HSA logo

Frogpond 44.1 • 2021

Museum of Haiku
Literature Award

Haiku & Senryu

Essay 1 - "Ekphrastic Haiku"

Essay 2 - "Basho on War"




Book Reviews

From the Editor

Haiku Society of America


Basho on War: Glory or Emptiness?

by Jeff Robbins

"Basho on War: Glory or Emptiness?"
(complete PDF version)

Here is a sample excerpt from the opening page of this interview:

The literary critic Masaoka Shiki established the convention “that poetry should apply. . . only to nature and leave human affairs to the modern novel.”1 However two centuries before Shiki, Basho often explored human affairs in his tsukeku, the stanzas he contributed to linked verses. In this article are one nine tsukeku, and two prose passages revealing his feelings about war. May these works enter the hearts of people worldwide to become resources in the search for peace.

One of Basho’s most famous haiku was written on the hilltop in the Far North where 500 years before, the hero Yoshitsune and his 16 retainers fought against an army, and Yoshitsune killed his wife and infant daughter then committed ritual suicide before the enemy could defile his life. The haiku appears at a climatic moment in Bashō’s travel journal Oku no Hosomichi which I translate as A Narrow Path in the Heartlands:

Rank summer grasses
where warriors went to war,
traces of their dreams

Natsu-gusa ya / tsuwamono domo ga / yume no ato

Each year since that epic tragedy came to pass, the various grasses on the neglected hilltop have put forth new shoots, grown tall and coarse in the moist summer, shivered in the chill, and withered in the long frigid winter. Haruo Shirane – who titled his book Traces of Dreams from this haiku – says that “natsukusa (summer grasses) is both the rich, thick replenished grass of the present, and the blood stained grass of the past, an image both of nature’s constancy and of the impermanence of all things.”2 Then “the four successive heavy “o” syllables in tsuwamonodomo (plural for warriors) suggest the ponderous march of warriors or the thunder of battle”;3 I have tried to imitate this military rhythm with repetition of 'w' and 'r' sounds. Nothing remains of all those men killing each other, however Basho sees in spirit what is hidden in Time, the traces of dreams lingering among the grasses..

[feature continues for several more pages] . . .

Robbins, Jeff. "Basho on War: Glory or Emptiness?" Frogpond 44.1, Winter 2021, 131-141.

This excerpt inclues the first page of the feature: page 131. The complete feature includes pages 131-141. To read the complete feature, click on the link to the PDF version:

"Basho on War: Glory or Emptiness?"
(complete PDF version)