28 Basho poems on the experience of drinking and being drunk
10 The open sea waves smelling of sake tonight’s moon Basho and his male-bonding group are out in a small boat on Edo Bay to drink and watch the full moon. The boat rocks about, as does the poet’s mind. Much sake has spilled from the tiny cups, and the strong odor of sake mingles with the salty, fishy odor of the sea. The rising moon is as round and white as a porcelain sake cup being lifted from the dish water after the residue has been rinsed off. Remember the poet is drunk when he conceives of this. If the moon is a sake cup, just imagine the size of the woman doing the dishes. Wings flap in sequence wild geese under moon, Every mouth shall sample this year’s new sake Geese fly in a V formation so the updraft from one bird lifts the bird behind, enabling the flock as a whole to conserve energy. Watching the ‘V’ of birds fly past the moon, Basho see a wave motion flowing through the two lines of the ‘V,’ a ‘force’ or organizing principle determined by the physics of flight. Rice is polished, steamed, and fermented with mold and yeast for a month to produce raw and rough-tasting ‘new sake.’ This must be aged for a year, again the chemical organizing force of fermentation acting everywhere in the raw alcohol to give a smooth taste Japanese drinkers enjoy. Everyone has gathered to sip the new sake from this year’s rice crop. Miyawaki sees in the stanza, “a moment of happiness in which satisfaction mingles with expectation.”
11 Drunk on new sake so dazed and dopey With nothing to say, you and I face each other The Japanese word used for “you”, kimi, here suggests a play-women in a brothel, while “I” am your client for the night. Since I have ordered cheap new sake, I must be young, on a budget, and not very sure of myself; this is probably my first visit to a brothel. The link between the two stanzas must answer these two questions: “Why are we so drunk?” and “Why do we say nothing to each other?” We sit on the floor at a low table facing each other, with two tiny sake cups and a porcelain bottle of the intoxicating fluid. You fill my cup, which obliges me to drink and fill your cup which obliges you to drink and fill mine, and so on, and on. The Japanese are obsessed by on, obligation. Here the obligation-driven sake train goes back and forth between our two stations, never able to get off the tracks. We actually do speak to each other, but say nothing significant; just “please go ahead and drink” and “oh, thank you, now you drink one too.” The more drunk we get, the more incapable we become of saying what we really want to say, which is for me is “Let’s go to bed” -- and for you, “I need to lie down and sleep, by myself.” There is simply no way to escape from the mutual bind of on. Eventually we fall asleep at the table facing each other, and dawn comes without me getting laid.