fish the cormorants haven’t caught
swimming in the shallows.
Translated by Robert Hass
I woke up at dawn today. That’s not uncommon for me, but I normally don’t get out of bed. Today I did and I went downstairs, made tea, and picked up a book of haiku and read some by Yosa Buson.
He was a Japanese poet and painter and, along with Matsuo Bashō and Kobayashi Issa, Buson is considered among the greatest poets of haiku.
He was born in the village of Kema in Settsu Province (now Kema-chō, Miyakojima Ward in Osaka city). He moved to Edo (now Tokyo) at age 20 and learned poetry under the tutelage of the haikai master Hayano Hajin. After Hajin died, Buson moved to Shimōsa Province (modern-day Ibaraki Prefecture) to follow in the path of Bashō.
Like Bashō, Buson traveled through the wilds of northern Honshū to see the land that inspired Bashō’s famous travel diary, Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Interior). He published his notes from the trip in 1744, marking the first time he published under the name Buson.
A sample poem of his:
Sumizumi ni nokoru samusa ya ume no hana
In nooks and corners
Flowers of the plum
At age 42, he settled in Kyoto and began to write under the name of Yosa, which he took from his mother’s birthplace. Buson married at age 45, had one daughter, and remained in Kyoto writing and teaching poetry.
nochi no yo kakete
Courtesans come out
to see the cherry blossoms
as though they were betting on their next life
(translated by W.S. Merwin)
Another name change occurred in 1770 when he assumed the haigō (haiku pen name) of Yahantei (Midnight Studio), which had been the pen name of his teacher Hajin, but his poems have been collected under the name Yosa Buson.
I like this poem of his that imagines nature as calligraphy.
Ichi gyô no kari ya hayama ni tsuki o in su
All in one line, the wild geese
and the moon in the foothills
for a seal
Buson died at the age of 68 and was buried at Konpuku-ji in Kyoto.
As with most of the great classical haiku poets, he wrote a final deathbed poem. Since it was recorded that he died in the night, before dawn, I view his poem as a hopeful vision of the next place in his journey.
Shira ume ni akuru yo bakari to nari ni keri
The night almost past,
through the white plum blossoms
a glimpse of dawn.