Monday, October 13, 2008

"The Abode of Illusion"

withering wind
is the fragrance still attached
to the late-blooming flower

or

withering wind
has it been colored by
a late-blooming flower

– Matsuo Basho

Imagine people so eager to have a poet stay in the area that they would find him a home or build a special house for him. In the summer of 1690, Basho was treated to that honor and lived in a house on Lake Biwa called “The Abode of Illusion” or “The Unreal Hut.” It had a panoramic view overlooking the lake and the Seta River.

This intriguing biographical fact and a wealth of others appear in Basho: The Complete Haiku, translated by Jane Reichhold, just out in 2008. Tomoe Sumi at Kodansha America sent me a lovely hardcover copy with artwork by Shiro Tsujimura. The book includes Reichhold’s translations of Matsuo Basho’s haiku, literal translations, original Japanese versions, biographical information, a chronology of Matsuo Basho’s life, an appendix of haiku techniques, a glossary of literary terms, and notes to clarify and enhance the work. For instance, beyond the two versions of the above poem, if one refers to it by number (760) in the notes, there is this explanation:

1691 – autumn. The idea behind the first version of this poem is that the cold, strong wind should have blown away something as delicate as the scent of the flower. Nioi can also be translated as “color,” hence the second version of the poem. Traditionally, the cold autumn wind is described as white.

Where I live, the October sky is now pearly gray, dusk approaching. I’ll leave you with another Basho haiku from this extensive and deep collection. He wrote this poem after the Priest Unchiku, a famous calligrapher from Kyoto, showed Basho a portrait (likely his own) with the face looking away. He asked him to write a poem on it. Basho responded, “You are sixty years old and I am almost fifty. Life was like a dream just as Chuang Tzu said. The portrait looks like a dream and now I am adding sleep talk to it.”

turn this way
I am also lonely
this autumn evening

– Matsuo Basho

This last haiku is #681. For more about Basho, go to “Wine Berries,” the July 14th post.

The photograph was taken on a visit to Watkins Glen, New York, with my younger daughter on 9/23/08. We loved the intricate rock formations, the waterfalls, and the teal water collecting in amoeba-shaped pools. Just click on the image to enlarge it.

4 comments:

Pam Hart said...

Lovely photo and the Basho poem is great. The haiku collection sounds terrific. The second haiku reminds me of the koan: " what is your original face before you were born?"

Christine said...

Hello, Pam. Yes, I like thinking about that koan, that original face, those pixels of possibility, emptiness gathering light...

Vesper de Vil said...

I read about Basho last week for the first time. Such a beautiful wanderer.

Christine said...

Hi, Vesper. Be sure to also read Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho's writings translated by Sam Hamill. Thanks so much for the nomination! Found it!