Requiem for a Poet

WHR March 2003

Requiem for a Poet – Suzuki Masajo (1906-2003)

requiem

 

Last Farewells to Masajo —
A Life of Love and Haiku

Susumu Takiguchi
Oxford, England

One of the most distinguished and best loved haiku poets, Suzuki Masajo (1906-2003), has passed away. She was 96. She died a natural death peacefully at a retirement home in Tokyo on Friday 14 March 2003. Her life was one of love and haiku, which is chronicled in her own unforgettable poems and essays.

Masajo was a successful business woman and restaurateur, beside being a poet. She ran the famous watering place in Ginza, Tokyo, called “Unami”, of which she took personal charge every day until she was 90. Born nearly a century ago into an old family of hoteliers in Chiba, dating back to the Edo Era (1603-1867), she lived a life comparable to those of heroines in operas such as La Traviata or Tosca. Her first husband “disappeared”. Her elder sister, who inherited the inn business, suddenly died. Masajo took over the family business and married the sister’s husband. They had a troubled married life from which she “walked out” to start her own new life in Tokyo at 50. She opened Unami and then her business and career as a haijin went from strength to strength, blooming and flowering even more beautifully every passing year. She made friends with some of the most famous writers and celebrities, was adored by them and became the heroin of at least two best-selling novels, one by Niwa Fumio and the other by Setouchi Jakucho. Incredibly, she never lost her humility and personality to put other people’s interest first.

 Her haiku teachers included Kubota Mantaro and Anju Atsushi. They must have had an easy time as she was a born poet and a natural haijin and above all her life itself was poetry. Copies of her anthologies such as “Yu-botaru” (evening fireflies, 1976) and “Shi-Mokuren” (purple magnolia, 1999) are treasured by her ever-increasing fans as something more than haiku books.

 Her haiku poems follow traditional Japanese lines in form, style and themes. However, these are mere stage sets. The content, impact and originality have come from her life itself. She was one of the best “actresses of life”, where poetry, nature, human existence and events were all one. This is partly because she lived through one of the most dramatic times in Japanese history. As such, her haiku poems are rich and deep, ranging from despair and sadness to the rupture of sensual pleasure, from macabre tales to the lightest touch of humour.

haku-to ni hito sasu gotoku ha wo ire-te

pushing the knife
into white peach’s flesh
as if to stab someone

kon-jo no ima ga shiawase kinu-katsugi

this life of mine
now is my happiness —
boiling taro

Her love poems are too numerous to quote. Having been born and brought up along a coast, the sea was her “home” and waves were one of her frequently favoured themes, whether they were waves of the sea or waves of the vicissitudes of life. The name of her small restaurant, “Unami”, means summer waves. Masajo of course knew that one was born and died but she also believed in the eternity of things. The transitory and the permanent lived happily together within her. As someone who is fortunate enough to have been given a tiny sliver of friendship by this most generous of the generous hearts, I humbly wish to offer the following to Masajo, people’s eternal love:

izuku nite kurasu mo natsu no nami-gashira

wheresoever
one happens to live —
summer white horses

  

To read more about Masajo in an article by Susumu Takiguchi in World Haiku Review, please visit:

 

World Haiku Review, August 2001, Vol. 1, Issue 2,

FIRE, BEAUTY AND HAIKU  
Life, Love and Poetry of Suzuki Masajo
“:

Haiku by Suzuki Masajo
English language versions,
Susumu Takiguch
i

 

hito koishi aoki konomi wo te ni nukume

1958, Masajo       

longing for my beloved
I warm a green berry
in the palm of my hand

koi shita ya ichigo hito-tsubu kuchi ni ire

1961, Masajo 

wishing to fall in love,
I pop a strawberry
into my mouth

futokoro ni tegami kakushite hinata-boko

1951, Masajo      

deep inside the kimono
I have hidden his love letter
sun-bathing

tare yori mo kono hito ga suki karekusa ni

1958, Masajo 

more than anyone else
this person do I love;
on withered grass

hitasura ni hito wo aiseshi kako ya kan

Masajo             

with all my heart
I loved a man
such a past!
early February cold  

koi wo ete hotaru wa kusa ni shizumi-keri

Masajo

fresh in love
two fireflies have sunk deep
into grass         

sae-kaeru sumajiki monono naka ni koi

1966, Masajo

soul-chilling cold
among things one musn’t do
is a love affair!                   

biiru kumu dakaruru koto no naki hito to

1960, Masajo

pouring each other beer,
these men with whom I shall never
make love

Mozu-takane on-na no tsukusu makoto kana

1963, Masajo

the shrill of a shrike
what true hearts with which
women care for men!

kare-kusa no hito omou toki kon-jiki ni

1962, Masajo

withered grass,
when I think of my sweetheart,
turns golden

waga koi ya akikaze wataru naka ni ari

Masajo

my love affair
lies in the passing
autumn wind

kabi no yado ikutose koi no yado to shite

Masajo

mouldy dwelling
how many years now
as a love abode?

nyotai hiyu shiireshi uo no sore yorimo

1972, Masajo

woman’s body gets cold,
colder than the body
of the fish I bought

on-na no aki kami some-agete ura-ganashi

1972, Masajo

autumn for woman
having dyed my hair,
I feel sad, somewhat

nani wo motte akujo to iu ya hitorimushi

Masajo

on what ground
do they call me a bad girl?
a moth

hito wa nusumedo mono wa nusumazu sudare maku

1973, Masajo

I may have stolen men,
but I have never stolen a thing
winding up the rattan blind

sono mukashi koi no hamabe ya kani hashiru

1968, Masajo

once upon a time,
on the beach of our love
crabs scuttled

tohki tohki koi ga miyuru yo fuyu no nami

Masajo

I could just see them,
my love affairs of long long past
in the waves of winter

aki no me ya mizumizushiki wa koi no kao

1973, Masajo

buds in the autumn!
as fresh as the face of
a woman in love

tohnoku wa ai nomi narazu yuu-botaru

Masajo

what goes away
is not limited to love
an evening firefly

houtaru no shi ya sanzun no kago no naka

Masajo

the death of a firefly
occurred in the cage of
three inches

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