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Matsuo Basho, Haiku and Yamagata


松尾芭蕉 山寺

Shin areba (Faithful Pilgrims), haiku poem on tanzaku card Matsunaga Teitoku

Shin areba (Faithful Pilgrims), haiku poem on tanzaku card

Matsunaga Teitoku

shin areba / kore mo hibai no / kidoku kana

faithful pilgrims / find themselves wondrously drawn / like the flying plum tree


This haiku alludes to a legend revolving around the Heian Period aristocrat and poet Sugawara no Michizane and the tobiume, or “flying plum tree,” located on the grounds of the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Kyushu. When the maneuverings of a political rival jealous of Michizane’s scholarly achievements resulted in the exile of Michizane from Kyoto to Kyushu, there was said to be a plum tree so devoted to Michizane that it uprooted itself and flew to Kyushu to remain by his side. This poem draws a parallel between the capacity of the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine to attract large numbers of believers and the miraculous workings that brought the legendary plum tree to the same shrine.


The author of this poem was Matsunaga Teitoku, a renowned master of waka and haiku poetry in the Kyoto region. Teitoku helped to popularize waka and renga poetry, which had until then been enjoyed by court nobles and the samurai class, among the masses by introducing haikai no renga (literally, “comic linked verse”) containing colloquial words not usually permitted in classical verse, thereby making the poetry much easier to compose. A skilled calligrapher, Teitoku also briefly served as secretary and scribe to Toyotomi Hideyoshi.


As the leader of the Teimon school of haikai poetry, Teitoku had many disciples including Kitamura Kigin, a haiku teacher who Basho once studied with.

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