A jag of lightning

Matsuo Bashō

‘A jag of lightning’ by Matsuo Bashō is a beautiful and interesting poem that describes lightning and a heron’s scream. 


Matsuo Bashō

Nationality: Japanese

Matsuo Bashō was a 17th-century Japanese poet.

During the 20th century, his poetry spread around the world.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Nature is beautiful and sometimes scary

Themes: Beauty, Death, Nature

Speaker: Likely the poet

Emotions Evoked: Anxiety, Enjoyment, Terror

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 17th Century

This poem is a wonderful example of Bashō's verse, one that combines his skill with emotion and his love of the haiku form.

The poem is written in the form of a traditional haiku, meaning that it has three short lines that, in the original Japanese, conformed to the syllable pattern of 5-7-5. This piece is a great example of Bashō’s style of haiku and how emotionally interesting these short poems can be. 

A jag of lightning
Matsuo Bashō

A jag of lightning--Then, flitting toward the darkness, A night heron's scream.


‘A jag of lightning’ by Matsuo Bashō is a short poem that vividly describes a moment of intense illumination. 

The poem begins with the sudden appearance of lightning, portrayed as a sharp and jagged burst of light. This visual imagery captures the reader’s attention, setting the stage for what follows. The poem reaches its climax with the description of the night heron’s scream. This auditory detail adds a layer of intensity to the scene.

Structure and Form 

‘A jag of lightning’ by Matsuo Bashō adheres to the traditional form of a haiku, which consists of three lines. In its original composition in Japanese, the haiku follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5. However, it’s important to note that when translated to English, the syllable count may vary to preserve the essence and meaning of the poem.

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet makes use of a few different literary devices. For example: 

  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses sense-triggering imagery, for example, the heron’s scream and the jag of lightning. 
  • Personification: can be seen when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, the heron screams and “flits” as a human being might. 
  • Allusion: Through the imagery in this poem, the reader might feel as though the poet is alluding to something more important or something darker than is explicitly referenced. 

Detailed Analysis 

Line One 

A jag of lightning—

In the first line of the poem, the poet begins by describing a strike of lighting that appears in the sky. It’s described as a “jag,” suggesting that it is rough and powerful. It disappears as soon as it’s seen. 

Beyond its visual impact, lightning carries symbolic significance. It is often associated with power, energy, and a sense of awe. In this context, the lightning serves as a catalyst, a transformative force that triggers subsequent actions and events in the poem. 

It could be said to represent a moment of revelation, a sudden flash of insight or realization. It could also be an element of foreshadowing, representing something darker that’s around the corner. 

Line Two 

Then, flitting toward the darkness,

The second line utilizes juxtaposition, depicting the “darkness” that appears after the “jag” of lightning disappears. The phrase “toward the darkness” implies that the subject is heading in the direction opposite to the illuminating effect of the lightning. 

The subject, likely the night heron from the third line, swiftly and gracefully moves away from the sudden burst of light and toward the darkness. This movement represents a natural instinct or a deliberate action to find comfort and security in familiar surroundings, away from the overwhelming brightness of lightning.

Line Three 

A night heron’s scream.

In the third and final line of the poem, the poet describes the sound produced by a night heron. Herons are known for their distinctive calls, which can range from eerie screeches to deep squawks. By specifically mentioning the heron’s scream, the poem draws attention to the intensity and significance of the sound while also using personification

The inclusion of the heron’s scream adds a layer of emotional intensity to the scene, as well. It amplifies the impact of the lightning’s illumination and the heron’s response to it. The scream becomes a symbol of both fear and mystery, further enhancing the atmosphere of the moment.


What is the significance of the lightning in the haiku poemA jag of lightning?’

The lightning in the haiku poem ‘A jag of lightning’ serves as a catalyst, triggering subsequent actions and events. It represents a moment of revelation, a sudden flash of insight or realization.

What is the theme of the poem? 

The theme of the poem ‘A jag of lightning’ by Matsuo Basho centers around the impermanence of life, the juxtaposition of contrasting elements, and the allure of moments that pass by quickly. The poem encourages reflection on the fleeting essence of significant encounters in the natural world. 

What is the tone of the poem

The tone of the poem can be described as evocative, contemplative, and imbued with a sense of wonder. It captures the reader’s attention with imagery and engages them in reflecting on the interplay between light and darkness.

Why is Bashō important? 

Matsuo Bashō is important because he is widely considered one of the greatest masters of haiku, a traditional form of Japanese poetry. His works, including ‘A jag of lightning,’ showcase his mastery of concise and evocative language, as well as his ability to capture the essence of brief moments in nature.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some Matsuo Bashō poems. For example: 

  • The shallows – is a beautiful, traditional haiku about a crane landing in cool, shallow water and the ripples it makes. 
  • Autumn moonlight– is a traditional haiku that’s beautifully written about the seasons.
  • In the twilight rain – is a beautiful 3-line haiku that juxtaposes an evening rain with a bright hibiscus flower. 

Poetry+ Review Corner

A jag of lightning

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.

Matsuo Bashō

Matsuo Bashō, one of the most revered figures in Japanese literature, showcases his mastery of haiku poetry in 'A Jag of Lightning.' His works are celebrated for their brevity, simplicity, and ability to capture profound moments in nature. Through his unique style, Bashō should inspire readers to appreciate the beauty and depth in seemingly ordinary experiences.
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17th Century

This poem belongs to the important tradition of 17th-century poetry, a period characterized by the flourishing of haiku in Japan. During this time, poets like Bashō sought to encapsulate profound insights in concise verses. The poem reflects the aesthetic sensibilities and thematic focus of this period but is not very well-known.
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The poem's roots in Japanese poetry are evident through its form, language, and aesthetic sensibilities. It reflects the rich tradition of nature-focused poetry in Japanese culture, where profound insights are captured in succinct verses. The haiku's ability to convey profound emotions and observations with simplicity is a hallmark of Japanese poetry. This poem is a good, although not incredibly well-known example of the form.
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Beauty is woven throughout the poem, manifesting in the captivating imagery and juxtapositions presented by Bashō. The lightning's brilliance and the night heron's scream evoke a sense of awe and admiration. The poem celebrates the inherent beauty found in nature's phenomena.
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The presence of death could be inferred in this poem. The suddenness and intensity of the lightning could represent life's brevity and the inevitability of mortality. The juxtaposition of the fleeting moment of illumination against the encompassing darkness hints at the transitory nature of existence and the ever-present specter of mortality. Plus, the heron's scream brings up feelings of fear and terror.
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Bashō's profound connection with the natural world is evident as he portrays the interplay between light and darkness, capturing a powerful moment. The poem highlights the beauty, power, and unpredictable nature of natural phenomena.
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The poem hints at an undercurrent of anxiety through its juxtaposition of light and darkness. The sudden burst of lightning and the subsequent movement of the heron toward darkness imply a response to an unsettling event.
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While the poem captures a profound moment in nature, it also invites a sense of enjoyment and appreciation. The lightning's brilliance and the night heron's scream captivate the senses, inviting readers to immerse themselves in the experience and find pleasure in the observation of nature's wonders.
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Terror emerges subtly in the poem, primarily through the juxtaposition of the intense lightning against the darkness. The suddenness and unpredictability of the lightning's appearance can evoke a sense of fear and vulnerability.
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Birds hold symbolic significance in many forms of literature, and in this haiku, the mention of a night heron adds depth to the imagery. Birds often represent freedom, grace, and the natural world. In this context, the heron's movement toward darkness may symbolize a retreat into the familiar or a seeking of refuge amidst the intense brilliance of the lightning.
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Darkness serves as a backdrop against which the lightning's brilliance stands out. It represents the unknown, mystery, and the concealment of truths. The contrast between light and darkness in the poem emphasizes the transformative power of illumination.
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Light, embodied in the jagged lightning, symbolizes revelation and illumination. It represents moments of clarity, insight, and enlightenment. The poem highlights the contrast between the brilliance of the lightning and the encompassing darkness.
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The poem hints at the presence of a storm through the reference to lightning. Storms are often associated with power, turbulence, and transformation. The poem captures a singular moment within the storm, emphasizing the intensity of these elemental forces.
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This poem is a good example of the essence of haiku poetry. Haiku is characterized by its brevity, capturing a singular moment and evoking emotions with minimal words. Bashō's mastery of this form is evident as he encapsulates the scene in this poem.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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