Tuesday, January 6, 2009

In response to the Basho video

I've received a number of email in response to the Bashô reenactment video I posted a couple of days ago. Not surprisingly, many of you were disturbed to see the manner in which the great poet handled the situation of finding an infant alone by a river.

By special permission of poet, Edward Zuk, and Modern Haiku, I'm reprinting this haibun which also addresses this event in Matsuo Bashô's life:

Edward Zuk
Orphans and Beggars

One of the most controversial passages in Matsuo Bashô’s writings occurs in his Journey of 1684, when the poet encounters a toddler who had been abandoned and left to starve:

Near the Fuji River, we found an abandoned child about three years old sobbing in a piteous voice. “Assailed by the autumn wind, the blossoms on the bush clover plant will surely scatter tonight or wither in the morning,” I thought. “The child’s parents, unable to withstand the waves of the floating world, must have brought him to this swift river to await the end of his dewlike life.” I left him some food from my sleeve.

You who hear the monkey’s cries:
what of an abandoned child
in the autumn wind?

How could this have happened? Were you the object of your father’s hatred? Of your mother’s neglect? I can’t believe that your father hated you or your mother neglected you. No, this is Heaven’s doing; you must simply lament the fact that you were born unlucky. [Translation by Helen McCullough]

When I first read Journey of 1684 at university, I was so upset by it that Bashô tumbled from my pantheon of revered poets, and his work seemed tainted by what I believed to be his moral failings. How could he have left the infant to die? How could he not have done more? His musings about fate and acceptance seemed like poetic blather in this situation, and I found it easy to work up a sense of outrage that the haiku poet had been an observer and not an advocate.

Of course, I had passed by dozens — perhaps even hundreds — of street youth in Vancouver with less thought than Bashô had given this child. At most I had tossed them some change, muttered some consoling words to them or to myself, and then written a haiku, exactly as Bashô had done. Now I can understand Bashô’s actions in this passage. Few people of any age rise to the level of the Good Samaritan. I am no longer enough of a hypocrite to denigrate a poet for being an observer rather than a hero, even if I see our inaction as a human failing that neither of us has overcome.

She has fallen asleep
while begging for change —
the autumn moon


Reprinted from Modern Haiku 39:3 (autumn 2008), 84–85, with the permission of the author and the publisher.


Unknown said...

There is a lot of blah-blah around Basho. Small talk? Basho did this, Shiki did that...I try to be my own prophet; what means that I have to judge myself!

John McDonald said...

well put. a perfect concluding haiku

Pris said...

Yes, I posted the link to the video in two places and had people post that they were very disturbed, even long time writers of haiku who were very familiar with Basho and this video.

Area 17 said...

Unfortunately Basho, as a regular traveller into the countryside (as well as around towns) would have seen hundreds of abandoned children every year, and was equally powerless as we are today.

a child dies every three seconds which is 18 children dying a minute or 26,500 children dying a day.

We still do very little for children despite this being the sophisticated caring 21st Century.

Maybe we could follow the example of Sonia Sanchez ?

When we go into schools teaching haiku we get each child to put a hand on another child's chest to feel their heartbeat so they are less likely to do that other child harm.

Perhaps we could extend this and get adults involved?

all my best,

With Words

John McDonald said...

what a delightful idea Alan

Ed Baker said...

these days
gawd help you
if you touch a child

especially in k-12!

noh hugs allowed
to those who most
need a hug!

here is a "Basho" piece I did...


nothing "political" about THIS "flower"

and, Boy! is 'she' cute!

and, I didn't ask Jimmie K if I cld send this to you! I guess, in the Real World, he can sue me!

Area 17 said...

Thanks Ed for highlighting a possible confusion.

I suggested that each child feel another child's heartbeat; and each adult feel another adult's heartbeat, with their permission of course.

all my best,

With Words