Inkstone Dew

Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson
W.S. Merwin, Takako Lento, translators

When I went to view chrysanthemums at a mountain village hut, the elderly host brought out his inkstone and asked for a hokku —

Touched by the dew
of your chrysanthemums
the inkstone comes to life

I think the charming introductory note lends poignancy to the haiku.

There is more to know about the allusions Buson is working with thanks to the translation and commentary by Allan Persinger in Foxfire: The Selected Poems of Yosa Buson

My old master departs with his ink stone after viewing Yamaga’s chrysanthemums — this poem is written for him

The ink stone received
dew from chrysanthemums —
may it prolong life

Kiku no tsuyu
ukete suzuri no
inochi kana

628: This poem refers to a Noh play, “Makurajido” and is about a Chinese emperor’s retainer, who accidentally steps on the emperor’s pillow. Because of this the retainer is exiled to Mt. Rekken with the pillow he stepped on. On the pillow were written words, which the retainer writes on the leaves of the numerous chrysanthemums on the mountain. When the dew and rain would wash away the words, he saved the water and drank it. Drinking the magic chrysanthemum water, revives his youth and keeps him alive for 700 years. He eventually gives the water to Emperor Wei as a sign of atonement.

Yamaga is a place in Kyoto.

Furthermore there is the legend, “The life of the writing brush is determined by the sun, the life of ink by the moon, and the life of the ink stone by the passing of ages. An ink stone is a rectangular stone dish with a sloping interior for an ink-stick to be rubbed against the slope in water to produce the ink (sumi) used in calligraphy. Finally, in this poem then are two symbols of longevity, the chrysanthemum dew and the ink stone, which is what Buson is wishing for his old master.

And so for day 3087

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