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THE HAIBUN GALLERY: 3rd 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



Translated from the Japanese with an introduction by NOBUYUKI YUASA


These translations first published 1966

Reprinted 1968, 1970


Following the example of the ancient priest who is said to have travelled thousands of miles caring naught for his provisions and attaining the state of sheer ecstasy under the pure beams of the moon, I left my broken house on the River Sumida in the August of the first year of Jyokyo among the wails of the autumn wind.

Determined to fall

A weather-exposed skeleton

I cannot help the sore wind

Blowing through my heart.

After ten autumns

In Edo, my mind

Points back to it

As my native place.

I crossed the barrier-gate of Hakone on a rainy day. All the mountains were deeply buried behind the clouds.

In a way

It was fun

Not to see Mount Fuji

In foggy rain.


At last I reached my native village in the beginning of September, but I could not find a single trace of the herbs my mother used to grow in front of her room. The herbs must have been completely bitten away by the frost. Nothing remained the same in my native village. Even the faces of my brothers had changed with wrinkles and white hair, and we simply rejoiced to see each other alive. My eldest brother took out a small amulet bag, and said to me as he opened it, ‘See your mother’s frosty hairs. You are like Urashima whose hair was turned white upon his opening a miracle box.’ After remaining in tears for a few moments, I wrote:

Should I hold them in my hand,

They will disappear

In the warmth of my tears,

Icy strings of frost.


As I was plodding along the River Fuji, I saw a small child, hardly three years of age, crying pitifully on the bank, obviously abandoned by his parents. They must have thought this child was unable to ride through the stormy waters of life which run as wild as the rapid river itself, and that he was destined to have a life even shorter than that of the morning dew. The child looked to me as fragile as the flowers of bush-clover that scatter at the slightest stir of the autumn wind, and it was so pitiful that I gave him what little food I had with me.

The ancient poet

Who pitied monkeys for their cries,

What would he say, if he saw

This child crying in the autumn wind?

How is it indeed that this child has been reduced to this state of utter misery? Is it because of his mother who ignored him, or because of his father who abandoned him? Alas, it seems to me that this child’s undeserved suffering has been caused by something far greater and more massive - by what one might call the irresistible will of heaven. If it is so, child, you must raise your voice to heaven, and I must pass on, leaving you behind.


I do not wear a single piece of metal on my belt, nor do I carry anything but a sack on my shoulder. My head is clean shaven, and I have a string of beads in my hand. I am indeed dressed like a priest, but priest I am not, for the dust of the world still clings to me. The keeper of the inner shrine prevented me from entering the holy seat of the god because my appearance was like a Buddhist priest.

At the bottom of the valley where the ancient Poet, Saigyo, is said to have erected his hermitage, there was a stream and a woman was washing potatoes.

The Poet Saigyo

Would have written a poem

Even for the woman

Washing potatoes.

Towards the end of the day I stopped at a small tea house, where a young woman named Butterfly handed me a small piece of white silk and asked me to write a poem choosing her name as the subject.

A Butterfly

Poised on a tender orchid,

How sweetly the incense

Bums on its wings.


I went to see the Atsuta Shrine, but it had been reduced to utter ruins. Walls had crumbled and dry grasses were standing among the fallen blocks. There were ropes, here and there, showing the sites of the extinct shrines, and stones engraved with the names of the gods once enshrined therein. A shock of brown sage-brush and overgrown reminiscence gave me an impression not altogether pleasing but strangely lasting.

Even the weedy reminiscences

Are dead,

I bought and ate

Some rice-cake at an inn.

On my way through Nagoya, where crazy Chikusai is said to have practised quackery and poetry, I wrote:

With a bit of madness in me,

Which is poetry,

I plod along like Chikusai

Among the wails of the wind.

Sleeping on a grass pillow

I hear now and then

The nocturnal bark of a dog

In the passing rain.

Your Challenge for this week would be: Study Basho and the way he has written these pieces. Remember he founded this genre. Nobody before him ever thought of combining prose with poetry!! And, it has spread like wildfire now.

So, you need to stay with tradition but should also know when and where to step out!!

Waiting to read your haibun!

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.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Dear Firdaus,

Thank you for going through this book and choosing the poems for each week.

I appreciate the time and effort you have taken. I hope our members understand that it's not easy to present interesting prompts each week. Thanks once again. Firdaus. _()_ _kala



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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