THE HAIBUN GALLERY: 24th November — a Thursday feature

Hosts: Firdaus Parvez and Kala Ramesh


This month we're excited to bring to you excerpts from probably the most famous and iconic book by Basho. It is the beginning of 'haibun' as we know it today. You can find it here

THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH AND OTHER TRAVEL SKETCHES

BY BASHO

Translated from the Japanese with an introduction by NOBUYUKI YUASA

PENGUIN BOOKS


These translations first published 1966

Reprinted 1968, 1970




A VISIT TO SARASHINA VILLAGE


The autumn wind inspired my heart with a desire to see the rise of the full moon over Mount Obasute. That rugged mountain in the village of Sarashina is where the villagers in the remote past used to abandon their ageing mothers among the rocks. There was another man filled with the same desire, my disciple, Etsujin,1 who accompanied me, and also a servant sent by my friend Kakei2 to help me on the journey, for the Kiso road that led to the village was steep and dangerous, passing over a number of high mountains. We all did our best to help one another, but since none of us were experienced travellers, we felt uneasy and made mistakes, doing the wrong things at the wrong times. These mistakes, however, provoked frequent laughter and gave us the courage to push on. At a certain point on the road, we met an old priest - probably more than sixty years of age - carrying an enormously heavy load on his bent back, tottering along with short, breathless steps and wearing a sullen, serious look on his face. My companions sympathized with him, and, taking the heavy load from the priest’s shoulders, put it together with other things they had been carrying on my horse. Consequently, I had to sit on a big pile. Above my head, mountains rose over mountains, and on my left a huge precipice dropped a thousand feet into a boiling river, leaving not a tiny square of flat land in between, so that, perched on the high saddle, I felt stricken with terror every time my horse gave a jerk.


We passed through many a dangerous place, such as Kakehashi, Nezame, Saru-ga-baba, Tachitoge, the road always winding and climbing, so that we often felt as if we were groping our way in the clouds. I abandoned my horse and staggered on my own legs, for I was dizzy with the height and unable to maintain my mental balance from fear. The servant, on the other hand, mounted the horse, and seemed to give not even the slightest thought to the danger. He often nodded in a doze and seemed about to fall headlong over the precipice. Every time I saw him drop his head, I was terrified out of my wits. Upon second thoughts, however, it occurred to me that every one of us was like this servant, wading through the ever-changing reefs of this world in stormy weather, totally blind to the hidden dangers, and that the Buddha surveying us from on high, would surely feel the same misgivings about our fortune as I did about the servant.


When dusk came, we sought a night’s lodging in a humble house. After lighting a lamp, I took out my pen and ink, and closed my eyes, trying to remember the sights I had seen and the poems I had composed during the day. When the priest saw me tapping my head and bending over a small piece of paper, he must have thought I was suffering from the weariness of travelling, for he began to give me an account of his youthful pilgrimage, parables from sacred sutras, and the stories of the miracles he had witnessed. Alas, I was not able to compose a single poem because of this interruption. Just at this time, however, moonlight touched the corner of my room, coming through the hanging leaves and the chinks in the wall. As I bent my ears to the noise of wooden clappers and the voices of the villagers chasing wild deer away, I felt in my heart that the loneliness of autumn was now consummated in the scene. I said to my companions. ‘Let us drink under the bright beams of the moon,’ and the master of the house brought out some cups. The cups were too big to be called refined, and were decorated with somewhat uncouth gold-lacquer work, so that over-refined city-dwellers might have hesitated to touch them. Finding them in a remote country as I did, however, I was pleased to see them, and thought that they were even more precious than jewel-inlaid, rare-blue cups.


Seeing in the country

A big moon in the sky,

I felt like decorating it

With gold-lacquer work.


……………….


THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH


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 till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind-filled with a strong desire to wander. 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. The gods seemed to have possessed my soul and turned it inside out, and roadside images seemed 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 Matsushima. Finally, I sold my house, moving to the cottage of 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 starting piece was:


Behind this door

Now buried in deep grass,

A different generation will celebrate

The Festival of Dolls.


It was early on the morning of March the twenty-seventh that I took to the road. There was darkness lingering in the sky, and the moon was still visible, though gradually thinning away. The faint shadow of Mount Fuji and the cherry blossoms of Ueno and Yanaka were bidding me a last farewell. My friends had got together the night before, and they all came with me on the boat to keep me company for the first few miles. When we got off the boat at Senju, however, the thought of the three thousand miles before me suddenly filled my heart, and neither the houses of the town nor the faces of my friends could be seen by my tearful eyes except as a vision.


The passing spring,

Birds mourn,

Fishes weep

With tearful eyes.


With this poem to commemorate my departure, I walked forth on my journey, but lingering thoughts made my steps heavy. My friends stood in a line and waved good-bye as long as they could see my back.



Your Challenge: What does this relationship with 'servants' mean to you? Do we treat them as human beings? As a family member? You must be having tales and tales to share on this topic. We have read that the Buddha went on foot everywhere, travelling far and wide, to teach people a way out of "Dukkha" (sorrow), living on one meal a day ... what is it that motivates these great souls to undertake such paths? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


As always, a good haibun will find its way into the next issue of our fabulous journal. Firdaus and I are eagerly looking forward to reading your haibun. PLEASE NOTE: 1. Only two haibun per poet per prompt. 2. Share your best-polished pieces. 3. Please do not post something in a hurry or something you have just written. Let it simmer for a while. 4. When poets give suggestions and if you agree to them - post your final edited version on top of your original version. 5. Don't forget to give feedback on others' poems. We are delighted to open the comment thread for you to share your unpublished haibun (within 300 words) to be considered for inclusion in the haikuKATHA monthly journal.

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