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Basho's Spirit
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Master Basho’s Spirit

TEACHERS (Secondary) - Page 3



Read the following selection of haiku and choose two or three that particularly appeal to you. Note down what the qualities are that you like about them.
The first section poems are by Basho. Note that each has a word letting you know which time of year it is (sun-scorched grass, petals, chestnuts, crickets, the harvest moon etc. – each is associated with a particular season).
These are followed by a section of haiku by Issa, a gentle, soft-hearted haiku master who lived a hundred years after Basho, from 1763 to 1827. He also expressed great sympathy with all aspects of nature and showed in abundance the Spirit of Master Basho.
Then there is a mixed section of Japanese haiku, English haiku and haiku by children. Choose your favourites from any section.
Note for teachers:
The task for the students, when you have covered the introduction above, is to read all the poems, to select one or two favourites each (one if you have a large number of students in the class, two if you have fewer) and be prepared to say what appeals about them. Download the formatted photocopiable Source Pages for distributing the poems to the class.
After allowing a reasonable time for the reading and selection (10-15 minutes), go round the class taking each student’s choice in turn and discussing briefly the qualities of each chosen poem. This might take 30-40 minutes with a large class of thirty students choosing one poem each. It could take longer, of course, if you decide to dwell on this critical aspect of the lesson and draw upon the critical information in the Reference Section articles. See the Critical Reflection section after the selection of poems for information about some of the issues which will arise in discussing the poems.

An inch or two
above dead grasses
heat waves

The petals tremble
on the yellow mountain rose –
roar of the rapids

I’ll take these back
for the city slickers –
sour chestnuts

My way –
no-one on the road
and it’s autumn, getting dark

A terrible sound –
the gilded helmet’s
trapped cricket

In the moonlight a worm
drills through a chestnut

With what kind of voice
would the spider cry
in the autumn wind?

The shallows –
a crane’s thighs splashed
in cool waves

A dragonfly, trying to –
oops, hang on to the upside
of a blade of grass

Deep into autumn
and this caterpillar
still not a butterfly

Watching for snow,
the boozers’ faces –
a flash of lightning

All my friends
viewing the moon –
an ugly bunch

(Moon-viewing has always been a popular Japanese pastime at the time of the harvest moon in September)

Winter gusts
strop the crag
through a gap in the cedars

Like stroking a boil
the touch of the tip
of the willow-branch

Ice in the night –
the water jar cracks,
waking me


Waning Moon Press is grateful to Lucien Stryk for permission to republish his copyright translations of Issa which originally appeared in Of Pen and Ink and Paper Scraps, Swallow Press, 1989.

One bath
after another –
how stupid!

Thirty p each:
a cup of tea,
and a singing bird

From the bough
floating downriver,
insect song.

The puppy too
they pelt with snowballs
till he scampers off!

Once in the box
every one of them is equal –
the chess pieces

Silverfish escaping –
fathers, children

Sprawled like an X –
how carefree,
how lonely

House burnt down –
dance in embers

My old home –
wherever I touch,

My empty face,
by lightning

Snail – baring
to the moon

Bright moon,
welcome to my hut –
such as it is

Haiku by other writers

Are there
short-cuts in the sky,
summer moon?
(Lady Sute Jo, trans. Stryk)

How long the day:
the boat is talking
with the shore

Fields and mountains
all taken by snow –
nothing remains

The skylark:
Its voice alone fell,
leaving nothing behind

Asleep or awake
the night is long –
the sound of rapids
(Santoka, translated Stevens)

Wet with morning dew
I go
in any direction I want
(Santoka, translated Stevens)

The thief left it behind –
the moon
at the window
(Ryokan, translated Stevens)

The wind has brought
enough leaves
to make a fire
(Ryokan, translated Stevens)

Spring rain –
everything becomes
more lovely
(Lady Chiyo-ni)

Shelling peas –
hard rain falling
on the chimney cowling
(Maggie West)

In the Rose Garden
a man I don’t much like
enjoying the sun
(George Marsh)

Do this! Do that!
Spring cleaning
Mom’s in a bad mood
(Matt Hunt, age 11)

Scooping up water –
the moon in my hands, I pick up
nothing at all
(Sirintip Pumson, age 11)

By the flare
of each rocket
I see my friend
(Misato Hirashita, age 12)

Snowflakes falling
watching from my window
sipping hot chocolate
(Emily Wiseman, age 9)

Drawing a house
with a fenced-in yard
the deaf boy

Five mince pies
in tissue paper –
no message, no name

In a passing car
just time to see
the batsman, out
(Jackie Hardy)

It’s no use mouthing
O after O at me –
I don’t speak goldfish!
(David Cobb)

Birthday dinner –
lid of the ricepot
bubbling over
(David Cobb)

Children panicking
out of the tiger cage
          a wasp
(David Cobb)

Coming down
through lark-song, my daughter
on a parachute
(David Cobb)

Minding the robots
technicians shift their weight
from foot to foot
(David Cobb)

Close circuit TV:
watching myself going
the other way
(David Cobb)

A scarecrow in church –
how wide the pleading arms,
how stiff the knees!
(David Cobb)

The spiritualist
his dog snapping
at unseen flies
(Brian Tasker)

Embers die
the chair where the friend sat
fills with moonlight
(Cicely Hill)

Down the chimney
First a pigeon’s cooing
then a crust of bread
(Cicely Hill)

Under forest trees
gold globes of horse dung steaming
in the frosty air
(Cicely Hill)

The scarecrow in the distance;
it walked with me
as I walked

The blade of grass
sits waving in the wind
with millions surrounding it
(Tony, age 12)

Wayne runs down the wing
with deep thoughts of Wembley
crash – he’s tackled again
(David, age 11)

Trees waving in the wind
rain thunders down
trees loosen their roots
(Emma, age 7)

The big willow waved
washing away the breeze
leaving fresh branches
(Jason, age 11)

Hard rain reveals
in the garden mud
glints of sharp glass
(Connaire Kensit)

Waves crash
against fortifications
dead of night
(Michael Gunton)

Behind a lone tree
on the mountain ridge
immense clouds moving
(Michael Gunton)

In the forest
a man shouting
day after day
(Michael Gunton)

In spring sunshine
its face worn away
the sandstone saint
(Michael Gunton)

Just echoing boards
this empty house
where we laughed and cried
(Jim Norton)

Dare I tell him?
From my naighbour’s dung-yard
a double rainbow
(Jim Norton)

Beyond the crossroads
deep into autumn
the hillroad disappears
(Jim Norton)

Each morning in spring
the birds and the toaster
doing their stuff

Winter starlings –
a hundred-bird silence
over my head

The yellowed leaves
are the feelings of the tree
falling away

In the park
a man and his boomerang
all over the place
(Brian Tasker)


There are a thousand things to say about these poems, but let me just highlight some themes and point you in the direction of further reading. (Teachers: familiarise yourselves with these points before leading the discussion of poems with your class.)

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