<= 2010.07.28

2010.07.31 =>

Sometimes it was the suffering itself that found expression:

Fleas, lice,
a horse pissing
by my bed.

Nomi shirami (Fleas lice)
uma no nyō suru (horse’s pissing)
makuramoto (bedside)

Here Bashō was on his best-known pilgrimage—recorded in The Narrow Way Within (Oku no Hosomichi)—at the northernmost turn of his travels. In a mountainous region, about to pass the barrier between two provinces, he was obliged by bad weather to spend three days at the home of a barrier guard. He counted himself lucky to have any accommodation at all, in such a remote place, but the comforts were meager.

Most translators of this haiku interpolate some feeling of disgust. Donald Keene, who usually can be trusted to translate dispassionately, renders the verse:

Plagued by fleas and lice
I hear a horse stalling
What a place to sleep!

This is not what Bashō said or meant at all, for he was using that suffering; he was not used by it. Not a single syllable in his original words reflects self-pity. It was just nip! Ouch! Pshhh!


The virtue itself shines forth with incisive spirit that drives through the darkness. The pain itself is just that pain.

—Robert Aitken, A Zen Wave: Bashō’s Haiku and Zen


<= 2010.07.28

2010.07.31 =>

up (2010.07)