Shiki - hechima


. - Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規 Introduction - .

Shiki's (Death) Anniversary / Shiki's Memorial Day, Shiki-ki 子規忌
September 19, in honor of the famous haiku poet
正岡子規 Masaoka Shiki

Sponge-gourd Anniversary, hechima-ki
糸瓜忌 (へちまき)

This naming stems from the sponge-gourd plant (hechima), used as medicine against phlegm for tuberculosis. He used this word in many of his haiku.

hechima saite tan no tsumarishi hotoke kana

The snake gourds are blooming:
here, choked with phlegm, lies a Buddha.

Tr. Hugh Bygott
Read the discussion about translating HOTOKE and HECHIMA

sponge gourds in bloom
and this dead body
choked with phlegm . . .

(Tr. Gabi Greve)
The cut marker KANA is at the end of line 3.

... ... ...

The loofah blooms and
I, full of phlegm,
become a Buddha.

Tr. Hoffmann : Japanese Death Poems

our loofah is blooming
here's a dead man
totally clogged with phlegm

Tr. Eiko Yachimoto


- quote
The Moment When Shiki Breathed His Last
Shiki steadied the sketch board by holding the left bottom corner with his left hand. He then started to write a poem in the middle part of the paper (the first 5):

hechima saite (snake gourd has flowered)

When Shiki came to write "saite" (has flowered), the ink started to run out of the brush. Because of this, it seemed to Hekigodo that Shiki was finding it a little bit difficult to go on writing. So, Hekigodo took the brush and gave it some more ink. Taking the brush, Shiki then started to write the middle 7 on the left side of the first 5, and a little bit lower:

tan no tsumari-shi (choked up with phlegm)

Again the brush started to run out of ink towards the end of the middle 7, so Hekigodo gave it some more ink. He had been reading the first 5 and the middle 7 that Shiki had just written intently, and now he became really curious about what comes next in the last 5. Shiki started to write again. The last 5 turned out to be:

hotoke kana (ah, Buddha!)

Hekigodo felt as if he had been stabbed in the chest. Finished with his writing, Shiki put down the brush, almost throwing it away, and, turning his head sideways, coughed two three times rapidly, trying to clear his throat of the phlegm. He did not succeed and looked really in pain. Shiki said nothing. He then started to cough again. This time he seemed to have been successful, as he began to wipe the phlegm with waste paper which he handed over to Ritsu. Until this instance, he had never let anyone touch the dirty and infectious item, but had fetched the spittoon himself and spat the phlegm into it, even if the pain was unbearable. So, he must have been so weak now, that he did not have the strength even to fetch the spittoon.

Read more here:
- Susumu Takiguchi. WHR -


- quotes from Haiku Translation Group -

A snake-gourd is blooming;
Clogged with phlegm,
A dying man.

Tr. Blyth

While sponge-gourd was in flower,
through too much phlegm
a Buddha kana

Tr. Harold J. Isaacson

the gourd flowers bloom,
but look--here lies
a phlegm-stuffed Buddha!

Tr. Beichman

The loofah blooms and
I, stuffed with phlegm,
become a Buddha.

Tr. Yoel Hoffman

snake gourd has flowered
choked up with phlegm
ah, Buddha!

Tr. Takiguchi


- Comments about this haiku:

"Just at this time, the 19th of September, 1902, a snake-gourd was in bloom. The juice of this plant is used for stopping the formation of phlegm, and this is the painful relation between him and the flowers. The last line is literally 'a Buddha,' which means 'soon to become a Buddha,' that is, a dead man."

"Here, the poet is no longer characterized as a sick man but as a dead man, and the separation between himself and the world has become complete and final. ...

"The juice of the gourd, gathered from the plant before it bloomed, was used to relieve coughing such as Shiki's. However, as his condition became past remedy, the juice had become useless and the flowers allowed to come into bloom. The blooming of the flowers, lovely in itself, has a sinister meaning, for it signifies the hopelessness of Shiki's condition, implies his death. Living flowers mean a dying Shiki -- again two opposites, held at one in the mind."

"As the Japanese politely speak of one newly departed as a Buddha (implying that his attainments must have enabled him to get free of the six realms of existence and enter the Buddha realm), the last line-- 'a Buddha kana'-- is a droll way of saying: 'I died.' The larger joke is in the way the haiku burlesques statements found in Buddhist biographies, that while lotuses were in flower some person dying
obtained birth in the Amida Paradise, Sukhavati."


- quote by Paul Conneally
i too find humour of course mixed with sadness in shiki's death poem -

remember his best friend and 'disciple' was waiting to make sure that he could get the the master's death poem down... the situation him in the act of dying and someone anxiously waiting for his last poem hanging on to his last spittle filled words and trying to write them down... and we're told that shiki then asked for a brush to correct what his loyal friend wrote... to get it just right... and that the topic was the sponge gourd and phlegm and he treated almost godlike as he prepared to die - people wanting perhaps so called 'higher' or 'better' words for a death poem..

yes i think he had a wry phlegmatic laugh with this last formal poem... i'm sure he'd find his veneration, particularly in the west, a real belly laugh especially the fact that only his 'sketch from life' approach seems to be remembered... he'd probably much rather be watching baseball than giving up time to some of our 'just sketches' we like to call haiku...

an early morning
of back pain and vomit
white climbing roses

paul conneally, loughborough uk - NOBO mailing list, June 2006


- quote
From a translation project of the World Haiku Review

ototoi no hechima no mizu mo torazariki
Masaoka Shiki, 18/09/1902

since the day
before yesterday, not even gourd water
has been collected

(Version by Sususmu Takiguchi)


Shiki’s three death poems, as found in Hoffmann’s translation, were posted for examination as a set:

“(1) Hechima saite tan no tsumarishi hotoke kana

The loofah blooms and
I, full of phlegm,
become a Buddha.

(2) Tan itto hechima no mizu mo ma ni awazu

A barrelful of phlegm–
even loofah water
will not avail me now.

(3) ototoi no hechima no mizu mo torazariki

Loofah water
from two days ago
left still untouched.

(translations by Hoffmann, Japanese Death Poems)


our loofah is blooming
here’s a dead man
totally clogged with phlegm

a barrel of phlegm
way beyond
what loofah water can do”

And, for the final poem:

the loofah water
from even two days before
was not collected
(versions by Eiko Yachimoto)


the snake gourd sap…from two days back
…….is still left here…ungathered
(version by John Carley)

From the day
before yesterday
the water from
the loofah gourd too;
neither has been taken.
(version by James Karkoski )

two days on.and the loofah water also remains ungathered
(version by Carmen Sterba)

Read more translations and comments here:
- archives of the WHR


へちまとは 糸瓜のやうな物ならん
hechima to wa hechima no yoo na mono naran

the sponge gourd is
nothing more than a sponge gourd
I guess

source : Tr. Shiki Museum Volunteers

. WKD : hechima, ito-uri 糸瓜, 蛮瓜,布瓜 sponge gourd .

under construction

- quote
Because of a debilitating disease, spinal tuberculosis, Masaoka Shiki had to be confined to his bed for almost 7 years until he passed away. Despite the pain, he continued writing poems while lying on his back. One of the symptoms of his affliction was coughing up phlegm. They said that gourd water taken during the full moon would get rid of the phlegm. On the porch of Shiki's house in Tokyo, sponge gourds were grown and probably he compared himself and his suffering to a healthy gourd, when he saw a grown gourd which had a flower and suffered no pain.

When Shiki came near to death, one of his disciples, Hekigoto was at Shiki's bedside. Hekigoto wrote about how Shiki wrote his final three haiku.
“It was around 10 o'clock on the morning of September 18. I dipped his old writing brush ,whose stem and brush were both thin, full of ink and had him hold it in his right hand. Then quite abruptly, in the center of the paper, Shiki began to write readily ‘sponge gourd has bloomed.’ and a little below that phrase, he again moved his brush in a breath ‘choked by phlegm.’ I was a little curious what he was going to write next and was watching the paper closely. Then at last he wrote, ‘a departed soul,’ which bit into my heart.”

Hekigoto was very touched when Shiki began to write the poem. Shiki was so weak, and desperately coughing, but he still had a determination to write these haiku.

tan itto hechima no mizu mo maniawazu

gallons of phlegm
even the gourd water
couldn't clear it up

ototoi no hechima no mizu mo torazariki

the gourd water
of the night before yesterday
they didn't get it either

hechima saite tan no tsumarishi hotoke kana

sponge gourd has bloomed
choked by phlegm
a departed soul

source : Hayato Tokugawa, fb 2013

Hekigodo was born in Matsuyama, like Shiki, and was the son of a Confucian scholar.
. Kawahigashi Hekigotoo 河東碧梧桐 Kawahigashi Hekigoto / Hekigodo .


- quote
Shiki's last three haiku

sponge gourd has bloomed
choked by phlegm
a departed soul

gallons of phlegm
even the gourd water
couldn't clear it up

the gourd water
of the night before yesterday
they didn't get it either

It is said that fluid taken from a sponge gourd stem is effective in relieving coughing. The night before there was a full-moon The fluid collected on a full moon night was believed to be the best to clear phlegm up. Since Shiki was really dying, Shiki's family may have been too discouraged to collect fluid on the full-moon night.
One of his friends described that Shiki looked like a living mummy. On the next day of his 35th birthday he fell into a coma and then on the 19th his life came to end, while sponge gourd blossoms were in bloom in his garden.
We call the anniversary of Shiki's death "anniversary of sponge gourd.
source : Kimiyo Tanaka - Matsuyama


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