Alive, grateful

Through most of Japan, now is the period of terrible heat. We are grateful for small mercies. To bear this out, an old poem:


inochi nari wazuka no kasa no shita-suzumi

…………..Oh, life!

…………..The tiny pool of cool

…………..Beneath my travelling hat……………(Basho)

In the relentless heat of summer, the traditional kasa must have indeed meant life! Nonetheless, Basho was also alluding to the philosophy expressed in another verse composed five hundred years earlier on the Tokaido road in Shizuoka at Sayo no Nakayama, where there was a famous rock:

…………..年たけてまた越ゆべしと思ひきや いのちなりけり小夜の中山

toshi takete mata koyubeshi to omoiki ya inochi narikeri Sayo no Nakayama

…………..Weary of years,

…………..Yet I find myself

…………..Climbing once again

…………..The Pass of the Crying Stone –

…………..How wonderful is life!……………….(Saigyo)

I find this Japanese sense of gratitude appealing. Don’t you?

6 responses to “Alive, grateful

  1. Thank you for singling these beautiful poems out, and for inviting readers to consider the small mercies in our own sticky summers.

    Mine: the elderly cat I’m looking after for a friend has thrown up four or five times in my bed this past month. I’m giving her medicine, but I’ve also taken to moving her off the bed when I see the warning signs.

    Today, she looked at me, jumped off the couch, and threw up on the floor instead. I felt so much love and gratitude, I had to laugh.

    Hang in there in the hot weather!


  2. Thank you, Tito, for your timely piece, which tempts me to elude Kyoto heat and visit some cool, historic mountain path on this holiday. This is a kind of effects a haiku (or a poem) has on readers, isn’t it?
    Yes, I agree with your suggestion of the Japanese sense of gratitude. However, I still wonder what Saigyo is grateful for. Basho is grateful for the refreshing air under his travelling hat not to mention the one on the Pass, but Saigyo’s gratitude is not, is it? He is grateful for his good fortune of visiting the spot long after the prime of his life. I hope I made myself understood!
    Thank you, Ellis, for your comment. Your episode is a haibun itself. I enjoyed it.

  3. Yes, Toshi, Saigyo is surely grateful for living long enough to return once again to this famous pass. Like the pool of cool under Basho’s hat and the pool of vomit nicely away from Ellis’ bed, this too is a little miracle. At present, I’m grateful for the little miracle of the tub of peppermint grown on our terrace. Scrumple two whole sprigs into a thick glass of hot black tea and add sugar. Cool! I haven’t put this experience into a haiku form yet, though.

  4. Hiding from the heat in the daytime, gazing at the sky at night….
    Here’s a wonderful summer haiku from Nakagawa Soen.

    Mizukara no suzushiki hoshi ni ai ni keri.
    At last
    I have met
    my own cool star.

  5. Over here in NZ, we have more than a tiny pool of cool to go round … veritable lakes of it, in fact. So if you want some, Stephen, you just need to ask — after all, “mi 笠 es tu 笠”.