On setting out on a journey, Bashō wrote:

Tabibito to   waga na yobaren   hatsushigure
Traveler to my      name shall-be   first-winter-rain

Shall be my name;
The first rain of winter.

If that last line looks a bit long in comparison to the others, that is because Japanese translated into English does not always take up the same relative amounts of space.  Old hokku were in a pattern of 5-7-5 phonetic units generally, but in spite of that they really fall into two parts.

We can see that in Bashō’s hokku:

“Traveler” shall be my name;
The first rain of winter.

We could write hokku that way — in two lines — but generally three lines are more aesthetically pleasing.

The setting of the hokku is the third line, “The first rain of winter.”  That is the context in which Bashō sets forth as a traveller.

We are travelers through life — through time — but when one reads the life of Bashō, one has the feeling that he never realized the truth of the words of the Daodejing:

Without stepping outside one’s doors,
One can know what is happening in the world,
Without looking out of one’s windows,
One can see the Tao of heaven.

The farther one pursues knowledge,
The less one knows.
Therefore the Sage knows without running about,
Understands without seeing,
Accomplishes without doing.

(Lin Yutang translation)

In traveling one may accumulate knowledge, but knowledge is not the same as wisdom, not the same as insight.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.