Haibun Road : a haibun weekly challenge (wk 3)

This week’s Basho’s Road Haibun Challenge

A haibun is one paragraph followed by one haiku. This week we start the journey with Basho’s third paragraph and the accompanying haiku. Use any bit (word, phrase, concept) as the inspiration of your own haibun. I will give one translator’s version of the next paragraph but several translations of the haiku. Translator : Hiroaki Sato

“On the twenty-seventh of the third month, the daybreak sky was suffused with haze; even though the moon at dawn loses much of its light, the peak of Fuji was faintly visible, and I was uncertain when again i might see the flowering treetops of Ueno and Yanaka. My close friends, who had been gathered since the previous evening, sent me off in a boat.  When we climbed off of the boat at a place called Senju, I was depressed by the thought of the three thousand li* that lay ahead and shed tears at a parting in this illusory world.
Yaku haru ya
tori naki uo no me
wa namida
Departing spring:
birds cry and, in the eyes of fish,
This was the first time I used my travel writing implements, and I was still reluctant to venture farther.  My friends lined up along the road, apparently to keep watching us as long as they could see us. “

*li = a Chinese unit of distance, equal to about 0.3 mile (0.5 km).  3,000 li is about 932 miles (1500 km)

Other translations of the haiku

Loath to let spring go,
Birds cry, and even fishes’
Eyes are wet with tears. (translator: Dorothy Britton)

Departing springtime
birds lament and fishes too
have tears in their eyes. (translator: Helen Craig McCullough)

With spring leaving
The birds cry out regret, the fish
Have tears in their eyes. (translator: Earl Miner)

Spring exodus
birds shriek
fish eyes blink tears. (translator:  Lucien Stryk)

What is a haibun?

A haibun is a short prose paragraph followed by a haiku/senryu. The paragraph can be one’s thoughts, a travel journal, a diary entry, an essay or even a short story. Basho, a monk in Japan, wrote the first haibun in 1690. I liken it to impressionism: it’s something you capture in the moment through writing, fleeting as the moment changes, imperfect but authentic.

I’m inviting you to write a short paragraph and a haiku inspired by the prompt. The inspiration may be a word, a phrase, a sentence or the whole paragraph from the prompt. One person might take “time to sweep the cobwebs from my broken house” and write about an abandoned building.
Another person may be inspired by the haiku. Another person may take the word “rambling” to describe their most recent travel. Go with whatever inspires you.

In case you are interested this is a audio reading from Basho’s “Narrow Road to the North” in Japanese by kaseumin (first audio of 5; Chapters 1 thru 9) made available through the Gutenberg Project

Challenge parameters

There is no right or wrong although there are a couple rules.

  • One paragraph followed by one haiku/senryu.
  • Paragraphs can be short or long (but please don’t make one paragraph book length!)
  • Haiku/senryu should be 5/7/5 syllables or pretty close. 3, 5 and 7 are numbers with special meaning in Japanese culture so that’s probably how the form arose.
  • To share what you’ve written, add a pingback or paste your link in the comments and tag your post “haibun road”.It’s moderated due to spam and to avoid people’s contribution ending up in the spam folder so your link won’t show up right away but should show up within 24 hours. I will check regularly for them but I have a real life too so be patient please.

I hope next week to do a round up of everyone’s contributions. I also hope to do this weekly, posting it on Mondays (late Mondays, not early! so look for it in the evenings Arizona time between 11pm and midnight. I am not a morning person. ). I was going to do it on Saturdays but it turns out it’s not a good evening for me. I may be fiddling about until I find a day that works consistently so keep an eye out. In any case, you will always have a week to come up with a haibun.

I’ll write a haibun for this challenge too tomorrow. I figure why write haibun alone? It’s always more fun to share a journey with companions.I hope you will join me and look forward to your writing:


Matsuo Bashô: Oku no Hosomichi (Nine Translations of the Opening Paragraph), Bureau of Public Secrets

Japanese Poetic Diaries by Earl Miner (Editor, Translator)

Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations
pdf Editor: Gábor Terebess (Hungary)

Basho’s Narrow Road: Spring and Autumn Passages (Rock Spring Collection of Japanese Literature) (translator : Hiroaki Sato)

A Haiku Journey: Bashos Narrow Road to a Far Province (Illustrated Japanese Classics) (translator: Dorothy Britton)

Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (translator: Helen Craig McCullough)

On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho (Penguin Classics) (translator:  Lucien Stryk)

audio readings from Basho’s “Narrow Road to the North” in Japanese by kaseumin

Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho (Penguin Classics)

Links are to the books on Amazon (I’m an affiliate but it’s also easy to find book titles there).

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