First winter rain

Matsuo Bashō

‘First winter rain’ by Matsuo Basho speaks about the related experiences between humans and animals in the form of a haiku poem.


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: All living things suffer in the same ways

Themes: Beauty, Journey, Nature

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Compassion, Contentment, Empathy

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 17th Century

This is a beautiful haiku that reminds readers of how united all living things truly are.

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 Bashō

First winter rain—even the monkeyseems to want a raincoat.


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. 

Literary Devices 

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.

Detailed Analysis 

Line One 

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.

Haiga poem about Basho
Bashō inspired many poets throughout Japan and around the world

Line Two 

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. 

Line Three 

   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.


What is the significance of the monkey in the haiku poemFirst Winter Rain?’

The significance of the monkey in the haiku poemFirst Winter Rain’ by Matsuo Bashō lies in its role as a symbol of vulnerability and shared experience.

What is the theme of the poem? 

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.

What is the tone of the poem

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.

Why is Bashō important? 

Bashō is considered one of the most important and influential figures in Japanese literature, particularly in the genre of haiku. He is recognized as the master of haiku poetry and is credited with elevating it to a respected art form.

Similar Poetry 

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. 

Poetry+ Review Corner

First winter rain

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

This poem is often regarded as a representative example of the poet's haiku style and themes. While each of Basho's haiku poems is unique in its own right, there are certain elements and themes that can be found across his works, including 'First Winter Rain.' One common characteristic of Basho's haiku, seen in this poem, is his focus on nature and its interconnectedness with human emotions and experiences.
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17th Century

This poem exemplifies the artistry of 17th-century poetry, showcasing the concise and contemplative nature of the haiku form. During this period, poetry often emphasized simplicity and understatement, conveying profound meaning with minimal words. Bashō's haiku reflects this style, employing economy of language to capture a specific moment.
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This poem is representative of the rich tradition of Japanese poetry. Drawing from the aesthetics and sensibilities deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, Bashō's haiku captures the essence of mono no aware (the pathos of things) and yūgen (profound beauty and mystery).
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Beauty manifests in the simplicity and elegance of Bashō's haiku. Without elaborate adornment, Bashō's poem captures the beauty inherent in a single moment—a scene of winter rain and the monkey's longing. The power lies in the ability to find beauty in the ordinary, revealing the profound nature of simplicity and the subtle connections between humans and the natural world.
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This poem incorporates the theme of journey. The poem captures a moment in the journey of life where the arrival of winter rain signals a transition and change. Through the observation of the monkey seeking protection, he also taps into the ways that all living things experience the same ups and downs in life.
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Nature serves as a central theme in 'First Winter Rain,' as Bashō's haiku captures the essence of the natural world. Bashō's deep appreciation for nature is reflected in his precise observations and his ability to evoke a sensory experience in the reader.
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Compassion is subtly woven into the fabric of the poem. By depicting the monkey's longing for a raincoat, Bashō calls attention to readers' shared vulnerabilities and the importance of extending compassion to all beings. The poem serves as a gentle reminder to approach others, both humans and animals, with empathy and understanding.
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Within the haiku, there is an underlying sense of contentment. Despite the struggles and vulnerabilities portrayed, there is tranquility in accepting and finding solace in the present moment.
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Bashō's poem invites empathy, as it highlights the monkey's desire for protection in the rain. Through this observation, readers are encouraged to empathize not only with the monkey's plight but also to reflect on our shared vulnerabilities and the universal longing for safety and comfort.
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Animals play a significant role in Bashō's haiku. Through the portrayal of the monkey, Bashō emphasizes our interconnectedness with the animal kingdom. Animals serve as mirrors, reflecting our own desires and struggles. The inclusion of animals in his poetry invites readers to recognize the universal experiences that transcend species boundaries.
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Life Struggles

This poem subtly captures the universal struggles inherent in the human experience. The monkey's desire for a raincoat symbolizes the challenges readers face in navigating life's adversities and seeking comfort amidst uncertainty.
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Rain serves as a catalyst in the poem, representing both a natural phenomenon and a metaphor for life's struggles. The rain elicits a response from the monkey, highlighting the impact of external circumstances on our well-being. Rain also symbolizes adversity, but it can bring growth and renewal.
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Winter is a prominent backdrop in the haiku, symbolizing a season of change and the harshness of nature. The arrival of winter rain evokes a sense of transition and the need for protection. Winter represents both the challenges and the beauty that can be found in the colder and darker seasons of life.
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This poem exemplifies the essence of haiku poems. Haiku, a traditional form of Japanese poetry, emphasizes brevity, simplicity, and a focus on capturing a specific moment or observation. Bashō's haiku demonstrates these principles, showcasing his mastery of distilling profound meaning and evoking emotions through the sparse use of words.
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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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