Bashō skillfully paints a vivid scene of the first rain of winter and invites readers to contemplate the shared vulnerability and longing for shelter in the face of adversity.
The poet was a renowned Japanese poet of the Edo period and is considered the master of haiku poetry. He was influenced by Zen Buddhism and drew inspiration from the natural world and his own personal experiences.
First winter rain Matsuo BashōFirst winter rain—even the monkeyseems to want a raincoat.
Explore First winter rain
‘First winter rain’ by Matsuo Basho observes a scene where the first rain of winter is falling.
In this simple yet evocative moment, Basho notes that even a monkey appears to desire protection from the rain as if it, too, could benefit from wearing a raincoat.
The poem captures the universality of seeking comfort and shelter, highlighting the relatable experience of seeking refuge from the elements. The connection that Bashō draws between the monkey and humanity is notable within these lines and makes the poem stand out among his haiku.
Structure and Form
‘First winter rain’ by Matsuo Basho follows the traditional structure and form of a haiku, which is a concise form of Japanese poetry consisting of three lines.
The syllable count in each line adheres to the traditional pattern of 5-7-5, totaling seventeen syllables in the entire poem. But, it should be noted that this poem was originally written in Japanese and has since been translated to English.
In this poem, the poet uses a few different literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet imbues the poet with exceptionally interesting and sense-triggering imagery. For example, “First winter rain” is easy to imagine and feel as the reader.
- Juxtaposition: occurs when the poet intentionally puts contrast into the poem. For example, the poem employs contrast to create surprise and emphasize the unexpected nature of the monkey seeking protection in the rain.
- Anthropomorphism: the act of attributing human characteristics or behaviors to non-human entities is employed in the poem when the monkey is depicted as “wanting a raincoat.”
- Symbolism: The monkey in the poem serves as a symbol representing vulnerability and the shared experience of seeking refuge. By attributing human desires to the monkey, Basho symbolically connects human and animal experiences, emphasizing our commonality and shared struggles.
First winter rain—
The first line of this Bashō poem sets the scene and establishes the primary subject of the haiku. This opening line also introduces the reader to the specific moment being described: the beginning of winter rain. By using the word “first,” the poet emphasizes the freshness and significance of this particular rain shower.
The choice to focus on the winter rain implies a change in season, as well, marking a transition from a previous period. Winter is often associated with cold, harsh weather, and the rain further emphasizes the damp and chilly atmosphere.
The brevity and simplicity of this line reflect the essence of haiku, where a single moment or image is captured with precision. The absence of any elaboration or additional details in the line directs the reader’s attention to the core theme of the poem and prepares them for the subsequent lines that will further develop the scene.
even the monkey
The second line shifts the focus from the winter rain to a monkey. This line introduces an unexpected element into the scene, creating a sense of surprise. The inclusion of the monkey suggests that the poet is observing the natural world and drawing connections between human experiences and those of other creatures.
The use of the word “even” implies that the monkey’s behavior or response to the rain is unexpected or out of the ordinary. Monkeys are typically associated with agility and adaptability, but in this context, the poet highlights the vulnerability or discomfort the monkey might experience in the rain.
By incorporating the monkey into the poem, Basho creates a juxtaposition between human and animal experiences. This brings attention to the universality of seeking protection from adverse conditions, such as the rain in the first line.
seems to want a raincoat.
The third and final line further develops the observation of the monkey in response to the winter rain. This line suggests the poet’s interpretation of the monkey’s behavior and adds a touch of anthropomorphism by attributing a human desire for a raincoat to the monkey.
The phrase “seems to want” indicates that the poet is inferring or projecting the monkey’s desire for a raincoat based on its behavior or appearance.
It implies that the monkey is seeking protection or shelter from the rain, just like humans do when they wear raincoats. This line reinforces the theme of seeking refuge or comfort from the elements, which was introduced in the previous lines.
By mentioning a raincoat, the poet draws a direct parallel between the human act of wearing protective clothing and the monkey’s need for protection. The raincoat symbolizes a practical solution for keeping dry and underscores the shared desire for safety and comfort across different beings.
This comparison emphasizes our common vulnerability to nature’s forces and highlights the universal longing for protection and security.
The theme of the poem ‘First Winter Rain’ by Matsuo Basho is the universal longing for protection and comfort in the face of adverse conditions.
The tone of this poem can be described as contemplative and empathetic. Bashō’s observation of the monkey in the rain evokes a sense of reflection and introspection.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Matsuo Bashō poems. For example:
- ‘Autumn moonlight’ – is a traditional haiku that’s beautifully written about the seasons.
- ‘The shallows’ – is a beautiful, traditional haiku about a crane landing in cool, shallow water and the ripples it makes.
- ‘In the twilight rain’ – is a beautiful 3-line haiku that juxtaposes an evening rain with a bright hibiscus flower.