Haru ya koshi
Toshi ya yukiken

Was it spring that came,
Or was it the year that went?
The Second Last Day.

This is the earliest known poem by the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, written in the winter of 1662 when Basho was 18.

The Second Last Day was the popular name for the day two days before the New Year. The first day of spring usually occured on New Years Day, but in 1662, it occured two days early on the second last day, prompting Basho to write this haiku.

In this poem, Basho borrows phrasing from a tanka poem appearing in The Tales of Ise, the Ise Monogatari, a classic of court literature. The poem in question was sent by woman to her lover after their first meeting.

Kimi ya koshi
Ware ya yukikemu
Yume ka utsutsu ka
Nete ka samete ka

Was it you who came
Or was it I who went--
I do not remember.
Was that dream or reality?
Was I asleep or awake?

Notice the similarities between the first two lines of both poems. This is Basho's humor: using this structure, which would have been familiar to readers of his day, in a totally different context.

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