This hokku attributed to Bashō is not easily translated into English. It uses a Japanese word for an emotion that we all feel at some time, but the English language has no precisely equivalent term. So it is very easy to give the word too much emphasis in translation.
Traditionally it is said that Bashō wrote it recalling the death of a sister of one of his students, but here we will look at it very literally as a hokku of autumn, with no other association.
Here it is:
東西 あはれさひとつ 秋の風
higashi nishi aware sa hitotsu aki no kaze
East west aware sa one autumn’s wind.
Leaving the word in question and the particle following it untranslated, a rather literal rendering would read:
East — west —
The autumn wind.
The closest we can come in English is perhaps this, which is still inadequate:
East and West
A single sadness;
The autumn wind.
it is a tranquil sadness however, the kind one feels when looking out on the falling leaves of autumn. As you already know, in hokku autumn corresponds to the afternoon in the day, and to growing old in human life. It is the time when things begin to wither and reveal their ultimate impermanence.
Because of that, this hokku might call to mind the lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
That addresses a girl who feels a kind of sadness just at the sight of a grove of trees dropping their golden leaves in autumn.
In Bashō’s verse, whether one looks east or west, left or right, one sees only the impermanence revealed by autumn, and added to that is the slight chill of the autumn wind; and that awakes a slightly sad emotion in us. Some like to use “pathos” to translate aware, but that seems to me a bit too strong and fancy for hokku.
Of course this would be the experience of someone surrounded by Nature in the form of trees and plants. It would be difficult to feel this delicate sensation in a treeless city, though it might be aroused by other factors.
One could even give the verse a rather loose Buddhist rendering:
East and west
The same transience;
The autumn wind.
Put that way, we need not use an “emotion” word at all, because it is the experience of transience that arouses the emotion of aware — that delicate aesthetic emotion that borders on sadness without becoming too “emotional.”
And we could be even more inclusive in making it an autumn hokku:
Is only transience;
The autumn wind.
5 thoughts on “ALL AROUND”
east and west the same transience is my preference thanks again David for providing us with your always interesting blog
I have seen the Japanese word, “aware,” defined as “A sensitivity that is informed by an internal knowledge of the ephemeral quality of natural beauty.” So, as you have pointed out, what word/phrase best denotes this consciousness or sensitivity of all things passing away? I like your last translation. Yang evolves into yin, and yin to yang, a never ending cycle of life…the beauty of evolution. In autumn, yang is giving way to yin. East to west, Yang to yin, The autumn wind. Thanks for your post, David! I always enjoy them.
The particle „sa“ interests me. In her discussion on kirezi (kireji) my teacher, Helen Shigeko Isaacson, writes:
In Soogi’s time (…) the 18 kirezi for hokku were given as: kana, keri, mogana, si, zo, ka, yo, se, ya, re,tu, nu, e, su, ikani, zi, ke, and ran; particles, auxiliary verbs, adverbs, adjectival endings and imperatives of verbs”.
(Source: https://archive.org/details/DiscussionsOnHaikaiByHelenShigekoIsaacson/ page 21).
No “sa” there. But further on in the text she mentions the famous “Garland of Letters” by Woodroffe and I thought, why not have a look into that book. On page 246 the bîja mantra “krîng” is discussed and there “sa” is taken as: “deliverance from difficulties”. This connection sounds too esoteric perhaps, but those who know German might know the scholar Wilhelm Gundert who made it quite clear that the Japanese language has an interesting aspect in common with Sanskrit, namely the idea that word gives rise to the thing and thing manifests itself in the word. Compare: koto, and kotoba.
So, the “sa” would be facing “ahare”, like west faces east, leaving us with a koan. Not two or four but Singleness: hitotu! And the autumn wind receives it all and closes.
Greetings from Germany! Jan
That is pretty good! There is also a Haiku poetry that leaves an impression ior emotion in short rhymes or blank verse.
I am into standard verse applied to songs. Here is one that folks like lately from STAR GAZING. Copyright, 2022 by James H. Stokes. BMI licensed. Used here by author’s permission.
“We will fly up through the stars. We’ll see Venus and Neptune and Mars. We will glide through galaxies. Higher and higher. Our hearts are on fire.”
That’s the opening verse. Followed by instrumental music. It ends:
“And when it’s over. We’ll drop down in clover. When we come back home to earth.”
Thank you for your thoughts on transience/Autumn. “…one sees only the impermanence revealed by autumn, and added to that is the slight chill of the autumn wind…” I also feel the poignancy of age as time marches on. This is so good. I’ve shared to my poetry blog. Thank you. 💜