Haiku by Matsuo Bashō

Even in Kyoto—
hearing the cuckoo’s cry—
I long for Kyoto.

I’ve departed from my usual format to introduce one of my favorite haiku by Bashō (1644-1694). I began appreciating this poetic form in 1967 when, on a visit to Greenwich Village in New York City, a slender but pricey book of classic haiku masters called my name. It was years before I could appreciate my purchase.

Why this particular haiku and why, after reading several critiques of this poem, did none resonate with me? This poem expresses longing. To be deeply entranced in a moment but also desire to be more fully immersed is a profound feeling. You realize it’s fleeting, and you already miss it. This is what I tried to capture and evoke in my poem, Silver Cord (January 27, 2020). Looking up at a crescent moon and inhaling the delicious scent of lilacs on a balmy, late Spring evening can be a powerful moment of connection with God, the Earth, the cosmos, loved ones, and humanity. Who wouldn’t want more?

Bashō expressed that although he was in Kyoto, the cuckoo’s cry deeply moved him to want more of the Kyoto he was experiencing. The place, the sound, and everything else those meant to him, were only a taste of the surface. He wanted the depth of that experience. He knew it was transient. What genius to distill that so elegantly.

Bashō’s particular encounter becomes universal. This, despite the poem’s origin within a Zen, supposedly subjective and detached worldview. Kyoto becomes the Earth. The cuckoo’s song, a universal cry of belonging. One man’s unique experience transcends the boundaries of place and philosophical difference.

Yes, all that from three simple lines.

Haiku translated by Robert Hass, The Essential HAIKU: Versions of Bashō, Buson & Issa, HarperCollins, 1994

Photo by Timothy Price, OFF CENTER & NOT EVEN, https://offcenternoteven.com/ I encourage you to visit his wonderful blog featuring PHOTOGRAPHS, MUSIC AND WRITING ABOUT DAILY LIFE. It’s a fun place to engage.