Basho, “Seek on high bare trails…”

Seek on high bare trails…
Basho (tr. Kenneth Yasuda)

Seek on high bare trails
sky-reflecting violets…
mountain-top jewels


Wandering constantly, sometimes aimlessly and exhausted, one begins to resemble the landscape (“high bare trails”). Balding, in thinner air, one pushes oneself to move upward (“seek”).

For what should you yearn on those “high bare trails?” “Sky-reflecting violets… mountain-top jewels.” The violets must reflect the sky, as there is nothing else there. Moreover, the violets are jewels because of where they are; violets in a field may not have the same significance. These considerations imply the relative character of wisdom for our lives. If one wanders seeking some higher truth, meaning, useful principle which makes life better or reconciles one to it, this is what one gets. To be sure, Basho is not cynical about the journey, the effort, the “mountain-top jewels.” Those violets still reflect the sky. A wiser life is a blessed life; the violets reflect the sky’s purity.