robertisenberg

In Memoriam: Matsuo Bashō

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2012 at 12:00 am

It was a marvelous coincidence:

I recently finished The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Matsuo Bashō, the great Japanese poet. Bashō is a colossus of Japanese literature, but he was also a pretty ordinary guy who wandered around Japan on foot. He hiked dangerous roads, slept on the ground, and wrote haiku. He was depressive, and he expected to die at the hands of vagabonds or sickness. But the more he roamed, the more Bashō’s spirits rose. For several years, Bashō has inspired both my writing and daily life. I had read excerpts, but never his seminal work. The Narrow Road has no equivalent in Western lit, but you might say it’s the Canterbury Tales of Tokugawa Japan.

It just happens that Bashō died on Oct. 12, 1694, according to translator Nobuyuki Yuasa. It seemed incredible that I would finish his book, cover to cover, on almost the exact date that he died. Then I double-checked and was disappointed to discover that the Internet disagrees with Yuasa, claiming that he died on Nov. 28.

No matter. In honor of the master poet, a humble offering:

After Bashō

Pages flip—

their breeze scented

with ancient ink

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  1. I love this line: “He was depressive, and he expected to die at the hands of vagabonds or sickness. But the more he roamed, the more Bashō’s spirits rose.”

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