From time to time

Matsuo Bashō

‘From time to time’ by Matsuo Bashō is a beautiful haiku that describes clouds parting to reveal the light of the moon, symbolically representing hope and change. 


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: Beauty is fleeting

Themes: Beauty, Journey, Nature

Speaker: Likely Bashō

Emotions Evoked: Contentment, Enjoyment, Hope

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 17th Century

This poem inspires readers to appreciate beauty when they see it while also reminding everyone that light can shine through in even the darkest moment.

This poem was written by the celebrated Japanese haiku poet Matsuo Bashō of the 17th century. The poem successfully captures the profound beauty of a specific moment, and moments, in nature through a few carefully chosen words. The poet is able to transport readers to a moment in which they are observing the clouds clearing in an otherwise overcast sky and the moon’s light shining through. 

It is easy to interpret this image as representing the way in which a small degree of hope, or a change in one’s everyday life, can make the world feel all the more beautiful.

From time to time
Matsuo Bashō

From time to timeThe clouds give rest To the moon beholders...


‘From time to time’ by Matsuo Bashō is a short poem that captures nature in a beautiful, simple moment. 

The poem begins with a phrase that suggests that the scene is not a single moment but a description of a series of events. The poet focuses on the interaction between the clouds and the moon in the next lines, suggesting that they have something of a dynamic relationship.

He describes how the clouds, which are usually a barrier to the moon’s brightness, occasionally move to the side and allow the moon to shine through clearly.

Structure and Form 

‘From time to time’ by Matsuo Bashō is a three-line haiku that is written in the traditional style that this famous Japanese poet is often associated with. It is important to note, right off the bat, that this poem was originally written in Japanese and has since been translated into English. This means that the elements that the poet imbued in this poem, in his native language, are lost, to some degree, in the translation. 

The poet uses a variety of literary techniques, as described below, to enhance the reader’s experience with the text. The three lines are very short, but they contain a great deal of meaning.

Literary Devices 

  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet imbues language with certain words and phrases that trigger the reader’s senses. For example, “the clouds give rest.” 
  • Personification: this is a literary technique that is seen when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, the poet’s depiction of the clouds as giving way to allow the moon to shine through temporarily. 
  • Enjambment: A literary device that 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

From time to time 

The first line of this poem, which is also usually used as the title of the poem, immediately brings the passage of time into play. It means that the poet is considering a period of time that does not have a clear beginning or end. It implies that whatever comes next is something that is sporadic or intermittent as well. 

A statue of Matsuo Bashō
A statue of the famous haiku poet Matsuo Bashō

By using this phrase, Bashō is able to create a contrast between the regular passage of time and the irregular occurrence of the event that he’s about to describe. Readers who are familiar with his verse will likely expect the following lines to focus on some occurrence in nature, and they would be right.

Line Two 

The clouds give rest

Personification is something that comes into play in the second line of the poem. The poet begins to develop the relationship between the clouds and the moon, which is described in line three. The imagery is immediately depicted in a way that feels tranquil and peaceful. This is, and no small part, due to the poet’s use of the word “rest.” 

The poet suggests that the clouds temporarily halt their usual course of action across the sky in order for something else, described in the next line, to happen.

Line Three 

To the moon beholders…

The final line of the poem adds depth to the poem as well as a human element. The poet indicates that there are human beings, those who appreciate the moon’s beauty, who are constantly hoping to see its light shine through the clouds. This line also implies an interaction between the clouds and the moon, as the former allows the latter to shine through temporarily. This happens, as the first line indicates, from “time to time.”

The line highlights the significance of a human presence in the world and their role as the viewer of nature’s beauty. By acknowledging the humans as “moon beholders,” the poem suggests that the beauty of nature is tied to the act of witnessing and appreciating it. 


What is the theme of ‘From time to time?’ 

The theme of this poem revolves around the fleeting beauty of nature and the fact that if one does not look carefully, one may miss something incredibly beautiful. In this case, the image of the moon shining through the clouds.

What is the purpose of the poem ‘From time to time?’ 

The purpose of this poem is to evoke a sense of wonder in the natural world. It should remind readers of how fleeting nature’s beauty can be and how important it is to appreciate it when one sees it.

What kind of poem is ‘From time to time?’ 

‘From time to time’ is a haiku poem that is written in the traditional style that Matsuo Bashō is associated with. The poet uses three lines, concise language, and imagery and focuses on an appreciation for the natural world. It should be noted that this poem was originally written in Japanese as well.

What is the tone of ‘From time to time?’ 

The tone of this poem is peaceful and contemplative. The poem invites readers to quietly observe nature and appreciate its ephemeral beauty as it unfolds in front of them.

Similar Poetry

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

  • In Kyoto – expresses a deep sense of longing and nostalgia for the city of Kyoto.
  • The Old Pond‘ – is one of the best-known Japanese haiku of all time.
  • Autumn moonlight‘ – is a traditional haiku about the seasons.

Poetry+ Review Corner

From time to time

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 Bashō poem demonstrates the poet's mastery of the haiku form by capturing the natural world in a way that exemplifies his appreciation of it. 'From time to time' is highly recognised as one that the poet would have written, utilizing short phrases and direct, impactful language in order to depict nature in a way that is very memorable.
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17th Century

This is a poem of the 17th century, a time in which poets were experimenting with various themes and forms, hoping to convey their thoughts and emotions through imagery. This is seen very successfully in Bashō's poem, in which he exemplifies the period’s interest in nature.
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Bashō's poem is firmly rooted in the tradition of Japanese poetry. Throughout history, Japanese poets have sought to capture the essence of nature, infusing their verses with a profound appreciation for the natural world. ‘From time to time’ aligns with the principles of Japanese poetry by emphasizing simplicity and observation. It reflects the rich literary heritage and aesthetic sensibilities that define Japanese poetic traditions.
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Beauty is an essential theme in this poem. It is seen through the poet's depiction of the sky, the moon, and the clouds. It celebrates the beauty found in nature, specifically in the dynamic relationship between the clouds and the moon.
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This poem, in some ways, represents a journey through life and its many ups and downs. The concept of a journey is often present in Bashō's poetry. His works often evoke a sense of movement, both physical and spiritual, as the poet navigates landscapes and explores the depths of human experience.
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Nature is another very important theme in this poem that is seen throughout all of the poet's works. From the first line to the last, readers can envision a specific image in the natural world as well as what their reaction to it would be.
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The poem exudes a sense of contentment by depicting the harmonious coexistence of the clouds and the moon. Bashō's recognition of the clouds providing rest to the moon suggests a peaceful and balanced relationship between natural elements.
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This poem invites readers to find joy and delight in the simple wonders of the natural world. Bashō's appreciation for the interplay between the clouds and the moon encourages us to pause, observe, and savor these brief moments of clarity.
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Hope underlies the themes of nature and beauty. The poem reminds us that even in the midst of change and impermanence, there are moments of respite and clarity. Bashō's delicate depiction of the moon emerging from behind the clouds suggests the possibility of hope.
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This poem epitomizes the concept of appreciation. Bashō's choice to focus on the interplay between the clouds and the moon highlights his keen observation of nature's subtleties. By drawing attention to this transient scene, the poet prompts readers to cultivate a deeper appreciation for nature.
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Change is inherent in Bashō's poem, as the scene described is characterized by the shifting dynamics between the clouds and the moon. The poem acknowledges the impermanence of beauty and the transient nature of existence.
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Light, embodied by the moon's radiance, serves as a metaphorical and literal element in ‘From time to time.’ The moon's light represents illumination, enlightenment, and moments of clarity that emerge intermittently.
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The moon, a recurring symbol in poetry, holds a prominent place in ‘From time to time.’ Bashō portrays the moon as a source of beauty and wonder, often obscured by the clouds but occasionally granted visibility. The moon represents a celestial beacon, evoking emotions of awe and tranquility while also symbolizing the cyclical nature of life and the passage of time.
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This poem exemplifies the characteristics of a haiku poem. Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry with a structure of three lines and a syllable pattern of 5-7-5. Bashō's mastery of this form is evident in his ability to convey profound insights and evoke powerful emotions with brevity.
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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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