Basho in Leiden

Doing some research to finish an article about the Dutch in Japan during that nation’s closed era (about 1641 to about 1853), I came across a photo of a Basho haiku painted on a wall in the delightful city of Leiden in The Netherlands – and now can’t remember whether I walked past it 2 years ago or am now just thinking I did!

The Basho wall haiku in Leiden. Image: Tunbantia, via Wikipedia

ara yumi ya sado ni yokotau ama no gawa

a wild sea, 
and stretching out towards the Island of Sado,
the Milky Way

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), tr RH Blyth See more translations here.

This website about the Wall Poems Project has a page dedicated to Basho’s 1689 poem, which was painted by Jan Willem Bruins in 1994 using a paper version in Japanese characters as his guide. “While he was painting, he was spotted by a group of Japanese passers-by. Filled with adoration, they stopped to watch Bruins apply the characters in a slapdash fashion. They asked if he had ever done a calligraphy course. When he said that this was his first try, they paid their respects to the painter with a deep bow.”

The Wall Poems Project ran from 1992 to 2005, and includes this very graphic 1966 poem by another Japanese poet, Seiichi Niikuni (1925-1977).

Kawa mata wa Shū by Seiichi Niikuni. Image: David Eppstein, via Wikipedia

The two characters translate as ‘river sandbank’ with the left line being ‘river’. Niikuni was a longtime creator of concrete poetry.

The taste of haiku

Finding myself with some time on my hands I thought I would explore haiku that deal with our senses beyond sight. So there will be a themed post once a week for the next four weeks. I’ve had fun finding and selecting these poems, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

Taste and scent are and likely the most difficult senses to weave into a haiku. I catch myself writing ‘the taste of …’  far too often so then must stop and figure out another way of saying exactly that. It’s been fun discovering or re-discovering taste-sense haiku where the authors have found ways of making their poem bold, fresh and vivid.

sweetness
oozing from a fig
indian summer

Harriot West
from The Wonder Code (Girasole Press, 2017)

mononofu no daikon nigaki hanashi kana

warriors
the bitterness of pickles
in the talk

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note for this haiku written in 1693 says Basho has chosen to pair ‘daikon’, a large radish that is often pickled, with ‘nigaki’, meaning ‘bitter’. Both the pickles and the military men’s stories left a bitter taste. She believes the haiku also references the Japanese proverb, ‘the ambitious man eats strong roots’.

shimmering pines
a taste of the mountain
from your cupped hands

Peggy Willis Lyles
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

wood smoke
a little something extra
in the tea

Adelaide B Shaw
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

Valentine’s Day –
a cherry tomato
bursts in my mouth

Michael Dylan Welch
from Haikuniverse, Feb 14, 2017

carnival day
candy-floss kiss
on the ghost train

Ron C Moss
from the ‘Freshly Caught’ sequence, Kokako 2 (2004)

im-mi-grant
the way English tastes
on my tongue

Chen-ou Liu
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

no longer friends
the aftertaste
of imported ale

Polona Oblak
from A New Resonance 9 (Red Moon Press)

lovacore market
notes of diesel
in the chilled cherries

Lew Watts
from a hole in the light (Red Moon Press, 2019)

我味の柘榴に這す虱かな
waga aji no zakuro ni hawasu shirami kana

this pomegranate
tastes like me
enjoy it, little louse!

Issa

Translator David Lanoue says: In the prescript to this 1820 haiku, Issa recalls the legend of a mother demon who went about eating children. The Buddha recommended  she switch to a diet of pomegranates, which supposedly taste the same as human flesh. See R. H. Blyth, Haiku (Hokuseido, 1949-1952/1981-1982). In this hard-to-translate haiku, Issa catches one of his lice, and, instead of killing it, places it on his surrogate, the pomegranate.

Honey harvest

The beekeeper arrived, unannounced on December 19, and harvested honey for us, leaving it in a big bucket for us to dispense into jars which Haiku Son and I duly did, Haiku Husband being away for a couple of days (he’d done it by himself last year).

As a two-person operation it all went quite smoothly – he operated the dispensing nozzle while I held the jars underneath and called ‘stop’. We finished with a couple of empty jars to spare, whew, and not too much sticky mess to clean up.

sunlit jar
the beekeeper’s gift
on the doorstep

– Carmen Sterba
The Heron’s Nest 3:6 (2001)

Photo: Sandra Simpson

on the honey
a slight scent of the forest — 
lengthening daylight

– Tsugawa Eriko, tr Kato Koko
A Vast Sky: An anthology of contemporary world haiku (Tancho Press, 2015)

I spent a couple of days tasting the honey, trying to work out what it tasted of, if anything in particular, but no such luck. A bit of a fizz on the tongue, though, that’s about the best specific I can do.

Oh, yes, 10kg, same as last year!

honey bee –
at last the budding weeds
have meaning

– Ben Moeller-Gaa
Mystic Illuminations 3 (2016)

The bees are smoked to keep them quiet. Photo: Sandra Simpson

on hold with the help desk a sound of bees swarming 

– Sandra Simpson
Presence 51 (2014)

end of a love
honey hardens
in the jar

– Polona Oblak
Notes from the Gean 3:4 (2012)

Botan shibe fukaku wakeizuru hachi no nagori kana

A bee
staggers out
of the peony.

– Matsuo Basho, tr Robert Hass
Basho’s haiku originally from Skeleton in the Fields (Nozarashi kiko)
a travel journal of 1684-5

Another translation is:

from deep within 
the peony pistils — withdrawing
regretfully the bee

Heat and the kitchen

midday nap
placing my feet against the wall
how cool it is

– Matsuo Basho

I’ve just woken from an afternoon nap – tuckered out by a morning of Christmas shopping, present wrapping, the heat and this infernal wind. We had a break yesterday and it was glorious, but it’s back again today, “poking and prodding” as a gardening friend said this week.

Monday
pegging the wind
into our sheets

– Greeba Brydges-Jones, from the taste of nashi (Windrift, 2008)

Tomorrow, I’ve promised myself, is baking day.

As well as a Christmas wreath cake, there will be ricciarelli, almond biscuits from Siena (although I first met them in a tiny village on a mountain pass in Tuscany). This recipe is close to the one I use, except that mine contains only 350g of sugar so you might want to adjust that. Ground almonds are available from the bulk bins of many supermarkets. The biscuits should be pale to be authentic, although mine come out quite golden – when I tasted my first one I thought it was going to be something shortbready because of the colour. How wrong I was!

Christmas recipe –
all the ingredients except
my mother’s hands

– Sandra Simpson, from Ice Diver (New Zealand Poetry Society, 2011)