28 Basho poems on the experience of drinking and being drunk
Swallows – white underside, red throat, black elsewhere, v-shaped tail – come north soon after spring equinox. They build a nest on a vertical surface up close under the roof. Some couples repair last year’s nest, others build anew. The mother-to-be takes the leading role with help from her mate. They carry one mouthful of mud after another to add to the structure— without any of the tools plasterers use, even without hands -- forming a cup large enough for the expected five babies. The job usually takes several days, although a swallow in a hurry, and with the husband helping, can finish in one day. Traveling in the mountains, Basho stops at a rustic tea house – the sort of place where the roof has no ceiling, just bare beams, so swallows build their nests directly over where customers sit. Come sit with him in an old and not-so-clean teahouse along a mountain road 300 years ago. It is spring and the glow of hot sake spreads through every pore. Suddenly a swallow flutters in over your head, and you glance up to see her flying to the nest, and imagine a bit of mud falling through the air and landing in your tiny sake cup: now read the haiku. 2 Into sake cup do not drop any mud, busy swallow Reading Basho is a meditation, a calming of the mind to allow in another awareness, another time. Basho’s few words capture the essential nature of the situation; once we allow that essence to grow in our minds, eventually we join Basho in his conscioiusness. He says nothing at all about the teahouse or being tipsy at the time, nothing about the ceiling or the rafters or the nest or the activity of swallows in spring, yet each of these elements IS there, hidden in the verse. Only through study and imagination, does a haiku become complete.
3 Dunk on blossoms woman wearing a haori, puts in a sword Women work hard every day and the annual picnic under the cherry trees is one of few days in the year she can have fun. Japanese women often are slender, especially in the upper body, and the kimono emphasizes that slenderness. She is intoxicated by the beauty of cherry blossoms everywhere around her, on the trees, petals in the air and all over the ground, and also by the beverages she has drunk. Having shed her ladylike social inhibitions, she is acting bold and assertive. She has borrowed a padded haori coat from one of the men at the party (women do not wear haori in Basho’s time) and put it on, adding some bulk to her chest, shoulders, and arms, making her look manly. There are no samurai at this party so no swords either, but she is using something long and thin to pretend. The Japanese says she inserts (sasu) the ‘sword’ under her obi, the thick brocade sash around her waist. Then she does the ever-popular Hey you guys, see how long my sword is,” sending everyone into hysterics. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict says of Japanese women at parties “when they are of a ripe age they may throw off taboos, and if they are low-born, be as ribald as any man.” Benedict observes that a woman who has never borne a child tends to be reserved while one who has had children “entertains the party, too, with very free sexual dances, jerking her hips back and forth to the accompaniment of ribald songs. These performances inevitably bring roars of laughter.” Can you hear the roars of laughter in Basho’s verse?