Waves of summer grass

Matsuo Bashō

‘Waves of summer grass’ by Matsuo Bashō is a beautiful and sorrowful haiku poem about loss and death symbolized in nature.


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: Death comes for even those whose dreams have not been achieved

Themes: Death, Dreams, Nature

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Compassion, Depression, Sadness

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 17th Century

This is a beautifully sad poem about the loss of life and how wasteful war can be.

Th poem takes place against the backdrop of a warm summer day. The poet uses an intense example of juxtaposition to emphasize the loss of soldiers’ lives. The poet alludes to these losses through two simple lines that speak to the unfulfilled dreams of soldiers. He also symbolizes them through the waving summer grasses that, in fall, decline and eventually die. 

Waves of summer grass
Matsuo Bashō

Waves of summer grass:All that remains of soldiers’Impossible dreams.


‘Waves of summer grass’ by Matsuo Bashō is a beautiful and deeply sad haiku that speaks about death.

The poem depicts waves of grass swaying in the summer breeze, serving as a metaphor for the soldiers who have perished. The phrase “All that remains of soldiers’ impossible dreams” suggests that these soldiers had dreams and aspirations that were ultimately unattainable, likely due to their untimely deaths.


This poem does not explicitly specify one setting, but based on the imagery and context within the poem, readers can infer that the setting is likely a landscape or a natural environment during the summer season.

The mention of “summer grass” in the first line suggests a time of warmth and growth, indicative of the summer season. This setting creates a backdrop for the swaying motion of the grass.

While the specific location or surroundings are not mentioned, the poem focuses more on imagery, emotions, and contemplative themes.

Structure and Form 

‘Waves of summer grass’ by Matsuo Bashō is a three-line traditional haiku. The lines were originally written in Japanese, meaning that the traditional haiku syllable structure of the first and third lines having five syllables and the second having seven, is lost in translation. 

Literary Devices 

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

  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet imbues their descriptions with sense-triggering images. For example, “Waves of summer grass.” 
  • Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three. 
  • Sibilance: occurs when the poet repeats the same “s” sound in multiple words. For example, “dreams,” “soldiers’” and “impossible.” 
  • Juxtaposition: can be seen in the contrast of the summer grass to the deceased soldiers in the next lines. 

Detailed Analysis

Line One

Waves of summer grass:

The first line of the poem is incredibly peaceful. Like in many haiku, this line serves as a way to bring the reader into the setting, letting them know exactly where or when a poem is taking place. In this case, in the middle of summer when the grass has grown long. 

The poet is also implicitly alluding to the passage of time in these lines. The grass grows tall in summer but will eventually die as the seasons change (a discussion of time is also very common in haiku poems). 

Line Two 

All that remains of soldiers’

The second line changes the poem dramatically. It carries significant emotional weight and provides a poignant commentary on war. 

This line highlights the stark contrast between the previous image of vibrant summer grass and the grim reality of the soldiers’ fate.

By using the phrase “All that remains,” Matsuo Bashō emphasizes the idea of loss and destruction. It implies that the soldiers, who once had hopes, dreams, and identities, are now reduced to mere fragments or memories. Their physical presence has been erased, leaving behind only intangible remnants.

Line Three 

Impossible dreams.

This line encapsulates the overarching theme of futility and unattainability that runs through the entire haiku. Matsuo Bashō concludes the poem with a concise and impactful statement that should linger in the reader’s mind.

The phrase “Impossible dreams” suggests that the soldiers, who are represented metaphorically by the waves of summer grass, had aspirations and desires that were unrealistic or impossible to achieve. It conveys a sense of tragedy and dashed hopes, emphasizing the profound loss and waste of human potential resulting from a war.

By using the word “dreams,” Bashō implies not only personal ambitions but also broader aspirations for a better future. Dreams often symbolize hope and the pursuit of happiness.


What is the tone of ‘Waves of summer grass?’ 

The tone begins contemplatively and then moves to become more mournful and sorrowful as the poet contemplates the many soldiers who have lost their lives during any war throughout time. 

What is the mood of ‘Waves of summer grass?’ 

The mood is depressing and respectful. The poet creates a scene that allows readers to mourn the loss of individuals’ lives while also respecting their memories. 

What is the theme of ‘Waves of summer grass?’

The theme of this poem is loss, and the huge hole death can leave behind. The poet acknowledges how much is truly lost when someone dies, like their dreams and aspirations. 

What is the purpose of this poem? 

The purpose is to speak on the tragic consequences of war and the unattainability of human aspirations. It serves as a poignant commentary on the human condition and the profound impact of conflict.

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

Poetry+ Review Corner

Waves of summer grass

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's poetry showcases profound simplicity and captures the essence of human experiences. His haiku poems, including 'Waves of summer grass,' exemplify his mastery of concise expression and his ability to evoke emotions with minimal words. This poem should be regarded as a great example of his verse but far from his best.
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17th Century

In the context of 17th-century poetry, Bashō's poem stands as a good example of the enduring appeal of the haiku form and Japanese poetry, generally, during this period. His haiku form, characterized by its brevity and focus on nature, reflects the influence of the poetic tradition of that era.
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Matsuo Bashō's poetry represents a significant contribution to the tradition of Japanese poems. His works, including this beautiful poem, continue to resonate with readers, bridging cultures and capturing the universal aspects of the human experience. The poem is not one of the poet's best-known but it is still a good example of Japanese poetry.
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Death is implied in the poem, suggesting the impermanence of life, especially when it comes to war. Bashō's poem prompts contemplation on mortality, reminding readers of the inevitability and universality of death.
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Dreams in the poem symbolize the soldiers' aspirations that remain unfulfilled. Bashō highlights the poignancy of unattainable dreams, emphasizing the futility and tragedy that arise when lives are cut short.
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Nature is a central theme in Bashō's poems, including 'Waves of summer grass.' Through nature, he conveys a profound understanding of the world and the way that it can be used to symbolize human experience. He's capable of using it as a mirror to reflect on the human condition and the fleeting nature of existence.
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Compassion is implied in the empathy readers are meant to feel towards the soldiers and their unfulfilled dreams. Bashō's work often encourages a compassionate understanding of human experiences and fosters empathy for those who have their lives cut short.
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Depression is not explicitly mentioned in the poem, but its underlying themes touch upon the melancholic aspects of existence. The juxtaposition of the fleeting beauty of summer grass and the soldiers' unattainable dreams can evoke a sense of desolation and introspection.
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Sadness permeates the poem as it addresses the loss and dashed hopes associated with war. It evokes a sense of melancholy and prompts reflection on the human capacity for suffering and the emotional weight of conflict.
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The theme of the future is subtly present in the soldiers' impossible dreams. It highlights the dashed hopes and unfulfilled potential that result from lives cut short, prompting contemplation on the uncertainties and limitations of what lies ahead.
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Loss is a prevailing theme throughout the poem. It emphasizes the profound grief and absence left behind by the soldiers' deaths. The poem encourages reflection on the irreplaceable void created by loss and the enduring impact it has on individuals and families.
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Soldiers are symbolically represented by the waves of grass, portraying the devastating impact of war. The poem elicits reflection on the sacrifices made by those in military service and the profound loss of human life resulting from armed conflicts.
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Summer in the poem represents a season of vitality and growth. It sets the stage for the image of swaying grass, creating a backdrop of warmth and abundance that contrasts with the tragedy and impermanence explored in the poem.
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Haiku poems, a traditional Japanese poetic form, are represented in this specific Bashō poem. With their strict syllabic structure and focus on capturing a single moment or image, haiku poems like this one are very skilled at inviting readers to engage in meditative contemplation and appreciation for a specific topic or image.
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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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