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Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Winter 2009, vol 7 no 4
 

Basho and me
by Ray Rasmussen


monkI've been describing myself as a 'bit of a monk' for some time now which has been confusing to my friends. "Are you going to a monastery?" one recently asked. "Are you giving up your worldly goods?" asked another.

Let me explain. I mention monkhood because I'm a bit of a recluse meaning that I spend a good bit of time alone, not in a living-with partnership and with no one in my home so long as you don't count the two dogs under my desk gnawing on bones and the two cats perched on the desk purring their eagerness for a treat.

I know that this skips over some aspects of monkhood that one might normally expect and it's clear that the Rule of Benedict isn't exactly me, although he has red slippers and so do I. In case you don't recognize him, that's St. Benedict to the right working at his desk, just as I'm now working at mine.

bashoOkay, if not Benedict, what about Basho?

He was said to be a Buddhist Monk and writing haiku has been likened to a Zen practice.

That's Basho to the right, sitting under his banana tree.

So, who was Basho?

he traveled a lot = so do I
he walked a lot = so do I
he wrote poetry = I try
he ate rice = me too
he drank sake = I drink wine
he didn't eat much = I'm on a diet
he wore sandals = so do I
he wore loose, comfortable clothing = so do I
he was balding = I admit that I've lost a few hairs
he used a hiking stick = so do I
he didn't watch TV or read the newspaper = I've given both up

daisieshe liked flowers, plants, birds = so do I

Breakfast enjoyed
in the fine company of
morning glories

Traveling this high
mountain trail, delighted
by violets

Exhausted, I sought
a country inn, but found
wisteria in bloom

With a warbler for
a soul, it sleeps peacefully,
this mountain willow


ray by streamHe felt his aloneness & age = so do I

Lonely stillness –
a single cicada’s cry
sinking into stone

A solitary
crow on a bare branch –
autumn evening

along this road
not a single soul –
only autumn evening


courtesansHe seemed to have liked or at least noticed women = so do I, especially the ones who also are a bit like monks. Why? Because they are on their own journeys, they also live alone, and they tend to have the glint of silver in their hair and a sparkle in their eyes.

How reluctantly
the bee emerges from the deep
within the peony

courtesan and monk, we sleep
under one roof together,
moon in a field of clover

He enjoyed conversations while on the path = so do I

Long conversations
beside blooming irises –
joys of life on the road


He had a spiritual philosophical side akin to a western monk's vows of poverty. I like to think that I too have a philosophical side although I admit that I'm not quite living in poverty. To my credit, I'm thinking of setting up a tent in the backyard.

bashoCome out to view
the truth of flowers blooming
in poverty

Ah, summer grasses!
All that remains
Of the warriors' dreams.

Like me, he was perhaps less than tidy, he liked to eat, and he had a sense of humor.

my house
where even the mist
is sloppy

I go back into
my thatched hut...
the fly does the same

honestly –
even more than blossoms
I love dumplings!


Some friends have commented that my writing tends to focus on sadness, not humour. But ...

honestly –
even more than sadness
I love laughter!

~ zukki-ni

He saw himself as a wanderer = me too

I'm a wanderer
so let that be my name –
the first winter rain

rayAnd, after a long journey, he liked to get back to a comfy home = me too

Autumn approaches
and the heart begins to dream
of four-tatami rooms

And, he dwells in his habits & routines = I do too

Winter seclusion –
sitting propped against
the same worn post

The image to the right is of me in Tuwa Wash where I have been many times—a return again and again to "the same worn post".


Basho's birth name was Matsuo Kinsaku. He was once given a Banana Tree (Basho in Japanese) by a disciple and, deeply touched, he took on the name "Basho."

No one has yet given me a banana tree. However, I was gifted with a basket of zucchini last summer, and am considering renaming myself 'zukki-ni', which, believe it or not, is Japanese for the vegetable most given as gifts by overly enthusiastic and ruthlessly sneaky gardeners.

monkshoodI have already renamed my dogs "Basho" and "Banana Tree" and the cats, "Matsuo" and "Kinsaku". In that sense, I feel that I'm often very close to Basho.

As final evidence of my monk's journey, my friend George has kindly offered to accept all of my worldly goods which he assumed I would soon be renouncing.

I've decided to start gradually by sending him Basho, Banana Tree, Matsuo and Kinsaku along with whatever zucchinis show up in my begging bowl.
monkshood bloom –
the buzzing of bees
seems diminished
~ zukki-ni, published in Modern Haiku

basho---

Notes:

Revered as one of the greatest of Japanese poets, Basho was born in 1644, some 30 miles southeast of Kyoto. His name was Matsuo Kinsaku; he took the name Basho, which means, “Banana Tree” after he was deeply touched when a disciple gave him one as a gift. Throughout his life, Basho was drawn to the solitary path of a wanderer.

Here's what he has to say about writing:


"In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones and nine orfices there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over the others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly." (Introductory paragraph from The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, from a translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa).

All haiku on this site with the exception of the ones attributed to myself are translations of Basho's haiku. The translations, for the most part, were by David Lanoue.

Photos by Ray Rasmussen, except for the shot of me in Tuwa Wash taken by Gary Ford.

 


Ray Rasmussen Ray Rasmussen's haiku, haiga, haibun and articles have been accepted for publication in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Contemporary Haibun, Heron's Nest, Simply Haiku, Bottle Rockets, Haibun Today, Haigaonline, Contemporary Haibun Online, Roadrunner, Tinywords, Haiku Harvest, The World Haiku Review, Lynx and Ink Sweat & Tears. Ray designed the Contemporary Haibun Online web site and serves as technical editor. His web page designs are currently used by Simply Haiku and Roadrunner haiku journals. He has served as haiga editor for Simply Haiku and haibun editor for the World Haiku Review. Ray dreamed that in a previous life he was a university professor.