A Journey Through Japanese Haiku

Who Am I?

Culture Environment

As the new year begins, the poet Bashō finds an apparent resemblance to somebody. But who?

誰やらが形に似たり今朝の春  芭蕉

Tare yara ga / katachi ni nitari / kesa no haru

Who have I
come to resemble?
spring morning

(Poem by Bashō, written in 1687.)

Under traditional lunar reckoning used prior to Japan adopting the Gregorian calendar in 1873, New Year was observed on the day of the new moon closest to Risshun (Beginning of Spring), which takes place around February 4. Ganjitsu or New Year’s Day was therefore seen as the start of spring, so the “spring morning” in Basshō’s poem means “New Year morning.”

At the time of writing, ages were counted under the kazoedoshi system, where everyone was considered to be aged one at birth, adding one more year to the total at each New Year. In this poem, Bashō seems to say “Who have I come to resemble? With the New Year, I feel that I’ve become one year older.”

Readers might wonder who Bashō has in mind, even if he appears to play innocent by not stating it directly. I wonder if he was thinking of his father.

Bashō’s father is thought to have died when the poet was around 11 or 12 (13 in kazoedoshi). At the time of writing this poem, Bashō was in his early forties, having just turned 44 under kazoedoshi. Parents appear older in the eyes of their children. On a morning when Bashō had reached an age similar to that of his father at his death, he may have been overtaken by keen nostalgia at discovering a resemblance when looking in his mirror, at the same time as feeling his own aging.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

literature haiku Matsuo Bashō