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Matsuo Bashô (1644-1694)


Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North tr. by Nobuyuki Yuasa

Matsuo Bashô's Complete Haiku in Japanese (alphabetical order) (DOC)

BASÓ: Régi tó vizet csobbant Macuo Basó 630 haikuja HTML > ábécérendben DOC kétnyelvű


"No matter where your interest lies, you will not be able to accomplish anything unless you bring your deepest devotion to it." - Matsuo Basho

Basho "In the second year of the Jokyo period (1685) at dawn on the 14th day of the Ninth Month, Basho had a strange dream in which he was caught in a rainstorm and ran into a shrine to take shelter. The priest scolded him and turned him away, but then said he could stay if he could make a haiku that fit the moment. Basho replied, 'Oh, well, at this very place ...' and produced a haiku." - Reference: volume IX of the complete works of Basho published by Kadokawa Shoten
Matsuo Munefusa, alias Basho (1644-94), was a Japanese poet and writer during the early Edo period. He took his pen name Basho from his basho-an, a hut made of plantain leaves, to where he would withdraw from society for solitude. Born of a weathy family, Basho was a Samurai until the age of 20, at which time he devoted himself to his poetry. Basho was a main figure in the development of haiku, and is considered to have written the most perfect examples of the form. His poetry explores the beauties of nature and are influenced by Zen Buddhism, which lends itself to the meditative solitude sensed in his haiku. He traveled extensively throughout his lifetime. His 1689 five-month journey deep into the country north and west of Edo provided the insight for his most famous work Oku no hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Deep North). This great work was posthumoustly published in 1702 and is still read by most Japanse high school students.

Interestingly, in 1996 an article in AsiaWeek claimed in the original manuscript of The Narrow Road to the Deep North was found in the library of an Osaka bookseller. It appears the manuscript was discovered after an earthquake. A scholar spent 6 years studying the work before declaring a 99% certainty that the manuscript was authentic. Read an article published on Stone Bridge Press.

Basho's Haiku

Old pond
a frog jumps in
the sound of water

Evening rain:
the basho
speaks of it first

With what kind of voice
would the spider cry
in the autumn wind?

drinking morning tea
the monk is peaceful
the chrysanthemum blooms

Falling ill while on a journey,
I still wander around the wilderness,
in my dreams

This autumn
why do I feel old?
a bird in a cloud

Walking with canes
one grey-haired family
is visiting graves

The scent of plum blossoms
on the misty mountain path
a big rising sun

Exhausted I sought
a country inn, but found
wisteria in bloom


An example of different translations:

Awakened
when the ice
bursts the waterjar

Ice in the night -
the waterjar cracks,
waking me

Spring breeze
a pipe in his mouth -
the boatman

Travelling this high
mountain trail, delighted
by violets

Temple bells die out
the fragrant blossoms remain
A perfect evening!

Your song caresses
the depths of loneliness,
O high mountain bird

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Basho's Haiku
Japanese Haiku, by Peter Beilenson, [1955]
(© Peter Beilenson)

BALLET IN THE AIR ...
TWIN BUTTERFLIES
UNTIL, TWICE WHITE
THEY MEET, THEY MATE

BLACK CLOUDBANK BROKEN
SCATTERS IN THE
NIGHT ... NOW SEE
MOON-LIGHTED MOUNTAINS!

SEEK ON HIGH BARE TRAILS
SKY-REFLECTING
VIOLETS...
MOUNTAIN-TOP JEWELS

FOR A LOVELY BOWL
LET US ARRANGE THESE
FLOWERS...
SINCE THERE IS NO RICE

NOW THAT EYES OF HAWKS
IN DUSKY NIGHT
ARE DARKENED...
CHIRPING OF THE QUAILS

APRIL'S AIR STIRS IN
WILLOW-LEAVES ...
A BUTTERFLY
FLOATS AND BALANCES

IN THE SEA-SURF EDGE
MINGLING WITH
BRIGHT SMALL SHELLS ..
BUSH-CLOVER PETALS

THE RIVER
GATHERING MAY RAINS
FROM COLD STREAMLETS
FOR THE SEA ...
MURMURING MOGAMI

WHITE CLOUD OF MIST
ABOVE WHITE
CHERRY-BLOSSOMS ...
DAWN-SHINING MOUNTAINS

TWILIGHT WHIPPOORWILL ...
WHISTLE ON,
SWEET DEEPENER
OF DARK LONELINESS

MOUNTAIN-ROSE PETALS
FALLING, FALLING,
FALLING NOW ...
WATERFALL MUSIC

AH ME! I AM ONE
WHO SPENDS HIS LITTLE
BREAKFAST
MORNING-GLORY GAZING

SEAS ARE WILD TONIGHT...
STRETCHING OVER
SADO ISLAND
SILENT CLOUDS OF STARS

WHY SO SCRAWNY, CAT?
STARVING FOR FAT FISH
OR MICE ...
OR BACKYARD LOVE?

DEWDROP, LET ME CLEANSE
IN YOUR BRIEF
SWEET WATERS ...
THESE DARK HANDS OF LIFE

GLORIOUS THE MOON...
THEREFORE OUR THANKS
DARK CLOUDS
COME TO REST OUR NECKS

UNDER CHERRY-TREES
SOUP, THE SALAD,
FISH AND ALL ...
SEASONED WITH PETALS

TOO CURIOUS FLOWER
WATCHING US PASS,
MET DEATH...
OUR HUNGRY DONKEY

CLOUD OF CHERRY-BLOOM ...
TOLLING TWILIGHT
BELL ... TEMPLE
UENO? ASAKUSA?

MUST SPRINGTIME FADE?
THEN CRY ALL BIRDS ...
AND FISHES'
COLD PALE EYES POUR TEARS

SUCH UTTER SILENCE!
EVEN THE CRICKETS’
SINGING...
MUFFLED BY HOT ROCKS

SWALLOW IN THE DUSK...
SPARE MY LITTLE
BUZZING FRIENDS
AMONG THE FLOWERS

OLD DARK SLEEPY POOL...
QUICK UNEXPECTED
FROG
GOES PLOP! WATERSPLASH!

DARTING DRAGON-FLY ...
PULL OFF ITS SHINY
WINGS AND LOOK...
BRIGHT RED PEPPER-POD (KIKAKU)

REPLY:

BRIGHT RED PEPPER-POD ...
IT NEEDS BUT SHINY
WINGS AND LOOK...
DARTING DRAGON-FLY!

WAKE! THE SKY IS LIGHT!
LET US TO THE ROAD
AGAIN...
COMPANION BUTTERFLY!

SILENT THE OLD TOWN...
THE SCENT OF FLOWERS
FLOATING...
AND EVENING BELL

CAMELLIA-PETAL
FELL IN SILENT DAWN ...
SPILLING
A WATER-JEWEL

IN THE TWILIGHT RAIN
THESE BRILLIANT-HUED
HIBISCUS ...
A LOVELY SUNSET

LADY BUTTERFLY
PERFUMES HER WINGS
BY FLOATING
OVER THE ORCHID

NOW THE SWINGING BRIDGE
IS QUIETED
WITH CREEPERS...
LIKE OUR TENDRILLED LIFE

THE SEA DARKENING...
OH VOICES OF THE
WILD DUCKS
CRYING, WHIRLING, WHITE

NINE TIMES ARISING
TO SEE THE MOON...
WHOSE SOLEMN PACE
MARKS ONLY MIDNIGHT YET

HERE, WHERE A THOUSAND
CAPTAINS SWORE GRAND
CONQUEST ... TALL
GRASS THEIR MONUMENT

NOW IN SAD AUTUMN
AS I TAKE MY
DARKENING PATH ...
A SOLITARY BIRD

WILL WE MEET AGAIN
HERE AT YOUR
FLOWERING GRAVE...
TWO WHITE BUTTERFLIES?

DRY CHEERFUL CRICKET
CHIRPING, KEEPS
THE AUTUMN GAY ...
CONTEMPTUOUS OF FROST

FIRST WHITE SNOW OF FALL
JUST ENOUGH TO BEND
THE LEAVES
OF FADED DAFFODILS

CARVEN GODS LONG GONE...
DEAD LEAVES ALONE
FOREGATHER
ON THE TEMPLE PORCH

COLD FIRST WINTER RAIN...
POOR MONKEY,
YOU TOO COULD USE
A LITTLE WOVEN CAPE

NO OIL TO READ BY ...
I AM OFF TO BED
BUT AH!...
MY MOONLIT PILLOW

THIS SNOWY MORNING
THAT BLACK CROW
I HATE SO MUCH...
BUT HE'S BEAUTIFUL!

IF THERE WERE FRAGRANCE
THESE HEAVY SNOW-
FLAKES SETTLING...
LILIES ON THE ROCKS

SEE: SURVIVING SUNS
VISIT THE ANCESTRAL
GRAVE ...
BEARDED, WITH BENT CANES

DEATH-SONG:
FEVER-FELLED HALF-WAY,
MY DREAMS AROSE
TO MARCH AGAIN...
INTO A HOLLOW LAND

 

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Poet's Corner - Biography

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

Haiku:

On high narrow road
old traveler clears wide swath,
tiny scythe glinting.

Old pond...
a frog leaps in
water's sound.

To a leg of a heron
Adding a long shank
Of a pheasant.

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) was one of the greatest Japanese poets. He elevated haiku to the level of serious poetry in numerous anthologies and travel diaries.
The name of Matsuo Basho is associated especially with the celebrated Genroku era (ca. 1680-1730), which saw the flourishing of many of Japan's greatest and most typical literary and artistic personalities. Although Basho was the contemporary of writers like the novelist and poet Ihara Saikaku and the dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon, he was far from being an exponent of the new middle-class culture of the city dwellers of that day. Rather, in his poetry and in his attitude toward life he seemed to harken back to a period some 300 years earlier. An innovator in poetry, spiritually and culturally he maintained a great tradition of the past.

The haiku, a 17-syllable verse form divided into successive phrases or lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, originated in the linked verse of the 14th century, becoming an independent form in the latter part of the 16th century. Arakida Moritake (1473-1549) was a distinguished renga poet who originated witty and humorous verses he called haikai, which later became synonymous with haiku. Nishiyama Soin (1605-1682), founder of the Danrin school, pursued Arakida's ideals. Basho was a member of this school at first, but breaking with it, he was responsible for elevating the haiku to a serious art, making it the verse form par excellence, which it has remained ever since.

Basho's poetical works, known as the Seven Anthologies of the Basho School (Basho Schichibushy), were published separately from 1684 to 1698, but they were not published together until 1774. Not all of the approximately 2,500 verses in the Basho anthologies are by Basho, although he is the principal contributor. Eleven other poets, his disciples, also contributed poems. These anthologies thus reflect composition performed by groups of poets with Basho as the arbiter of taste, injecting his comments on the poems of others, arranging his works in favorable contrast to theirs, and generally having the "last word." It was understood that he was the first poet of his group, and he expected a considerable amount of deference.

Early Life and Works

Basho was born in 1644 in Ueno, lga Province, part of present-day Mie Prefecture. He was one of six children in a family of samurai, descended, it is said, from the great Taira clan of the Middle Ages. As a youth, Basho entered feudal service but at the death of his master left it to spend much of his life in wandering about Japan in search of imagery. Thus he is known as a traveler as well as a poet, the author of some of the most beautiful travel diaries ever written in Japanese. Basho is thought to have gravitated toward Kyoto, where he studied the Japanese classics. Here, also, he became interested in the haiku of the Teitoku school, which was directed by Kitamura Kigin.

In 1672, at the age of 29, Basho set out for Edo (modern Tokyo), the seat of the Tokugawa shoguns and defacto capital of Japan. There he published a volume of verse in the style of the Teitoku school called Kai-Oi. In 1675 he composed a linked-verse sequence with Nishiyama Soin of the Danrin school, but for the next 4 years he was engaged in building waterworks in the city to earn a living. Thereafter, generous friends and admirers made it possible for him to continue a life devoted to poetic composition, wandering, and meditation, though he seems to have been largely unconcerned with money matters.

In 1680, thanks to the largesse of an admirer, Basho established himself in a small cottage at Fukagawa in Edo, thus beginning his life as a hermit of poetry. A year later one of his followers presented him with a banana plant, which was duly planted in Basho's garden. His hermitage became known as the Hermitage of the Banana Plant (Basho-an), and the poet, who had heretofore been known by the pen name Tosei, came increasingly to use the name Basho.

The hermitage burned down in 1682, causing Basho to retire to Kai Province. About this time it is believed that Basho began his study of Zen at the Chokei Temple in Fukagawa, and it has often been assumed erroneously that Basho was a Buddhist priest. He dressed and conducted himself in a clerical manner and must have been profoundly motivated by a mystical faith. Whatever experiences of tragedy or strong emotion that he suffered seem to have enlarged his perception of reality. His vision of the universe is implicit in all his best poems, and the word zen has often been applied to him and his work. His work and later life certainly could not be called worldly.

Travel Diaries

In 1683 the hermitage was rebuilt and Basho returned to Edo. But in the summer of 1684 Basho made a journey to his birthplace, which resulted in the travel diary The Weatherbeaten Trip (Nozarashi Kiko). That same year he published the haiku collection entitled Winter Days (Fuyu no Hi). It was in Winter Days that Basho enunciated his revolutionary style of haiku composition, a manner so different from the preceding haiku that the word "shofu" (haiku in the Basho manner) was coined to describe it.

Winter Days, published in Kyoto, was compiled under Basho's direction by his Nagoya disciple Yamamoto Kakei. Basho, wintering at Nagoya on his trip home to lga, had summoned his disciples to compose a haiku sequence inspired by the season. Basho set the tone for the sequence by using the words "wintry blasts" in the first poem. The progress of the seasons was one of the main inspirations for the anthology, putting it in tune with the cosmic process. Nature, the understanding of its beauty and acceptance of its force, is used by Basho to express the beauty which he observes in the world. Basho enunciates the abstract beauty, yugen, which lies just behind the appearance of the world. The word "yugen" may be understood as the inner beauty of a work of art or nature which is rarely apparent to the vulgar. And the apprehension of this beauty gives the beholder a momentary intimation, an illumination, of the deeper significance of the universe about him. This view of the universe, while not original with Basho, was in his case undoubtedly inspired by some previous experience.

In 1686 Spring Days (Haru no Hi) was compiled in Nagoya by followers of Basho, revised by him, and published in Kyoto. There is an attitude of refined tranquility in these poems representing a deeper metaphysical state. The anthology contains one of the most famous of all Basho's haiku verse: "An old pond/ a frog jumps in/ splash!" There has been much speculation on the significance of this verse, which has captured the fancy of many generations of lovers of Japanese poetry. But even the imagery alone can be appreciated by many different people at a variety of levels. Composition within the delicate confines of haiku versification definitely sets Basho off as one of the greatest mystical poets of Japan. The simplicity it exhibits is the result of the methodical rejection of much complication, not the simplicity with which one starts but rather that with which one ends.

In the autumn of 1688 Basho went to Sarashina, in present-day Nagano Prefecture, to view the moon, a hallowed autumn pastime in Japan. He recorded his impressions in The Sarashina Trip (Sarashina Kiko). Though one of his lesser travel diaries, it is a kind of prelude to his description of a journey to northern Japan a year later. It was at this time that Basho also wrote a short prose account of the moon as seen from Obasute Mountain in Sarashina. The legend of the mountain, where an old woman was abandoned to die alone, moved him also to compose a verse containing the image of an elderly woman accompanied only by the beautiful moon of Sarashina.

The Journey to Ou (Oku no Hosomichi) is perhaps the greatest of Basho's travel diaries. A mixture of haiku and haibun, a prose style typical of Basho, it contains some of his greatest verses. This work immortalizes the trip Basho made from Sendai to Shiogama on his way to the two northernmost provinces of Mutsu and Dewa (Ou). This diary reflects how the very thought of the hazardous journey, a considerable undertaking in those days, filled Basho with thoughts of death. He thinks of the Chinese T'ang poets Li Po and Tu Fu and the Japanese poets Saigyo and Sogi, all of whom had died on journeys.

Setting out early in the spring of 1689 from Edo with his disciple Kawai Sora, Basho traveled for 5 months in remote parts of the north, covering a distance of some 1,500 miles. The poet saw many notable places of pilgrimage, including the site of the hermitage where Butcho had practiced Zen meditation. The entire trip was to be devoted to sight with historical and literary associations, but Basho fell ill and again speculated on the possibility of his dying far from home. But he recovered and continued on to see the famous island of Matsushima, considered one of the three scenic wonders of Japan.

He proceeded to Hiraizumi to view ruins dating from the Heian Period. On the site of the battlefield where Yoshitsune had fallen, Basho composed a poem: "A wilderness of summer grass/ hides all that remains/ of warriors' dreams." In the province of Dewa he was fortunate enough to find shelter at the home of a well-to-do admirer and disciple. Passing on to a temple, Risshakuji, Basho was deeply inpired by the silence of the place situated amidst the rocks. It occasioned the verse which some consider his masterpiece: "Stillness!/ It penetrates the very rocks/ the shrill-chirping of the cicadas."

Crossing over to the coast of the Sea of Japan, Basho continued southwest on his journey to Kanazawa, where he mourned at the grave of a young poet who had died the year before, awaiting Basho's arrival. He continued to Eiheiji, the temple founded by the great Zen priest Dogen. Eventually there was a reunion with several of his disciples, but Basho left them again to travel on to the Grand Shrine of Ise alone. Here the account of this journey ends. The work is particularly noteworthy for the excellence of its prose as well as its poetry and ranks high in the genre of travel writing in Japanese literature. Basho continued to polish this work until 1694; it was not published until 1702.

Mature Works

In 1690 Basho lived for a time in quiet retirement at the Genju-an ("Unreal Dwelling") near Lake Biwa, north of Kyoto, and he wrote an account of this stay. Early in 1691 he stayed for a time in Saga with his disciple Mukai Kyorai.

As for his poetry, Waste Land (Arano) had been compiled by the disciple Kakei and published in 1689. It is the largest of the anthologies and contains a preface by Basho in which he characterizes his preceding anthologies as "flowery" and henceforth establishes a new standard of metaphysical and esthetic depth for haiku. The Gourd (Hisago) was compiled by the disciple Chinseki at Zeze in the province of Omi in 1690. It foreshadows in its excellence the mature and serious versifying which was to be the hallmark of the anthology The Monkey's Raincoat (Sarumino) in 1691. Compiled by Basho's disciples under his attentive supervision, The Monkey's Raincoat is composed of a judicious selection of haiku from the hands of many poets.

It was while Basho was staying at the hermitage in Omi during the spring and summer of 1690 that the compilation was made. The Monkey's Raincoat contains some of Basho's own finest and essential haiku. This anthology, which may be compared with the finest anthologies in the history of Japanese literature, is arranged according to the four seasons. The title is taken from the opening verse by Basho, a poem of winter: "First cold Winter rain/ even the monkey seems to want/ a tiny raincoat." Basho leads the contributors with the largest number of poems, followed by Boncho and Kyorai. But all the verses conform to Basho's tastes. The poems are linked by a subtle emotion rather than by a logical sequence, but they belong together.

In the late fall of 1691 Basho returned to Edo, where a new Banana Hermitage had been built near the site of the former one, complete with another banana plant in the garden. For the next 3 years Basho remained there receiving his disciples, discussing poetry, and helping in the compilation of another anthology, The Sack of Charcoal (Sumidawara) of 1694. The reason for the title, according to the preface, is that Basho, when asked if such a word could be used in haiku poetry, replied that it could. This anthology, together with its successor, The Sequel to the Monkey's Raincoat (Zoku Sarumino), exhibits the quality of Karumi, or lightness, an artistic spontaneity which is the fruit of a lifetime of poetic cultivation. It is a kind of sublimity reached by a truly great poet and cannot be imitated intellectually. The Sequel to the Monkey's Raincoat in 1698, appearing 4 years after Basho's death, is concerned with the seasons, traveling, and religion. It contains some of Basho's last and most mature poems.

In the spring of 1694 Basho set out for what was to be his last journey to his birthplace. At Osaka he was taken ill. Perceiving that he was near his end, Basho wrote a final poem on his own death: "Stricken while journeying/ my dreams still wander about/ but on withered fields."

 

FURTHER READINGS

Information on Basho and his works is available in Donald Keene, Anthology of Japanese Literature: From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (1955); Kenneth Yasuda, The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History and Possibilities in English (1957); Harold G. Henderson, ed. and trans., An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems from Basho to Shiki (1958); Ryusaku Tsunoda, William Theodore de Bary, and Donald Keene, eds., Sources of the Japanese Tradition (1958; rev. ed., 2 vols., 1964), an anthology with commentary; R. H. Blyth, A History of Haiku (2 vols., 1963); Makoto Ueda, Zeami, Basho, Yeats, Pound: A Study in Japanese and English Poetics (1965); and Nobuyuki Yuasa's introduction to his translation of Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (1966).

Source: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 18 vols. Gale Research, 1998.


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Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

A Haiku poet of the early Edo period who was born into a samurai family in Ueno, Iga Province where he served Yoshitada the son of the local feudal lord Todo Yoshikiyo. He was also known by his "haiku" penname of Sengin. He became interested in poetry and studied "haiku" in Kyoto under the master classics scholar and poet of the early Edo period Kitamura Kigin (1624? _ 1705).
Matsuo Basho later moved to Edo (the old name of Tokyo) and settled in a small hermitage called Basho An. Here, together with his disciples he established his own "haiku" style known as "Sho Fu" (Basho style). His poetry went beyond the conventional style of the "Danrin" (A "haiku" school headed by Nisiyama Soin that had become popular because of colloquial content and light humour). He was to elevate "haikai" (the original form of "haiku") to a sophisticated literary art. It emphasizes the atmosphere of "sabi" (elegant simplicity), "shiori" (a deep sympathetic feeling for both nature and humanity), "hosomi" (understatement) and "karomi" (a light tone). It is also focussed on the mood of "yugen", spiritual profundity expressing the inner beauty of art and nature and "kanjaku", a serene desolation.
His compositions scarcely cling to the classic style, typically adopting sets of "mae-ku" (preceding verse) and "tsuke-ku" (linking verse, joined verse or added verse) formed by adding a short verse of 7-7 syllables to a long verse of 5-7-5 syllables or vice versa. His compositions feature in particular the fashion of appending a tag verse to provide an enhancing "perfume" associated with the afterglow of the initial verse.
He also journeyed across Japan visiting a number of districts. After composing numerous "haiku" poems and prose pieces including travel journals, he died in a country inn in Naniwa (now Osaka prefecture).
Basho's "haiku" express drama, humor, sadness, ecstasy and confusion in somehow exaggerated ways. These poetic expressions have a paradoxical nature. The humor and the despair that he expresses are not implements to encourage a belief in human potential or to glorify it. If anything, Basho's oeuvre characteristically announces more his belief in the mediocrity of human existence the more he describes men's deeds and this makes us conscious of the greatness of the power of nature.
His "haiku" verses were gathered in the "Haikai shichibushu" (the Seven Anthologies of the Basho School). His major travel journals and diaries are "Nozarashi kiko" (the Weatherbeaten Trip), "Sarashina kiko" (the Sarashina Trip), "Oku no hosomichi" (the Narrow Road to the Deep North) and "Saga nikki" (the Saga Diary).

 

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Basho Matsuo (1644 ~ 1694)

Basho Matsuo is known as the first great poet in the history of haikai (and haiku).

He too, wrote poems using jokes and plays upon words in his early stages, as they were in fashion, but began to attach importance to the role of thought in haikai (especially in hokku) from around 1680.

The thought of Tchouang-tseu, philosopher in the 4th century B.C., influenced greatly Basho, and he often quoted the texts of "The Book of master Tchouang" in his hokkus.

The thinker Tchouang-tseu denied the artificiality and the utilitarianism, seeing value of intellect low. He asserted that things seemingly useless had the real value, and that it was the right way of life not to go against the natural law.


To a leg of a heron
Adding a long shank
Of a pheasant.
Basho


This poem parodied the following text in "The Book of master Tchouang": "When you see a long object, you don't have to think that it is too long if being long is the property given by the nature. It is proved by the fact that a duckling, having short legs, will cry if you try to draw them out by force, and that a crane, having long legs, will protest you with tears if you try to cut them with a knife."

By playing on purpose in this haiku an act "jointing legs of birds by force" which Tchouang denied, he showed the absurdity of this act and emphasized the powerlessness of the human being's intelligence humorously.

Basho's haikus are dramatic, and they exaggerate humor or depression, ecstasy or confusion. These dramatic expressions have a paradoxical nature. The humor and the despair which he expressed are not implements to believe in the possibility of the human being and to glorify it. If anything, the literature of Basho has a character that the more he described men's deeds, the more human existence's smallness stood out in relief, and it makes us conscious of the greatness of nature's power.


The wind from Mt. Fuji
I put it on the fan.
Here, the souvenir from Edo.

*Edo: the old name of Tokyo.

Sleep on horseback,
The far moon in a continuing dream,
Steam of roasting tea.

Spring departs.
Birds cry
Fishes' eyes are filled with tears

Summer zashiki
Make move and enter
The mountain and the garden.

*zashiki: Japanese-style room covered with tatamis and open to the garden.

What luck!
The southern valley
Make snow fragrant.

A autumn wind
More white
Than the rocks in the rocky mountain.

From all directions
Winds bring petals of cherry
Into the grebe lake.

Even a wild boar
With all other things
Blew in this storm.

The crescent lights
The misty ground.
Buckwheat flowers.

Bush clover in blossom waves
Without spilling
A drop of dew.

Note:
Originally, Basho didn't write the poem "To a leg of a heron..." as a hokku, but as one of verses in a haikai-renga.
This verse suggests the intention to laugh at himself: "What a stupid deed like drawing out a heron's leg it is to product one more series of haikai! Because it is produced so often."

Written by
Ryu Yotsuya

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The master haiku Poet Matsuo Basho
by Makoto Ueda, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970.


Basho's Life


One day in the spring of 1681 a banana tree was being planted alongside a modest hut in a rustic area of Edo, a city now known as Tokyo. It was a gift from a local resident to his teacher of poetry, who had moved into the hut several months earlier. The teacher, a man of thirty-six years of age, was delighted with the gift. He loved the banana plant because it was somewhat like him in the way it stood there. Its large leaves were soft and sensitive and were easily torn when gusty winds blew from the sea. Its flowers were small and unobtrusive; they looked lonesome, as if they knew they could bear no fruit in the cool climate of Japan. Its stalks were long and fresh- looking, yet they were of no practical use.

The teacher lived all alone in the hut. On nights when he had no visitor, he would sit quietly and listen to the wind blowing through the banana leaves. The lonely atmosphere would deepen on rainy nights. Rainwater leaking through the roof dripped intermittently into a basin. To the ears of the poet sitting in the dimly lighted room, the sound made a strange harmony with the rustling of the banana leaves outside.

A banana plant in the autumn gale -
I listen to the dripping of rain
Into a basin at night.

The haiku seems to suggest the poet's awareness of his spiritual affinity with the banana plant.

Some people who visited this teacher of poetry may have noticed the affinity. Others may have seen the banana plant as nothing more than a convenient landmark. At any rate, they came to call the residence the Basho ("banana plant) Hut, and the name was soon applied to its resident, too: the teacher came to be known as the Master of the Basho Hut, or Master Basho. It goes without saying that he was happy to accept the nickname. He used it for the rest of his life.


I. First Metamorphosis: From Wanderer to Poet

Little material is available to recreate Basho's life prior to his settlement in the Basho Hut. It is believed that he was born in 1644 at or near Ueno in Iga Province, about thirty miles southeast of Kyoto and two hundred miles west of Edo. He was called Kinsaku and several other names as a child; he had an elder brother and four sisters. His father, Matsuo Yozaemon, was probably a low-ranking samurai who farmed in peacetime. Little is known about his mother except that her parents were not natives of Ueno. The social status of the family, while respectable, was not of the kind that promised a bright future for young Basho if he were to follow an ordinary course of life.

Yet Basho's career began in an ordinary enough way. It is presumed that as a youngster he entered the service of a youthful master, Todo Yoshitada, a relative of the feudal lord ruling the province. Young Basho first served as a page or in some such capacity.1 His master, two years his senior, was apparently fond of Basho, and the two seem to have become fairly good companions as they grew older. Their strongest bond was the haikai, one of the favorite pastimes of sophisticated men of the day. Apparently Yoshitada had a liking for verse writing and even acquired a haikai name, Sengin. Whether or not the initial stimulation came from his master, Basho also developed a taste for writing haikai, using the pseudonym Sobo. The earliest poem by Basho preserved today was written in 1662. In 1664, two haiku by Basho and one by Yoshitada appeared in a verse anthology published in Kyoto. The following year Basho, Yoshitada, and three others joined together and composed a renku of one hundred verses. Basho contributed eighteen verses, his first remaining verses of this type.

Basho's life seems to have been peaceful so far, and he might for the rest of his life have been a satisfied, low-ranking samurai who spent his spare time verse writing. He had already come of age and had assumed a samurai's name, Matsuo Munefusa. But in the summer of 1666 a series of incidents completely changed the course of his life. Yoshitada suddenly died a premature death. His younger brother succeeded him as the head of the clan and also as the husband of his widow. It is believed that Basho left his native home and embarked on a wandering life shortly afterward.

Various surmises have been made as to the reasons for Basho's decision to leave home, a decision that meant forsaking his samurai status. One reason which can be easily imagined is Basho's deep grief at the death of his master, to whom he had been especially close. One early biography even has it that he thought of killing himself to accompany his master in the world beyond, but this was forbidden by the current law against self- immolation. Another and more convincing reason is that Basho became extremely pessimistic about his future under the new master, whom he had never served before. As Yoshitada had Basho, the new master must have had around him favored companions with whom he had been brought up. They may have tried to prevent Basho from joining their circle, or even if they did not, Basho could have sensed some vague animosity in their attitudes toward him. Whatever the truth may have been, there seems to be no doubt that Basho's future as a samurai became exceedingly clouded upon the sudden death of his master.

Other surmises about Basho's decision to leave home have to do with his love affairs. Several early biographies claim that he had an affair with his elder brother's wife, with one of Yoshitada's waiting ladies, or with Yoshitada's wife herself. These are most likely the fabrications of biographers who felt the need for some sensational incident in the famous poet's youth. But there is one theory that may contain some truth. It maintains that Basho had a secret mistress, who later became a nun called Jutei. She may even have had a child, or several children, by Basho. At any rate, these accounts seem to point toward one fact: Basho still in his early twenties, experienced his share of the joys and griefs that most young men go through at one time or another.

Basho's life for the next few years is very obscure. It has traditionally been held that he went to Kyoto, then the capital of Japan, where he studied philosophy, poetry and calligraphy under well-known experts. It is not likely, however, that he was in Kyoto all during this time; he must often have returned to his hometown for lengthy visits. It might even be that he still lived in Ueno or in that vicinity and made occasional trips to Kyoto. In all likelihood he was not yet determined to become a poet at this time. Later in his own writing he was to recall "At one time I coveted an official post with a tenure of land." He was still young and ambitious, confident of his potential. He must have wished, above all, to get a good education that would secure him some kind of respectable position later on. Perhaps he wanted to see the wide world outside his native town and to mix with a wide variety of people. With the curiosity of youth he may have tried to do all sorts of things fashionable among the young libertines of the day. Afterward, he even wrote, "There was a time when I was fascinated with the ways of homosexual love."

One indisputable fact is that Basho had not lost his interest in verse writing. A haikai anthology published in 1667 contained as many as thirty- one of his verses, and his work was included in three other anthologies compiled between 1669 and 1671. His name was gradually becoming known to a limited number of poets in the capital. That must have earned him considerable respect from the poets in his hometown too. Thus when Basho made his first attempt to compile a book of haikai, about thirty poets were willing to contribute verses to it. The book, called The Seashell Game (Kai Oi), was dedicated to a shrine in Ueno early in 1672.

The Seashell Game represents a haiku contest in thirty rounds. Pairs of haiku, each one composed by a different poet, are matched and judged by Basho. Although he himself contributed two haiku to the contest, the main value of the book lies in his critical comments and the way he refereed the matches. On the whole, the book reveals hi to be a man of brilliant wit and colorful imagination, who had a good knowledge of popular songs, fashionable expressions, and the new ways of the world in general. It appears he compiled the book in a lighthearted mood, but his poetic talent was evident.

Then, probably in the spring of 1672, Basho set out on a journey to Edo, apparently with no intention of returning in the immediate future. On parting he sent a haiku to one of his friends in Ueno:

Clouds will separate
The two friends, after migrating
Wild goose's departure.

His motive for going to Edo cannot be ascertained. Now that he had some education, he perhaps wanted to find a promising post in Edo, then a fast- expanding city which offered a number of career opportunities. Or perhaps, encouraged by the good reception that The Seashell Game enjoyed locally, he had already made up his mind to become a professional poet and wanted his name known in Edo, too. Most likely Basho had multiple motives, being yet a young man with plenty of ambition. Whether he wanted to be a government official or a haikai master, Edo seemed to be an easier place than Kyoto to realize his dreams. He was anxious to try out his potential in a different, freer environment.

Basho's life for the next eight years is somewhat obscure again. It is said that in his early days in Edo he stayed at the home of one or another of his patrons. That is perhaps true, but it is doubtful that he could remain a dependent for long. Various theories, none of them with convincing evidence, argue that he became a physician's assistant, a town clerk, or a poet's scribe. The theory generally considered to be the closest to the truth is that for some time he was employed by the local waterworks department. Whatever the truth, his early years in Edo were not easy. He was probably recalling those days when he later wrote: "At one time I was weary of verse writing and wanted to give it up, and at another time I was determined to be a poet until I could establish a proud name over others. the alternatives battled in my mind and made my life restless."

Though he may have been in a dilemma Basho continued to write verses in the new city. In the summer of 1675 he was one of several writers who joined a distinguished poet of the time in composing a renku of one hundred verses; Basho, now using the pseudonym Tosei, contributed eight. The following spring he and another poet wrote two renku, each consisting of one hundred verses.. After a brief visit to his native town later in the year, he began devoting more and more time to verse writing. He must have made up his mind to become a professional poet around this time, if he had not done so earlier. His work began appearing in various anthologies more and more frequently, indicating his increasing renown. When the New Year came he apparently distributed a small book of verses among his acquaintances, a practice permitted only to a recognized haikai master. In the winter of that year he judged two haiku contests, and when they were published as Haiku Contests in Eighteen Rounds (Juhachiban Hokku Awase), he wrote a commentary on each match. In the summer of 1680 The Best Poems of Tosei's Twenty Disciples (Tosei Montei Dokugin Nijikkasen) appeared, which suggests that Basho already had a sizeable group of talented students. Later in the same year two of his leading disciples matched their own verses in two contests, "The rustic haiku Contest" ("Inaka no Kuawase") and "The Evergreen haiku Contest" ("Tokiwaya no Kuawase"), and Basho served as the judge. that winter his students built a small house in a quiet, rustic part of Edo and presented it to their teacher. Several months later a banana tree was planted in the yard, giving the hut its famous name. Basho, firmly established as a poet, now had his own home for the first time in his life.


II. Second Metamorphosis: From Poet to Wanderer

Basho was thankful to have a permanent home, but he was not to be cozily settled there. With all his increasing poetic fame and material comfort, he seemed to become more dissatisfied with himself. In his early days of struggle he had had a concrete aim in life, a purpose to strive for. That aim, now virtually attained, did not seem to be worthy of all his effort. He had many friends, disciples, and patrons, and yet he was lonelier than ever. One of the first verses he wrote after moving into the Basho Hut was:

Against the brushwood gate
Dead tea leaves swirl
In the stormy wind.

Many other poems written at this time, including the haiku about the banana tree, also have pensive overtones. In a headnote to one of them he even wrote: "I feel lonely as I gaze at the moon, I feel lonely as I think about myself, and I feel lonely as I ponder upon this wretched life of mine. I want to cry out that I am lonely, but no one asks me how I feel."

It was probably out of such spiritual ambivalence that Basho began practicing Zen meditation under Priest Butcho (1642-1715), who happened to be staying near his home. He must have been zealous and resolute in this attempt, for he was later to recall: "...and yet at another time I was anxious to confine myself within the walls of a monastery." Loneliness, melancholy, disillusion, ennui - whatever his problem may have been, his suffering was real.

A couple of events that occurred in the following two years further increased his suffering. In the winter of 1682 the Basho Hut was destroyed in a fire that swept through the whole neighborhood. He was homeless again, and probably the idea that man is eternally homeless began haunting his mind more and more frequently. A few months later he received news from his family home that his mother had died. Since his father had died already in 1656, he was now not only without a home but without a parent to return to.

As far as poetic fame was concerned, Basho and his disciples were thriving. In the summer of 1683 they published Shriveled Chestnuts (Minashiguri), an anthology of haikai verses which in its stern rejection of crudity and vulgarity in theme and in its highly articulate, Chinese-flavored diction, set them distinctly apart from other poets. In that winter, when the homeless Basho returned from a stay in Kai Province, his friends and disciples again gathered together and presented him with a new Basho Hut. He was pleased, but it was not enough to do away with his melancholy. His poem on entering the new hut was:

The sound of hail -
I am the same as before
Like that aging oak.

Neither poetic success nor the security of a home seemed to offer him much consolation. He was already a wanderer in spirit, and he had to follow that impulse in actual life.

Thus in the fall of 1684 Basho set out on his first significant journey. He had made journeys before, but not for the sake of spiritual and poetic discipline. Through the journey he wanted, among other things, to face death and thereby to help temper his mind and his poetry. He called it "the journey of a weather-beaten skeleton," meaning that he was prepared to perish alone and leave his corpse to the mercies of the wilderness if that was his destiny. If this seems to us a bit extreme, we should remember that Basho was of a delicate constitution and suffered from several chronic diseases, and that his travel in seventeenth-century Japan was immensely more hazardous than it is today.

It was a long journey, taking him to a dozen provinces that lay between Edo and Kyoto. From Edo he went westward along a main road that more or less followed the Pacific coastline. He passed by the foot of Mount Fuji, crossed several large rivers and visited the Grand Shinto Shrines in Ise. He then arrived at his native town, Ueno, and was reunited with his relatives and friends. His elder brother opened a memento bag and showed him a small tuft of gray hair from the head of his late mother.

Should I hold it in my hand
It would melt in my burning tears -
Autumnal frost.

This is one of the rare cases in which a poem bares his emotion, no doubt because the grief he felt was uncontrollably intense.

After only a few days' sojourn in Ueno, Basho traveled farther on, now visiting a temple among the mountains, now composing verses with local poets. It was at this time that The Winter Sun (Fuyu no Hi), a collection of five renku which with their less pedantic vocabulary and more lyrical tone marked the beginning of Basho's mature poetic style, was produced. He then celebrated the New Year at his native town for the first time in years. He spent some more time visiting Nara and Kyoto, and when he finally returned to Edo it was already the summer of 1685.

The journey was a rewarding one. Basho met numerous friends, old and new, on the way. He produced a number of haiku and renku on his experiences during the journey, including those collected in The Winter Sun. He wrote his first travel journal, The Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton (Nozarashi Kiko), too. Through all these experiences, Basho was gradually changing. In the latter part of the journal there appears, for instance, the following haiku which he wrote at the year's end:

Another year is gone -
A travel hat on my head,
Straw sandals on my feet.

The poem seems to show Basho at ease in travel. The uneasiness that made him assume a strained attitude toward the journey disappeared as his trip progressed. He could not look at his wandering self more objectively, without heroism or sentimentalism.

He spent the next two years enjoying a quiet life at the Basho Hut. It was a modest but leisurely existence, and he could afford to call himself "an idle old man." He contemplated the beauty of nature as it changed with the seasons and wrote verses whenever he was inspired to do so. Friends and disciples who visited him shared his taste, and they often gathered to enjoy the beauty of the moon, the snow, or the blossoms. The following composition, a short prose piece written in the winter of 1686, seems typical of his life at this time:

A man named Sora has his temporary residence near my hut, so I often drop in at his place, and he at mine. When I cook something to eat, he helps to feed the fire, and when I make tea at night, he comes over for company. A quiet, leisurely person, he has become a most congenial friend of mine. One evening after a snowfall, he dropped in for a visit, whereupon I composed a haiku:

Will you start a fire?
I'll show you something nice -
A huge snowball.

The fire in the poem is to boil water for tea. Sora would prepare tea in the kitchen, while Basho, returning to the pleasures of a little boy, would make a big snowball in the yard. When the tea was ready, they would sit down and sip it together, humorously enjoying the view of the snowball outside. The poem, an unusually cheerful one for Basho, seems to suggest his relaxed, carefree frame of mind of those years.

The same sort of casual poetic mood led Basho to undertake a short trip to Kashima, a town about fifty miles east of Edo and well known for its Shinto shrine, to see the harvest moon. Sora and a certain Zen monk accompanied him in the trip in the autumn of 1687. Unfortunately it rained on the night of the full moon, and they only had a few glimpses of the moon toward dawn. Basho, however, took advantage of the chance to visit his former Zen master, Priest Butcho, who had retired to Kashima. The trip resulted in another of Basho's travel journals, A Visit to the Kashima Shrine (Kashima Kiko).

Then, just two months later, Basho set out on another long westward journey. He was far more at ease as he took leave than he had been at the outset of his first such journey three years earlier. He was a famous poet now, with a large circle of friends and disciples. They gave him many farewell presents, invited him to picnics and dinners, and arranged several verse-writing parties in his honor. Those who could not attend sent their poems. These verses, totaling nearly three hundred and fifty, were later collected and published under the title Farewell Verses (Kusenbetsu). there were so many festivities that to Basho "the occasion looked like some dignitary's departure - very imposing indeed."

He followed roughly the same route as on his journey of 1684, again visiting friends and writing verses here and there on the way. He reached Ueno at the year's end and was heartily welcomed as a leading poet in Edo. Even the young head of his former master's family, whose service he had left in his youth, invited him for a visit. In the garden a cherry tree which Yoshitada had loved was in full bloom:

Myriads of things past
Are brought to my mind -
These cherry blossoms!

In the middle of the spring Basho left Ueno, accompanied by one of his students, going first to Mount Yoshino to see the famous cherry blossoms. He traveled to Wakanoura to enjoy the spring scenes of the Pacific coast, and then came to Nara at the time of fresh green leaves. On he went to Osaka, and then to Suma and Akashi on the coast of Seto Inland Sea, two famous places which often appeared in old Japanese classics.

From Akashi Basho turned back to the east, and by way of Kyoto arrived at Nagoya in midsummer. After resting there for awhile, he headed for the mountains of central Honshu, an area now popularly known as the Japanese Alps. An old friend of his and a servant, loaned to him by someone who worried about the steep roads ahead accompanied Basho. His immediate purpose was to see the harvest moon in the rustic Sarashina district. As expected, the trip was a rugged one, but he did see the full moon at that place celebrated in Japanese literature. He then traveled eastward among the mountains and returned to Edo in late autumn after nearly a year of traveling.

This was probably the happiest of all Basho's journeys. He had been familiar with the route much of the way, and where he had not, a friend and a servant had been there to help him. His fame as a poet was fairly widespread, and people he met on the way always treated him with courtesy. It was a productive journey, too. In addition to a number of haiku and renku, he wrote two journals: The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel (Oi no Kobumi), which covers his travel from Edo to Akashi, and A Visit to Sarashina Village (Sarashina Kiko), which focuses on his moon viewing trip to Sarashina. The former has an especially significant place in the Basho canon, including among other things a passage that declares the haikai to be among the major forms of Japanese art. He was now clearly aware of the significance of haikai writing; he was confident that the haikai, as a serious form of art, could point toward an invaluable way of life.

It was no wonder, then, that Basho began preparing for the next journey almost immediately. As he described it, it was almost as if the God of Travel were beckoning him. Obsessed with the charms of the traveler's life, he now wanted to go beyond his previous journeys; he wanted to be a truer wanderer than ever before. In a letter written around this time, he says he admired the life of a monk who wanders about with only a begging bowl in his hand. Basho now wanted to travel, not as a renowned poet, but as a self-disciplining monk. Thus in the pilgrimage to come he decided to visit the northern part of Honshu, a mostly rustic and in places even wild region where he had never been and had hardly an acquaintance. He was to cover about fifteen hundred miles on the way. Of course it was going to be the longest journey of his life.

Accompanied by Sora, Basho left Edo in the late spring of 1689. Probably because of his more stern and ascetic attitude toward the journey, farewell festivities were fewer and quieter this time. He proceeded northward along the main road stopping at places of interest such as the Tosho Shrine at Nikko, the hot spa at Nasu, and an historic castle site at Iizuka. When he came close to the Pacific coast near Sendai he admired the scenic beauty of Matsushima. From Hiraizumi, a town well known as the site of a medieval battle, Basho turned west and reached the coast of the Sea of Japan at Sakata. After a short trip to Kisagata in the north, he turned southwest and followed the main road along the coast. It was from this coast that he saw the island of Sado in the distance and wrote one of his most celebrated poems:

The rough sea -
Extending toward Sado Isle,
The Milky Way.

Because of the rains, the heat, and the rugged road, this part of the journey was very hard for Basho and Sora, and they were both exhausted when he finally arrived at Kanazawa. They rested at the famous hot spring at Yamanaka for a few days, but Sora, apparently because of prolonged ill- health, decided to give up the journey and left his master there. Basho continued alone until he reached Fukui. There he met an old acquaintance who accompanied him as far as Tsuruga, where another old friend had come to meet Basho, and the two traveled south until they arrived at Ogaki, a town Basho knew well. A number of Basho's friends and disciples were there, and the long journey through unfamiliar areas was finally over. One hundred and fifty-six days had passed since he left Edo.

The travel marked a climax in Basho's literary career. He wrote some of his finest haiku during the journey. The resulting journal The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no Hosomichi), is one of the highest attainments in the history of poetic diaries in Japan. His literary achievement was no doubt a result of his deepening maturity as a man. He had come to perceive a mode of life by which to resolve some deep dilemmas and to gain peace of mind. It was based on the idea of sabi, the concept that one attains perfect spiritual serenity by immersing oneself in the egoless, impersonal life of nature. The complete absorption of one's petty ego into the vast, powerful, magnificent universe - this was the underlying theme of many poems by Basho at this time, including the haiku on the Milky Way we have just seen. This momentary identification of man with inanimate nature was, in his view, essential to poetic creation. Though he never wrote a treatise on the subject, there is no doubt that Basho conceived some unique ideas about poetry in his later years. Apparently it was during this journey that he began thinking about poetry n more serious, philosophical terms. The two earliest books known to record Basho's thoughts on poetry, Records of the Seven Days (Kikigaki Nanukagusa) and Conversations at Yamanaka (Yamanaka Mondo), resulted from it.

Basho spent the next two years visiting his old friends and disciples in Ueno, Kyoto, and towns on the southern coast of Lake Biwa. With one or another of them he often paid a brief visit to other places such as Ise and Nara. Of numerous houses he stayed at during this period Basho seems to have especially enjoyed two: the Unreal Hut and the House of Fallen Persimmons, as they were called. The Unreal Hut, located in the woods off the southernmost tip of lake Biwa, was a quiet, hidden place where Basho rested from early summer to mid-autumn in 1690. He thoroughly enjoyed the idle, secluded life there, and described it in a short but superb piece of prose. Here is one of the passages:

In the daytime an old watchman from the local shrine or some villager from the foot of the hill comes along and chats with me about things I rarely hear of, such as a wild boar's looting the rice paddies or a hare's haunting the bean farms. When the sun sets under the edge of the hill and night falls, I quietly sit and wait for the moon. With the moonrise I begin roaming about, casting my shadow on the ground.
When the night deepens, I return to the hut and meditate on right and wrong, gazing at the dim margin of a shadow in the lamplight.

Basho had another chance to live a similarly secluded life later at the House of the Fallen Persimmons in Saga, a northwestern suburb of Kyoto. The house, owned by one of his disciples, Mukai Kyorai (1651-1704), was so called because persimmon trees grew around it. There were also a number of bamboo groves, which provided the setting for a well-known poem by Basho:

The cuckoo -
Through the dense bamboo grove,
Moonlight seeping.

Basho stayed at this house for seventeen days in the summer of 1691. The sojourn resulted in The Saga Diary (Saga Nikki), the last of his longer prose works.

All during this period at the two hideaways and elsewhere in the Kyoto-Lake Biwa area, Basho was visited by many people who shared his interest in poetry. Especially close to him were two of his leading disciples, Kyorai and Nozawa Boncho (16?-1714), partly because they were compiling a haikai anthology under Basho's guidance. The anthology, entitled The Monkey's Raincoat (Sarumino) and published in the early summer of 1691 represented a peak in haikai of the Basho style. Basho's idea of sabi and other principles of verse writing that evolved during his journey to the far north were clearly there. Through actual example the new anthology showed that the haikai could be a serious art form capable of embodying mature comments on man and his environment.

Basho returned to Edo in the winter of 1691. His friends and disciples there, who had not seen him for more than two years, welcomed him warmly. for the third time they combined their efforts to build a hut for their master, who had given up the old one just before his latest journey. In this third Basho Hut, however, he could not enjoy the peaceful life he desired. For one thing, he now had a few people to look after. An invalid nephew had come to live with Basho, who took care of him until his death in the spring of 1693. A woman by the name of Jutei, with whom Basho apparently had had some special relationship in his youth, also seems to have come under his care at this time. She too was in poor health, and had several young children besides. Even apart from these involvements, Basho was becoming extremely busy, no doubt due to his great fame as a poet. many people wanted to visit him, or invited him for visits. for instance, in a letter presumed to have been written on the eighth of the twelfth month, 1693, he told one prospective visitor that he would not be home on the ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth, suggesting that the visitor come either on the thirteenth or the eighteenth.3 In another letter written about the same time, he bluntly said: "Disturbed by others, Have no peace of mind." That New Year he composed this haiku:

Year after year
On the monkey's face
A monkey's mask.

The poem has a touch of bitterness unusual for Basho. He was dissatisfied with the progress that he (and possibly some of his students) was making.

As these responsibilities pressed on him, Basho gradually became somewhat nihilistic. He had become a poet in order to transcend worldly involvements, but now he found himself deeply involved in worldly affairs precisely because of his poetic fame. The solution was either to renounce being a poet or to stop seeing people altogether. Basho first tried the former, but to no avail. "I have tried to give up poetry and remain silent," he said, "but every time I did so a poetic sentiment would solicit my heart and something would flicker in my mind. Such is the magic spell of poetry." He had become too much of a poet. Thus he had to resort to the second alternative: to stop seeing people altogether. This he did in the autumn of 1693, declaring:

Whenever people come, there is useless talk. Whenever I go, and visit, I have the unpleasant feeling of interfering with other men's business. Now I can do nothing better than follow the examples of Sun Ching and Tu Wu-lang,4 who confined themselves within locked doors. Friendlessness will become my friend, and poverty my wealth. A stubborn man at fifty years of age, I thus write to discipline myself.

The morning-glory -
In the daytime, a bolt is fastened
On the frontyard gate.

Obviously, Basho wished to admire the beauty of the morning-glory without having to keep a bolt on his gate. How to manage to do this must have been the subject of many hours of meditation within the locked house. He solved the problem, at least to his own satisfaction, and reopened the gate about a month after closing it.
Basho's solution was based on the principle of "lightness," a dialectic transcendence of sabi. Sabi urges man to detach himself from worldly involvements; "lightness" makes it possible for him, after attaining that detachment, to return to the mundane world. man lives amid the mire as a spiritual bystander. He does not escape the grievances of living; standing apart, he just smiles them away. Basho began writing under this principle and advised his students to emulate him. The effort later came to fruition in several haikai anthologies, such as A Sack of Charcoal (Sumidawara), The Detached Room (Betsuzashiki) and The Monkey's Cloak, Continued (Zoku Sarumino). Characteristic verses in these collections reject sentimentalism and take a calm, carefree attitude to the things of daily life. they often exude lighthearted humor.

Having thus restored his mental equilibrium, Basho began thinking about another journey. He may have been anxious to carry his new poetic principle, "lightness," to poets outside of Edo, too. Thus in the summer of 1694 he traveled westward on the familiar road along the Pacific coast, taking with him one of Jutei's children, Jirobei. He rested at Ueno for a while, and then visited his students in Kyoto and in town near the southern coast of Lake Biwa. Jutei, who had been struggling against ill health at the Basho Hut, died at this time and Jirobei temporarily returned to Edo. Much saddened, Basho went back to Ueno in early autumn for about a month's rest. He then left for Osaka with a few friends and relatives including his elder brother's son Mataemon as well as Jirobei. But Basho's health was rapidly failing, even though he continued to write some excellent verses. One of his haiku in Osaka was:

This autumn
Why am I aging so?
Flying towards the clouds, a bird.

The poem indicates Basho's awareness of approaching death. Shortly afterward he took to his bed with a stomach ailment, from which he was not to recover. Numerous disciples hurried to Osaka and gathered at his bedside. He seems to have remained calm in his last days. He scribbled a deathbed note to his elder brother, which in part read: "I am sorry to have to leave you now. I hope you will live a happy life under Mataemon's care and reach a ripe old age. There is nothing more I have to say." The only thing that disturbed his mind was poetry. According to a disciple's record, Basho fully knew that it was time for prayers, not for verse writing, and yet he thought of the latter day and night. Poetry was now an obsession - "a sinful attachment," as he himself called it. His last poem was:

On a journey, ailing -
My dreams roam about
Over a withered moor.


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Spring rain
conveyed under the trees
in drops.

A green willow,
dripping down into the mud,
at low tide.

By the old temple,
peach blossoms;
a man treading rice.

With every gust of wind,
the butterfly changes its place
on the willow.

All the day long-
yet not long enough for the skylark,
singing, singing.

Husking rice,
a child squints up
to view the moon.

Cedar umbrellas, off
to Mount Yoshimo for
the cherry blossoms.

Octopus traps -
summer’s moonspun dreams,
soon ended.

Winter downpour -
even the monkey
needs a raincoat

Year’s end, all
corners of this
floating world, swept.

----------------------------------------

BASHÔ (1644-1694)
tr. by Kenneth Rexroth


Autumn evening —
A crow on a bare branch.

An old pond —
The sound
Of a diving frog.

On this road
No one will follow me
In the Autumn evening.

Summer grass
Where warriors dream.

The tree from whose flower
This perfume comes
Is unknowable.

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Basho


Poete et religieux, né dans la province d’Iga, dans une famille de samurai. En 1666, il se sépara de son clan, pour une raison encore inconnue, et se rendit a Kyoto ou il étudia l’art du haiku et du waka sous la direction de Kitamura Kigin (1624 - 1705), et les classiques chinois sous celle d’Itô Tan’an . Ayant gagné Edo en 1672, il s’y adonna a la peinture et a la composition du haiku, art poétique dans lequel il acquit une maîtrise inégalée, melant le sens du rythme de la poésie chinoise au réalisme japonais. Son ermitage possédant un bananier (bashô), ce fut sous ce nom qu’il devint célebre. De nombreux disciples virent alors aupres de lui pour s’instruire. Religieux zen sans appartenance particuliere, Bashô mena a partir de 1684, une vie errante, rapportant de chacune de ses randonnées un " journal " : Nozaraki-kikô (1685), Kashima-kikô (1687), Sarashina-kikô (1688), Oku no Hosomichi (Route étroite vers le Nord, 1689), Genjuan-ki (1690), Saga-nikki (1691), Oi no Kobumi etc. Tout d’abord influencé par les écoles Kofu et Danrin, il créa ensuite son propre style et publia plusieurs recueils de ses haikus : Minashiguri (1683), Fuyu no Hi (Lumieres d’Hiver, 1684), Haru no Hi (Lumieres de printemps, 1984), Arano (1689), Hisago (1691), Sumidawara (1694), ect ; dans lesquels, en notations rapides et rythmées, en seulement 17 syllabes, il évoque ou suggere une atmosphere, un état d’âme, la beauté inhérente aux choses et aux etres, sentiments basés sur le sens du sabi (simplicité), du shiori (suggestion), du hosomi (l’amour des petites choses) et du karumi ou sens de l’humour. Son style est appelé shôfu. Bashô mourut a Osaka dans la maison de la poétesse Sono Jo. Ses disciples sont appelés les Bashô Juttestu.

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Genjuan no ki (The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling)
by Matsuo Basho
1690

Beyond Ishiyama, with its back to Mount Iwama, is a hill called Kokub-uyama-the name I think derives from a kokubunji or government temple of long ago. If you cross the narrow stream that runs at the foot and climb the slope for three turnings of the road, some two hundred paces each, you come to a shrine of the god Hachiman. The object of worship is a statue of the Buddha Amida. This is the sort of thing that is greatly abhorred by the Yuiitsu school, though I regard it as admirable that, as the Ryobu assert, the Buddhas should dim their light and mingle with the dust in order to benefit the world. Ordinarily, few worshippers visit the shrine and it's very solemn and still. Beside it is an abandoned hut with a rush door. Brambles and bamboo grass overgrow the eaves, the roof leaks, the plaster has fallen from the walls, and foxes and badgers make their den there. It is called the Genjuan or Hut of the Phantom Dwelling. The owner was a monk, an uncle of the warrior Suganuma Kyokusui. It has been eight years since he lived there-nothing remains of him now but his name, Elder of the Phantom Dwelling.

I too gave up city life some ten years ago, and now I'm approaching fifty. I'm like a bagworm that's lost its bag, a snail without its shell. I've tanned my face in the hot sun of Kisakata in Ou, and bruised my heels on the rough beaches of the northern sea, where tall dunes make walking so hard. And now this year here I am drifting by the waves of Lake Biwa. The grebe attaches its floating nest to a single strand of reed, counting on the reed to keep it from washing away in the current. With a similar thought, I mended the thatch on the eaves of the hut, patched up the gaps in the fence, and at the beginning of the fourth month, the first month of summer, moved in for what I thought would be no more than a brief stay. Now, though, I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever want to leave.

Spring is over, but I can tell it hasn't been gone for long. Azaleas continue in bloom, wild wisteria hangs from the pine trees, and a cuckoo now and then passes by. I even have greetings from the jays, and woodpeckers that peck at things, though I don't really mind-in fact, I rather enjoy them. I feel as though my spirit had raced off to China to view the scenery in Wu or Chu, or as though I were standing beside the lovely Xiao and Xiang rivers or Lake Dongting. The mountain rises behind me to the southwest and the nearest houses are a good distance away. Fragrant southern breezes blow down from the mountain tops, and north winds, dampened by the lake, are cool. I have Mount Hie and the tall peak of Hira, and this side of them the pines of Karasaki veiled in mist, as well as a castle, a bridge, and boats fishing on the lake. I hear the voice of the woodsman making his way to Mount Kasatori, and the songs of the seedling planters in the little rice paddies at the foot of the hill. Fireflies weave through the air in the dusk of evening, clapper rails tap out their notes-there's surely no lack of beautiful scenes. Among them is Mikamiyama, which is shaped rather like Mount Fuji and reminds me of my old house in Musashino, while Mount Tanakami sets me to counting all the poets of ancient times who are associated with it. Other mountains include Bamboo Grass Crest, Thousand Yard Summit, and Skirt Waist. There's Black Ford village, where the foliage is so dense and dark, and the men who tend their fish weirs, looking exactly as they're described in the Man'yoshu. In order to get a better view all around, I've climbed up on the height behind my hut, rigged a platform among the pines, and furnished it with a round straw mat. I call it the Monkey's Perch. I'm not in a class with those Chinese eccentrics Xu Quan, who made himself a nest up in a cherry-apple tree where he could do his drinking, or Old Man Wang, who built his retreat on Secretary Peak. I'm just a mountain dweller, sleepy by nature, who has turned his footsteps to the steep slopes and sits here in the empty hills catching lice and smashing them.

Sometimes, when I'm in an energetic mood, I draw clear water from the valley and cook myself a meal. I have only the drip drip of the spring to relieve my loneliness, but with my one little stove, things are anything but cluttered. The man who lived here before was truly lofty in mind and did not bother with any elaborate construction. Outside of the one room where the Buddha image is kept, there is only a little place designed to store bedding.

An eminent monk of Mount Kora in Tsukushi, the son of a certain Kai of the Kamo Shrine, recently journeyed to Kyoto, and I got someone to ask him if he would write a plaque for me. He readily agreed, dipped his brush, and wrote the three characters Gen-ju-an. He sent me the plaque, and I keep it as a memorial of my grass hut. Mountain home, traveler's rest-call it what you will, it's hardly the kind of place where you need any great store of belongings. A cypress bark hat from Kiso, a sedge rain cape from Koshi-that's all that hang on the post above my pillow. In the daytime, I'm once in a while diverted by people who stop to visit. The old man who takes care of the shrine or the men from the village come and tell me about the wild boar who's been eating the rice plants, the rabbits that are getting at the bean patches, tales of farm matters that are all quite new to me. And when the sun has begun to sink behind the rim of the hills, I sit quietly in the evening waiting for the moon so I may have my shadow for company, or light a lamp and discuss right and wrong with my silhouette.

But when all has been said, I'm not really the kind who is so completely enamored of solitude that he must hide every trace of himself away in the mountains and wilds. It's just that, troubled by frequent illness and weary of dealing with people, I've come to dislike society. Again and again I think of the mistakes I've made in my clumsiness over the course of the years. There was a time when I envied those who had government offices or impressive domains, and on another occasion I considered entering the precincts of the Buddha and the teaching rooms of the patriarchs. Instead, I've worn out my body in journeys that are as aimless as the winds and clouds, and expended my feelings on flowers and birds. But somehow I've been able to make a living this way, and so in the end, unskilled and talentless as I am, I give myself wholly to this one concern, poetry. Bo Juyi worked so hard at it that he almost ruined his five vital organs, and Du Fu grew lean and emaciated because of it. As far as intelligence or the quality of our writings go, I can never compare to such men. And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling? But enough of that-I'm off to bed.

Among these summer trees,
a pasania-
something to count on

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Basho
http://www.professorsolomon.com/japanbookpage.html

Castle

Matsuo Kinsaku—the future Basho—was born in 1644 in Ueno, the capital of Iga Province. His father was a samurai who, in an era of peace, had taken to farming. Looming over the town was Ueno Castle, from which Lord Todo governed the province. It was to this castle that Matsuo was sent, at the age of nine, to serve as a page. He was assigned to a son of Todo, elevenyearold Yoshitada.
Matsuo became Yoshitada’s companion and studymate; and the two were soon fast friends. Together they learned their ideographs—roamed the corridors of the castle— sported in the surrounding hills. Entering adolescence, the boys found themselves drawn more to literary than to martial arts; and a poet named Kigin was brought in from Kyoto to tutor them.
They took to poetry with a passion, dashing off haiku after haiku and even adopting pennames (Sobo and Sengin). Kigin was pleased with their efforts, and secured publication— in an anthology issued in Kyoto—of several of their haiku.*

* A haiku is a formal poem of seventeen syllables. Until Basho infused it with a new spirit, the form was little more than a vehicle for wordplay and wit.

So Matsuo and Yoshitada grew into manhood together. Even after Yoshitada married, they remained close friends and continued to trade poems. For both the future seemed bright. Yoshitada was to succeed his father as governor of the province; and Matsuo could look forward to a high position under him.
Yet each spring, as the cherry blossoms made their brief appearance in the courtyard, the friends may have mused that human life and its blessings were no less ephemeral.
Indeed they could be brief. In his 25th year Yoshitada died suddenly of an illness; and Matsuo was plunged into grief.
More adversity was to follow. As a retainer, Matsuo was reassigned to Yoshitada’s brother. He found the relationship uncongenial, and asked to be released from fealty to the family. His request was denied. In desperation he resigned his position and ran off to Kyoto—in effect, renouncing his status as a samurai.
A new life was about to begin for the unhappy young man, in the imperial capital.


Kyoto

For several decades Japan had been governed from Edo (presentday Tokyo), where the Shogun—the military ruler—had established his headquarters. But the Emperor and court remained in Kyoto; and their patronage had given rise to a concentration of artists and scholars. The result was a lively and stimulating milieu—a cultural scene.
Seeking to assuage his grief, Matsuo gravitated to this scene. He looked up Kigin—who was living in a temple in Kyoto—and became his student again. Under Kigin, Matsuo studied the literary classics of Japan. He also sought out instruction in calligraphy and Chinese literature.
And he wrote poetry, gaining a measure of recognition. His haiku of this period are elegant and witty. They are also pedantic. Showing off his learning, he loaded them with allusions to the classics, court poetry, and Noh drama.
In 1672 he published his first book, The Seashell Game. It is a compilation of haiku by other poets, with a witty commentary by Matsuo. His own work, meanwhile, was appearing regularly in anthologies (under the name Sobo). Yet he probably had no intention of becoming a fulltime poet. It was simply an absorbing pastime—one that could be either intellectual and solitary, or, in the case of renku, highspirited and sociable.*

* Renku, or linked verse, is a literary form unique to Japan—a parlor game for poets. Here’s how it works: A group of poets get together in pleasant surroundings. They wine and dine themselves. Then they set out to compose a lengthy poem. The leader begins by writing a haiku. He hands it to the poet beside him, who adds two lines—creating a stanza. This stanza is given to the next poet, who copies only those two added lines. Using them as his opening lines, and taking off in some new direction, he composes the second stanza. And the game continues. Each poet contributes a stanza—its opening lines always the closing lines of the previous stanza. This goes on until 36 (or more) stanzas have been completed. Each is independent—a kind of minipoem— yet linked to the others. Limited only by the participants’ imagination, the renku keeps shifting its scene, subject, and mood—taking the most unexpected twists. It can move abruptly from mountain to city, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Anything goes—though certain rules must be observed. For example, at designated points a reference must be made to the moon or to cherry blossoms. The stanzas are read aloud as they are written—to sighs of appreciation, laughter, and calls for more wine.

For five years Matsuo resided in Kyoto (returning now and again to Ueno). Little is known of the details of his life during this period; but his artistic and scholarly pursuits would seem to have been coupled with a bohemian existence. A woman named Jutei is believed to have been his mistress for a time.
Then Kigin—having found employment with the Shogun— moved to Edo; and Matsuo decided to follow him there. On the eve of his departure he knelt at his table and wrote a haiku:

Kumo to hedatsu
Tomo ka ya kari no
Ikiwakare

Or, loosely rendered:

Like wild geese that vanish in the sky
I leave forever. My treasured friends, goodbye!*

* In translating haiku, I will follow the lead of Lafcadio Hearn, who declared: “Although some of my renderings are far from literal as to language, I believe that they express with tolerable faithfulness the thought and feelings of the originals.”


Edo

Edo was a bustling, growing city—the seat of government and a commercial center. Matsuo was nearly 30 when he arrived, with little money and no prospects. He supported himself at first by taking odd jobs, including a stint as a scribe. Eventually, he found parttime employment with the Municipal Waterworks—a position he would hold onto for four years.
In his free time he devoted himself to poetry. Rival circles of poets had sprung up in Edo; and Matsuo joined one that advocated a wider choice of subject matter—an embrace of everyday life. Still using the name Sobo, he participated in renku sessions; judged haiku contests; and appeared frequently in anthologies. It was not long before he had acquired a solid reputation.
During his third year in the city, he was able to capitalize on that reputation—by opening a writing school. The composition of haiku and renku had become a popular pastime for the middle class; and his pupils were prosperous merchants and their children. Matsuo taught the basics of composition, and did correcting for a fee. According to reports, he was an inspiring teacher as well as a warm and likeable individual.
Artistically, this was a transitional period for Matsuo. He was both absorbing the latest trends in poetry, and beginning to develop a style of his own. Puns, witticisms, and classical allusions still appeared in his poems (though the allusions tended now to be mocking). But increasingly he was writing about everyday things, and using colloquial language in a vigorous way. A downtoearth humor had found its way into his work. Take, for example, this haiku (written while moonviewing from a boat):

Bobbing on the waves, sipping wine
And gazing—tipsy—at the moon divine.

Some of his poems were altogether humorous. After consuming a bowl of fugu soup (fugu, or puffer fish, is poisonous if not prepared properly), he wrote:

Fugu soup a day ago I drank—
Yet still alive! My lucky star to thank!

On the other hand, serious overtones had begun to appear. Consider the following poem:

Mr. Spider, you don’t sing much, hey?
The autumn wind, in whose sigh you sway.

The spider, waiting in its web, is jokingly compared to a musical cricket. Yet a melancholy note is struck with the reference to autumn wind.
Matsuo was a successful poet by now—a luminary on the literary scene. He had acquired a coterie of followers, as evidenced by the publication in 1680 of Best Poems of Tosei’s Twenty Disciples. (Tosei, or Green Peach, was the new penname he had adopted.) Indeed, so devoted to their master were these students that one of them—a fish wholesaler named Sampu—magnanimously bought him a house.


Hut

Actually it was only a hut, in the swampy, undeveloped Fukagawa district. Overlooking the Sumida River, this former watchman’s lodge was just the place for a poet. Its thatched roof was picturesque; its surroundings were rustic. Matsuo (who had been living in rented rooms downtown) brought over his few possessions and moved in.
The hut came with a yard, overgrown with reeds. Students stopped by to tidy up the yard. And one of them brought a sapling and planted it by the door. It was a basho, or banana tree.
The plant thrived; and Matsuo soon had an exotic tree to sit under. In so temperate a climate it would not bear fruit. But the large leaves provided shade; and there was an aesthetic attraction:

A banana tree need not fear the ax, for it is useless as construction wood. But its uselessness is precisely what I love about my banana tree.…Lounging under it, I savor the wind and rain beating on its leaves.

So distinctive was this tree that neighbors began referring to Matsuo’s abode as the Bashoan, or Banana Hut. And they were soon attaching a moniker to the poet himself: Master Basho. He liked the sound of that, and decided to adopt it as his penname.
So he dropped Tosei and began to sign his poems and letters Basho. Friends and students started calling him that. Thus it was that Japan’s greatest poet became known as Basho, or Banana.*

* Whimsical pseudonyms are not unknown among writers— Mark Twain, Shalom Aleichem, Boz.

Since moving to the hut, Master Basho had closed his poetry school and ceased to give formal lessons or to correct for a fee. But he was still a teacher, with students who looked to him for guidance. They would hike out to the Fukagawa district and drop in on him. Tea would be sipped, poetry discussed. Basho welcomed the company; for though enjoying the isolation of his new home, he was no recluse. From time to time he even gave parties: congenial affairs at which poetry was written and sake imbibed. Or he would walk into town, to visit Kigin or some other friend.
Yet the hut was essentially a retreat—a secluded location for writing, reading, and pondering. Part of its attraction for Basho was its resemblance to a mountain hermitage, the traditional dwelling place of poets and sages. Humble and outoftheway, the Banana Hut was a cozy hideaway. Even the leaking roof was part of its charm:

In my banana tree, the wind’s refrain
And in a bucket, the pattering of rain.

His stay in the hut was a milestone for Basho. On the one hand, he had distanced himself from the literary scene in Edo. On the other, he found his stride, making the transition to a mature and individual style. A poem published in 1680 has been seen as inaugurating that style:

Perched upon the withered branch, a crow.
Autumn evening. In the west, a glow.

The poem is startling in its simplicity. Wholly descriptive, it offers no commentary, wordplay, or wit. It captures a moment in nature—and that is all. No meaning is intended. Yet how suggestive an image—how fraught with overtones— how rich in wabi and sabi!
Henceforth, Basho would leave behind his old concerns and techniques. His haiku would focus on daily life, his own feelings, and the small miracles of nature. And they would have a consistent goal: to uncover beauty.
He had reinvented the haiku. What had been a vehicle for wit and pedantry was endowed with a seriousness of purpose. The form would appeal to the most profound sensibilities, and become a mainstay of literary expression.
Meanwhile, life went on for Basho:

I live alone in a dilapidated hut by the river. I sit and admire the view of distant Fuji and of passing boats. In the morning I watch boats sail out of the harbor. At night I sit in the moonlight, listening to the wind in the reeds and lamenting the emptiness of my cask. Even in bed I lament—the thinness of my blankets!


Fire

Basho was successful now. He had literary fame, follow ers, and a livelihood of sorts. (Students would leave rice in a gourd by the door and sake in a cask.) It was a life of genteel poverty that suited his temperament.
Yet a dissatisfaction was gnawing at him. He had moved to the Fukagawa district to escape the literary scene, with its vanities, and to simplify his life. But nameless ills had pursued him even here. And he began to experience an uneasiness—a melancholy—a malaise.

The wind is brisk, the hour late.
Dead leaves swirl against my flimsy gate.

A winter night. The sound of an oar
Makes me weep. Chills me to the core.

In an attempt to overcome these feelings, he had immersed himself in his work. But something more was needed.
Staying nearby was a priest named Buccho. (The head of a Zen temple in Hitachi province, he had come to Edo to settle a lawsuit.) Basho became acquainted with him, and began to study Zen under his guidance. The poet meditated, grappled with koans. He took to wearing a monk’s robe. He pondered the transitory nature of existence—the emptiness of ambition— the possibility of enlightenment.
As if to impress these teachings upon him, in the winter of 1682 a major fire struck Edo; and the Banana Hut was among the dwellings destroyed. It was a harrowing experience for Basho. Under a sky black with smoke, he had taken refuge in the river, submerging his body and covering his head with a mat.
Leaving the stricken city for several months, Basho resided in Kai province with one of Buccho’s disciples. Soon after his return to Edo, he received word that his mother had died.
Those withered leaves were swirling.
His students took up a collection for Basho. They found him a new abode in Fukagawa, furnished it, planted a banana tree in the yard. Upon moving into this resurrected Banana Hut, he knelt at his desk and wrote:

The same old oak am I—useless, aloof.
Hail pounding on a brandnew roof.

For a while life went on as before. He published an anthology called Shriveled Chestnuts. It was acclaimed; and his fame grew. But that dissatisfaction did not go away. So Basho did what any Japanese—spiritually restless—might have done. He embarked upon a pilgrimage.


On the Road

His destination was Ise, with its shrine to Amaterasu. But after paying his respects to the goddess, Basho intended to keep traveling. He wanted to sightsee; to visit friends and family; and to write poetry along the way. His inspiration in this was Saigyo, a twelfthcentury poet who had wandered about Japan, and the itinerant sages of China.
In the black robe of a monk and the straw sandals of a traveler, Basho set out upon the highway. In Records of a Weatherbeaten Skeleton (the travel sketch he would write upon his return), he describes the moment of departure:

Like that priest of ancient China who traveled endlessly without worrying about his next meal and who reached a state of ecstasy in the moonlight, I left my lowly abode on the Sumida River in the eighth month of the first year of Jyokyo [1684], just as the autumn winds were starting to blow.

Basho was accompanied by one of his students, who served as both companion and servant. They journeyed on foot (though occasionally renting a horse or taking a boat). Travel was a daunting affair, even in this era of peace. The roads were primitive, the terrain rugged. And there would be storms, disease, and highwaymen to be reckoned with. Almost immediately, for example, they were detained—for several days—by the rainswollen Oi River. But Basho was determined to press on. Should he perish and become a pile of bones beside the road (that weatherbeaten skeleton), so be it!
After several weeks they reached Ise. On account of his Buddhist garb, Basho was refused admission to the shrine itself. But he was content simply to linger on the grounds, and to pray amidst the ancient cedars. He was drawn to a tree known as the Cedar of Five Hundred Branches:

A moonless night. A celebrated tree
Embraced by the wailing wind…and me.

His next stop was Ueno, where he visited relatives and paid homage at his mother’s grave. It had been eight years since his last visit.
Then it was on to Mt. Yoshino, to view the cherry blossoms there and to inspect a hut in which Saigyo had lived. Coming upon a spring where Saigyo had washed, Basho too washed there. He describes how the temple bells, ringing throughout the mountains, “moved me at the core of my being.”
And he journeyed on. Staff in hand and faithful student at his side, Basho trekked through central Japan. His accommodations included inns, temples, and the homes of fellow poets. Wherever he stayed, Basho spent the evening writing or reworking poems.

A simple violet by the mountain road
Has conjured me. With love I overload!

Spring is here! And a morning thrill:
Haze hovering on that nameless hill.

My horse is pondering a roadside flower
An exquisite mallow—which he proceeds to devour.

By the end of April Basho was back home. And he realized that the goal of his journey had been, not Ise, but his own inner self. For he had found his mission: to be a wandering poet. To roam the land, as Saigyo had done, in search of beauty. Therein seemed to lie the answer to his doubts and dissatisfaction.
Lounging under the banana tree, he discovered a memento of his travels:

Something by which my roaming to recall:
In this summer robe the lice yet crawl.


Idle Days

For a time Basho lived comfortably in his abode. Friends would drop by for tea and conversation. And he would give parties—jovial gatherings dedicated to moonviewing, snowviewing, blossomviewing. Though barely 40, Basho referred to himself now as “an idle old man.” But his brush was not idle; and he continued to capture poetical moments.

High above the heath a skylark sings
Unattached to any earthly things.

All day the lark has sung—melodious fop!
And still he sings. He just can’t stop.

A friend named Sora lived nearby; and the two exchanged regular visits. When Sora dropped by one day after it had snowed, Basho wrote:

You prepare the fire, tea, and bowl
Whilst I a giant snowball go and roll.

It was during this period that Basho composed his bestknown poem. He was meditating with friends in his garden— when a frog jumped into the pond. Spontaneously, Basho murmured part of a haiku. After a discussion on how to complete it, he came up with the rest.

The stillness of a pond. Then, kerplop!
Into the water a frog decides to hop.

Taken with the notion, he decided to host an evening of poetry writing in which the subject would be limited to frogs. The event was held at the Banana Hut. Ink and sake flowed as poets vied with one another to come up with frog poems. The results were published in an anthology called Frog Contest.
Basho was enjoying himself. But the desire to travel was gnawing at him. And in the fall of 1687 he was on the road again.


Kashima

Basho was headed for Kashima, a popular shrine 50 miles away. His purpose was twofold: to visit Buccho, his Zen master, who had retired there; and to satisfy an “irresistible urge” to view the harvest moon from Kashima—a sight said to be incomparable.
He was accompanied by Sora and a priest with a portable altar on his back. In an account of the trip, Basho notes that he and the priest are dressed alike. Yet poets are neither priest nor layman, he muses, but something in between. They are like bats, which are neither bird nor mouse.
At Kashima they stayed with Buccho in a temple. Alas, the night was rainy; and the moon could not be seen. But Basho was consoled by the tranquillity of the temple. And rising before dawn, he was granted a glimpse of the moon.

From my temple mat I groggily rise
And gaze upon the moon with grateful eyes.


Battered Satchel

Soon after returning from Kashima, he was off again— on a journey that would last nearly a year. As friends gathered to bid adieu to him and a companion, Basho composed a departure poem:

Marching off, the morning dark and wet.
A traveler again. How far will I get?

To which a friend appended the line:

You’ll sleep among flowers. Do not fret.

The usual hardships lay ahead. But Basho was ready for them. In the satchel on his back he carried (along with the allimportant brush, ink, and paper) a winter coat, medicine kit, and lunchbox. Wrapping his raincoat about him, he set off down the road.

Like Saigyo [he recounts in Records of a Battered Satchel] I trudged along… savoring the beauties of mountain and sea; stopping at secluded places where sages had dwelt; visiting with poets. As a wanderer, I had no desire to acquire anything; and without possessions, I had no fear of being robbed. I ambled along, content to be traveling by foot. I ate the simplest of meals. With no itinerary, I let the wind lead me. My only cares were finding a place to stay at night, and replacing my sandals. I kept coming upon things that were new and fascinating.

As Basho plodded along highway, back road, and path, almost anything—a waterfall, the ruins of a temple, a peasant digging potatoes— might catch his fancy and inspire a poem. Inns were his usual accommodations for the night. But in towns he often stayed with poets, who were honored to play host to the master of haiku. In Nasoya a group of poets invited him to a snowviewing party.

The snow is deep beneath my stumbling feet.
Falling, I ooh and ah—how white this sheet!

From province to province he traveled; and the haiku flowed from his brush.

Mountain spirit, I discern your face
In the blazing blossoms of this place.

Toward a distant isle the cuckoo flies.
Fading in the mist: its forlorn cries.

But the most poignant lines were written in Ueno. Basho visited the castle—presided over now by Yoshitada’s son—and gazed upon the cherry blossoms in the courtyard.

Ah, the very trees I left behind.
What memories these blossoms bring to mind.

Toward the end of his journey he was joined by a friend named Etsujin. Basho describes this dyer from Nasoya as “someone who labors for three days, then takes three days off—a lover of sake who likes nothing better than to get drunk and sing old ballads.” The pair rented a horse and— “inspired by the autumn moon”—headed for the mountain village of Sarashima. They wished to view the harvest moon from scenic heights.
Sarashima could be reached only by a perilous road that wound into the mountains. Neither man was experienced in this sort of travel; and during the climb, they kept making blunders. “These made us laugh, however,” says Basho, “and gave us the resolve to press on.”

Above us mountain towered over mountain; while directly to our left, a sheer cliff plunged a thousand feet to a raging river. Clinging to the saddle, I froze with fear whenever the horse gave a lurch.…The road ascended into the clouds. I got off the horse and staggered along, made dizzy by the height. Our servant mounted the horse, and— oblivious to the danger—kept nodding off. I was sure he was about to slip from the saddle and tumble over the cliff! Whenever he started to doze, I was terrified for the fellow. But it occurred to me that we are all just like him: wandering the world in a storm, oblivious to unseen dangers. Watching us from heaven, the Buddha must be as apprehensive for our fate as I was for that of the servant.

They were rewarded with a magnificent view of the moon.
It was late autumn when Basho arrived back at his hut. His satchel was battered, but filled with poems.


North

…I yearned to be traveling again—northward this time. My soul was in the grip of a god, who urged me to depart. I was beset with thoughts of the open road, until the walls of my hut became unbearable. As I prepared to roam —replacing the strap on my hat, mending my pants, strengthening my legs with moxa—I dreamt of the moon over the islands of Matsushima.

Thus begins Narrow Road to the Deep North, the account of his next—and most famous—journey. Basho had decided to ramble through the northern provinces— a rugged region that drew few visitors. Before doing so, he sold the Banana Hut. Either he had tired of it, or did not expect to return.
He set out in the spring of 1689, accompanied by Sora. His aim was to visit the usual assortment of scenic locales, sacred mountains, shrines, monuments, waterfalls, ruins— following again in the footsteps of Saigyo (for the medieval poet had been here too). But Basho also wanted to savor the traditional way of life—the folkways that had survived intact in this backward area.
And, of course, he planned to return with souvenirs of their trek. With haiku.
On the third day they reached the shrine on Mt. Nikko —a site so holy that Basho refuses to describe it. He will say only that Nikko means “sunshine,” and that the shrine illumines the nation with its benevolent influence. On the mountain he prayed and gazed over the countryside.

The new leaves, brilliant in the light
Fill me with awe—rapture—downright delight!

Their next stop was the willow under which Saigyo had rested and written:

A shady willow
By a rill
I stop to rest…
I’m stopping still.

Basho, too, sat in its shade and came up with a poem:

So long we linger (whom these boughs enchant)
The farmers an entire field plant.

Finally they reached the barriergate at Shirakawa— a military checkpoint that marked the start of the northern region. The guards eyed these two characters with suspicion, but allowed them to pass.
And Basho and Sora began to explore the deep north. They listened to farm girls chant riceplanting songs ( a custom that had died out in the rest of Japan)… had tea at a temple that claimed to possess the sword of Yoshitsune (a legendary warrior) and the satchel of Benkei (his sidekick) …bathed in a hot spring…located a hut where Buccho had visited the Tsubo Stone—a thousandyearold monument before which Basho, sensing the presence of the ancients, wept with joy.
And they viewed the islands of Matsushima—hundreds of islands in a bay—said to be the most breathtaking sight in Japan. In their inn that night, Basho found himself unable to complete a poem. “My brush sought in vain,” he laments, “to comment upon this divine wonder.” Instead he sat with windows open to the vista, reading poems by others about Matsushima.
More often, though, the haiku flowed from his brush. After visiting a historic battlefield, Basho wrote:

This windswept field of summer grass
All that’s left of valorous deeds, alas!

After traveling by boat down the swollen Mogami River:

The rains are gathered in a single flow
And in torrents to the ocean go.

After visiting a picturesque lagoon:

Shallows at Shiogoshi, cool and wide
Cranes hop and ponder in the tide.

After viewing Lord Sanemori’s battle helmet, on display at a shrine:

Sanemori, dreaded in his day—
A cricket in his helmet chirps away.

After gazing out to Sado Island (notorious for its prison):

Toward distant Sado, over a surging sea
The Milky Way flows eternally.

In September Basho reemerged into familiar territory, having traveled more than a thousand miles. On horseback he entered the town of Ogaki, where friends lived. With jubilation they greeted him.
“They were overwhelmed to see me,” he remarks, “as if I had come back from the dead.”


Fame

Basho was at the height of his fame now—and homeless. For the next two years he drifted about, living in summer cottages loaned to him by friends. These rustic retreats— with names such as the Unreal Dwelling, the Nameless Hut, the House of Fallen Persimmons—were located near Lake Biwa or outside of Kyoto. In them he worked on Narrow Road to the Deep North and other projects; “thought about right and wrong, by lamplight at night”; and entertained guests. He was particularly fond of the Unreal Dwelling, with its panoramic view of lake and mountain. In the vicinity were ancient shrines and temples, which Basho would visit.

A monk in silence sips upon his tea
Chrysanthemums his only company.

Then he returned to Edo, where his students built for him a new hut—even planting five banana trees in the yard. Basho gratefully moved in. But he found himself unable to write or to ponder. For his fame was such that admirers were constantly appearing on his doorstep.
At first Basho seems to have enjoyed this gregarious existence. The literary scene in Edo was thriving; and he was its star. But he began to yearn for solitude—and for relief from responsibilities. For he was contributing now to the support of several persons: his former mistress Jutei and her children, and an ailing nephew.
Finally this worldly involvement became too much for him. So Basho locked his gate and became a recluse. In solitude he contemplated his situation.

My gate is bolted, my garden overgrown
With morning glories. I sit alone.

A month later he unlocked the gate and emerged. A solution had come to him, he told friends—a philosophical stance he called karumi (“lightness”). Essentially, it was a detachment whereby one could be in the world, yet not of it. A bystander, rather than a participant.
His friends welcomed him back. And Basho settled into the role of celebrated poet. He was able to smile now upon the rigors of fame and the bustle of the city.

Is that a cuckoo, caroling from afar
Or just a pedlar, whose cries the quiet mar?


Final Journey

But again the road beckoned. And in the summer of 1694 Basho set out on what would be his last trek. His destination was the southern tip of Japan.
He got as far as Osaka, where he was stricken with dysentery. His condition worsened; and it became evident that Basho was dying. Friends and students gathered at his bedside.
They requested a jisei—the death poem of a sage, in which he sums up his view of the world. At first Basho refused. Each of his poems for the past decade, he insisted, had been composed as if it were the last. But that night Basho had a dream; and waking from it, he conceived a haiku. Calling for his attendant, he dictated:

Fallen ill while on a rambling tour
In dreams still roving—on a lonely moor.

Later Basho called a student to his bedside; recited another version of the poem; and asked which was better. Then he said:

What am I doing, writing haiku while on the threshold of death. But for 50 years poetry has been my life—my obsession. Even in sleep I would roam under a cloudfilled sky or in the twilight, and be struck by the sound of a brook or a bird. According to the Buddha, such attachment is sinful; and I have been guilty of that sin. I wish I had never written a poem—never written a poem!

Several days later he expired.
Hundreds of mourners followed his body in a procession to Lake Biwa. And in a cemetery overlooking the water, Basho was buried.

 

------------------------------------------------




she who is no more
must have left fine clothes that now
need summer airing

this autumn
as reason for growing old
a cloud and a bird

the whole family
all with white hair and canes
visiting graves

souls' festival
today also there is smoke
from the crematory

lotus pond
as they are unplucked
Souls' Festival

Buddha's Death Day
from wrinkled praying hands
the rosaries' sound

Mii Temple
knocking on the gate for a wish
today's moon

not to think of yourself
as someone who did not count --
Festival of the Souls

the moon so pure
a wandering monk carries it
across the sand

all night
autumn winds being heard
behind the mountains

blue seas
breaking waves smell of rice wine
tonight's moon

so clear the sound
echoes to the Big Dipper
the fulling block

hair shaved in a moon-shape
with their hands on their knees
in the early hours of night

the setting moon
the thing that remains
four corners of his desk

sleeping in the temple
the serious-looking face
is moon-viewing

the full moon
seven story-songs of a woman
turning towards the sea

viewing the moon
no one at the party
has such a beautiful face

the farmer's child
rests from husking rice
then sees the moon

occasional clouds
one gets a rest
from moon-viewing

famous moon!
circling the pond all night
even to the end

buying a measure box
now I feel differently
about moon-viewing

harvest moon
northland weather
uncertain skies

taken in my hand
it will vanish in hot tears
autumn frost

full autumn moon
to my gate comes rising
crested tide

thin from the Kiso trip
and still not yet recovered
the late harvest moon

bright red
the pitiless sun
autumn winds

autumn wind
broken with sadness
his mulberry stick

autumn winds
in the sliding door's opening
a sharp voice

autumn wind:
as thickets in fields are
Fuwa's barriers

people no longer live
at the Fuwa Barrier
in a house with wooden eaves

weathered bones
just thinking of the wind
it pierces my body

shaking the grave
my weeping voice
autumn wind

for one touched by monkey cries
how is it when a child's abandoned
in autumn winds

speaking out
my lips are cold
in autumn wind

autumn wind
in Ise's shrine cemetery
even more lonely

the moon still is
though it seems far from home
Suma in summer

walking on and on
even through I fall down sick
in fields of clover

from this very day
erase the inscription with dew
on the bamboo hat

where's the moon?
as the temple bell is --
sunk in the sea

autumn colors
without a pot
of red-brown soup

turn this way!
I too feel lonely
late in autumn

in the world outside
is it harvesting time?
the grass of my hut

borrowing sleep
from the scarecrow's sleeves
midnight frost

along this road
going with no one
autumn evening

autumn deepens
the man next door
how is he doing?

saying farewell to people
farewell being said to me brings
autumn in Kiso

"I'm tired of kids."
for the person who says this
there are no flowers

I didn't die!
the end of a journey
is autumn nightfall

autumn nears
my heart is drawn
to a four-mat room

autumn night
striking and making it crumble
our small talk

blowing stones
flying from the volcano Asama
autumn gale

Stone Mountain
whiter than the stones
autumn wind

rainy day
the world's autumn closes
Boundary Town

bagworm's place
it seems to be inside
the cherry blossoms

bagworms
to hear their songs
come to my hut

without turning
into a butterfly, autumn deepens
for the worm

soon to die
yet no sign of it
in the cidada's chirp

stillness
piercing the rocks
cicada's shrill

temple bell
also sounds like it is
cicada's voice

cricket
forgetting sounds with its cry
by the fireplace

the cruelty
of being under a helmet
a cricket

in the cow shed
mosquito's voice darkens
lingering heat

on a bare branch
a crow has settled
autumn dusk

very exciting
yet after awhile so sad
cormorant fishing

a sick wild duck
falling down with the dark cold
to sleep overnight

a clear moon
because of his fear of foxes
I go with my lover boy

cloud-parting friend!
temporarily this wild goose
must go away

though a skylark sings
beating inside
the pheasant's sad cry

higher than a skylark
resting in the sky
on a mountain pass

spiders have a cry?
well, what is chirping
autumn's wind?

secretly at night
a worm under the moon
bores into a chestnut

banana plant in autumn storm
rain drips into tub
hearing the night

departing autumn
with hands spread open
chestnut burs

Kiso's chestnuts
for a person of the floating world
a souvenir

though autumn winds blow
it is still green
bur of the chestnut

chrysanthemum's scent
in the garden a worn-out sandal
just the sole

at Nara
the fragrance of chrysanthemums
ancient Buddhas

drinking morning tea
the monk is peaceful
the chrysanthemum blooms

while growing thin
without a reason
the chrysanthemum bud

white chrysanthemum
catching in one's eye
nary a speck of dust

chrysanthemums
flowers blooming in the stones
of the stonecutter

your hermitage
the moon and chrysanthemums
plus an acre of rice fields

flower of the harvest moon?
it only looks that way
a cotton field

autumn coolness
hand and hand paring away
eggplants -- cucumbers

a strange flower
for birds and butterflies
the autumn sky

don't imitate me
we are not two halves
of a muskmelon

ear of the pine tree
mushroom on a strange tree
with a leaf stuck to it

also green
it should remain a thing
the pepper pod

the village so old
there's not a single house
without a persimmon tree

autumn begins
sea and sprouting rice fields
one green

failing health
chewing dried seaweed
my teeth grate on sand

grabbing at straws
the strength to bear
our parting

on this mountain
tell me of its sorrow
wild-yam digger

butt of the tree
see in the cut end
today's moon

after the flowers
all there is left for my haiku
wisteria beans

Spring departs.
Birds cry
Fishes' eyes are filled with tears.

What luck!
The southern valley
Makes snow fragrant.

the stillness-
soaking into stones
a cicada's cry

well! let's go
snow-viewing till
we tumble!

----------------------------------------------

Biography
Source: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 18 vols. Gale Research, 1998.

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) was one of the greatest Japanese poets. He elevated haiku to the level of serious poetry in numerous anthologies and travel diaries.
The name of Matsuo Basho is associated especially with the celebrated Genroku era (ca. 1680-1730), which saw the flourishing of many of Japan's greatest and most typical literary and artistic personalities. Although Basho was the contemporary of writers like the novelist and poet Ihara Saikaku and the dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon, he was far from being an exponent of the new middle-class culture of the city dwellers of that day. Rather, in his poetry and in his attitude toward life he seemed to harken back to a period some 300 years earlier. An innovator in poetry, spiritually and culturally he maintained a great tradition of the past.

The haiku, a 17-syllable verse form divided into successive phrases or lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, originated in the linked verse of the 14th century, becoming an independent form in the latter part of the 16th century. Arakida Moritake (1473-1549) was a distinguished renga poet who originated witty and humorous verses he called haikai, which later became synonymous with haiku. Nishiyama Soin (1605-1682), founder of the Danrin school, pursued Arakida's ideals. Basho was a member of this school at first, but breaking with it, he was responsible for elevating the haiku to a serious art, making it the verse form par excellence, which it has remained ever since.

Basho's poetical works, known as the Seven Anthologies of the Basho School (Basho Schichibushy), were published separately from 1684 to 1698, but they were not published together until 1774. Not all of the approximately 2,500 verses in the Basho anthologies are by Basho, although he is the principal contributor. Eleven other poets, his disciples, also contributed poems. These anthologies thus reflect composition performed by groups of poets with Basho as the arbiter of taste, injecting his comments on the poems of others, arranging his works in favorable contrast to theirs, and generally having the "last word." It was understood that he was the first poet of his group, and he expected a considerable amount of deference.

Early Life and Works

Basho was born in 1644 in Ueno, lga Province, part of present-day Mie Prefecture. He was one of six children in a family of samurai, descended, it is said, from the great Taira clan of the Middle Ages. As a youth, Basho entered feudal service but at the death of his master left it to spend much of his life in wandering about Japan in search of imagery. Thus he is known as a traveler as well as a poet, the author of some of the most beautiful travel diaries ever written in Japanese. Basho is thought to have gravitated toward Kyoto, where he studied the Japanese classics. Here, also, he became interested in the haiku of the Teitoku school, which was directed by Kitamura Kigin.

In 1672, at the age of 29, Basho set out for Edo (modern Tokyo), the seat of the Tokugawa shoguns and defacto capital of Japan. There he published a volume of verse in the style of the Teitoku school called Kai-Oi. In 1675 he composed a linked-verse sequence with Nishiyama Soin of the Danrin school, but for the next 4 years he was engaged in building waterworks in the city to earn a living. Thereafter, generous friends and admirers made it possible for him to continue a life devoted to poetic composition, wandering, and meditation, though he seems to have been largely unconcerned with money matters.

In 1680, thanks to the largesse of an admirer, Basho established himself in a small cottage at Fukagawa in Edo, thus beginning his life as a hermit of poetry. A year later one of his followers presented him with a banana plant, which was duly planted in Basho's garden. His hermitage became known as the Hermitage of the Banana Plant (Basho-an), and the poet, who had heretofore been known by the pen name Tosei, came increasingly to use the name Basho.

The hermitage burned down in 1682, causing Basho to retire to Kai Province. About this time it is believed that Basho began his study of Zen at the Chokei Temple in Fukagawa, and it has often been assumed erroneously that Basho was a Buddhist priest. He dressed and conducted himself in a clerical manner and must have been profoundly motivated by a mystical faith. Whatever experiences of tragedy or strong emotion that he suffered seem to have enlarged his perception of reality. His vision of the universe is implicit in all his best poems, and the word zen has often been applied to him and his work. His work and later life certainly could not be called worldly.

Travel Diaries

In 1683 the hermitage was rebuilt and Basho returned to Edo. But in the summer of 1684 Basho made a journey to his birthplace, which resulted in the travel diary The Weatherbeaten Trip (Nozarashi Kiko). That same year he published the haiku collection entitled Winter Days (Fuyu no Hi). It was in Winter Days that Basho enunciated his revolutionary style of haiku composition, a manner so different from the preceding haiku that the word "shofu" (haiku in the Basho manner) was coined to describe it.

Winter Days, published in Kyoto, was compiled under Basho's direction by his Nagoya disciple Yamamoto Kakei. Basho, wintering at Nagoya on his trip home to lga, had summoned his disciples to compose a haiku sequence inspired by the season. Basho set the tone for the sequence by using the words "wintry blasts" in the first poem. The progress of the seasons was one of the main inspirations for the anthology, putting it in tune with the cosmic process. Nature, the understanding of its beauty and acceptance of its force, is used by Basho to express the beauty which he observes in the world. Basho enunciates the abstract beauty, yugen, which lies just behind the appearance of the world. The word "yugen" may be understood as the inner beauty of a work of art or nature which is rarely apparent to the vulgar. And the apprehension of this beauty gives the beholder a momentary intimation, an illumination, of the deeper significance of the universe about him. This view of the universe, while not original with Basho, was in his case undoubtedly inspired by some previous experience.

In 1686 Spring Days (Haru no Hi) was compiled in Nagoya by followers of Basho, revised by him, and published in Kyoto. There is an attitude of refined tranquility in these poems representing a deeper metaphysical state. The anthology contains one of the most famous of all Basho's haiku verse: "An old pond/ a frog jumps in/ splash!" There has been much speculation on the significance of this verse, which has captured the fancy of many generations of lovers of Japanese poetry. But even the imagery alone can be appreciated by many different people at a variety of levels. Composition within the delicate confines of haiku versification definitely sets Basho off as one of the greatest mystical poets of Japan. The simplicity it exhibits is the result of the methodical rejection of much complication, not the simplicity with which one starts but rather that with which one ends.

In the autumn of 1688 Basho went to Sarashina, in present-day Nagano Prefecture, to view the moon, a hallowed autumn pastime in Japan. He recorded his impressions in The Sarashina Trip (Sarashina Kiko). Though one of his lesser travel diaries, it is a kind of prelude to his description of a journey to northern Japan a year later. It was at this time that Basho also wrote a short prose account of the moon as seen from Obasute Mountain in Sarashina. The legend of the mountain, where an old woman was abandoned to die alone, moved him also to compose a verse containing the image of an elderly woman accompanied only by the beautiful moon of Sarashina.

The Journey to Ou (Oku no Hosomichi) is perhaps the greatest of Basho's travel diaries. A mixture of haiku and haibun, a prose style typical of Basho, it contains some of his greatest verses. This work immortalizes the trip Basho made from Sendai to Shiogama on his way to the two northernmost provinces of Mutsu and Dewa (Ou). This diary reflects how the very thought of the hazardous journey, a considerable undertaking in those days, filled Basho with thoughts of death. He thinks of the Chinese T'ang poets Li Po and Tu Fu and the Japanese poets Saigyo and Sogi, all of whom had died on journeys.

Setting out early in the spring of 1689 from Edo with his disciple Kawai Sora, Basho traveled for 5 months in remote parts of the north, covering a distance of some 1,500 miles. The poet saw many notable places of pilgrimage, including the site of the hermitage where Butcho had practiced Zen meditation. The entire trip was to be devoted to sight with historical and literary associations, but Basho fell ill and again speculated on the possibility of his dying far from home. But he recovered and continued on to see the famous island of Matsushima, considered one of the three scenic wonders of Japan.

He proceeded to Hiraizumi to view ruins dating from the Heian Period. On the site of the battlefield where Yoshitsune had fallen, Basho composed a poem: "A wilderness of summer grass/ hides all that remains/ of warriors' dreams." In the province of Dewa he was fortunate enough to find shelter at the home of a well-to-do admirer and disciple. Passing on to a temple, Risshakuji, Basho was deeply inpired by the silence of the place situated amidst the rocks. It occasioned the verse which some consider his masterpiece: "Stillness!/ It penetrates the very rocks/ the shrill-chirping of the cicadas."

Crossing over to the coast of the Sea of Japan, Basho continued southwest on his journey to Kanazawa, where he mourned at the grave of a young poet who had died the year before, awaiting Basho's arrival. He continued to Eiheiji, the temple founded by the great Zen priest Dogen. Eventually there was a reunion with several of his disciples, but Basho left them again to travel on to the Grand Shrine of Ise alone. Here the account of this journey ends. The work is particularly noteworthy for the excellence of its prose as well as its poetry and ranks high in the genre of travel writing in Japanese literature. Basho continued to polish this work until 1694; it was not published until 1702.

Mature Works

In 1690 Basho lived for a time in quiet retirement at the Genju-an ("Unreal Dwelling") near Lake Biwa, north of Kyoto, and he wrote an account of this stay. Early in 1691 he stayed for a time in Saga with his disciple Mukai Kyorai.

As for his poetry, Waste Land (Arano) had been compiled by the disciple Kakei and published in 1689. It is the largest of the anthologies and contains a preface by Basho in which he characterizes his preceding anthologies as "flowery" and henceforth establishes a new standard of metaphysical and esthetic depth for haiku. The Gourd (Hisago) was compiled by the disciple Chinseki at Zeze in the province of Omi in 1690. It foreshadows in its excellence the mature and serious versifying which was to be the hallmark of the anthology The Monkey's Raincoat (Sarumino) in 1691. Compiled by Basho's disciples under his attentive supervision, The Monkey's Raincoat is composed of a judicious selection of haiku from the hands of many poets.

It was while Basho was staying at the hermitage in Omi during the spring and summer of 1690 that the compilation was made. The Monkey's Raincoat contains some of Basho's own finest and essential haiku. This anthology, which may be compared with the finest anthologies in the history of Japanese literature, is arranged according to the four seasons. The title is taken from the opening verse by Basho, a poem of winter: "First cold Winter rain/ even the monkey seems to want/ a tiny raincoat." Basho leads the contributors with the largest number of poems, followed by Boncho and Kyorai. But all the verses conform to Basho's tastes. The poems are linked by a subtle emotion rather than by a logical sequence, but they belong together.

In the late fall of 1691 Basho returned to Edo, where a new Banana Hermitage had been built near the site of the former one, complete with another banana plant in the garden. For the next 3 years Basho remained there receiving his disciples, discussing poetry, and helping in the compilation of another anthology, The Sack of Charcoal (Sumidawara) of 1694. The reason for the title, according to the preface, is that Basho, when asked if such a word could be used in haiku poetry, replied that it could. This anthology, together with its successor, The Sequel to the Monkey's Raincoat (Zoku Sarumino), exhibits the quality of Karumi, or lightness, an artistic spontaneity which is the fruit of a lifetime of poetic cultivation. It is a kind of sublimity reached by a truly great poet and cannot be imitated intellectually. The Sequel to the Monkey's Raincoat in 1698, appearing 4 years after Basho's death, is concerned with the seasons, traveling, and religion. It contains some of Basho's last and most mature poems.

In the spring of 1694 Basho set out for what was to be his last journey to his birthplace. At Osaka he was taken ill. Perceiving that he was near his end, Basho wrote a final poem on his own death: "Stricken while journeying/ my dreams still wander about/ but on withered fields."

FURTHER READINGS

Information on Basho and his works is available in Donald Keene, Anthology of Japanese Literature: From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (1955); Kenneth Yasuda, The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History and Possibilities in English (1957); Harold G. Henderson, ed. and trans., An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems from Basho to Shiki (1958); Ryusaku Tsunoda, William Theodore de Bary, and Donald Keene, eds., Sources of the Japanese Tradition (1958; rev. ed., 2 vols., 1964), an anthology with commentary; R. H. Blyth, A History of Haiku (2 vols., 1963); Makoto Ueda, Zeami, Basho, Yeats, Pound: A Study in Japanese and English Poetics (1965); and Nobuyuki Yuasa's introduction to his translation of Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (1966).

 

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Basho's complete haiku in Japanese

Matsuo Bashô's Complete Haiku in Japanese (alphabetical order) DOC (Terebess Asia Online)

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Complete_Basho_Haiku_in_Japanese
http://www.scribd.com/doc/24996714/Matsuo-Bash%C5%8D-Complete-Haiku-in-Japanese

http://www.ese.yamanashi.ac.jp/~itoyo/basho/basho.htm
http://www.ese.yamanashi.ac.jp/~itoyo/basho/haikusyu/Default.htm

http://www.geocities.co.jp/Hollywood-Studio/4128/zennkusakuin.htm

http://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kotenseki/search.php?cndbn=%8F%BC%94%F6+%94m%8F%D4

http://www.bashouan.com/psBashou.htm
http://bashou.net/
http://www.h6.dion.ne.jp/%7Eyukineko/hugado.html
http://homepage2.nifty.com/tirinuruo/
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/dmitrismirnov/BASHO_Haiku_A.html
http://www.ceres.dti.ne.jp/~i-yasuda/smirnov/BASHO-new-translations1-IY.html
http://www4.ocn.ne.jp/~sas18091/haiku2.html

By Matsuo Basho own hand
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Matsuo_Bash%C5%8D#By_Matsuo_Bash.C5.8D_own_hand

Basho: The Complete Haiku. Intr. & tr. by Jane Reichhold, Kodansha International, 2008, 432 pages

 

Oku no hosomichi

Oku no Hosomichi was written based on a journey taken by Basho in the late spring of 1689. He and his traveling companion Sora departed from Edo (modern-day Tokyo) for the northerly interior region known as Oku, propelled mostly by a desire to see the places about which the old poets wrote. Travel in those days was, of course, very dangerous to one's health, but Basho was committed to a kind of poetic ideal of wandering. He travelled for about 156 days all together, covering thousands of miles mostly on foot. Of all of Basho's works, Oku no Hosomichi is best known. The text is a mixture of prose and verse, with many references to Confucius, Saigyo, ancient Chinese poetry, and even the Tale of Heike. It manages to strike a delicate balance between all the elements to produce a powerful account. It is primarily a travel account, and Basho vividly relates the unique poetic essence of each stop in his travels. Stops on his journey include the Tokugawa shrine at Nikko, the Shirakawa barrier, the islands of Matsushima, Sakata, Kisakata, and Etchu province. He and Sora parted at Yamanaka, but at Ogaki he met up with few other of his disciples for a brief time before departing again to the shrine at Ise and closing the account. After his journey, he spent five years working and reworking the poems and prose of Oku no Hosomichi before publishing it. Based on differences between draft versions of the account, Sora's diary, and the final version, it is clear that some events were fabricated or reordered to make a better story, but the essential poetic truth remains.

http://etext.virginia.edu/japanese/basho/index.html (Japanese text)

http://www.ese.yamanashi.ac.jp/~itoyo/basho/okunohosomichi/okuindex.htm (Japanese text)

Waseda University Library (facsimile Japanese texts) > 1789 > mid-Edo period > mid-Edo period

http://es.geocities.com/bosque_de_bambu/archivos/okunohosomichibasho/00jp.html (ill. Japanese text)

Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North tr. by Nobuyuki Yuasa (Penguin Books, original edition 1966; reprint 1996) > Terebess Asia Online > mirror site

A Haiku Journey, Basho's The Narrow Road to a Far Province, translated by Dorothy Britton (Kodansha; original edition: 1974, reprinted 2002)
http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~kohl/basho/1-prologue/trans-britton.html

Back Roads to Far Towns by Cid Corman & Kamaike Susume (Grossman Publishers, 1968)
http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~kohl/basho/1-prologue/trans-corman.html

The Narrow Road to the Interior trans. by Helen Craig McCullough in: Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (Stanford University Press, 1990)
http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~kohl/basho/1-prologue/trans-mccullough.html

Japanese Poetic Diaries by Earl Miner (University of California, 1976)
http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~kohl/basho/1-prologue/trans-miner.html

Basho. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, 2004 tr. by Tim Chilcott

The Narrow Road to Oku, Translated by Donald Keene (Kodansha International, 1996)

Sendas de Oku. Traducción de Octavio Paz y Eikichi Hayashiya (Seix Barral, Barcelona, 1981) > doc > html (ill. Yosa Buson)

L’angusto sentiero del nord, traduzione di Nicolas Bouvier e Cesare Barioli, A.I.S.E. (Associazione Italiana Sport-Educazione)

Basho's Narrow Road, translated from the Japanese with annotations by Hiroaki Sato (Stone Bridge Press, 1996)

Full Moon Is Rising: "lost Haiku" of Matsuo Basho, 1644-1694, and Travel Haiku of Matsuo Basho : a New Rendering by James David Andrews, Branden Books, 1976

Bashô's road's edge. (trans. Scott Watson), Sendai, Japan: Bookgirl Press, 1996
http://www.tohoku-gakuin.ac.jp/gakujutsu/kyoyo_155/pdf/kyoyo_155_04.pdf

Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings, translated by Sam Hamill (Shambala, 2000)

La sente étroite du bout-du-monde, tr. René Sieffert (no 6 de L'Emphémére, Paris, 1968) > Bashô: Journaux de voyage, tr. René Sieffert (Pof, 1988)

Bashô's Journey, tr. David Landis Barnhill (State University of New York Press, 2005)
http://www.sunypress.edu/PDF/61100.pdf

Oku no hosomichi - poems tr. by Haider A. Khan & Tadashi Kondo
http://www.e.u-tokyo.ac.jp/cirje/research/papers/khan/poems/okunohosomichi.pdf

Haider A. Khan is currently a professor of economics at the Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver and at the Graduate School of Economics, University of Tokyo. Prof. Khan is also an award-winning poet , translator and literary critic. He has written on Octavio Paz, Guillaume Apollinaire, James Joyce and the Japanese Haiku master Basho, among others. His own poetry deals with the complex psychological landscape of the exiled and the displaced, among other themes.

Translations of Basho's Narrow Road, a comparison

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Yosa Buson (1716-1783) "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" (Important Cultural Property). Edo period, dated 1779. six-fold screen. ink and light color on paper. 139.3x350.0cm.
http://www.yamagata-art-museum.or.jp/en/j_collec/01.html

Page providing scans of many of Buson's images in his Illustrated Scroll of Oku no hosomichi (Oku no hosomichi ga maki): http://www.bashouan.com/psBashouPt_ezu.htm

http://webspace.webring.com/people/oj/juaniychema/archivos/yosabuson/oku/oku_buson1.html
http://www.bashouan.com/psBashouNb00.htm
http://www.bashouan.com/psBashouNe00.htm
http://www.bashouan.com/psBashouNg00.htm

Support material for Matsuo Bashô's Narrow Road to the Deep North

Marguerite Yourcenar sur La Sente Etroite du Bout-du-Monde de Bashô Matsuo

http://www.motsuji.or.jp/gikeido/english/basho/index.html

Howard Norman "On the Poet's Trail". National Geographic Magazine, February 2008. Travels along the path Matsuo Basho followed for Oku no Hosomichi. Photography by Mike Yamashita. > Interactive Travelogue of Howard Norman's journey in Basho's footsteps, including a map of the route taken.

 

Selected Links

http://www.temcauley.staff.shef.ac.uk/waka1570.shtml by Thomas McAuley Nos. 1570 to 1800

Tim Chilcott. Basho: Two Hundred Haiku

Matsuo Bashô: Frog Haiku (Thirty Translations)

Oi no kobumi (Japanese text)

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/dmitrismirnov/BASHO_Haiku_A.html
http://www.ceres.dti.ne.jp/~i-yasuda/smirnov/index.html

Makoto Ueda: Basho and His Interpreters, Stanford University Press, 1992
http://books.google.hu

Haiku Stones
(A haiku stone or kuhi is usually a natural stone, on which the text of a famous haiku has been carved.) http://www.xs4all.nl/~daikoku/haiku/index.htm

A Zen Wave: Basho's Haiku and Zen by Robert Aitken
http://www.questia.com/library/book/a-zen-wave-bashos-haiku-and-zen-by-robert-aitken-basho-matsuo.jsp

David Landis Barnhill. Bashô's Haiku, Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2004, 331 pp
http://www.uwosh.edu/faculty_staff/barnhill/Basho/matsuo_basho.html
http://www.scribd.com/doc/59240286/5/Translation-of-the-Hokku

Traces of Dreams - Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho by Haruo Shirane, Stanford Univ. Press, 1998, 400 pp
http://www.haiku-steg.de/pdf-Dateien/Traces.pdf

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Column/1122/BASHOBIO.htm

http://www.wowwi.orc.ru/cgi-bin/shuttle/haiku_by_author.cgi?author_id=1144326570&page=1

http://wkdhaikutopics.blogspot.com/2007/02/warrior-tsuwamono.html

http://web.archive.org/web/20080117203927/http://oaks.nvg.org/basho.html

http://www.ict.ne.jp/~basho-bp/10mie.html

http://www.language-arts.com/l-arts-haiku.htm

http://nekojita.free.fr/NIHON/BASHO.html

http://www.thegreenleaf.co.uk/HP/basho/00Bashohaiku.htm

http://www.poemhunter.com/i/ebooks/pdf/matsuo_basho_2004_9.pdf

Matsuo Basho links

http://unjobs.org/authors/matsuo-basho

"An Account of Our Master Basho's Last Days" By Takarai Kikaku

http://www.geocities.com/dr_phinaes/haikaitranslation.html

http://www.poemhunter.com/i/ebooks/pdf/matsuo_basho_2004_9.pdf
http://www.poemhunter.com/matsuo-basho/poems/

http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/by/Matsuo%20Basho?order=first+line

http://taimur.sarangi.info/text/basho.htm

http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=680&catid=20&subcatid=128

Humor in Basho's Hokku by William J. Higginson
http://www.haijinx.com/I-1/articles/higginson.html
http://www.haijinx.com/I-2/articles/higginson.html