Terebess Asia Online (TAO)


"Santoka" by R. H. Blyth

in: A History of Haiku.
Tokyo: The Hokuseido Press, 1964. Volume 2: From Issa to the Present. pp. 173-88.


To give a modern poet a whole chapter to himself, albeit a short one, may seem strange, but Santoka belongs to the small group of beggar-like haiku poets; Rotsu is another example, and Basho and Issa are not dissimilar. Santoka, was born in 1882 of a landowner in Yamaguchi Prefecture. After retiring from Waseda University on account of a nervous breakdown in 1904, he married, set up a brewery with his father, whose business had failed, and together with him went bankrupt in 1916. He had begun to write haiku already in 1911, under Seisensui. He separated from his wife in 1920, and tried various jobs, but did not continue in them. From 1926, with a kasa and a begging bowl, he wandered all over Japan for eight years, and then made a hermitage in 1932 back in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and yet another outside Miyukidera Temple. He ended his life of wandering and drinking in 1940.

Here are a few anecdotes of the life of Santoka, taken from Haijin Santoka, by Oyama Sumita. When the author visited Gochuan, the hut-hermitage where Santoka lived in 1938, Santoka asked him if he had had his midday meal. On hearing that he had not, he brought in an iron bowl of rice, and a single pimento, and put it on the tatami. Oyama began to weep, it was so hot. Santoka sat gazing at him, and on being asked, "Why don't you eat too?" told him, "I have only one bowl." Thinking of Ryokan, he finished his rice. Santoka took the bowl, filled it with rice (which was mixed with barley and other things) and ate it together with the remains of the pimento. Santoka washed the bowl in the water the rice was washed in, but did not throw away the water. He used it to wash the floor, and then as manure for his little garden.

One December, the author stayed the night with Santoka. There was only one quilt, so Santoka gave him this, and three magazines of Kaizo or Bungei Shunju for a pillow, and spread on the top of him his own underclothes and summer garments, and then everything that remained in the cupboard. As he was still cold, Santoka put his little desk over him, reminding us of what Thoreau says in The Week on the Concord, Tuesday:

But as it grew colder towards midnight, I at length encased myself completely in boards, managing even to put a board on top of me, with a large stone on it, to keep it down.

At last he went to sleep, and when he woke at dawn he found Santoka still sitting by him doing zazen.

Even though he had no rice, he would buy sake to drink, being unable to keep money in his pocket. Someone gave him a tombi, a kind of coat used in the Meiji Era. He was very pleased, for two or three days, and then gave it to someone else. One autumn Seisensui came to see him, and gave him a piece of calligraphy, Gochu ichinin, referring to his hut-hermitage. Santoka had it framed, and for some time enjoyed it, but then gave it away.

One night Santoka came home at two o'clock in the morning, followed by a dog with a very big rice-cake in its mouth. He received this and roasted it and ate it.

Santoka loved weeds, like Clare, and wrote in his diary for the 19th of August, 1940:

Those who do not know the meaning of weeds do not know the mind of Nature. Weeds grasp their own essence and express its truth.

He wrote many verses on weeds. His view of life is given in another entry in his diary:

I do not believe in a future world. I deny the past. I believe entirely in the present. We must employ our whole body and soul in this eternal moment. I believe in the universal spirit, but the spirit of any particular man I reject. Each creature comes from the Whole, and goes back to it. From this point of view we may say that life is an approaching; death is a returning.

In these anecdotes about Santoka we see the naturalness of his life, his unattachedness to things, and his lack of plan in everything, like God's.

He put every ounce of his spiritual energy into his verses, which were often free as to form and season-word like those of his teacher Seisensui. He recalls to us Pascal, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Kraus, Rilke, and others of the "disinherited mind." The verses are a combination of Zen, Buddhism, and Japaneseness, the last word implying an innate appreciation of the transitoriness of life, the just-so-ness, the thus-ness of things, their existence value.

Ushiro-sugata no shigurete yuku ka
My back view as I go,
Wetted with the winter rain?

We may compare this with Issa's verse on a picture of himself:

Ushiro kara mite mo samuge na atama kana
Even seen from behind,
His head looks

But Santoka's verse is better, I think, because it gives us the picture of himself as viewed by the friends who are seeing him off.

Itsumademo tabi wo suru koto no tsume wo kiru
Up to the very end, it is journeying,
And cutting our (toe-) nails.

We must journey alone through life; and we must cut our toe-nails. These things are so, inevitably.

Furusato wa tokushite ki no me
My native place
Far away:
The buds on the trees.

When we are young, neither far nor near, youth nor age has any very deep meaning, but when we are old, distance and youth affect us beyond measure.

Tetsubachi no naka e mo arare
Into the iron bowl also,

Democracy is a weak word to express the universal, all-penetrating, indiscriminate, "religious" power of nature.

Kasa e pottori tsubaki datta
Plop on my kasa
The flower of the camellia!

This verse is very good in its onomatopoeia, not merely the pottori, but the datta at the end.

Itadaite tarife hitori no hashi wo oku
I have gratefully received it;
It was enough;
I lay down my chopsticks.

This would make a good death-poem. We have received what we were born to receive. We have had enough. We used our own chopsticks and fed ourselves. We now lay them down. Compare Landor's "I warmed both hands," which is however the verse of a well-off, artistic, and self-satisfied man.

Shizukana michi to nari dokudami no me
The road became quiet and solitary;
Dokudami is budding.

The dokudami, also called shibuki, is a small, ill-smelling weed with a four-petalled white flower that blooms in summer. The quietness of the road, and of his mind, is revealed to us by his noticing such a small and insignifi-cant thing as the buds of this weed.

Karasu naite watashi mo hitori
A crow is cawing;
I also am by myself.

Santoka wrote this verse in response to the following by Hosai:

Karasu ga damane tonde itta
A crow flew by,
In silence.

Hosai, 1885-1926, became head of a life insurance company, wandered in Manchuria, then, after some deep experience in 1923, sold all his belongings, became a monk in various temples, and died a year after his retirement from the world. He comes on page 200.

Wake-itte mo wake-itte mo aoi yama
Going further into them,
And further into them,
Still more green mountains.

There is in this verse a feeling of infinity in space, not beyond it, and something sad in it, as in the poetry of Christina Rossetti. It reminds us of lines in Wordsworth's Stepping Westward:

the thought
Of travelling through the world that lay
Before me in my endless way.

Shitodo ni nurete kore wa michishirube no ishi
This is the stone,
Drenched with rain,
That marks the way.

The poet also is wet, but feels a faint but deep thankfulness to the stone. Compare Issa's verse, which is much more direct, and to this extent less poetical, less religious:

Hito no tame ni shigurete hotoke sama
Rained upon
For all our sakes,
Hotoke Sama.

Hotoke Santa is the stone statue of some Buddha of a wayside shrine.

Ko-no-ha chiru aruki-tsumeru
Leaves of the trees fall;
Walking on and on.

This is hearing

Time's winged chariot hurrying near,
in the falling of the leaves.

Sei-shi no naka no yuki furi-shikiru
The snow of life and death
Falls incessantly.

Saigyo says:

We know well
That this cicada-shell body
Is but an illusion,
But when it snows,
The days are chill.

Fumi-wakeru hagi yo susuki yo
Walking through
The bush clover, the pampas grass,
Walking on through them.

We see the beauty and pathos of the bush-clover and the pampas grass, the dew on them, and the sunlight on it, but we pass through and beyond them, not lingering with their beauty but going on with our life as they do with theirs.

Hyo-hyo to shite mizu wo ajiwau
Buoyantly we go
Like the wind,
Tasting water.

The Rubaiyat says that we come

Into this Universe, and Why not knowing,
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing.

Tasting water is different from drinking it. The first has meaning, the second only use.

Hitori de ka ni kuwarete iru
I am bitten by mosquitoes,
Quite alone.

There is something in the itching that intensifies, or rather brings out the meaning of the loneliness of a human being.

Kasa ni tombo wo tomarasete aruku
I walk along,
Letting the dragon-fly
Perch on my kasa.

The poet walks a little more steadily, so that the dragonfly, which he hears perch on his kasa, is not frightened away from it. Compare Hosai's verse:

Tombo ga sabishii tsukue ni tomari ni kite kureta
The dragon-fly
Kindly came and perched
On this lonely desk.

Shigururu ya shinanaide iru
Cold winter rain;
I am still alive.

This "verse" expresses something very simple but profound. This "not being dead" does not mean "not dead yet"; it does not mean that he is grateful for life. It is the mere, brute fact of not being dead, just like not being fine warm weather. The same applies to the following:

Do shiyo mo nai watashi ga aruite oru
I am walking;
It cannot be otherwise.

Kare-kitta kawa wo wataru
Crossing over
A dried up river.

This "verse" asks much from the reader, even more than the orthodox haiku. Though it is so short, 11 syllables instead of 17, its onomatopoeia is good, k r k t k w w w t r, the k and t sounds expressing the dryness, the w and r sounds the water that is not there.

Sukkari karete mame to natte iru
Quite withered up,
It is just beans.

Nothing could be barer than this verse, except the scene itself, just dried-up earth and yellow bean-pods, open, with the dry beans showing.

Sutekirenai nimotsu no omosa mae ushiro
I can't throw it away,
But how heavy my pack,
Before and behind!

This may be compared with what Basho says at the beginning of Oku no Hosomichi, about having to carry the things that his friends had kindly given him.

Ano kumo ga otoshita ame ni nurete iru
I am wet
By the rain
From that cloud.

The poet feels no more animosity towards the cloud than it does to him. He moves, and the cloud moves; and when they come together, a wetting takes place.

Aki to natta zasso ni suwaru
The grasses
That have become autumn,--
Sitting down in them.

The poet feels swallowed up in autumn,--not in a vague, mystical way, but that he is sitting on autumn, looking at autumn, breathing it, eating it, being it. The next verse seems a continuation of this:

Hoi konna ni yaburete kusa no mi
Seeds of grasses;
My monkish robe
Is so worn!

When he stands up, he finds all kinds of seeds have stuck to his clothes, and as he looks at them he notices how worn and old they are.

Toshi toreba kokyo koishii tsukutsuku-boshi
As I grow old,
I yearn for my native place:

The cicadas are crying tsukutsukuboshi, which sounds somewhat like kokyokoishi, kokyokoishi, "I yearn for my native place." Old age, love of one's native place, the voices of the cicadas,--these are different manifestations of one thing. What is this One Thing?

Mizuoto to issho ni sato e orite kita
Together with the sound of the water,
I came down to my native village.

In Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha we feel the closeness of man and flowing water. What is man himself indeed but walking water, laughing, weeping, thinking, enlightened water?

Shimi-jimi taberu meshi bakari no meshi de aru
I eat my meal
Of boiled rice only.

Just like an animal, almost an animal, with what Huxley calls "animal grace," which is far from gracefulness.

Mattaku kumo ga nai kasa wo nugi
Not a single cloud in the sky;
I take off my kasa.

Hosai's verse is:

Ozora no shita boshi kaburazu
Under the vast sky
I have no hat on.

We may compare Mr Cronch, in Powys's Lie Thee Down Oddity! who takes off his hat as the great chimney falls on him. Also we may contrast Housman's "Shoulder the sky!"

Amadare no oto mo toshi-totta
The sound of the rain-drops also
Has grown older.

Hosai's verse:

Hisashiburi no ame no amadare no oto
We haven't had any rain for a long time:
The sound of the rain-drops.

To see youth in the rain-drops when we are young, age in the rain-drops when we are old, this is true wisdom, for the rain-drops are both young and old, and we ourselves but the rain-drops of a passing shower.

Mono kou ie mo naku nari yama ni wa kumo
No house more to beg from;
Clouds over the mountains.

This was composed in Kyushu in the afternoon of an Indian summer. Walking on and on, Santoka came to a vast plain. There were no more houses where he could beg his food. Only in the distance a long range of mountains, and the clouds piled upon them.

Kasa mo moridashita ka
Has my kasa too
Begun to leak?

When the only kasa he has begins to leak, the poet feels deeply the impermanence of things. The kasa is part of himself. The body itself is only lent like any other thing, and wears thin and old with the years.

Ate mo naku fumiaruku kusa mina karetari
The grasses I tread,
Uncertain and fickle,
Are all withered away.

There is a certain grimness here, a subjectivity that is nevertheless not unjustified in the works of nature. The poet walks, as chance (that is, destiny) wills it, over the brown and withered grasses. They too have followed their destiny, so out of accord with what he could have wished. Like Basho's morning-glory, these grasses could not be his friend. And yet, as deep as, or perhaps deeper than the instinct for the changeless is the instinct for change, since this changefulness is an aspect of the Buddha-nature of both man and grass.

Yama-suso atataka na hi ni narabu haka sukoshi kana
In the warm sunlight
At the foot of the hill, standing side by side,
A few graves.

What brings out the meaning of the scene is the fewness of the graves. Even death itself seems less significant under the sky that overarches the grassy mountains. This verse has twenty one syllables and no season word, for the word "warm" will apply to any season, even to winter, which would perhaps be most appropriate here. The "kana" is different from the ordinary stop-gap of the regular haiku. It signifies the poet's acceptance of the melancholy fact of life and death, abundance and paucity, nature and man. An d this is all contained in the word sukoshi. A few graves stand in a line at the foot of the hill; the slope always receives the afternoon sun. They have chosen a warm spot for the last resting place of the dead. In life they worked and talked together; now they sleep an eternal sleep side by side. There is a mildness in the thought, the rhythm, the warmth of the place which makes it akin, in mood and treatment, to a verse from the Elegy:

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew tree's shade
Where heaves the earth in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow place forever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

But the Japanese poem is not so funereal; we have sunlight and warmth instead of darkness and gloom, yet the feeling is deeper and keener because of the contrast, and because of the word "few." What is unexpressed and inexpressible is what is expressed by Becquer, the Spanish Heine, in his poem Los Muertos:

La picqueta al hombro,
el sepulturero,
cantando entre dientes,
se perdió a lo lejos.
La noche se entraba,
reinaba el silencio;
perdido en las sombras,
medité un momento:
"i Dios Mio, qué solos
se quedan los muertos!

This is what the Japanese poet does not say.

Ichi-nichi mono iwazu umi ni mukaeba shio michite kinu
I was silent all day:
Facing the sea,
The tide came up.

The poet was silent because there was nothing to say, no one to speak, no one to speak to. This is the silence of nature, of the moon and the stars, of night. And it is the silence that is in the thunder, in the tick of the clock. This is why Blake says that

The roaring of lions & the raging of the stormy sea & are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.

The full brimming tide is felt to be, for all its crash of waves, the same silent thing that has taken up its abode within his heart.