Butterfly (choochoo)

[ . BACK to worldkigo TOP . ]
. chocho 蝶々 butterfly art motives .

Butterfly (choochoo 蝶々) Chocho

***** Location: Japan, Worldwide
***** Season: Spring and others, see below
***** Category: Animal


For the Japanese haijin, the butterfly it is not just an ubiquious animal in springtime, but relates to a much deeper layer of Taoist philosophy about the essence of being. I am sure most of you know the famous parable by the Chinese sage Chunag-Tsu (Chunag Tzu).

Here is a quote from a HP by Richard Zipoli:

Chuang Tzu was a Taoist sage during the fourth and third centuries B.C. The book of prose attributed to him is known for its playful expression of freedom and spontaneity. Chuang Tzu’s butterfly dream is among the most famous passages in Chinese literature. Li Po was a poet who lived in eighth-century China, during the Tang dynasty, which is sometimes considered the “Golden Age of Zen”. He is generally regarded as one of China’s most influential poets. Matsuo Basho, who lived in 17th-century Japan, is considered by many to be Japan's greatest haiku poet. From “The Chuang Tzu”, Chapter 2:

Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly.
All day long, he floated on the breeze
Without a thought of who he was or where he was going.

When he awoke, Chuang Tzu became confused.

"Am I a Man”, he thought,
"who dreamed that I was a butterfly?
Or am I butterfly, dreaming that I am a man?
Perhaps my whole waking life is
but a moment in a butterfly's dream!.
This is a story of transformation"

. . . . .

“Ancient Song”, by Li Po
(from The Selected Poems of Li Po, by David Hinton):

Chuang-tzu dreams he's a butterfly,
and a butterfly becomes Chuang-tzu.

All of transformation this one body,
boundless occurrence goes on and on:

it’s no surprise Eastern seas become
western streams shallow and clear,

or the melon-grower at Ch'ing Gate
once reigned as Duke of Tung-ling.

Are hopes and dreams any different?
We bustle around, looking for what?

. . . . .

by Basho (from A Zen Wave, by Robert Aitken):

You are the butterfly
And I the dreaming heart
Of Chuang-tzu

kimi ya cho ware ya Sooji ga yumegokoro

Written on the 10th day of the fourth lunar month in 1690
元禄3年4月10日 in a letter to 怒誰.

Takahashi Dosui 高橋怒誰
(? - 1743)
Takahashi Kihei 高橋喜兵衛
A leading figure of the Basho disciples in Omi ( Oomi Shoomon 近江蕉門).
The younger brother of Suganuma Kyokusui 菅沼曲水, who had offered the 幻住庵 Genjuan to Basho. When Kyokusui was out of town on business, Dosui took good care of Master Basho.

In a letter to Dosui in the same year, Basho also mentioned the following hokku

. kari kiki ni miyako no aki ni omomukan .
I will come to Kyoto . . .

MORE about the heart, soul, mind by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .

. Suganuma Kyokusui 菅沼曲水 .

. . .

okiyo okiyo waga tomo ni sen neru kochoo ( oki yo)

get up! get up!
and become my friend
you sleeping butterfly

Wake up, wake up, and be my comrade, sleeping butterfly

Wake up wake up my friend be sleeping butterfly

I will make thee my comrade, thou sleeping butterfly

Acorda, acorda! Vem ser minha amiga , Borboleta que dorme!

Wake, butterfly -
It's late, we've miles
To go together.
source : thegreenleaf.co.uk

- reference - more translations

Written around 天和元年, Basho age 38 or later

Basho is pleading with the butterfly:
"If you are really the the Butterfly from Chuang Tsu, coming from China, then please come here and tell me all about the poetry of China!"

MORE about the butterfly by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


Just one word, one animal, but so much depth implied in simply mentioning the name in an Asian context. The word BUTTERFLY has different meanings in different cultures. Let us look at some more of them.



butterfly in spring, haru no choo 春の蝶(はるのちょう)

Special names of butterflies
all are kigo for SPRING

swallowtail, agehachoo, 鳳蝶(あげはちょう)

butterfly, choochoo 蝶々(ちょうちょ), soochoo双蝶(そうちょう)

shirochoo 粉蝶(しろちょう)fam. Pierinae

yellow butterfly, kichoo 黄蝶(きちょう)
Eurema hecabe、
cabbage butterfly, monshirochoo 紋白蝶(もんしろちょう)
Pieris rapae
... monkichoo 紋黄蝶(もんきちょう)Colias erate

yamajoroo 山上﨟(やまじょろう)
dandanchoo だんだら蝶(だんだらちょう)

Gifu Butterfly, gifuchoo 岐阜蝶(ぎふちょう)
Luehdorfia japonica

shijimichoo 小灰蝶(しじみちょう)fam. Lycaenidae
seserichoo 挵蝶(せせりちょう)fam. Hesperiidae

tatehachoo 蛺蝶(たてはちょう)fam. Nymphalidae
akatatechoo 赤蛺蝶(あかたては)Vanessa indica
ruritatechoo 瑠璃蛺蝶(るりたては)Kaniska canace

sakahachoo 逆八蝶(さかはちちょう)Araschnia burejana

ishigakechoo 、石崖蝶(いしがけちょう)
Cyrestis thyodamas

ichimonjichoo 一文字蝶(いちもんじちょう)Ladoga camilla

"big violett, oomurasaki 大紫(おおむらさき)
Sasakia charonda
"little violett", komurasaki 小紫(こむらさき)
Apatura metis

madarachoo 斑蝶(まだらちょう)fam. Danaidae
asagimadara 浅黄斑蝶(あさぎまだら)Parantica sita

. asagi あさぎ - 浅黄 - 浅葱 hues of light yellow, green and blue .

Peacock butterfly, kujakuchoo 孔雀蝶(くじゃくちょう)Inachus io

hiodoshichoo 緋縅蝶(ひおどしちょう)
Nymphalis xanthomelas
hyoomonchoo 豹紋蝶(ひょうもんちょう)Brenthis daphne

"goblin butterfly", tenguchoo 天狗蝶(てんぐちょう)
nout butterfly European beak nettle-tree butterfly
Libythea celtis

"serpent's eye butterfly" janomechoo 蛇目蝶(じゃのめちょう )Minois dryas
higasachoo 日陰蝶(ひかげちょう)Lethe sicelis
CLICK for more photos

"lake butterfly", kochoo 胡蝶(こちょう)

"tree leaf butterfly" konohachoo 木葉蝶(このはちょう)
Kallima inachus . orange oakleaf
CLICK for more photos

"sleeping butterfly", nemuru choo 眠る蝶(ねむるちょう)
"butterfly going crazy", kuruu choo 狂う蝶(くるうちょう)
butterfly dancing, mau choo舞う蝶(まうちょう)


winter butterfly, winter's butterfly,
fuyu no choo 冬の蝶

..... fuyuchoo 冬蝶

kigo for winter

Details are HERE
freezing butterfly, frozen butterfly, itechoo 凍蝶

summer butterfly, natsu no choo 夏の蝶

autumn butterfly, aki no choo 秋の蝶

Worldwide use


Blue Triangle butterfly, bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon choredon) Australia


Sufi Mythology

The life cycle of the butterfly presents a perfect analogy for immortality:
a). The crawling caterpillar signifies the ordinary life of mortals, preoccupied with fulfilling our trivial needs.
b). The next stage, the dark chrysalis (cocoon), represents death.
c). The butterfly symbolizes rebirth and a new beginning in life, with the soul fluttering free of material concerns and restrictions.

These three stages also serve as a microcosm for the biography of Jesus Christ - life, death and resurrection.

Read more about jewelery and ancient symbols
© Nitin Kumar, Exotic India


. tsurushibina, tsurushi bina つるし雛 / 吊るし雛 hanging hina dolls .

Things found on the way


doing the dishes -
two tender butterflies

Gabi Greve, June 2008
My Simple Life

a love letter
folded in two wings
of a butterfly

Click for more more information !

Gabi Greve, September 2009


sore-zore ya cho mo shiro-gumi kiiro-gumi

among butterflies too...
white gang, yellow gang

(Tr. David Lanoue)

Look at the picture and comments of Sakuo here:


Two Haiga by Narayanan Raghunathan

a butterfly spirals
in floral cosmoses ~
scent of nectar

... ... ...

twilight gloom
a solitary butterfly
a dog's howl ~

balloon stall ~
a child and mother pose ~
a butterfly joins ~

Read more of Narayanan Raghunathan's Butterfly Haiku here:
India Saijiki


parsimonious butterflies
in a ferocious windy tangle
clasping benign sepals

Bamdev Sharma, Nepal


Mourning cloak, Nymphalis antiopa

in the graveyard
a mourning cloak flutters
over the incense ashes

- Shared by Alan Pizarrelli -
Joys of Japan, 2012

Mourning cloaks
gold leafing
our stump

- Shared by Alexis Rotella -
Joys of Japan, 2012

Related words

***** First Butterfly, hatsu choo 初蝶
Expresses the joy of seeing it for the first time in spring, thus knowing the long winter is over.

Haiku Collection: First Butterfly. Click for more photos
Haiku Collection: First Butterfly


Chunag-Tsu (Chunag Tzu, Zhuangzi)
. Sooshi 荘子 Soshi and Japanese Kigo .

. chocho 蝶々と伝説 butterfly legends .


- #chocho #butterfly #schmetterling -


Gabi Greve said...

building their floral
empires in spring-light,
golden butterflies ~

canvas shoes rest
in sunlight ~ a butterfly
circles, circles around

twilight gloom,
a solitary butterfly
a dog's howl ~

Narayanan Raghunathan


Gabi Greve said...

bristling butterfly
brewing vintage nectar
on an yellow flower ~

in the shadows
shrubs grow breeze wings
like butterflies

three butterflies
sway around the pram ~
the mother smiles ~

nameless flowers
sway in the cool breeze ~
a butterfly names them ~

Narayanan Raghunathan


Gabi Greve said...

wonder dreams ~
old woman watches
fairy butterflies ~

a butterfly examines
vast human architecture
for floral designs ~

in a Gothic palace ~
a princess
with a lute

Narayanan Raghunathan


Gabi Greve said...

hilltop view ~
watching a new sky
with a pink butterfly

Narayanan Raghunathan


Gabi Greve said...

Butterflies Butterflies Eternally In Nirvana ~

by Narayanan Raghunathan

. Many More Butterfly Haiku .


Gabi Greve said...


A Taste of Butterfly Dreams:
The Seasons through Haiku and Photographs

Photographs by Michael Lustbader
Translations by William J. Higginson
Calligraphy by Eri Takase

—25 selections from 130 paired images and haiku with commentary—


Gabi Greve said...

Butterfly words curl
in whispers from silk cocoons--
Painted picture words

Michael R. Collings, USA

Anonymous said...

The Story of Psyche and Eros

Dr. C. George Boeree

The so-called psyche or butterfly is generated from caterpillars which grow on green leaves, chiefly leaves of theraphanus, which some call crambe or cabbage. At first it is less than a grain of millet; it then grows into a small grub; and in three days it is a tiny caterpillar. After this it grows on and on, and becomes quiescent and changes its shape, and is now called a chrysalis. The outer shell is hard,and the chrysalis moves if you touch it. It attaches itself by cobweb-like filaments, and is unfurnished with mouth or any other apparent organ. After a little while the outer covering bursts asunder, and out flies the winged creature that we call the psyche or butterfly. (From Aristotle's History of Animals 551a.1)


Psyche was one of three sisters, princesses in a Grecian kingdom. All three were beautiful, but Psyche was the most beautiful. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, heard about Psyche and her sisters and was jealous of all the attention people paid to Psyche. So she summoned her son, Eros, and told him to put a spell on Psyche.
Always obedient, Eros flew down to earth with two vials of potions. Invisible, he sprinkled the sleeping Psyche with a potion that would make men avoid her when it came to marriage. Accidentally, he pricked her with one of his arrows (which make someone fall in love instantly) and she startled awake. Her beauty, in turn, startled Eros, and he accidentally pricked himself as well. Feeling bad about what he had done, he then sprinkled her with the other potion, which would provide her with joy in her life.

Sure enough, Psyche, although still beautiful, could find no husband. Her parents, afraid that they had offended the gods somehow, asked an oracle to reveal Psyche's future husband. The oracle said that, while no man would have her, there was a creature on the top of a mountain that would marry her.

Surrendering to the inevitable, she headed for the mountain. When she came within sight, she was lifted by a gentle wind and carried the rest of the way. When she arrived, she saw that her new home was in fact a rich and beautiful palace. Her new husband never permitted her to see him, but he proved to be a true and gentle lover. He was, of course, Eros himself.

After some time, she grew lonely for her family, and she asked to be allowed to have her sisters for a visit. When they saw how beautiful Psyche's new home was, they grew jealous. They went to her and told her not to forget that her husband was some kind of monster, and that, no doubt, he was only fattening her up in order to eat her. They suggested that she hide a lantern and a knife near her bed, so that the next time he visited her, she could look to see if he was indeed a monster, and cut off his head if it was so.

Her sisters convinced her this was best, so the next time her husband came to visit her, she had a lamp and a knife ready. When she raised the lamp, she saw that her husband was not a monster but Eros! Surprised, he ran to the window and flew off. She jumped out after him, but fell the ground and lay there unconscious.

When she awoke, the palace had disappeared, and she found herself in a field near her old home. She went to the temple of Aphrodite and prayed for help. Aphrodite responded by giving her a series of tasks to do -- tasks that Aphrodite believed the girl would not be able to accomplish.

The first was a matter of sorting a huge pile of mixed grains into separate piles. Psyche looked at the pile and despaired, but Eros secretly arranged for an army of ants to separate the piles. Aphrodite, returning the following morning, accused Psyche of having had help, as indeed she had.

The next task involved getting a snippet of golden fleece from each one of a special herd of sheep that lived across a nearby river. The god of the river advised Psyche to wait until the sheep sought shade from the midday sun. Then they would be sleepy and not attack her. When Psyche presented Aphrodite with the fleece, the goddess again accused her of having had help.

The third task Aphrodite set before Psyche was to get a cup of water from the river Styx, where it cascades down from an incredible height. Psyche thought it was all over, until an eagle helped her by carrying the cup up the mountain and returning it full. Aphrodite was livid, knowing full well that Psyche could never have done this alone!

Psyche's next task was to go into hell to ask Persephone, wife of Hades, for a box of magic makeup. Thinking that she was doomed, she decided to end it all by jumping off a cliff. But a voice told her not to, and gave her instructions on making her way to hell to get the box. But, the voice warned, do not look inside the box under any circumstances!

Well, Psyche received the box from Persephone and made her way back home. But, true to her nature, she was unable to restrain herself from peeking inside. To her surprise, there was nothing inside but darkness, which put her into a deep sleep. Eros could no longer restrain himself either and wakened her. He told her to bring the box to Aphrodite, and that he would take care of the rest.

Eros went to the heavens and asked Zeus to intervene. He spoke of his love for Psyche so eloquently that Zeus was moved to grant him his wish. Eros brought Psyche to Zeus who gave her a cup of ambrosia, the drink of immortality. Zeus then joined Psyche and Eros in eternal marriage. They later had a daughter, who would be named Pleasure.


The Greek name for a butterfly is Psyche, and the same word means the soul. There is no illustration of the immortality of the soul so striking and beautiful as the butterfly, bursting on brilliant wings from the tomb in which it has lain, after a dull, grovelling, caterpillar existence, to flutter in the blaze of day and feed on the most fragrant and delicate productions of the spring. Psyche, then, is the human soul, which is purified by sufferings and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness. (From Bulfinch's Mythology: The Age of Fable, chapter XI)

© Copyright 1999, C. George Boeree.

anonymous said...

a butterfly went past after seeing me as an apparition

— Yasumasa Sōda (20th c.)
[trans. Gendai Haiku Kyokai]

Butterfly Haiku and the
Butterfly Gods ...

THF, Viral 7.1


Gabi Greve said...

a love letter
folded in two wings
of a butterfly

Gabi Greve

inspired from here:

Gabi Greve said...

cabbage butterfly
in and out of nettlebeds
a girl's laughter

Alan Summers, UK

1. Runner up Snapshot Press Millennium Haiku Calendar Competition (2000)
2. The Redmoon Anthology 1997 ISBN 0-9657818-5-2 Redmoon Press U.S.A.
3. 1997 Hobo Haiku International Competition (June) Highly Commended

anonymous said...

Waking from Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dream? -- Plagiarism or Honkadori

by Chen-ou Liu

Michel Foucault (1977, 115) has argued that the entire concept of artist or author as an original instigator of meaning is only a privileged moment of individualization in the history of art.

-- Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody

[Basho’s] notion of the new lay not so much in the departure from or rejection of the perceived tradition as in the reworking of established practices and conventions, in creating new counterpoints to the past.

-- Haruo Shirane, Traces of Dreams


Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

kuwa no mi ya hana naki choo no yosute-zake

mulberries -
without blossoms they are the hermit wine
for the butterflies

Matsuo Basho
Tr. Gabi Greve

Discussion of this hokku

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

inuru chou nezumi no kome mo toorigake

sleeping butterfly --
it passed by even
the mouse's rice

This hokku is from the 1st month (Feb.) of 1815, when Issa was living in his hometown. He seems to have found a butterfly "asleep" in an out-of-the-way corner in his house. Since butterflies normally hibernate until March, I take the butterfly to be hibernating, though sometimes hibernating butterflies wake up if there is a stretch of unseasonably warm weather, and then they have to go back into hibernation again. Whichever it is, Issa calls it sleep. Before he found the butterfly, Issa seems to have passed by a small stash of rice grains brought by a mouse or mice, probably from the dirt floor of the kitchen, and Issa is impressed that the butterfly has passed right by the delicious rice without eating it or making a mess of it. Issa writes, "even" the mouse's rice, so the gentle butterfly hasn't touched anything in the house. It's not clear whether Issa knows adult butterflies only eat/drink liquids, but in any case, the peacefulness of the butterfly, which obviously didn't touch the rice, seems to be reciprocated by the mouse, which doesn't touch the hibernating butterfly. Perhaps for Issa the butterfly is also spiritually inspirational, teaching him not to be helplessly attached to things.

Vol.1 of Issa's complete works gives the traditional form inuru for 'sleeping' in this hokku, while vol. 3 gives ineru, so either pronunciation seems to be possible. Issa has one other hokku with 'sleeping' in the attributive form, and there he writes inuru in phonetic script, so I use that form here.

Chris Drake
(translating Haiku forum)

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

chiri no mi no chiri yori karuki ko choo kana

small butterfly
lighter than the dust
of your dust body

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku is from the 4th month (May) of 1824. In Japanese mi in line 1 means both body and social status, and "dust body" was a standard metaphorical expression meaning 1) to have a social status or position (mi) so low no one pays any attention to you or cares about you, making you socially invisible, and 2) to live in the midst of the dusty, dirty world of ordinary affairs and become dusty and dirty yourself. Issa seems to be using both the literal meaning of chiri as dust or small trash and the first metaphorical meaning of "dust body": being worthless, insignificant, or tiny. On the one hand, the small butterfly (and others like it) is usually marginalized and overlooked if not looked down on by humans and presumably by larger butterflies as well. On the other hand, the small butterfly's incredibly light movements through the air show it to be even more mobile and less earthbound than motes of dust. It is so graceful and seemingly unbound by gravity that its small size and light weight are its greatest assets, and it leaves the dust of the world behind as it flies here and there very rapidly and seemingly at will. Issa thus turns the normal meaning of "dust body" on its head and uses it to praise the small butterfly. And, since "dust body" is an expression used mostly with regard to humans, the lightness and flying ability of the small butterfly here may be suggesting that the people often referred to as the "dust" or "trash" of the society, people without wealth, power, or visibility, have the potential to transcend or leave their dust bodies in the normal, discriminatory sense behind as they fly around socially in unthinkable ways.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

maruku neta inu ni bettari kochoo kana

totally at rest
on a dog curled up asleep --
small butterfly

Read the comment by Chris Drake :

Gabi Greve - Buson said...

Yosa Buson

tsurigane ni tomarite nemuru kochoo kana

the butterfly and the temple bell . .

Gabi Greve - Buson said...

Yosa Buson

harusame ya nameshi ni samasu choo no yume

Spring rain . . .

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

ki no kage ya choo to yadoru mo tashoo no en

sheltering under a tree
with Butterfly -- we've met
in other lives

Tr. Chris Drake

Comments are here.

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

hanashi-chin ni uguisu naite itarikeri

to tip us
for what we said
the warbler sings

mai-chin ni kami o tobasu zo nobe no chou

field butterfly,
a tip for your dance --
I fly this paper to you

These two hokku are from New Year's in 1815, when Issa was in his hometown and in areas nearby. The hokku are placed side by side in Issa's diary and may form a pair. In any case, both are about humans and animals paying their respects to each other and giving spiritual remuneration to each other for things well done.

The reward or pay (chin) involved in each case seems to come from the heart and constitute a respectful repayment for a gift given, and Issa refers to the payment as a kind of tip or special gift. In the first hokku a bush warbler (or warblers) appears at the beginning of the year, and Issa and someone else, perhaps his wife, apparently have spoken words of praise to each other about the warbler, and in return the warbler has been thanking them profusely for the interesting talk or conversation by singing its song for them again and again. In the second hokku, the dance-like flight of the butterfly has been so graceful that Issa wants to respond in kind. Issa may be taking a hint from the physical tips or gifts of coins placed inside folded paper that were given to street dancers at New Year's or similar wrapped coins thrown onto kabuki stages, but his payment to the butterfly is probably a repayment in kind, since the butterfly's dance is worth far more than any amount of money. Origami paper birds and butterflies could be flown a short distance, but they probably wouldn't suggest the limitless value of a real butterfly's dance, so my guess is Issa is telling the butterfly he's about to fly a piece of paper toward it that has this hokku written on it.

A material hokku can't fly -- or dance -- very far, but the hokku represents Issa's mind, and that has no such physical limitations. I doubt that the exact kind of paper or whether it's folded or not is important here. Issa simply wants to thank the butterfly and tell it he's giving it the most valuable gift he can think of.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

hatsu-choo mo yagate karasu no fujiki kana

first butterfly, too
soon just a crow's
ordinary food

This hokku is from lunar 2/27 (March 23), 1808, when Issa was staying at the Nishi Honganji True Pure Land temple in Edo. In the hokku Issa seems to be both grieving over the short life of the first butterfly he sees this spring and resigned to the inevitable transience and transformation of all things as stressed in Buddhism. Even the very special first butterfly of the year, which seems to be almost beyond materiality and gravity when it appears, will soon be nothing more than ordinary material food for a crow or another bird. The particle mo, 'too' or 'even,' suggests Issa is also talking about all animals, including humans.

In the third line fujiki (or bujiki, the more common pronunciation in Issa's day) had two related meanings: first, plain, ordinary food (mostly various grains with a bit of rice) regularly eaten by most farmers and working people, and second, the plain food (consisting mostly of low-quality wheat and rice) given to starving farmers in times of famine by local authorities. The word was usually written with the characters 夫食 , literally 'working people's rice,' with the characters 扶食 , literally 'emergency food aid,' being a variant. In this hokku Issa uses the first meaning along with the variant written form, a common practice in his time.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

me no suna wo kosuru kobushi ni kochoo kana

rubbing sand from his eyes
in my hand...
little butterfly

Literally, the butterfly is in his "fist" (kobushi), but since Issa can see the butterfly in it rubbing its eyes, his fist isn't closed. I picture his hand cupped open.
Tr. David Lanoue

- - - - -

rubbing sand from
my eyes -- on my fist
a small butterfly

This hokku is from lunar 1/26 (March 7) in 1804, when Issa was living in the city of Edo. At that time Issa was doing a lot of reading in ancient Chinese poetry and philosophy and in the Japanese classics, and in his diary this hokku is followed by a prose sentence that seems to refer to the the hokku placed just before it, since no other hokku follow it. Perhaps Issa wanted to make sure his readers would understand an important allusion he was making. Most of the sentence is a quotation from the last sentence of the thirteenth essay in Yoshida Kenko's fourteenth-century collection of short, almost haibun-like essays or thought sketches on random subjects called Tsurezure-gusa, Useless Scribblings. Essay 13 is quite short:

"One of life's truly special pleasures is to sit alone below your lamp with an open book and make friends with the person who wrote it, someone from a long-ago world you've never known. The books I recommend most are the volumes full of deep feeling in the Wen xuan anthology, the collected works of Bo Juyi (Po Ju-i), the words of Laozi (Lao Tzu), and the writings of Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu). The Chinese works by learned Japanese writers in the distant past also contain many moving passages."

By quoting the last sentence in his diary, Issa seems to be referring to the short essay as a whole while stressing that ancient Chinese poetry and philosophy are still very important for Japanese writers, including himself. Judging from the content of Kenko's mini-essay, Issa's hokku seems to be a reference to Zhuangzi's dream of becoming a butterfly, one of the most famous passages in his writings and one that was often referred to in Japan. It is alluded to in other hokku by Issa, so Issa must have been very interested in it. Zhuangzi says he dreamed he was a butterfly flitting around and enjoying itself, a butterfly that had no idea it was Zhuangzi. When Zhuangzi woke up he was definitely Zhuangzi, but he didn't know whether he was Zhuangzi who had woken from a dream of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuangzi.

In the hokku Issa gets some grains of blowing sand in his eyes, and he gently rubs his eyes with his fists to clear them. When he opens his eyes wide again and looks at his fists, he sees a small butterfly has landed on one of them. It's an unexpected and rare event, to say the least. He feels as if he were rubbing his eyes after waking from a dream. Is he Issa, now awake after dreaming he was a butterfly, or is the small butterfly dreaming that he is Issa? Is Issa a writer of Japanese poetry who enjoys Chinese poetry or is he Zhuangzi dreaming he is a Japanese haikai poet? Both are legitimate questions and can't be just brushed or rubbed away.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Masaoka Shiki

Funabashi no fuwafuwa ugoku kochoo kana

the lake butterfly
at Funabashi moves
ever so softly . . .
More about Funabashi Town in Chiba

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

ne-nakama ni ware mo hairu zo nobe no chō

hey, me too,
I'll sleep with you
in this field, butterflies

This hokku is from late in the third lunar month (April) in 1821, when Issa was living in his hometown. Though he is fifty-nine, Issa announces to some butterflies with childlike enthusiasm in intimate colloquial language that he is going to join their group in the middle of a field. He seems to have little doubt that the butterflies will accept him as a member. The butterflies may simply be resting on leaves or limbs, since ne- can mean 'sleep; lie down, stretch out and rest,' but I guess Issa must be a bit tired from writing so many hokku every day, so I translate with "sleep."

The word translated "with you" literally means "to enter [your group]." In Issa's time hairu (這入る), 'to enter,' was a colloquial verb that centuries before had replaced the more literary verb iru (入る), 'to enter,' in many contexts. The first character in hairu literally means 'to crawl,' and in the late ancient period hai-iru (這入る) meant 'to enter by crawling; to enter quietly, unnoticed,' but in the medieval period the first character of this old verb also became attached to a new, different verb. To make this new verb, the character for 'to crawl' was used simply phonetically to mark the new first syllable ha- that was attached to iru to create the colloquial form hairu (這入る). Issa follows this usage. The standard written form, with few exceptions, for the colloquial hairu, 'to enter,' in Issa's hokku is 這入る, which he distinguishes from the literary iru (入る), depending on the mood or tone of the hokku. In this hokku both hairu and zo together create a strong but friendly colloquial tone that expresses Issa's desire to at least temporarily become a member of the group of butterflies.

Chris Drake

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .