Friday, June 23, 2017

Basho on This Wandering Life

Basho's hut was not his true home...

Days and months are travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth  spend every minute of their lives travelling, and the journey itself is home. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by wind-blown clouds into dreams of lifelong travelling.

It was only towards the end of last autumn that I returned from rambling along the coast. I barely had time to sweep the cobwebs from my broken house on the River Sumida before the New Year, but no sooner had the spring mist begun to rise over the field than I wanted to be on the road again to cross the barrier-gate of Shirakawa in due time. A wandering spirit seemed to have possessed me and turned me inside out, roadside images seeming to invite me from every corner, so that it was impossible for me to stay idle at home. Even while I was getting ready, mending my torn trousers, tying a new strap to my hat, and applying *moxa to my legs to strengthen them, I was already dreaming of the full moon rising over the islands of Matushima. Finally, I gave my house to another, moving to the cottage of my patron Mr. Sampu for a temporary stay. Upon the threshold of my old home, however, I wrote a linked verse of eight pieces and hung it on a wooden pillar. The opening verse was:

even this grass hut
may be transformed
into a doll's house.

Note: Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is Japan's most celebrated haiku poet, and one of its most revered literary figures. He was also a Buddhist, whose work reflected the transiency of life, its innate unsatisfactory nature, and the value of living in the present moment. *Moxa is a dried leaf applied in small doses to the skin and burnt, in the belief that it has curative properties.


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