Basho’s Cool Nothing in Jane Reichhold’s Translation

In modernity, “nothing” is zero, nada: nihil. We are most of us born nihilists. We simply can’t “think” of nothing.

Jane Reichhold’s (1937-2016) presentation of Basho in her Basho: The Complete Haiku (Kodansha International, 2008) goes to the quick of Basho’s profound grasp of the difficulty of meaning and the power of wonder wondering: why is there something not nothing?

Of course there IS nothing, but it is not a thing. In Desmond’s phrase, finite things are “streaked” with nothingness from the origin of things.

In the ethos, the episteme, participated in by Bashō, the “nothingness” is the “dark enigma.” Dark, but a source of light, since the ten thousand things flow from the dark origin.

How can we imagine this?

In Jane Reichhold’s translation:

A cool night

Cooling myself under cherry trees

Waves of flowers

Bashō’s image of the poet is more subtle than it looks. He drew from Chinese practice the concept of the “mind of the poet” being the inscape of the poem. This mind seeks “coolness” even on a cool night. So the coolness sought must be “other” than the temperature. Something “meta.”

With the final line we begin to “see” what that is: “waves” of flowers. “Waves” suggests the bountiful more or muchness flowing from the dark origin. One really isn’t “cool” until one connects one’s self with that origin.

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