“Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one,”
writes Basho, one of the most revered haiku poets in Japan’s history. Nine years after his death, in 1703, a young girl named Chiyo-ni was born. She would live and write a lifetime of poetry in complete oneness with nature.
Chiyo-ni wrote her first haiku when she was seven years old. By the time she was seventeen, she was known all over the country. But she was not interested in celebrity; she wanted a simple life. One in which she could immerse herself in the beauty of the ordinary world.
the well bucket-entangled,
I ask for water
Nature, stillness, lightness and simplicity. Emptiness, purity, clarity. She wrote:
of hidden things
She could tackle deeply human themes simply by capturing, in seventeen syllables, the sound of running water, or the wind in the trees.
to tangle or untangle
it’s up to the wind
It was more than art; it was a practice, a way of life. To see with clarity, become one with nature. Buddhists call it the Way of Haikai.
it is only water—
rouge flower dew
Chiyo-ni’s style was “pure, like white jade, without ornament, without carving, natural. […] She [lived] simply, as if with a stone for a pillow, and spring water to brush her teeth.”
- Shoin, haiku poet, in the preface to Chiyo-ni’s Kushu
And yet the course of her life did not run along an easy trajectory. She was writing haiku at a time when that was not appropriate for women. She also lost her infant child and husband and spent years after that caring for her aging parents and running her father’s scroll-writing business.
Chiyo-ni paved the way for female haiku poets after her and gained prominence as one of the defining authorities in Japanese haiku literature. And her father’s business thrived. Nonetheless, when her parents eventually died, she gave everything away,
“in order to renounce the world, but as a way ‘to teach my heart to be like the clear water which flows night and day.”
She would spend the rest of her life immersed in that nature she loved, experiencing its beauty, writing haiku, being one with the world. Being.