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Silence 静けさ (shizukesa)

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shizukesa ya iwa ni shimi-iru semi no koe

deep silence -
the shrill of cicadas
seeps into rocks

grosse Stille -
das Schrillen der Zikaden
dringt in die Felsen

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Matsuo Basho

© Gabi Greve

Oku no Hosomichi - - - Station 26 - Ryushakuji - - -
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


Matsuo Basho at the Temple Yamadera

Ryushaku-ji - 立石寺 - Risshaku-ji

Click on the photo to go to the Temple !
And read more about the interpretation of this famous haiku !

- - - - - not to mix up with
. yamadera 山寺 yama no tera, a temple in the mountains .
terayama, mountain with many temples


Stillness --
the cicada's cry
drills into the rocks.

Tr. Robert Hass

in this hush profound
into the very rocks it seeps
the cicada sound

Tr. Dorothy Britton

how still it is here-
stinging into the stones
the loucust's trill

such stillness -
the cries of cicadas
sink into rocks

Two Tr. by Donald Keene

What stillness!
The cicadas' voices
Penetrate the rocks.

Tr. Asataro Miyamori

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

Compiled by Larry Bole

So still:
into rocks it pierces--
the locust-shrill.

trans. Harold Henderson

It is probably one of the most famous of Basho's haiku, along with the crow on the bare branch, and the old pond with a frog. It appears in Oku no hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Deep North). I have to agree with David M. Cannon, when he says in an essay (which he closes by quoting this haiku):

"...if you want it to mean for you something like Basho intended it to, you'll have to enter this culture, and visit the place."

Basho was a dedicated reviser. There are two known earlier versions of this haiku:

yamadera ya iwa ni shimitsuku semi no koe

mountain temple--
sticking into the rocks,
cicada's cry

trans. Barnhill


sabishisa ya iwa no shimikomu semi no koe

seeping into the rocks,
cicada's cry

trans. Barnhill

It's been pointed out how much better Basho's final version is than the earlier versions. Noteworthy is the verb "shimiiru," which mimics the sound of the cicadas.

Is Basho being purely metaphorical here? I was surprised to see pictures of the place where it was written: Ryuushaku-ji (aka Risshaku-ji) (Standing Rock Temple). The mountain on which it was built is very rocky, composed largely of porous volcanic rock. There are smaller and larger holes, some as big as caves, in the rock faces.

So it's possible that these particular rocks were muffling the cicadas' cries. And it isn't a stretch to imagine that the cicadas' cries, like dripping water, could be metaphorically drilling holes in the rocks, with real holes as "evidence." Here is a link to a brief discussion of the haiku, with some pictures of the place:
..... http://www.sonic.net/~tabine/

So, how does one translate "shimiiru?" My simple Random House Japanese-English dictionary defines "shimiru" as "penetrate." What meaning have some of the translators into English given the word in their word-for-word translations?

Henderson: shimi-iru: pierce-in

Barnhill: shimiiru: penetrate

Ueda: shimiiru: permeate

Shirane: shimiiru: penetrate

So one might think that "shimiiru" describes a 'hard' action. But there is that nagging "permeate." In fact, translations seem to be divided between two approaches, a 'hard' approach, and a 'soft' approach. Among the 'hard' approaches, the word "shimiiru" becomes: drills/drilling, stings, penetrates, pierces, shrills, cutting, etc. But on the softer side, "shimiiru" is translated as: seeps/seeping, soaks/soaking, absorbing, etc. A middle ground is achieved with the use of: "sinks/sinking into" and "throbbing through."

To me, there is a very different feel to this haiku depending on whether the action described by "shimiiru" is viewed as being 'hard' or 'soft'.

Then there is the interpretation of "shizukasa." It is usually interpreted as meaning "stillness" in the sense of silence. But it is also sometimes interpreted as "calmness," so that the contrast is not only between silence and sound, but also between stillness and motion. Basho seemed to be in a meditative mood after his long walk, and his strenuous climb up to the temple.

One of the interesting things about this haiku to me is that Basho hadn't even intended to visit the place, but had been talked into going by the people in Obanazawa, where he was resting up after a difficult part of his journey.

When my dentist drills to hard and I flinsh,
he asks if it hurts:
Shimi-irimasu ka? using the verb shimiiru.



How tranquil it is!
Penetrating into the rocks
the sound of cicadas.

The opening phrase, in particular, conveys the beholder’s admiration of the landscape with an emphatic cutting word (kireji) “ya.” “Shizukasa ya” is derived from shizuka, an adjective that means quiet, still, or tranquil. The word is commonly written with a kanji character whose Chinese-origin reading is “sei,” but in this verse Bashô uses a different kanji whose Chinese-origin reading is “kan,” meaning “leisure” or “idle.” The implications of the latter kanji, as we have seen earlier, are highly valued by Daoist thinkers, and Bashô’s choice is not a coincidence.

sabishisa ya/ iwa ni shimikomu/ semi no koe

How solitary it is!
Permeating into the rocks—
the sound of cicadas.

“Sabishisa,” a word derived from the adjective “sabishi,” conventionally implies loneliness in Japanese literature. Bashô, however, often uses the word in close relationship with “shizuka.” The following poem, which contains the word “shizukasa,” also has a different draft that uses the kanji normally used to transliterate “sabishisa.”

In discussing the two pairs of Bashô’s poems that use “shizukasa” and “sabishisa,” Makoto Ueda observes:
“Certainly it is more than a coincidence that the word ‘quietness’ is used in place of ‘loneliness’ in both poems. Bashô conceived loneliness to be very close to quietness.”

Indeed, in Bashô’s poetry “shizukasa” and “sabishisa” often designate an existential state in which one’s inner serenity and the fundamental silence of the external world merge, a state close to the ontological solitude and silence defined in the Zhuangzi:
“Emptiness, stillness, limpidity, silence, inaction—these are the level of Heaven and earth, the substance of the Way and its Virtue.”

Haruo Shirane notes that
“the submerged emotion or sentiment in Bashô’s landscape poetry sometimes takes the form of what is referred to as sabi, in which the landscape—such as that in the famous frog poem—is infused with the sentiment of quiet loneliness (sabishisa), a negative term that implicitly takes on positive value.”
The transformation of the negative term “sabishisa” into a positive value in Bashô’s poetry owes much to his reconceptualizing the sentiment of loneliness through the Daoist discourse.

In fact, sabishisa in Bashô’s poems is often not a landscape infused with the sentiment of loneliness, but the fundamental tranquility found in the harmonious fusion of the external world and the poetic mind. Bashô consciously combines the traditional Japanese aesthetic of loneliness (sabi) with the aesthetic of idleness and inaction, and he terms this reconceptualized aesthetic ideal kanjaku, a compound word that is written with the kanji “kan” (leisure or idle) and “jaku” (lonely or still).  閑寂

In his later works, Bashô declares that kanjaku is the state in which
“one’s mind should stay.”
Actually, kanjaku as a basic tone became evident in Bashô’s poetry much earlier. From around the time of his first poetic journey, his poems already show the tone of kanjaku.

source : Basho-and-the-Dao - Peipei-Qiu


What was the sound Basho heard?

Of course we cannot say exactly what Basho heard, nor would that necessarily be the final say in how he chose to write the poem even if we did know. Basho wrote and rewrote Oku no hosomichi, so we are in a poetic world, not just an empirical world, in this case of this poem and the work as a whole.

That being said, it might be useful here to make available some possible sounds. There is no agreement among scholars as to which of the many, many cicadas was singing at that time in that location, or indeed if only one species was prominant. Further, cicada songs vary from solo songs, to chorus, to "screeching" for each type of cicada. For a very complete, bilingual cicada web site go here.

On a separate page (because of the file size they download extremely slowly for individuals with dialup, not cable, dsl or other internet connections) are .wav files of solo and chorus song for the two cicada which have been leading contenders for this temple at that time of year: aburazemi / Graptopsaltria nigrofuscata and niiniizemi / Platypleura kaempferi. Go here..

© www.sonic.net/

Worldwide use

silence - absence of sound, speech
synonyms :
blackout, calm, censorship, dead air, death, dumbness, hush, hush-hush, inarticulateness, iron curtain, laconism, lull, muteness, noiselessness, peace, quiescence, quiet, quietness, quietude, quietus, reserve, reticence, saturninity, secrecy, sleep, speechlessness, still, stillness, sulk, sullenness, taciturnity, uncommunicativeness

- Reference -


Silence (maun) in India

Silence and Stones

Continue to ... Silence and Haiga

Things found on the way


According to Hasegawa Kai, the section with the CUT is something still lingering in the heart and mind of the poet, whereas the other part of the juxtaposition is happening NOW.

shizukesa ya iwa ni shimi-iru semi no koe

paraphrasing the famous ku of Basho like this

(there was) silence! (The silence that was!)
(now I hear) the shrill of cicadas
seeping into rocks

Kireji, the meaning of the CUT in haiku

Related words

***** Meditation (dhyana)

***** . Autumn Melancholy , Autumn Solitude, Europe

***** Mandala

***** Voices of an animal (marumaru no koe) SEMI NO KOE





Anonymous said...

Learn to get in touch with silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has purpose.
There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to use to learn from.

Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross

Anonymous said...

True silence really means going deep within yourself to that place
where nothing is happening, where you transcend time and space.

You go into a brand new dimension of nothingness. That's where
all the power is. That's your real home. That's where you really
belong, in deep Silence where there is no good or bad, no one
trying to achieve anything.
Just being, pure being. . . . Silence is the ultimate reality.

Robert Adams