Basho and His Interpreters

Things are slowly returning to “normal” around here. I’ve managed to take Skye out for his walk two days in a row, and I’ve even managed to find some time to start reading poetry again. I’ve had Basho and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary by Makoto Ueda lying around for quite awhile, since, as I remember it, Jonathon Delacour suggested it was the best version of Basho out.

If you’ve come here for awhile you’ll remember that Chinese and Japanese poetry are favorites, though I’ve only had one college course that centered on them. In fact, most of my interest has arisen since I’ve retired. I’ll continue to include them under the heading “Haiku and Beyond” because I still don’t feel comfortable discussing them in the same depth I discuss English-speaking poets.

One of the reasons I’m particularly fond of this translation is that Ueda includes his translation, a Japanese translation directly under that, and a word-by-word translation after that. He follows that with what he considers significant commentary on each of the hokku. Occasionally, I even find that my initial interpretation of the poem matches at least one of the commentaries.

a fool in the dark
grabs a bramble-
firefly hunt

go / ni / kuraku / ibara / wo / tsukamu / horatu / kana
folly / in / dark / bramble / [acc.] / grab / firefly / kana


Kuraku, as is the English word dark,” can mean either physical or metaphorical darkness.


Unable to see in the darkness of night and absorbed in an exciting firefly hint, a man accidentally grabbed a bramble. Reading this hokku, we should remind ourselves of those pleasures that will do us harm if we are too absorbed in them. – Duuto

This hokku seems to satirize a person who falls into an error because of his own greed. -Tosai

The poet saw a firefly that had settled not on a soft blade of grass but on a thorny bramble. Thereupon he speculated that the firefly muse be none too brilliant during daylight hours, although at nighttime it flits about freely by its own light. That, I think, is what the poet meant by the hokku’s opening phrase. – Komiya

The meaning of the poem centers on the loss of judgment suffered by is person who was too intent on catching a firefly. The lesson can be applied to life in general. The poem utilizes an allegorical device borrowed from Chuang-tzu, a device that was central to the art of the Danrin school. -Shuaon

An allegorical poem on the folly of a person who is too preoccupied with one thing to reflect on other things. Probably self-derision. – Kou

Though he didn’t do so in this example, Ueda also consistently points out lines in the hokku that reference poetry or literature that preceded Basho’s hokku. It’s clear Western readers of hokku miss much in these poems because they don’t have the literary background to pick up on such subtle references. On the other hand, the poems reveal Basho’s genius because they are able to stand on their own. Even without a literary background, the best of these poems create a moment that reveals its own eternal truth.

Christmas on Hold Here In Pacific Northwest

The weather has, to say the very least, been quite unusual here in the Pacific Northwest the last week and a half, but I’m beginning to lose patience with UPS. I was even okay with packages not arriving by Christmas day.

However, roads have been cleared here since Christmas day, the Post Office managed to deliver the mail every single day, without exception. Still no sign of a UPS truck here, despite the fact that they’re normally up our road twice a day, and sometimes more often.

Here’s the the latestest shipping details from one package from Amazon’s web site:

Status: Shipment Delayed

December 26, 2008 04:03:00 AM FIFE WA US
Arrival Scan
December 23, 2008 09:59:00 PM FIFE WA US
Problem resolved and shipment is in transit
December 22, 2008 08:45:00 PM FIFE WA US
Arrival Scan
December 22, 2008 09:06:00 AM FIFE WA US
Arrival Scan
December 22, 2008 09:00:00 AM FIFE WA US
Arrival Scan
December 20, 2008 01:55:00 AM SEATTLE WA US
Departure Scan
December 19, 2008 09:42:00 PM SEATTLE WA US
Arrival Scan
December 19, 2008 08:49:00 PM REDMOND WA US
Departure Scan
December 19, 2008 03:39:00 PM REDMOND WA US
Arrival Scan
December 19, 2008 11:21:00 AM PORTLAND OR US
Departure Scan
December 19, 2008 05:00:00 AM REDMOND WA US
Delay in delivery due to weather or natural disaster
December 18, 2008 11:07:00 PM PORTLAND OR US
Arrival Scan
December 18, 2008 06:30:00 PM ROSEBURG OR US
Departure Scan
December 18, 2008 05:37:00 PM ROSEBURG OR US
Arrival Scan
December 18, 2008 03:50:00 AM SPARKS NV US
Departure Scan
December 17, 2008 08:21:00 PM SPARKS NV US
Shipment received by carrier
December 17, 2008 07:25:21 PM US
Shipment has left seller facility and is in transit

Apparently the thinking must be that if they’ve already missed the 2nd Day promised delivery that they can be as late as they want to be. Strangely enough, I don’t find that acceptable business practice. So unacceptable, that I won’t be buying any more Christmas presents from Amazon unless they offer some different delivery options.

It seems at the very least that UPS should have made it possible to pick up packages at their facility in Fife. I’m not sure whether it was UPS or FEDEX, but if you missed a home delivery you could call and pick the package up at their facility the next day, the same as you can do at the post office.

UPDATE. Well, the squeaky wheel must get oiled, because my packages came sometime after 5:45 tonight because they were on the front porch when we returned from dinner tonight. However, Leslie’s presents, originally due the 19th still haven’t shown up. I guess that’s what happens when you wait until the last minute to order gifts. :-0

Not Quite What I Had in Mind for Christmas

The snow and ice which prevented most Christmas presents from being delivered is finally being washed away by a steady rain. It looks like I’ll be able to get back out on the road shortly.

As if the snow wasn’t bad enough, I managed to catch a cold that struck Christmas Eve and kept me confined to the house Christmas day, which would have been more devastating if I actually had Christmas presents to deliver to everyone.

The good news, though, is that today I seem well on the road to recovery without having to resort to antibiotics, something I was unable to do while taking Advair in the past.

Hopefully I’ll be back at the gym Monday and taking Skye for his daily walk without fearing for my life on icy streets.

Dawn and kids are coming over later today to open gifts, and if everything goes smoothly Margaret and family are supposed to be here tomorrow to open presents.

Monday I’ll get to the post office and send off Tyson and Jen’s gifts, the one’s Tyson was supposed to be taking home before his canceled flight.

Tuesday is my birthday, and I’ll get a chance to see my younger brother’s home for the first time ever.

It’s all good.

Be Careful What You Wish For

The last week here in the Pacific Northwest provided ample proof of the old adage that you should be careful what you wish for because you might get it. I’ve spent most of my life here in the Pacific Northwest wishing for a White Christmas.

Well, we’ve had snow for nearly a week now and I’m beginning to get cabin fever. Leslie needs the RAV 4 with four-wheel drive to get to work, and that pretty much leaves me stranded at home, unable to get to the YMCA or to stores I need to finish my Christmas tasks.

Snow, much less extended snow, is so rare, that the Puget Sound Area is quite unprepared for it. The city doesn’t have a fleet of snowplows waiting to go into immediate action; judging from the conditions of the road in front of our house they must not have more than one or two dump trucks with plows in the whole city of Tacoma.

My son was supposed to fly in Tuesday from California bringing gifts, and we were going to send cookies and presents home with him. After reading local papers, I sent him several warnings, suggesting that it would be wiser not to come judging from long lines at the airport and strings of canceled flights.

Adding to my irritation, only one of the Christmas presents I ordered from Amazon has appeared, though the latest were due last Friday. I’m not really in much of a mood to go out and buy duplicate presents, though I’m tempted to do so for grandkids. Right now it looks like presents won’t get here until after Christmas. Thank goodness I’m not the parent who has to convince them Santa Claus couldn’t get to their house because there was snow outside!

I’ve barely managed to get out for my walks with Skye and still haven’t managed to get a good picture of the snow, making me think that I really don’t know snow well enough to get a good picture. Of course, it doesn’t help that it’s so cloudy that it’s dark outside that even with all the light reflected off the snow I haven’t managed to get a good picture of the Stellar Jays that are coming to the feeder.