Temple Bells Die Out by Matsuo Basho

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Introduction

(Poetry for Students)

“Temple Bells Die Out” is a haiku that was written by the Japanese poet Basho, who is credited with developing the haiku form from a light humorous verse based on word play into an evocative, philosophical statement. Basho used descriptions of common scenes from nature to make allegories about life. “Temple Bells Die Out” was written between 1686–1691, a period in which Basho wrote his most renowned haiku. Written in a style which Basho both developed and favored, the haiku has only seventeen syllables and often contrasts two objects with no apparent similarities. In “Temple Bells Die Out,” Basho contrasts the sound of bells ringing through the evening with the smell of flower blossoms. His description of the transient sound of the bells and the enduring fragrance of the flowers suggests the disparate aspects of life which combine to give it form.

Summary

(Poetry for Students)

Line 1
In the haiku” Temple Bells Die Out” Matsuo Basho describes dusk as an observer sitting in a Japanese garden might have experienced it. In line 1 the poet describes the sound of the bells ringing from a nearby temple. They chime out and then echo leaving silence to envelop the evening.

Line 2
In line 2, however, the fragrance of the cherry blossoms, in contrast to the sound of the bells, remains in the night air. The contrast between the two apparently dissimilar objects is complex. The first is a sound, the second a smell. The sound of the bells lasts a short time, the blossoms and their perfume linger.

Line 3
In line 3 Matsuo Basho unites the two images, claiming that they are part of one larger whole. Although dissimilar they each function to produce “a perfect evening.” At one level Matsuo Basho describes a peaceful seemingly perfect evening, a common scene that many of his readers would have themselves experienced. However, he uses this scene to illustrate the way in which all aspects of life must play their individual roles and yet unite to create a perfect whole.