I didn’t design my trip to Japan to revolve around haiku, although considering the content of this blog, it would have been fitting! I went to Japan to hike on the Nakasendo Way (the old Edo era highway between Kyoto and Tokyo, now the equivalent of a national historic trail), be immersed in a totally new place and culture, and unplug. People do, in fact, plan whole trips around Bashō and his poetry (the tour company I used – and would highly recommend – even offers a “Bashō Tour”). I am not so organized a traveler, however; it turned out that I would walk in the footsteps of Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) on at least two occasions during my trip.
Matsuo Bashō is one of the four Japanese haiku masters – together with Yosa no Buson (1716-1784), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Bashō moved around quite a bit during his life, living in a number of cities, as well as traveling extensively, including on parts of the Nakasendo Way.
Our second night on the trail, we stayed at a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast, called Sinchaya – or New Tea House. I learned “new” is a relative term in Japan, and seems to mean that the inn is merely several hundred years old. Across the road from the B&B was a beautiful pond and garden. I could see the garden from my room and was drawn to wander around and take photographs of it (like the photo above) while I waited for dinner to be ready. There was a brass plaque in the garden, but as it was entirely in Japanese and I was entirely out of reach of Google translate, its meaning remained a mystery to me.
The next morning, our guide informed us that it was tradition for the innkeepers to see us off as we lumbered back onto the Nakasendo Way. Our two lovely hosts did just that, enthusiastically waving and watching until we turned the corner and were out of sight. As the trail glided up between terraced rice paddies, our guide causally mentioned that Sinchaya – in particular, its pond and garden – was the source of a famous haiku written by Bashō. I looked it up later and discovered I had been part of a ritual going back 350 years.
Kiso no aki
Seeing friends off
being seen off, and now —
autumn in Kiso
Later in the week, back in Tokyo in a torrential downpour, we darted from high-rise portico to high-rise portico with another guide. Sheltering under a non-descript overhang in the Nihonbashi district, our guide pointed to a beautiful stone with a brass plaque on the sidewalk. “Matsuo Bashō lived here,” she proudly proclaimed before asking, “Has anyone heard of haiku?” I raised my rain-slickered arm high. The plaque commemorated a haiku he wrote in about 1677:
Yado no Haru
This is a hokku
Matsuo Tosei’s (“Green Peach”)
home on New Year.
Tr. Gabi Greve
Several websites remarked that this haiku was Bashō’s official “grand opening” as a professional poet and teacher. Nihonbashi is now a maze of high rise office buildings – the bashi (bridge) spans the river in the permanent shade of an elevated highway. But tucked in every corner was history and in at least one case, poetry.
It is good to be back and I’m looking forward to catching up on everyone’s blogs. Don’t worry, you’ll be subjected to more pictures from Japan for many Silent Sundays to come!
When I tour the Illustrated Poetry archives, I usually find myself in “revision and update” mode; like with any draft, time gives me fresh eyes to see my old posts. But occasionally I come across a published post and think, “no revision necessary, I would do it exactly that way again.” That is a pretty good feeling (rare as it is!), and so I’d like to re-post one that earned such an accolade.
As I mentioned a year ago, this trim quatrain has become the lasting legacy of poet, activist, and educator Sarah N. Cleghorn (1876 – 1959). She devoted her life to working for numerous causes and published a great deal, but the continued fame of The Golf Links has led her to be most closely associated with the movement to end child labor in the United States. Published over one hundred years ago, this poem feels firmly rooted in the past; however, in many parts of the world child labor is a current and ongoing problem. Perhaps this mighty little poem still has work to do…Photograph and composition by me.
Sung Po-jen’s illustrated book of poetry, Guide to Capturing a Plum Blossom, was published in 1238 in China, making it the very earliest example of an art book. This masterpiece would have been lost entirely if not for a single copy of the 1261 edition that survived the Mongol conquests. This copy spent the next 600 years passed and sold privately from artist to scholar to collector until its importance was finally recognized in the late 1800’s. Drawing (ink on paper) and composition by me, translation by Red Pine.
Rosa que al prado, encarnada,
te ostentas presuntüosa
de grana y carmín bañada:
campa lozana y gustosa;
pero no, que siendo hermosa
tambien serás desdichada.
Juana Inés de la Cruz
(1651 – 1695)
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is a woman whose life was made up of remarkable contrasts: the illegitimate daughter of landed gentry, a brilliant teenager forbidden to attend school, and finally as a nun who wrote many non-religious works. She is also hailed as an early feminist and agitant for women’s rights. Drawing (ink on mineral paper – paper made from rocks, not trees, in honor of Earth Day) by me, translation by William Weaver. Have a lovely Saturday!
I was honored when Matthias asked me to create an illustration to accompany one of his posts for “Ginsberg Week” on his blog Beat Company. In honor of the 19th anniversary of the artist’s passing (April 5th, 1997), Ginsberg Week kicked off yesterday and today’s post featured one of the two illustrations I did. Matthias has packed the post full of interesting facts and features related to Allen Ginsberg – including a U.S. phone number you can call to talk to the man himself (from beyond the grave, perhaps?). Matthias ensures me that it really works! Enjoy!
«Poetry is the only place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.» — Allen Ginsberg First recording of «Howl» – Allen Ginsberg in 1956 Friends around the world have gathered to pay tribute to the right honorable Mr. Allen…
Henry Treece was a published poet before World War II, so it is fitting he documented his experience as an intelligence officer in the Royal Air Force (from 1941 – 1946) in poetry as well. He wrote In The Third Year Of War from the center of a conflagration for which he could see no end. We have the benefit of history to know that in ~ 1944 the end of the war was indeed coming, but it does not lessen the despair we feel coming from his poem. After the war Mr. Treece focused on fiction and is primarily remembered today for his historical fiction novels for children. Mixed media collage and composition by me. To read the entire poem, click the “read more” button or scroll down.
The impertinence and satire oozing from this epigram is a not-so-subtle glimpse into the career and life of the writer behind it. Hilaire Belloc was one of the most prolific British authors of his time – he wrote in every genre except drama – and was fiercely passionate about all of his political and religious views. Many of those views were controversial and unpopular in his own day; for instance, he stridently opposed British Imperialism in its heyday and favored a return to a single European Catholic monarchy à la the Middle Ages. Some are considered flatly unacceptable and outdated today. As a result, Belloc is mostly remembered for his witty poetry and a series of popular books of satirical children’s verse. You can access and download one of those books, Cautionary Tales For Children, complete with its delightful illustrations, for free from the Gutenberg project – click here! Photo collage and composition by me.
The painter and sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) wrote this quatrain on his own sculpture Night, which is one of several masterpieces of his decorating the Medici Tomb in Florence. With most of the popular emphasis on Michelangelo’s sculpture and painting, I often forget that he was also a prolific poet, writing hundreds of sonnets and epigrams. But this short poem particularly struck me because of its self-reflective ekphrastic theme. For a photograph of Night, a different translation of this poem, and an interesting discussion about an attribute of the statue that has, shall we say, attracted attention through the centuries, click here.
I’m continuing my no-erase policy and experimenting with some textured cardboard and paint. This time it meant I wound up with two illustrations! To see the other one scroll down or click the “Read More” button. Poem by Michelangelo Buonarroti, translated by William Wordsworth, painting and composition by me. Have a wonderful weekend!