28 Basho poems on the experience of drinking and being drunk
Basho’s very first recorded renku stanza is about drinking wine together with other poets on Doll’s Festival, in the lovely weather of April. Doll’s Festival is associated with peach blossoms, 4 Till the twilight moon can ladle peach wine Calm peaceful magical thinking cannot be surpassed Since the Doll’s Festival is on the 3 rd day of the lunar month, the moon rises during the day, becomes visible in the twilight sky, then sets early in the night -- is a slender crescent that shaped like a ladle, perfect for drawing sweet wine from a celestial bucket to serve us. Magical thinking is Yoda lifting the space shuttle out of the mud. They must have already drunk enough so Basho and the next poet could imagine this. The fruit of the evening face vine is dried to make a a hyotan, gourd with waterproof skin (a calabash) which in Japan which usually holds sake. Staying overnight with blossoms, I name myself “Guru-of-da-gourd” Jane Reichhold is correct in noting that in the nickname Basho gives himself, Hyotan-sai, the suffix sai is “to keep a body clear and purified.” She thinks he is “implying that a night under cherry blossoms has purified his inner being so he is like a sanctified vessel.” What Reichhold misses, however, is that Basho means this in parody, so it is supposed to amuse. The alliteration of “g” sounds, and the vulgar “da” instead of the cultured “the,” adds to the fun.
5 Onto my face falling and scattering pear blossoms “Butterfly” engraved beneath sake cup If the blossoms are falling on his face, he must be flat on his back, so we suspect he is drunk or stoned out of his gourd. He has knocked over his ceramic wine cup (or bong) and from his position lying on his back, notices that the underside is engraved with the potter’s artistic signature, the characters for “butterfly”. The flighty image of butterflies then compares, in his high mind, to the gentle falling and scattering of pear blossoms. On his Chinesestyle hood scatter cherry blossoms Drunk from ox falling in the spring breeze “Chinese-style” suggests elegance. The blossoms scattering on his head suggest his wild, unrestrained consciousness; he must be an eccentric poet-sage, so Basho puts him on an ox which suggests the greatest sage of them all, Lao Tzu, famous for riding an ox -- however Basho mixes things up further by having the elegant but crazy sage so drunk he falls from the animal’s back. I like the way the cherry petals fall onto his hood and stop there; then, as he falls, they complete their journey to the ground.