Basho’s Bed

May 26, 2012

Set a ballade–

Be not sad.

No plan, I forego regret.

A wet I? Mere folly…

Dim, lacy moths, in a vigor, fall.

Ill at last, I move to (no regrets) a faded dale–

A glade, pools.

Some more go too?


Jump! ol’ frog, or flop.

Mujo no oto1


Me, moss-looped, algael,

Added a faster gero note,

Vomit salt, all ill.

A frog, I vanish

To my calm idyll of eremite water

…gero gero…

Final pond –

A stone bed

All abates



Notes and comments

1. Mujo no oto. Japanese for ‘the sound of impermanence’. Mujo or impermanence is an important concept in Buddhism and central to Zen aesthetics. This phrase also references Basho’s original haiku, the final line of which is ‘mizu no oto‘ – the sound of water.

 2. Gero gero is the Japanese onomatopoeia for a frog’s croak, but is also used adverbially to describe vomiting. This pun was one of the inspirations for the poem.

I cobbled together this longer poem from some ideas generated as I created the first Basho poem, After the frog. In this one, I imagine Basho retiring to a solitary hermitage (in a shady glade, with lacy moths, pools, etc.) and himself diving into a pool to join the frogs. The ‘gero‘ grows more urgent inside him until he can’t contain it (‘a faster gero note’). He vomits salt, and sees that he himself has become a frog.

The final stanza is itself a haiku, and nicely captures the essence of the poem: all regret and suffering disappears in this hermit’s final resting place.

After the frog

May 24, 2012

I, Basho, sit in a rigor, fond.

No plop, ol’ pond? No frog? I ran

It is – oh! – sabi.


Notes and comments

Fond: Used here in its archaic sense of foolish

Sabi: A Japanese word with no simple translation. An important aesthetic concept in Japanese art and life, it denotes a kind of elegant, refined simplicity with implications of solitude and antiquity.

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is Japan’s most famous and beloved of haiku poets.

This haikiah was inspired by his most well-known haiku

furu ike ya

kawazu tobikomu

mizu no oto

Which translates fairly literally as

Old pond –

A frog dives in

The sound of water

In a twist, I imagine Basho sitting by the pond again, on another day, waiting for a frog to plop, but becoming overwhelmed by the lonely beauty of the scene as no frog appears.

Moth ash ver. 2

May 3, 2012

Moth ash

Deer field–

Idle, I freed too sere moths

Ah! To meld, arcing

In ebony align.

I wish to melt

‘Til – little moths –

I wing, I lay.


Benign, I cradle moth ash to

Mere soot.

Deer field, idle I



Notes and comments

Lying in bed last night I noticed a few more imperfections and possibilities, so here is a revised and ever so slightly expanded version.

1) The opening line ‘too sere moths’ seemed too abrupt, and I realised that ‘Deer field’ was a good context setter and ‘deer field, idle I freed’ is palindromic so could be tacked onto the beginning/end easily. It also works nicely in terms of palindrome poetics in that the end takes us back to the start, but something has changed – the poet himself is now freed, perhaps.

2) I changed ‘ebony / a sign … I say’ to ‘ebony align… I lay’. The use of ‘align’ adds to the sense of the poet melding – aligning himself – with the moths. ‘Lay’ also adds another flying (or landing) verb.

3) Having lost the ‘I say’, the ‘No’ is less dramatic, slightly more detached and introspective, more in keeping with the tone.

New palindrome!

May 3, 2012

Moth ash

Too sere1 moths

–  Ah! To meld –

Arcing in ebony.

A sign?

I wish to melt

‘Til – little moths –

I wing.

I say ‘No!’

Benign, I cradle moth ash to

Mere soot


Notes and comments

1. Sere: Withered, dry

I wasn’t going to write any more palindromes, but since doing this website I have caught the bug again. This poem took about 3 hours. I had a few more fragments but I couldn’t quite work them into it. Perhaps I’ll return and expand it.

The poem was inspired by a walk around the field next to my house, which has few deer in it. The starting point was ‘…deer field, idle I freed…’, which I noticed on the walk, but at the very end I decided the deer took the focus away from the moth image which had become central to the poem.

I am quite pleased with the degree of cohesion. The idea is of the poet seeing moths flying around in the evening, wanting to join them – to delight in the freedom of flight. Then something happens – who knows what – and he is left with a handful of moth ash, perhaps literal, perhaps metaphorical.


I am aware that this sort of thing is difficult to pull off, so I’ll try to give a brief description of the process:

As I said, the kernel was ‘deer field, idle I freed’. For me, ‘idle’ set the tone, and because I had taken this particular walk at dusk, as the light dims and things blur, the general feeling of languor and transformation was in my mind. This meant that whatever words I found with palindromic potential as the poem developed, I would dismiss them if they jarred with this tone.

I quickly came up with ‘Ah! To meld in a deer field, idle, I freed an idle moth, a…’ I then did a bit of brainstorming of words associated with moths – wings, flutter, etc. So, as well as excluding unsuitable words, I actively try and harvest apt words and check their reversible potential.

I also had another fragment based on ‘cradle’, as this and ‘idle’ are the two obvious words to use with ‘field’:

…eld, arcing in ebb benign, I cradle

This naturally led to the image of cradling a moth. I then rearranged the structure and got to this stage:

‘…moths Ah! To meld, arcing in eb…

…to meld in a deer field, idle, I freed an idle moths…

…benign I cradle moth ash to m…

This left me with the two hardest parts: Trying to knit together middle fragments, and finding a satisfactory ending. The middle join contains the weakest part of the poem, ‘I say No’, but it just about works. For the end/beginning, it took me about 5 or 10 minutes to hit upon ‘mere soot / too sere m’. The mental process was basically allowing my brain to flick through m words, and as soon as I thought of mere I also saw soot / too sere.

Finally I solved ‘an idle moths’ by scrapping the ‘deer field’ and pinching the ‘melt till little’ from my palindrome ‘amatory rota’. A bit of a cheat, but I was getting tired…