by Matsuo Basho

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto
Original Language Japanese

abandoned nest,
a plum tree.

-- from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto

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/ Image by Nicki Verkevisser /

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

It's usually a mistake to try to explain a haiku's meaning, since its primary impact is not really comprehended by the logical mind at all. Most haiku aren't composed with intentioned metaphors; rather, the moment naturally resonates with nature's implied truths.

But, for the sake of play, let's dig into this one a bit anyway...

In this haiku by Basho, each line gives us a distinct element: a crow, an abandoned nest, and a plum tree. Basho ordered his lines so first we have the awareness of a crow, which can be understood as representing the busy mind, a bird that proclaims its presence by croaking in the winter sky. Like the mind, the crow is a carrion feeder, awkward in its movements but somehow suggestive of a hidden reality.

Next, Basho shows us that this crow has abandoned its nest. With the coming of spring, the crow has left, the mind has emptied itself, grown quiet, still.

An empty nest may be a curiosity for a moment, but its animating principle, the part that normally holds our attention has vanished, and so the vision widens and we finally notice the plum tree that supports it. Watching the empty mind, we finally expand our perception and recognize the full awareness in flower. We witness the natural, unmodified awareness of the Buddha mind that upholds mind and all creation.

Crow -- empty nest -- plum tree.
Mind -- no mind -- Buddha mind.

Recommended Books: Matsuo Basho

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Haiku Enlightenment The Four Seasons: Japanese Haiku
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