Saturday, February 19, 2022

Bashō’s plants


Lithocarpus edulis (Pasania) in bloom

[Image source: .]

Summer grove --
pasania tree and I
find shelter.

                                                  Travelling Kiso road,
                                                  through the heart
                                                  of pasania blooms.

Pasania is an older name for the genus Lithocarpus, also known as the stone oaks (they are related to our oaks and have acorns). 

Does it help, reading these haiku of Bashō in the beautiful translations of Lucien Stryk, to learn what a pasania looks like? I don't know. Logically, it should do. A haiku names, it doesn't describe. So it feels like it rewards acquaintance with what's named. And yet, after all, seeing a photograph of a plant on the other side of the world doesn't give us deep acquaintance with that plant. And yet, too, I must have read these poems fifty times, finding them completely satisfactory, before it ever occurred to me to find out what a pasania tree is. 

My imagination swapped in something from my own memory. Not so much any specific tree, as my corresponding emotion, a feeling I attach to certain memories, not of scrutinizing but of being suddenly struck by e.g. paulownias along a street in Spain, or large rhododendrons somewhere in Sussex. In a way the image of a real pasania tree gets in the way of that personal re-ignition of emotion. And I wonder, too, if Bashō's seventeenth-century experience of the tree would be anything like our experience of what's shown in a modern photograph? Photos tend to record midday sunshine. But the conditions in the poems (or the ones we conceive as we read them) are often quieter and more nuanced. 

But for this post, anyway, here are a few more. 

Castanea crenata, the Japanese Chestnut, aka Kuri, Korean Chestnut

[Image source: .]

                               Chestnuts of Kiso --
                               mementoes for
                               the floating world.

Japanese chestnuts (Kuri)

[Image source: .]

Bush Clover (Lespedeza species)

[Image source: .]

Moon-daubed bush-clover --
ssh, in the next room
snoring prostitutes.

The bush-clovers (Lespedeza) are a group of shrubby and climbing species in the pea family, many of them native to Japan. 

Japanese Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo)

[Image source: .]

                                             Banana leaves hanging
                                             round my hut --
                                             must be moon-viewing. 

The poet born Matsuo Kinsaku adopted the name Bashō, which means a banana plant. A follower had given him one to plant beside his hut. In this haiku he thinks of it, while away on one of his many journeys. 

It wasn't such a commonplace plant in Japan then as it is now. The "Japanese Hardy Banana" (Musa basjoo) is actually native to southern China. I think this is the same banana species that is becoming quite common in gardens in the British Isles.

[All quotations from On Love and Barley: The Haiku of Basho, selected and translated by Lucien Stryk (1985).]



Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger