The Sound of Water (IV): Lakes and Ponds 5

At an age-old pond,
A frog leaps into water —
A deep resonance.

Basho is believed to have written this poem at his cottage in Fukagawa in Edo (now Tokyo). It is difficult to imagine what kind of place it was. Basho has written several short haibun pieces about this cottage, in one of which he says:

“My grassy cottage is at a lonely place called Mitsumata in Fukagawa where two rivers come together as a fork. I can see Mt. Fuji in the distance, and nearby, large boats sailing to and from far-off places. Morning waves disappearing in the wakes of the boats as soon as they row farther away, and evening winds blowing dream-like through the withered leaves of overgrown reeds make me very lonesome. I sit facing the moon, deploring my always-empty sake barrel. I sleep lamenting the stiffness of my bed.”

Oars hitting the waves,
I feel my guts stiffen in the cold,
Shedding tears at night.

I do not know how accurate this description of his cottage is. Basho is quoting a number of poems from classical poets, both Japanese and Chinese, to emphasize his loneliness. Considering the fact that his cottage was burned down in the Great Fire of Edo in 1682, it may not have been so isolated from other houses. We have no description of the pond by Basho himself, but we know his cottage was owned by his disciple, Sugiyama Sanpu, who was by profession a fishmonger. The pond was originally his fish pond and the cottage was built for its keeper, but it was out of use by the time Basho occupied it. So probably, it was overgrown with reeds and weeds. Actually, Basho lived not far from the estuary of the Sumida. Big rivers tend to form a delta before they empty themselves into the sea, and the whimsical movement of the water creates many ponds. Basho’s pond was probably one of these. A book called Edo Meisho Zue (Famous Sights of Edo) has a drawing of Basho’s cottage by Hasegawa Settan. This book was published nearly a century and a half after Basho’s death, so its accuracy is doubtful. However, it is this book that tells us Basho’ s cottage was once for the keeper of Sanpu’s fish pond.

By a shady pond
I flipped over a black newt —
Its belly was red.

Quiet afternoon,
Coupled dragonflies slumber
On water lilies.

Basho’s statue sits
Facing modern high rises
And an iron bridge.

Drops of rain shining
On the blue iris flowers —
A June luxury.

Postscript: This concludes my haibun series, “The Sound of Water”. Thank you very much for reading them with patience. Thank you, Tito, for brushing up my English. My best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. The world is full of troubles, but let me pray that peace will prevail throughout the coming year. (NY)

6 Responses to “The Sound of Water (IV): Lakes and Ponds 5”

  1. Thank you for your lakes and ponds
    i’ve read them with greate pleisure

  2. Thank you for the beautifully written series. I especially loved the haiku, and the added elegance of, with one exception, being written in 5-7-5. I’m embarrassed to make a suggestion, but I wonder if “I feel” is needed in “I feel my guts stiffen in the cold.”

  3. Thank you very much for your suggestion to improve my haiku. As you say, “I feel” is superfluous. It might be better to say:
    Oars hiting the waves,
    My guts stiffen in the cold,
    My eyes wet with tears.
    The problem here is the repetition of ‘my’ at the head of two successive lines, and the loss of ‘at night’. This poem was written by Basho realtive early in his life, and it is very irregular in its form.
    Besides, hIs approach to the subject is not very objective, but rather subjective. That is why I added ‘I feel’ at th head of the second line.To me, this poem sounds more like a phrase of Chinese poetry, than a haiku. (Sosui)

    • I would just like to say that through Sosui 走水 (Running Water)’s series I feel that I have indeed learnt much about the element, WATER. Your prose and inspiration teaches. さすが 大先生!

  4. What an absolutely beautiful 風流 way to sign off after such a long, memorable series, for which we are all truly grateful… waterdops shining on iris flowers!

  5. Thanks for sharing your “Sound of Water” series Sosui. I enjoyed the solemnity of your voice within these pieces about the lives of water.

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