Year: 
2022

Fukuda Chiyo-ni (1703-1775), also known as Kaga no Chiyo, was a Japanese poet, painter and calligrapher of the Edo period. She began writing haiku at age seven and by age seventeen was popular throughout Japan. At age 52 she became a Buddhist nun, shaved her head, adopted the name Soen (“Escape”), and took up residence in a temple.

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Because morning glories
held my well-bucket hostage
I went begging for water!
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
asano eikou yoku baketto entanguru watashiha mizuwo motomeru

The haiku above is one of her best-known and I have other translations of the same poem later on this page.

Chiyo-ni wrote this next poem in calligraphy on a portrait of Matsuo Basho. I take it to mean that she liked Basho's poetry but wanted to develop her own unique voice.

To listen, fine ...
fine also not to echo,
nightingale.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Upon her engagement to the servant of a samurai:

Will it be bitter,
the first time I bite
an unripe persimmon?
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This poem was apparently written for her only son, who died:

My little dragonfly hunter:
how far away has he wandered
I wonder?
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Her husband died when she was 27 years old:

Rising, I see,
and reclining I see
the web of the mosquito netting ...
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

After she had shaved her head, become a nun and retired from public life:

No more
fixing my hair ...
merely warming my hands by the fire ...
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Auspicious straw!
Even the compost
looks glorious!
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
fukuwara ya gomi sae kesa no utsukushiki

How alarming:
her scarlet fingernails
tending the white chrysanthemums!
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
shirogiku ya beni saita te no osoroshiki

The waterweed
washes away
unaware of the butterfly’s weight
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Leaves
like crows’ shadows
flirt with a lonely moon.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Moonflowers blossoming:
a woman’s nakedness
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A woman’s desire:
wild violets’
entangled roots
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A woman’s passion
flowers from the roots:
wild violets.
—Chiyo-ni (1705-1775), loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Ebb-tide:
everything we stoop to collect
slips through our fingers ...
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Her death poem:

Having seen the moon
I can bid this planet
farewell.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
tsuki mo mite ware wa kono yo o kashiku kana

The moon settled
in a flower-strewn stream ...
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My elderly parents
become my children:
strident cicadas
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Illuminating
my fishing line:
the midsummer moon.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
tsurizao no ito ni sawaru ya natsu no tsuki

Whatever ...
Leave it to the weather:
withered pampas grass.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
tomokaku mo kaze ni makasete kare-obana

Heat waves shimmering
above the wettened rock ...
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
kagero ya hashite wa nururu ishi no ue

The moon
a morning blur
amid cherry blossoms
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
tsukikage mo tatazumu hana no asaborake

Loneliness
abides within the listener:
the cuckoo’s call
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
nan to naki mono no isami ya hototogisu

Skylark,
what do you make
of the trackless sky?
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Returning
from moon-viewing:
we humans, voiceless.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
meigetsu ni kaerite hanasu koto wa nashi

The harvest moon
illuminates these snowdrifts
I trample.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
meigetsu ya yuki fumiwakete ishi no oto

How contentedly they snore
in the boondocks:
full moon
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
uramachi no ibiki akarushi kyo no tsuki

The butterfly tip-toes at ebb-tide ...
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Along her path
butterflies flit,
front and back
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Voiceless
as a butterfly:
the Buddhist service
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Whirling its wings
the butterfly
creates its own wind ...
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Now and then
a dandelion intrudes
on a butterfly’s dreams
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sometimes a butterfly
emerges from the mist ...
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A butterfly settles on
cherry blossoms:
nap time!
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My painted lips
purified:
crystalline springwater
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Her day off:
the prostitute wakes
to a frigid morning.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

With the waning moon
silence enters the heart.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We stoop to pick up ebb-tide pebbles
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

To entangle
or unentangle the willow
is the wind’s will.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Inflating the frog’s belly: looming downpour
Inflating the frog’s belly: pregnant thunderheads
The frog inflates: monsoon soon
The frog inflates: prophet of the deluge
Thunderclouds inflating: the frog’s belly
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Isn’t it good
to wake up alone,
unencumbered?
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
miagari ni hitori nezame no yosamu kana

She wakes up
alone,
unencumbered.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
miagari ni hitori nezame no yosamu kana

Her body-debt paid
she wakes alone:
a frigid night.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
miagari ni hitori nezame no yosamu kana

Coolness—
strangers meet on a bridge
late at night.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Also a poet arranging words
with its airy wings—
the butterfly.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It’s child’s play for the cranes
circling the clouds
to celebrate the sunrise
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Cicadas chirp
oblivious to death.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Since morning glories
possessed my bucket
I seek water elsewhere!
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
asano eikou yoku baketto entanguru watashiha mizuwo motomeru

My well-bucket being held hostage
by morning glories,
I went begging for water.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
asano eikou yoku baketto entanguru watashiha mizuwo motomeru

Since my well-bucket’s
being held hostage by morning glories,
I go begging for water.
—Chiyo-ni, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
asano eikou yoku baketto entanguru watashiha mizuwo motomeru

Keywords/Tags: Fukuda Chiyo-ni, Kaga no Chiyo, translations, Japan, Japanese, haiku, Soen, Escape, Buddhist nun, temple

Author of original: 
Fukuda Chiyo-ni aka Kaga no Chiyo
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