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Matsuo Bashô: Oku no Hosomichi

(Nine Translations of the Opening Paragraph)



Days and months are travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind — filled with a strong desire to wander.
       It was only towards the end of last autumn that I returned from rambling along the coast. I barely had time to sweep the cobwebs from my broken house on the River Sumida before the New Year, but no sooner had the spring mist begun to rise over the field than I wanted to be on the road again to cross the barrier-gate of Shirakawa in due time. The gods seem to have possessed my soul and turned it inside out, and roadside images seemed to invite me from every corner, so that it was impossible for me to stay idle at home. Even while I was getting ready, mending my torn trousers, tying a new strap to my hat, and applying moxa to my legs to strengthen them, I was already dreaming of the full moon rising over the islands of Matsushima. Finally, I sold my house, moving to the cottage of Sampû for a temporary stay. Upon the threshold of my old home, however, I wrote a linked verse of eight pieces and hung it on a wooden pillar. The starting piece was:

Behind this door
Now buried in deep grass,
A different generation will celebrate
The Festival of Dolls.

Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa
(The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, 1966)

Moon and sun are passing figures of countless generations, and years coming or going wanderers too. Drifting life away on a boat or meeting age leading a horse by the mouth, each day is a journey and the journey itself home. Amongst those of old were many that perished upon the journey. So — when was it — I, drawn like blown cloud, couldn’t stop dreaming of roaming, roving the coast up and down, back at the hut last fall by the river side, sweeping cobwebs off, a year gone and misty skies of spring returning, yearning to go over the Shirakawa Barrier, possessed by the wanderlust, at wits’ end, beckoned by Dôsojin, hardly able to keep my hand to any thing, mending a rip in my momohiki, replacing the cords in my kasa, shins no sooner burnt with moxa than the moon at Matsushima rose to mind and how, my former dwelling passed on to someone else on moving to Sampû’s summer house,

the grass door too
turning into
a doll’s house

(from the eight omote) set on a post of the hut.

Translated by Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumu
(Back Roads to Far Towns, 1968)

The months and days are the wayfarers of the centuries and as yet another year comes round, it, too, turns traveler. Sailors whose lives float away as they labor on boats, horsemen who encounter old age as they draw the horse around once more by the bit, they also spend their days in travel and make their home in wayfaring. Over the centuries many famous men have met death on the way; and I, too, though I do not know what year it began, have long yielded to the wind like a loosened cloud and, unable to give up my wandering desires, have taken my way along the coast. Last autumn, as I cleaned the old cobwebs from my old dilapidated house by the riverside, I found that the year had suddenly drawn to its close. As the sky of the new year filled with the haze of spring, I thought of going beyond the Shirakawa Barrier, and so possessed was I by some peripatetic urge that I thought I had an invitation from the god of travelers himself and so became unable to settle down to anything. I mended my underpants, re-corded my rain hat, and took three bits of moxa cautery. I could not put from my mind how lovely the moon must be at Matsushima. I disposed of my property and moved to Sampû’s villa.

My old grasshut
Lived in now by another generation
Is decked out with dolls.

This and the rest of the first eight stanzas of a haikai I left posted on a pillar of my cottage.

Translated by Earl Miner
(The Narrow Road Through the Provinces, in Japanese Poetic Diaries, 1969)

The passing days and months are eternal travellers in time. The years that come and go are travellers too. Life itself is a journey; and as for those who spend their days upon the waters in ships and those who grow old leading horses, their very home is the open road. And some poets of old there were who died while travelling.
       There came a day when the clouds drifting along with the wind aroused a wanderlust in me, and I set off on a journey to roam along the seashores. I returned to my hut on the riverbank last autumn, and by the time I had swept away the cobwebs, the year was over.
       But when spring came with its misty skies, the god of temptation possessed me with a longing to pass the Barrier of Shirakawa, and road gods beckoned, and I could not set my mind to anything. So I mended my breeches, put new cords on my hat, and as I burned moxa on my knees to make them strong, I was already dreaming of the moon over Matsushima.
       I sold my home and moved into Sampû’s guest house, but before I left my cottage I composed a verse and inscribed it on a poem strip which I hung upon a pillar:

This rude hermit cell
Will be different now, knowing Dolls’
Festival as well.

Translated by Dorothy Britton
(A Haiku Journey: Bashô’s Narrow Road to a Far Province, 1980)

The sun and the moon are eternal voyagers; the years that come and go are travelers too. For those whose lives float away on boats, for those who greet old age with hands clasping the lead ropes of horses, travel is life, travel is home. And many are the men of old who have perished as they journeyed.
       I myself fell prey to wanderlust some years ago, desiring nothing better than to be a vagrant cloud scudding before the wind. Only last autumn, after having drifted along the seashore for a time, had I swept away the old cobwebs from my dilapidated riverside hermitage. But the year ended before I knew it, and I found myself looking at hazy spring skies and thinking of crossing Shirakawa Barrier. Bewitched by the god of restlessness, I lost my peace of mind; summoned by the spirits of the road, I felt unable to settle down to anything. By the time I had mended my torn trousers, put a new cord on my hat, and cauterized my legs with moxa, I was thinking only of the moon at Matsushima. I turned over my dwelling to others, moved to a house belonging to Sanpû, and affixed the initial page of a linked-verse sequence to one of the pillars at my cottage.

Even my grass-thatched hut
will have new occupants now:
a display of dolls.

Translated by Helen Craig McCullough
(Narrow Road of the Interior, in Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology, 1990)

The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.
       Last year I spent wandering along the coast. In autumn I returned to my cottage on the river and swept away the cobwebs. Gradually the year drew to its close. When spring came and there was mist in the air, I thought of crossing the Barrier of Shirakawa into Oku. I seemed to be possessed by the spirits of wanderlust, and they all deprived me of my senses. The guardian spirits of the road beckoned, and I could not settle down to work.
       I patched my torn trousers and changed the cord on my bamboo hat. To strengthen my legs for the journey I had moxa burned on my shins. By then I could think of nothing but the moon at Matsushima. When I sold my cottage and moved to Sampû’s villa, to stay until I started on my journey, I hung this poem on a post in my hut:

kusa no to mo
sumikawaru yo zo
hina no ie

Even a thatched hut
May change with a new owner
Into a doll’s house

Translated by Donald Keene (The Narrow Road to Oku, 1996)
(An earlier and slightly different partial translation appeared in Keene’s Anthology of Japanese Literature, 1955.)

The months and days are wayfarers of a hundred generations, and the years that come and go are also travelers. Those who float all their lives on a boat or reach their old age leading a horse by the bit make travel out of each day and inhabit travel. Many in the past also died while traveling. In which year it was I do not recall, but I, too, began to be lured by the wind like a fragmentary cloud and have since been unable to resist wanderlust, roaming out to the seashores. Last fall, I swept aside old cobwebs in my dilapidated hut in Fukagawa, and soon the year came to a close; as spring began and haze rose in the sky, I longed to walk beyond Shirakawa Barrier and, possessed and deranged by the distracting deity and enticed by the guardian deity of the road, I was unable to concentrate on anything. In the end I mended the rips in my pants, replaced hat strings, and, the moment I gave a moxa treatment to my kneecaps, I thought of the moon over Matsushima. I gave my living quarters to someone and moved into Sampû’s villa:

Kusa no to mo sumi-kawaru yo zo hina no ie
In my grass hut the residents change: now a doll’s house

I left the first eight links hung on a post of my hut.

Translated by Hiroaki Sato
 (Bashô’s Narrow Road, 1996)

The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. From the earliest times there have always been some who perished along the road. Still I have always been drawn by wind-blown clouds into dreams of a lifetime of wandering. Coming home from a year’s walking tour of the coast last autumn, I swept the cobwebs from my hut on the banks of the Sumida just in time for New Year, but by the time spring mists began to rise from the fields, I longed to cross the Shirakawa Barrier into the Northern Interior. Drawn by the wanderer-spirit Dôsojin, I couldn’t concentrate on things. Mending my cotton pants, sewing a new strap on my bamboo hat, I daydreamed. Rubbing moxa into my legs to strengthen them, I dreamed a bright moon rising over Matsushima. So I placed my house in another’s hands and moved to my patron Mr. Sampû’s summer house in preparation for my journey. And I left a verse by my door:

Even this grass hut
may be transformed
into a doll’s house.

Translated by Sam Hamill
(Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings, a.k.a. The Essential Bashô, 1998)

The days and months are travellers of eternity, just like the years that come and go. For those who pass their lives afloat on boats, or face old age leading horses tight by the bridle, their journeying is life, their journeying is home. And many are the men of old who met their end upon the road.
       How long ago, I wonder, did I see a drift of cloud borne away upon the wind, and ceaseless dreams of wandering become aroused? Only last year, I had been wandering along the coasts and bays; and in the autumn I swept away the cobwebs from my tumbledown hut on the banks of the Sumida and soon afterwards saw the old year out. But when the spring mists rose up into the sky, the gods of desire possessed me, and burned my mind with the longing to go beyond the barrier at Shirakawa. The spirits of the road beckoned me, and I could not concentrate on anything. So I patched up my trousers, put new cords in my straw hat, and strengthened my knees with moxa. A vision of the moon at Matsushima was already in my mind. I sold my hut and wrote this just before moving to a cottage owned by Sampû:

even this grass hut
       could for the new owner be
              a festive house of dolls!

This was the first of an eight verse sequence, which I left hanging on a post inside the hut.

Translated by Tim Chilcott
(The Narrow Road to the Deep North, 2004)


Nine translations of the opening paragraph of Matsuo Bashô’s travel journal Oku no Hosomichi (1689).

[Rexroth review of two of the above translations]

[Translations of Bashô’s frog haiku]

[Passages from other recommended works]

[Gateway to the Vast Realms]



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