Come, let’s go
till we’re buried.
How do you make snow sing? The great haiku artist Basho knew how to wring meaning out of the simplest natural detail.
Born Matsuo Kinsaku in 1644, the Japanese poet later known simply as Basho established himself in his lifetime as the foremost Japanese writer of a collaborative style of verse called haikkai no renga, but he would forever be known as the genius of haiku. (Which was essentially the first three lines of a haikkai.) His followers built him a series of rustic huts to live in, but he couldn’t stay put, he went on one after another long rambles through the Japanese countryside at a time when travel was neither safe nor easy – getting killed by bandits was a real possibility. He wrote as he went, poetic travelogues about what he was experiencing, treating the delicate convergence between external observation and sensitive introversion.
Basho’s final book, The Narrow Road to the Interior, depicted in prose and verse a 150-day hike he took to the Northern Provinces and along the coastline of the island, about 1,500 miles. It is considered his most brilliant achievement. I like this article by writer Howard Norman, who followed in Basho’s path on that journey, accompanied by beautiful pictures by Michael Yamashita, a photographer Gil and I worked with on the guidebook Manhattan (Compass American) many years ago.
This is one of Basho’s huts, on Camellia Hill.
One of the finest of Basho’s haikus:
Even in Kyoto—
hearing the cuckoo’s cry—
I long for Kyoto.