesson. This was shortly before the death of Basho.

"Even now, when I am so old, I want to write hokku with a young touch, like the first cherry blossoms, always new and fresh. My heart will always be young."

karakasa ni oshiwake mitaru yanagi kana

with my umbrella
I part the branches
of the willow trees . . .

Written in the spring of 1694 as the hokku for a haikai meeting with Jokushi, Yaba and others.
Basho describes his experience on the way to the meeting.

The cut marker KANA is at the end of line 3.

kari kiki ni miyako no aki ni omomukan

to listen to the geese
in the autumn of the capital
I will set out

Written in autumn of 1690
It is not clear weather this is a hokku by Basho himself.

In a letter to Takahashi Dosui.

Takahashi Dosui (? - 1743)
Takahashi Kihei - A leading figure of the Basho disciples in Omi (Oomi Shoomon).
The younger brother of Suganuma Kyokusui, who had offered the Genjuan to Basho.

Kasa-dera ya moranu iwaya mo haru no ame

temple Kasadera !
even at the watertight grotto
the rain of spring

Written in the spring of 1687

Matsuo Basho was impressed by the story of Kasadera temple and offered this hokku as a greeting.

This temple is dedicated to the memory of the beautiful Princess Tamateru Hime, who had been taken by a rich man from Narumi and lived in great misfortune. Day and night she prayed to a stone statue Kannon. One day with a heavy rainfall, she put her own straw rain hat on the statue to protect her.
By chance Fujiwara no Kanehira (875 - 935), came by on this day and saw her.
Her luck changed and she married Kanehira, still praying to the Kannon statue with the straw hat.
Thus she could begin to rebuild the temple.

Ryuufukuji, Ryufuku-Ji, short "Kasadera"
Ryuufukuji, Ryufukuji Kannon
Kasadera Kannon, "Kannon at the Rain Hat Temple"

kashi no ki no hana ni kamawanu sugata kana

the Kashi oak
seems not to care about
the cherry blossoms . . .

Written in 1685, when Basho visited Mitsui Shuufuu, Shufu at Narumi.
(Shufu - 1646 - 1717) A rich kimono merchant and haikai poet from Kyoto.
The cut marker KANA is at the end of line 3.

kashi no hana
- Kashi-oak tree blossoms - kigo for late spring

Basho compares the Kashi oak to his independent-minded host (or rather, vice-versa).
Basho often uses the nature around him to imply a human condition also just now around him.

kitsutsuki mo io wa yaburazu natsu kodachi

even a woodpecker
won't (dare to) damage this hermitage -
summer grove

About the hermitage of Zen pries Butchoo, Butcho, his master,
temple Ungan-Ji.
Basho left this message at the entrance post of the hermitage and left, because the Master was not at home.

Oku no Hosomichi, Station 8 - Unganji

even woodpeckers
don't damage this hut:
summer grove
(Tr. Barnhill)

Even woodpeckers did not
Damage this hermitage
In the summer grove
(Tr. Oseko)

Kiyotaki no mizu kumasete ya tokoroten

water drawn up
from Kiyotaki stream -
this Tokoroten jelly

Written in 1694, Basho age 51
This hokku has the cut marker YA at the end of line 2.

This is a greeting hokku for his host Yamei to thank him for the refreshment.

Written at the home of Sakai Yamei in Sagano, Kyoto.
Nearby was the river Kiyotakigawa. The Kiyotaki waterfall brings the water from Mount Atagoyama to the gorge in Sagano.

Yamei was a masterless Samurai from Hakata, Kuroda. His haiku name YAMEI was given to him by Matsuo Basho himself. He is also called Hoojin.

tokoroten jelly - Cold Jelly Stripes, gelidium jelly, tokoroten,
tokoroten: kigo for summer


  1. Thanks for sharing sensei. Now one can come here freely to read the works of Basho.

    1. I wish we had all of the 1032(?) verses with their commentaries, but these give us a good idea of Basho's style. Unfortunately, we don't get very much to give us a sense of his wordplay. (I try to pronounce the romaji to get a feel for the cadence.)

      I hope your friends will come and enjoy Basho.