Winter Seclusion ~ Haiku of Japan

in Blockchain Poets2 months ago

Winter is rough, there is no doubt. It's nice enough at first, but as the weeks go on, it becomes challenging. In premodern times, however, it was even tougher. In the winter of 1688, Bashō wrote on this subject:

sashikomoru mugura no tomo fuyunauri

staying indoors
a friend to bedstraw
winter green peddler

(trans. David LaSpina[1])

Miyama in Winter by Kawashima Tatsuo

This is not one of Bashō's best haiku, but it illustrates some interesting things about life in old Japan, so I wanted to cover it.

Back in the day, one couldn't do much in winter, so one would stay at home, sitting around the hearth to keep warm and basically just wait out the winter. Thinking of this life, no wonder everyone used to be so excited when spring came.

Poets used the word fuyugomori (冬籠り) to describe this time, "winter isolation", "winter confinement", or maybe "winter seclusion". Here Bashō is using sashikomoru (さし籠る) which is more like "staying indoors". He might have used that instead of the former because he mentions winter in the last line and didn't want to repeat it. Then again, it may have been a more purposeful choice. Sashikomoru implies the accumulation of soot; Bashō might be referring to himself in a self-deprecating way, which haiku poets of old tended to do. This had little to do with depression as we might think today and more to do with being humble.

In the next line he refers to mugura (葎), "bedstraw", or "Galium sprium"—also called "goosegrass". This stuff grew on old houses and poor people would use it to stuff their futon with. Well, it still grows on old houses—and everywhere else, but I don't think people use it for much these days. It's just a weed to be got rid of now. Anyway, no doubt Bashō also engaged in this practice. These weeds would very much have been his friend.

Finally in the last line he talks of the fuyunauri (冬菜売り), or the "winter greens seller" in days of old. The town near his village was famous for komatsuna (小松菜). In fact, the vegetable was named for the town! The town was named Komatsugawa; when the eighth Tokugawa shogun visited he enjoyed the greens so much that he started referring to them as "komatsuna", meaning literally "greens of Komatsu". Anyway, so this is probably the winter green the peddler was selling. Komatsuna is "Japanese Mustard Spanish" according to Wikipedia. It's a fairly common green and is quite good. It is grown year-round now, but in those days it was only in winter.

There are actually many interpretations of this haiku, as perhaps you can imagine. I take it as setting the scene of his current winter seclusion and then jumping to his excitement when the winter greens seller comes around. That would have been a chance both for much needed fresh food and also some human contact, both of which would have been hard to come by in winter.

If you have a different view, let me know below in the comments.

The kigo (season word) here is... Well, none of these words are in my saijiki (kigo encyclopedia). But I guess it's probably sashikomoru or the implied fuyugomori, and that would be for all of winter.

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Hi there! David LaSpina is an American photographer and translator lost in Japan, trying to capture the beauty of this country one photo at a time and searching for the perfect haiku.

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    1. That is, me! If you like this translation, feel free to use it. Just credit me. Also link here if you can.


    As I read your stuff, David, I am continuously reminded of my desire to learn more Japanese. The time is not now but that desire has been there more than 20 years and does not seem to disappear. So, let's see how long it takes before I decide it's time. 😁 !LOL

    (Maybe it's my love of Japanese and my love of poetic expression that makes me naturally drawn to haiku. 🤔☺️😁)

    BTW, can you provide counsel as to how one might make those Hive-branded paragraph breaks? I've been meaning to make one for ages. I have Canva and I'm imagining that if I scroll through doze's posts I'll be able to find a free-to-use Hive pic (maybe?) Was yours easy to create? Did it need specific sizing (pxls)?

    Arigato gozaimasu!! !LUV

    I'm in hospital because I drunk a cup of petrol.
    That was a very fuelish thing to do.

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    haha I understand. But you know, there is always Duolingo to knock away at it in 5 minute increments (you won't get far at only 5 minutes a day, but it's better than nothing)

    As to the divider, I picked it up on one of the Discords. Someone was offering it for free. Unfortunately I don't remember who... Feel free to use it. I put a reference link at the bottom of my text and just keep referring to that whenever I want to use it.

    That is, this goes at the bottom of the text:


    And every time I want to include it in between some paragraphs, I put this, which calls it:


    See if that works for you.

    I love haiku and i used to write some , your presentation is beautiful 🤍

    I wouldnt live in that cold winter , i would probably die .

    Yeah, me too. I'm glad to live in modern times when we can resist the winter a bit easier.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks 😃 If you ever do return to some haiku (or want to share some of your older ones) feel free to shard to this community.

    I will , thanks 🌹

    I have seen a lot of this "Haiku poems" in the internet but I haven't really taken the time to dive deep into it and it's origin.

    From the post it seems they are very short poems. I just might fall in love with it ❣️❣️.

    Thanks 🙏 for bringing it up and for the detailed explanation.

    I will definitely check out more of it and learn about its origin and style.😊😊😊

    Yep, basically short poems. See this post for a little more.

    As ever thanks for the detailed explanatory notes.

    I wonder if it's possible Basho was aluding to a particularly severe winter where even the winter green peddlar remains inside?

    Or the glee of seeing such a person after being weatherbound.

    I could see it being either

    Those are both good guesses!

    Thank you so much @dbooster Iam learning so much about japanese culture with haikus you share.

    I'm glad you enjoy them and learn something. That's always my main goal. 🙂


    The transcendence of haiku is there, in the reflection of the situation of the human condition, how I can transform my reality.

    My spirit needs to grow, to shake its wings, to sing and fly.

    Thank you for your fabulous post.

    Thank you, @dbooster, for being happy.

    Thanks for the comment 👍


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