The Stone Lantern

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bashô’s Drafts (v.a. or "version anglaise")

A friend of mine sent me Professor Nobuyuki Yuasa’s translation of an account of Bashô’s last days by Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707), a disciple of Bashô. (Bashôô shûen no ki, An Account of our Master Bashô’s Last Days). I thoroughly enjoyed this text and I am once again grateful for the work of Professor Yuasa, who has translated so many essential works related to Japanese haiku.

Kikaku’s account of Bashô’s final days is quite moving. Still, there was one thing that made me smile as I read the text.

I was familiar of course with Bashô’s “death haiku”:

旅に病んで夢は枯野をかけ廻る
tabi ni yande yume wa kareno o kakemeguru

ill on a journey
my dreams through withered fields
wander

(Translated by Abigail Friedman)

What I did not know is that after Bashô shared this haiku with his disciples, according to Kikaku, the already quite weak and ill haiku master paused and asked aloud if perhaps the haiku ought to end like this:

枯野を廻るゆめ心
kareno o meguru yumegokoro

ill on a journey
wandering through withered fields
my dreamer’s heart

(Translated by Abigail Friedman)

Even if intellectually I know I shouldn’t think this way, all-too-often after writing an imperfect haiku, I find myself thinking, “Well, a real haiku poet with real talent would never have to fix or edit her haiku!” But here we have Bashô, the Great Master, wondering about his haiku after composing it.

Now that I have read Kikaku’s account, I hope I can finally put to bed all of this nonsense in my head about perfect haiku, and concentrate more on improving my drafts.

PS – The significance of Bashô’s decision after reflection to stick with his original haiku does not escape me… He had the humility to question his work, but he also truly was a great haiku master.

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