Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is one of Japan’s best known poets. Within his canon are haiku that scholars have labelled as anomalies, largely because of difficulties in interpreting certain characters (or “kanji”). For example, in this poem the anomalous kanji lends variation to the familiar theme of frog-leaping-into-water:
At an ancient pond,
a platypus takes the plunge.
The sound of water.
The kanji used by Basho is the near-nonsense “giant rat-duck.” The poem is one of a series of linked verses (or “haikai no renga”) variously called the Bizarre Giant Rat series or the Wallaby series--believed by some to be evidence that Basho, an inveterate traveller, had beaten Cook to Australia by a hundred years. Others in the series:
Spring at Edo
Cherry blossoms dance
in springtime breeze: so many
* lit. “rabid, giant bouncing rats”
Beneath Mt. Fuji
as autumn wind caresses
* Some argue this poem is better classified as part of the Ribald series.