Haiku about the Great East Japan Earthquake (1)


On March 11, 2011, we had the most powerful earthquake since records began, which struck the Pacific coast of Northeastern Honshu, Japan, triggering a massive tsunami.

 Since then I have received e-mails and messages from haiku friends worldwide, in which they have sent their condolences and prayers through haiku, haiga, tanka, short poems, or pictures.

Some of my haiku friends took up the earthquake in their blogs or journals, and others started the movements to uplift their brothers and sisters in Japan on the Internet.

 Thanks to my haiku friends, I have been greatly encouraged and uplifted without losing hope.

I have clearly realized how my friends’ contributions are helpful in feeling encouraged, and consoled, and giving relief.

They eventually lead us to hope.

 In addition, to my great surprise, I find Basho’s haiku very encouraging and consoling too.

So, let me take up Basho’s haiku in the first posting.

This is because his haiku makes me imagine what might become of devastation in 500 years.

Here is a photo of the monument of Basho’s haiku.




June 29, 1689

Basho arrived in Hiraizumi(平泉), Iwate Prefecture(岩手県), where he wrote the following haiku.


夏草やつはものどもが夢のあと         芭蕉

Natsukusa ya  tsuwamonodomo ga  yume no ato


Ah!  Summer grasses!

All that remains

Of the warriors’ dreams.                  Basho





R. H. Blyth translated Basho’s haiku into English in HAIKU VOLUME 3  SUMMER – AUTUMN published in1951 and gave his commentary as follows:


 In Tennyson’s lines,


Nothing in nature’s aspect indicated

That a great man was dead,


man and Nature are taken as two separate things. Basho takes them, quite unconsciously and instinctively, as one and the same thing. The above verse comes at the end of the following passage in Oku no Hosomichi: 




                “The state ruined, mountains and rivers remain.

               In the citadel it is spring : grass is green.”  I laid

               my kasa down and shed tears, forgetting the passage

               of time.


Basho was at this time, 1689, in Takadachi where Yoshitsune was attacked by Yasuhira under the orders of Yoritomo. He fought bravely but was outnumbered, and committed suicide after killing his own wife and children, exactly 500 years before. He was thirty-one years old.

Basho’s verse expresses the same grief as Toho’s for things of long ago, but does not leave us in this state of passivity and dejection. The summer grasses remind him of


That secret spirit of humanity

Which, mid the calm oblivious tendencies

Of nature, mid her plants, and weeds, and flowers,

And silent overgrowings, still survived.


Basho’s short verse contains the whole of Sohrab and Rustum, but especially the last twenty lines, beginning,


But the majestic River floated on,

Out of the mist and hum of that low land.


  The second half of a gatha by Seccho in the Hekiganroku, Case 61, is similar in spirit:





Scheming ministers and fierce generals, where are they now?

    The cool breeze of a thousand leagues alone knows.


Here is a photo of the Kitakami River(北上川) and summer grasses taken at Takatachi (高館), Hiraizumi(平泉), by Hiroya Sato(佐藤弘弥) on July 4, 2004.

This is present-day Hiraizumi, 315 years after Basho visited there.




Lastly, let me post my haiku.


曙に春の産声聞こえけり          秀法

Akebono ni  haru no ubugoe  kikoe keri


at daybreak –

spring cries rise 

in the birth room                    Hidenori



Here is a Japanese translation of R. H. Blyth’s commentary on Basho’s haiku mentioned above. Please read it as you like.




R・H・ブライスは『俳句 大三巻 夏― 秋』を1951年に発刊。
















芭蕉の短詩(俳句)は『ソーラブとラスタム』 の全てを含んでいるが、特に次の2行で始まる最後の20行を含んでいる。











The next posting ‘Haiku about the Great East Japan Earthquake (2) appears on May 7.


― Hidenori Hiruta



4 thoughts on “Haiku about the Great East Japan Earthquake (1)

  1. You chose the perfect Basho haiku to begin these posts. Loss, grief, and renewal all in a small perfect poem–it is one of my favorites. your own poem is a strong addition to these themes. I am happy to visit and find you here again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s