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).
The wind from Mt. Fuji
I put it on the fan.
Here, a souvenir from Edo.
*Edo: the old name of Tokyo.
Sleep on horseback,
The far moon in my continuing dream,
Steam of roasting tea.
Fish eyes are filled with tears
®Translated by Ryu Yotsuya of "Mushimegane"
MUSHIMEGANE - Haiku, Tanka, Literature, And Contemporary Art in Japan -