March 23rd 2016

There is a passage in Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field, by Basho, that always breaks my heart.
“I was walking along the Fuji River when I saw an abandoned child, barely two, weeping pitifully. Had his parents been unable to endure this floating world which is as wave-tossed as these rapids, and so left him here to wait out a life brief as dew? He seemed like a bush clover in autumn’s wind that might scatter in the evening or wither in the morning.  I tossed him some food from my sleeve and said in passing,
those who listen for the monkeys:
····what of this child
········in the autumn wind?
Why did this happen? Were you hated by your father or neglected by your mother? Your father did not hate you, your mother did not neglect you. This simply is from heaven, and you can only grieve over your fate.”

[Trans. David Landis Barnill, Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho]

Basho’s heartlessness troubles me. I tell myself that had it been me, I would have taken the child in my arms; but had I lived in that culture? We are never wholly ourselves, or who we think we are, but are also creations of the cultures we live in. Had Shakespeare been born just a century later, he could not have become Shakespeare. He is as much his own invention as the invention of the Elizabethans. We are made by the times we live in.
····sleep—the coywolf’s cry consumes
········the darkness
138 March 23rd 2016 | bottlecap

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