Monday, December 3, 2018

Letter to a samurai poet

When it comes to the Way of Poetry there are generally three grades of people, as I see it. There are those who run around, trying day and night to make points, vying to win, with no attempt to see the Way. These may be called confused noise-makers in poetry. But because they help fill the stomachs of the wives and children of the judges and replenish the money-boxes of their landlords, what they do is better than doing evil things.

Then there are those who, though wealthy, refrain from engaging in ostentation pleasures. Looking upon haikai writing as better than gossiping about other people, they compose two or three sequences for winning points, day or night, but do not boast when they win, nor become angry even when they lose. Whatever may happen, they at once set out to work out a new sequence and try to come up with clever ideas during the brief space of time that a fifth of an incense stick takes to burn. When it’s finished they delight in the points given instantly, just like boys playing cards. These people nevertheless arrange food and provide adequate wine, thereby helping the poor and fattening judges. In that sense they, too, in some way contribute to the establishment of the Way.

Then, there are fellows who work hard for the goal of true poetry and soothe their hearts by doing so. These do not easily take to criticising others, and with the thought that poetry writing is another vehicle for entering the True Way, explore the spirit of Teika, trace the intent of Saigyō, examine the heart of Po Chu-i, and enter the mind of Tu Fu – all of the remote past. There are so few of these that, the ones in the capital and the ones in the countryside combined, you can readily count them with your ten fingers. You are to be one of those few. It is understandable that you should take great care and work hard at it.

- Bashō, 1692