The Multifaceted Nature of Really Fine Haiku

When haiku are good, or very good, they are multifaceted. They don’t have just one simple translation.

In this haiku by Buson


old umbrella

”ba-sa” it goes — a moonlit night

and the first rain of the season

we hear the rain hitting the old umbrella — “ba-sa, ba-sa” — an onomatopoeic word that is used to evoke a rustling, flapping, or fluttering sound. We see Buson himself, whom his friend Kitto refers to as Basa, at once a fop, an old woman, and a dancer. It’s a moonlit night, but there are clouds too, and it suddenly starts to rain.

So we have basa the sound: rain hitting the old umbrella;

and we have the meaning of the kanji itself: 婆娑 basa: a dancer; also another name for Buson; the kanji is comprised of two parts:  old woman or grandma and  also meaning old woman;

and we have a further implication: 婆娑羅 basara: foppery or dandyism.

Buson is clearly being self-deprecating here. His umbrella my be battered; he may look like an old woman; but he’s enjoying himself in the moonlight and rain.

from Buson’s Collected Haiku #680

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