“Summer Grass” by Matsuo Bashō

The following haiku is from Bashō’s famous haibun (blended prose-verse travelogue) Narrow Road to the Deep North, which describes his 1689 journey into the less populated wilderness of northern Japan in search of famous utamakaru or sites that inspired great poetry. At one point he visits the ruins of the former strongholds and castles of the Fujiwara clan, wiped out centuries ago. The fields upon which warriors died defending their masters have become wild expanses of green, overrunning the glories of the past till hardly a trace can be seen. The poet takes off his bamboo hat, tears filling his eyes as he composes these lines:

Waves of summer grass:
All that remains of soldiers’
Impossible dreams.

—Translated by David Bowles, July 2013

Original Japanese

natsukusa ya
tsuwamono domo ga
yume no ato.


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