Oriori no Uta : Poems for All Seasons

The butterly grown old
its spirit plays
among chrysanthemums


Enomoto Seifu

From Seifu-ni Kushū. At autumn’s end, a butterfly flutters weakly among the chrysanthemums. The flight of this creature so close to death suggests a ghost playing dreamily among the flowers. One feels that the poet, with her keen sensitivity, has become aware of her own aging and is comparing herself to the butterfly; this creates deep pathos. Seifu was the daughter of the leading innkeeper of Hachiōji in Musashino Province, at whose establishment the great provincial lords stayed on their trips back and forth to the capital. Widowed early, she became a Buddhist nun, studied haiku with the brilliant Kaya Shirao, and eventually became the leading female haiku poet of her day. She is famous for the following haiku, with its highly unusual subject: “The passing Spring! / Among the mugwort, / human bones” (yuku haru ya / yomogi ga naka no / hito no hone).