Basho, “Winter solitude” (trans. Robert Hass)

Winter solitude (via yama-bato & growing orbits @ tumblr)
Basho, trans. Robert Hass

Winter solitude —
In a world of one color
the sound of wind.


Initially: too bleak. Loneliness is sameness, reinforced by that hollow, echoing sound. Loneliness, sameness, emptiness. We’re where we started.

I wonder if a move from “speaker” to “we” is the point. Loneliness is an experience we’ve all had, though it isn’t clear it was or ever could be a shared experience. “Winter” is not just a specific time; it suggests that maybe there is a shared experience.

There may be a tension between “color” and “wind.” The “world” is one color. It isn’t cold, it isn’t necessarily earth or nature frosted over. It is simply one color. This seems to imply there is one unchangeable object. That object may be perceiver and perceived. The wind moves. It produces sound. We know that sound is not a steady drone.

Change resides in what seemed static being. There may be a physiological explanation for “winter solitude.” The sun doesn’t shine as much, certain chemicals don’t get produced, we feel down. Any such explanation does injustice to “solitude.” Your loneliness is not another’s: we’re all different. We’re lonely inasmuch we are individuals. That solitude, like winter itself, has seeds of change within. The sound of wind betokens a world with many colors and the communication of the poem itself.


  1. I like the atmosphere, but i’ve never understood how to interpret – Eastern poetry from Persia to the far East. Thanks for the pointer (please do me to illustrate…)

  2. Good discussion. The poem instantly brings my memory and senses back to NY winters where snow blanketed everything with silence – over car roofs, on tree limbs. Nothing moved (except maybe the sound of wind blowing the snow dust off the surface of 4 foot packed snow), everything was white. It is an unmistakable, indescribable experience. Not so much lonely as aloneness with a twinge of joy. Maybe that’s the endorphins?

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