Morning Glory Haiku by Basho

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[Basho] also set precedents for subject matter by writing verses on unexpected topics and seeking to bring a sense of poetical refinement to the most commonplace of occurrences. In Basho’s hands, the act of having an early meal in the garden becomes a many-layered poem:

I break my fast

amidst the morning glory

[ with morning glories

  a man eats breakfast

  — that is what I am

 translated by Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters, p.81]

The haiku not only moves the reader’s eye away from the simple meal to a pretty view but also reminds us to seize the day. As in English, morning glory has a double meaning since these flowers only bloom for a few hours. Basho wrote the poem for a pupil whom he feared was ruining his health through overindulgence.

— Jonathan Clements, Zen Haiku, p.9

[Basho] also set precedents for subject matter by writing verses on
unexpected topics and seeking to bring a sense of poetical refinement to
the most commonplace of occurrences. 

One of the poetic characteristics the haikai masters had advocated was to create a haikai twist, and its creation was dependent on the poet’s “skillful balancing of  the conventional meaning, i.e., the honi, of a topic with whatever new and startling insight [he/she was] able to add to it, typically creating a clash between the worlds of ga [the elegant and refined] and zoku [the mundane or commonplace].” 22

— Excerpted from my essay, titled “Reviving Japanese Haikai through Chinese Classics: Yosa Buson and the Basho Revival,” which was first published in Haijinx, 4:1, March 2011 and reprinted

Basho wrote the poem for a pupil whom he feared was ruining his health through overindulgence.

Basho’s haiku was written in response to Kikaku’s firefly poem, which was based on the proverb, “Some worms eat nettles:” (Ueda, p.81)

within the grassy gate

a firefly eats nettles

— that is what I am

Basho’s disciple, Kikaku, was a heavy drinker. Once, after drinking all night, he wrote his firefly haiku with artful wording at dawn. Wishing to warn against kikaku’s dissipated living, Basho responded with his extremely plain haiku about having breakfast amidst morning glories (Ueda, p.81)

References:

Jonathan Clements (editor), Zen Haiku, Frances Lincoln, 2007

Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary, Stanford University Press, 1995

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