A Journey Through Japanese Haiku

Burdened in the Heat

Culture Environment Lifestyle

Summer feels all the hotter for a mother with a child on her back in Sonome’s haiku.

おほた子に髪なぶらるる暑さ哉 園女

Outa ko ni / kami naburaruru / atsusa kana

The child on my back,
playing with my hair—
the heat!

(Poem by Sonome, written in 1697.)

This haiku is straightforward on the first reading: “This heat is unbearable with the child I’m carrying on my back playing with my hair!” It depicts a mother who is looking after a young child while working in the house or fields. The heat of the child’s body pressing against her is bad enough, but the mischievous fingers toying with her hair bring her irritation to a higher pitch. But as the child is probably only a toddler, a scolding would be useless.

Sonome was the daughter of an Ise Shrine priest. She married a doctor and moved with him to Osaka, where she conducted her poetic activities. Matsuo Bashō in his later years visited her house and wrote this haiku: Shiragiku no / me ni tatete miru / chiri mo nashi (Gazing at the / white chrysanthemums— / no trace of dust). From the pure impression she gave, like the chrysanthemums, she must have been a charming woman. At the time she wrote the above haiku, she was in her early thirties.

In Bashō’s day, there were few female haiku poets, and poems imbued with this sense of daily life were also rare. In the modern era, Takeshita Shizunojo wrote the following haiku in 1920: Mijikayo ya / chizeri naku ko o / sutecchimaoka (Brief night— / shall I throw out this / child calling for milk?). The haiku enlists the phrase sutecchimaoka (shall I throw out?) taken from a poem in the ancient Man’yōshū anthology, and through the theme of the painfulness of raising children, it is connected to Sonome’s poem, which has the direct, emotional expression of a modern work.

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

literature Basho haiku Japanese language and literature