In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus
A lovely sunsetMatsuo Basho
About the hibiscus plant
The hibiscus is a member of the mallow family of flowering plants. It is a native to many tropical regions. The flowers of the hibiscus are large, trumpet shaped, and can come in a variety of colors. Hibiscus flowers are often dried and used in teas. Served either hot or cold, hibiscus teas are known to have a slightly tart taste and are high in vitamin C.(1)
Perhaps it is because the hibiscus flower is so striking that it holds a lot of meaning for people. However, the meaning of this flower varies depending on where you are in the world.
In North America, the hibiscus is a symbol of feminism. In China, it represents prosperity and fame. It also represents softness and virginity. In Hawaii, it is the State flower and a symbol of respect. While in South Korea, it is the national symbol and is said to represent immortality. Finally, in Japan, it means gentleness and it was often given to guests as a symbol of honor. (2,3)
About the poem
Every word counts in a haiku, and the cultural significance of the hibiscus was probably not lost on Basho. If we take this into account, how might this shift our understanding of this haiku? Take a moment to re-read the haiku knowing the symbolism behind the flower. Do you notice anything different?
I interpret this haiku as a poem of gratitude. A moment where everything is right in the world. The rain, the sunset, the hibiscus come together in an instant of peace. The gentle hibiscus becomes an offering of thanks to the earth and all its beings. Basho recognizes that it is an honor to be in that place at that time.
What are your reactions to this haiku? Do you think the symbolism of this flower played a part in the construction of this haiku? Or, do you think Basho was just capturing a moment in time?