Matsuo Bashō - haiku in motion
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Sunday, 19 July 2009 12:55

Epic travelogues involving walking often inspire us.  Sometimes they defy belief.

We've heard of the Iliad and the Odyssey, told by the blind poet Homer. We know from the New Testament Gospels that Jesus of Nazareth traveled on foot and went into the hills to pray. We learn that Marco Polo traveled to China and recounted his story while a prisoner of war back home. In modern times we have the poet Earl Shaffer returning from WWII to become the first thru-hiker of the Appalachian Trail.

Add to this group the haiku poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), who got fed up with "life as usual" and departed on extended wanderings. Disguised as monk, he undertook the high-risk challenge of distance hiking in medieval Japan. Like other famous historical personages, he sought direct contact with nature as a way to transcend his daily life. Already a well-known haiku master and teacher, he found fresh inspiration for his poetry on the road. Perhaps his travelogues, interspersed with haiku, brought the recognition which today makes his name a household word in Japan - there were 50 periodicals dedicated to haiku poetry in the 1950s.

The most famous of Bashō's treks took 150 days in 1689, covering about 1500 miles. It was not a special trail, but more a horse-shoe shaped tour. Half expecting to die on the road or be killed by bandits, he was accompanied most of the way by his apprentice Sora. Upon returning home to his home base in 1691, he spent three years writing the final version of his journal, "The Narrow Road to the Interior." The first edition was published posthumously in 1702 with instant commercial success, inspiring other poets to literally follow in his footsteps. Other writings include: "Travelogue of Weather-Beaten Bones," "The Knapsack Notebook," and "Sarashina Travelogue."

A haiku poem has three lines, the first having 5 syllables, the second having 7 syllables, and the third having 5 syllables. Terse and succinct, these words and phrases often contain literary allusions, double/triple entendres, and startling juxtapositions.


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For books of Matsuo Basho, select "All Books" in the link below, and search on "Basho."
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 15:10
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