Autumn moonlight

Matsuo Bashō

‘Autumn moonlight’ by Matsuo Bashō is a traditional haiku that’s beautiful written about the seasons. This translation was done by Robert Hass.


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

Central Message: There is beauty in simple natural scenes

Themes: Beauty, Death, Nature

Speaker: Likely Bashō

Emotions Evoked: Contentment, Empathy, Enjoyment

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 17th Century

This is a beautifully crafted haiku that captures the essence of nature and evokes a sense of stillness and tranquility.

Bashō is very well-known for his highly influential haiku, and the vast majority of Japanese poets can trace their inspiration back to Bashō in one way or another.

This piece demonstrates his very selective and beautiful use of language as well as how compelling haiku writing can be when it’s done in an incredibly thoughtful way.

Autumn moonlight (translated by Robert Hass)
Matsuo Bashō

Autumn moonlight--a worm digs silentlyinto the chestnut.


‘Autumn moonlight’ by Matsuo Bashō captures a peaceful autumn night scene in which a worm is seen digging silently into a chestnut under the bright moonlight. 

The poem conveys a sense of stillness and tranquility while also hinting at the cycle of life and death as the worm feeds on the nut. The simplicity of the image and the brevity of the poem encourage the reader to pause and appreciate the beauty of the moment. Despite the poem’s simplicity, it can be interpreted in a number of different ways, for example, as an image of hard work meant to inspire readers in their day-to-day lives or as an elevated, simple scene that captures the unimaginable complexity of the natural world.


The theme of this well-loved Bashō poem is the appreciation of nature and the beauty of simplicity. The poem invites the reader to slow down and observe the small details of the natural world, finding beauty in the stillness and peacefulness of the scene. 

Additionally, the poem hints at the cycle of life and death in nature as the worm digs into the chestnut. Plus, the autumn time of year is always evocative of the death of lively summer plants and activities, transitioning into a time of cold, fewer crops, and elevated danger.

Structure and Form 

‘Autumn moonlight’ by Matsuo Bashō is a three-line traditional haiku. It uses simple language that’s easy to read (and which was translated from the original Japanese). This poem is a great example of classic haiku poetry in that it uses seasonal language, focuses on nature, and zooms in on a single (seemingly unimportant) moment. 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet makes use of a few different literary devices. The poem is short, but it is still very complicated. Some of the literary devices that Bashō utilized in this poem include: 

  • Symbolism: occurs when the poet imbues an image with deeper meaning. The poet’s use of the chestnut as a symbol of the harvest season and the hidden beauty and value within everyday life.
  • Juxtaposition: this is an intentional contrast between two things. The contrast between the stillness of the scene and the small actions of the worm emphasizes the idea of the small and insignificant in nature.
  • Enjambment: this is a common technique in haiku. It occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two. 

Detailed Analysis 

Line One 

Autumn moonlight—

The first line of the poem, which is also commonly used as the title (many haiku were written within titles), describes the setting and the time of day. It’s nighttime in autumn, and the moon is out (meaning that the skies are clear enough to see the moonlight). 

The word “autumn” suggests the season of change, as leaves turn yellow and brown and fall to the ground. Autumn is also a time of harvest and abundance, which is reflected in the image of the chestnut being consumed by the worm.

The word “moonlight” indicates that the scene takes place at night, under the bright glow of the moon. This creates a sense of stillness and peacefulness, as the moon is often associated with tranquility and calmness.

Line Two 

a worm digs silently

This line describes the action taking place in the scene and adds a sense of movement to the stillness established in the first line. The word “worm” suggests a small, insignificant creature that is often overlooked. This adds to the sense of tranquility and quietness in the scene, as the worm’s actions are not disruptive or loud. 

Additionally, the word “worm” may also suggest the idea of decay and the cycle of life and death, as the worm feeds on the chestnut.

The verb “digs” implies a slow and deliberate movement, adding to the sense of calmness and stillness in the scene. The word “silently” emphasizes the quietness of the worm’s actions and creates a sense of intimacy between the reader and the scene, as if the reader is observing the worm’s actions from up close.

Line Three

into the chestnut. 

This final line of the haiku completes the image and the action described in the previous line and further emphasizes the cycle of life and death that is hinted at in the second line.

The preposition “into” suggests that the worm is burrowing inside the chestnut, perhaps to feed on the nut or to make a home. This action adds a sense of purpose to the worm’s movements and highlights the idea of the natural world at work.

The word “chestnut” refers to a type of nut that is commonly found in autumn and is often associated with the harvest season. The chestnut also has a hard exterior that provides protection for the nut inside, which may suggest the idea of hidden beauty or value within the mundane (or even the value in hard work). 


What is the tone of ‘Autumn moonlight?’ 

The tone of the poem is tranquil, peaceful, and introspective. The haiku creates a peaceful and still scene that encourages the reader to pause and appreciate the beauty of the moment.

What is the purpose of ‘Autumn moonlight?’

The purpose is to capture a simple moment in nature and evoke a sense of stillness and appreciation for the natural world. The poem encourages the reader to slow down and observe the small details of the world around them and to find beauty in the simplicity of life.

Why is Bashō an important poet? 

Basho is an important poet because he is widely regarded as one of the greatest masters of the haiku form. His works, including The Narrow Road to the Deep North, have influenced generations of poets and writers.

What kind of poem is ‘Autumn moonlight?’

This is a nature haiku. It’s a classic example of the form that evokes a sense of nature and the changing seasons. The poem follows the standard 5-7-5 syllable pattern of haiku and captures a small moment in nature. 

Similar Poetry 

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

  • In Kyoto’ – expresses the poet’s longing to find peace in the city of Kyoto. 
  • The Old Pond– this is an incredibly famous haiku that describes a frog jumping into a pond. 

Another related poem includes: 

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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