A Master of
Basho is most famous for a
travel-journal called The
Road of Oku in which he attempts to resolve the difficulties
with living in the dusty world of samsara (i.e. the Buddhist
of rebirth that is contrasted with the enlightenment of nirvana).
According to one biographer:
Through the journey he wanted, among other
to face death and thereby to help temper his mind and his poetry.
called it “the journey of a weather-beaten skeleton,” meaning that he
prepared to perish alone and leave his corpse to the mercies of the
if that was his destiny.” [Makoto Ueda, Matsuo Basho, 25-6]
This gave him a unique perspective on the aesthetic
of sabi, which he reinterprets as:
…the concept that one attains perfect
serenity by immersing oneself in the egoless, impersonal life of
The complete absorption of one’s petty ego into the vast, powerful,
universe…” [Matsuo Basho, 30]
This approach to sabi is well-expressed in the
following haiku from The Narrow Road of Oku:
Sado ni yokotau
|The rough sea—
Extending toward Sado Isle,
The Milky Way.
Ueda, Matsuo Basho, pp. 30 and 54]
In order to bring out the full meaning of these haiku,
Basho provides a prose
account of the context in which he wrote the poem, as in the following
The three generations of glory of the
of Hiraizumi vanished in the space of a dream. The ruins of their
Gate are two miles this side of the castle; where once Hidehira’s
stood are now fields, and only the golden cockerel Mountain remains as
We first climbed up to Castle-on-the-Heights, from
we could see the Kitagami, a large river that flows down from the
Here Yoshitsune once fortified himself with some picked retainers, but
great glory turned in a moment into this wilderness of grass.
may fall, but their rivers and mountains remain. When spring
to the ruined castle, the grass is green again.” These lines went
my head as I sat on the ground, my bamboo hat spread under me.
I sat weeping, unaware of the passage of time.
Tsuwamono domo ga
Yume no ato
Of brave soldiers’ dreams
of Japanese Literature, 369]
Haiku are non-rhyming poems written in three
with 5-7-5 syllables. The only other rules are that there should
one word which somehow evokes a season, as well as a “cutting word”
provides a break in the poem like the hyphen in the above examples from
Further composition hints can be found at: