Matsuo Bashō

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Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉)
Basho by Hokusai-small.jpg
Portrait of Bashō by Hokusai, late 18th century
BornMatsuo Kinsaku (松尾 金作)
1644 (1644)
Near Ueno, Iga Province
DiedNovember 28, 1694(1694-11-28) (aged 49–50)
Osaka [1]
Pen nameSōbō (宗房)
Tōsē (桃青)
Bashō (芭蕉)
Nationality Japanese
Notable works Oku no Hosomichi
Japanese name
Kanji 松尾 芭蕉
Hiragana まつお ばしょう

Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉, 1644 November 28, 1694 [2] ), born Matsuo Kinsaku (松尾 金作), then Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa (松尾 忠右衛門 宗房), [3] was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. During his lifetime, Bashō was recognized for his works in the collaborative haikai no renga form; today, after centuries of commentary, he is recognized as the greatest master of haiku (then called hokku). He is also well known for his travel essays beginning with “Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton” (1684), written after his journey west to Kyoto and Nara. [4] Matsuo Bashō's poetry is internationally renowned, and, in Japan, many of his poems are reproduced on monuments and traditional sites. Although Bashō is justifiably famous in the West for his hokku, he himself believed his best work lay in leading and participating in renku. He is quoted as saying, "Many of my followers can write hokku as well as I can. Where I show who I really am is in linking haikai verses." [5]


Bashō was introduced to poetry at a young age, and after integrating himself into the intellectual scene of Edo (modern Tokyo) he quickly became well known throughout Japan. He made a living as a teacher; but then renounced the social, urban life of the literary circles and was inclined to wander throughout the country, heading west, east, and far into the northern wilderness to gain inspiration for his writing. His poems were influenced by his firsthand experience of the world around him, often encapsulating the feeling of a scene in a few simple elements.


Early life

Basho's supposed birthplace in Iga Province. MatsuoBasyoSeika.jpg
Bashō's supposed birthplace in Iga Province.

Matsuo Bashō was born in 1644, near Ueno, in Iga Province. [6] [7] The Matsuo family was of samurai descent, and his father was probably a musokunin (無足人), a class of landowning peasants granted certain privileges of samurai. [8] [6]

Little is known of his childhood. In his late teens, Bashō became a servant to Tōdō Yoshitada ( 藤堂 良忠 ) most likely in some humble capacity, [6] [9] and probably not promoted to full samurai class. [10] It is claimed he served as cook or a kitchen worker in some near-contemporaneous accounts, [Notes 1] but there is no conclusive proof. [6] A later hypothesis is that he was chosen to serve as page (koshō  [ ja ]) to Yoshitada, with alternative documentary evidence suggesting he started serving at a younger age. [12]

He shared Yoshitada's love for haikai no renga , a form of collaborative poetry composition. [13] A sequence was opened with a verse in 5-7-5 mora format; this verse was named a hokku , and would centuries later be renamed haiku when presented as a stand-alone work. The hokku would be followed by a related 7-7 mora verse by another poet. Both Bashō and Yoshitada gave themselves haigō (俳号), or haikai pen names; Bashō's was Sōbō (宗房), which was simply the on'yomi (Sino-Japanese reading) of his adult name, "Munefusa (宗房)." In 1662, the first extant poem by Bashō was published. In 1726, two of Bashō's hokku were printed in a compilation.[ clarification needed ]

In 1665, Bashō and Yoshitada together with some acquaintances composed a hyakuin, or one-hundred-verse renku . In 1666, Yoshitada's sudden death brought Bashō's peaceful life as a servant to an end. No records of this time remain, but it is believed that Bashō gave up any possibility of samurai status and left home. [14] Biographers have proposed various reasons and destinations, including the possibility of an affair between Bashō and a Shinto miko named Jutei (寿貞), which is unlikely to be true. [15] [ page needed ] Bashō's own references to this time are vague; he recalled that "at one time I coveted an official post with a tenure of land", and that "there was a time when I was fascinated with the ways of homosexual love": there is no indication whether he was referring to real obsessions or fictional ones. [16] (Biographers of the author, however, note that Bashō was involved in homosexual affairs throughout all his life [17] and that among his lovers were several of his disciples; [18] in Professor Gary Leupp's view, Bashō's homoerotic compositions were clearly based on his personal experiences [19] ). He was uncertain whether to become a full-time poet; by his own account, "the alternatives battled in my mind and made my life restless". [20] His indecision may have been influenced by the then still relatively low status of renga and haikai no renga as more social activities than serious artistic endeavors. [21] In any case, his poems continued to be published in anthologies in 1667, 1669, and 1671, and he published a compilation of work by himself and other authors of the Teitoku school, The Seashell Game (貝おほひ, Kai Ōi), in 1672. [7] In about the spring of that year he moved to Edo, to further his study of poetry. [22]

Rise to Fame

Basho meets two farmers celebrating the mid-autumn moon festival in a print from Yoshitoshi's Hundred Aspects of the Moon. The haiku reads: "Since the crescent moon, I have been waiting for tonight." Poet-Basho-and-Moon Festival-Tsukioka-Yoshitoshi-1891.png
Bashō meets two farmers celebrating the mid-autumn moon festival in a print from Yoshitoshi's Hundred Aspects of the Moon . The haiku reads: "Since the crescent moon, I have been waiting for tonight."

In the fashionable literary circles of Nihonbashi, Bashō's poetry was quickly recognized for its simple and natural style. In 1674 he was inducted into the inner circle of the haikai profession, receiving secret teachings from Kitamura Kigin (1624–1705). [6] He wrote this hokku in mock tribute to the shōgun :

甲比丹もつくばはせけり君が春kapitan mo / tsukubawasekeri / kimi ga haru
  the Dutchmen, too, / kneel before His Lordship— / spring under His reign. [1678]

When Nishiyama Sōin, founder and leader of the Danrin school of haikai, came to Edo from Osaka in 1675, Bashō was among the poets invited to compose with him. [23] It was on this occasion that he gave himself the haigō of Tōsei, and by 1680 he had a full-time job teaching twenty disciples, who published The Best Poems of Tōsei's Twenty Disciples (桃青門弟独吟二十歌仙, Tōsei-montei Dokugin-Nijukasen), advertising their connection to Tōsei's talent. That winter, he took the surprising step of moving across the river to Fukagawa, out of the public eye and towards a more reclusive life. [24] His disciples built him a rustic hut and planted a Japanese banana tree (芭蕉, bashō) in the yard, giving Bashō a new haigō and his first permanent home. He appreciated the plant very much, but was not happy to see Fukagawa's native miscanthus grass growing alongside it:

ばしょう植ゑてまづ憎む荻の二葉哉bashō uete / mazu nikumu ogi no / futaba kana
  by my new banana plant / the first sign of something I loathe— / a miscanthus bud! [1680]

Despite his success, Bashō grew dissatisfied and lonely. He began to practice Zen meditation, but it seems not to have calmed his mind. [25] In the winter of 1682 his hut burned down, and shortly afterwards, in early 1683, his mother died. He then traveled to Yamura, to stay with a friend. In the winter of 1683 his disciples gave him a second hut in Edo, but his spirits did not improve. In 1684 his disciple Takarai Kikaku published a compilation of him and other poets, Shriveled Chestnuts (虚栗, Minashiguri). [26] Later that year he left Edo on the first of four major wanderings. [27]

Bashō traveled alone, off the beaten path, that is, on the Edo Five Routes, which in medieval Japan were regarded as immensely dangerous; and, at first Bashō expected to simply die in the middle of nowhere or be killed by bandits. However, as his trip progressed, his mood improved, and he became comfortable on the road. Bashō met many friends and grew to enjoy the changing scenery and the seasons. [28] His poems took on a less introspective and more striking tone as he observed the world around him:

馬をさへながむる雪の朝哉uma wo sae / nagamuru yuki no / ashita kana
  even a horse / arrests my eyes—on this / snowy morrow [1684]

The trip took him from Edo to Mount Fuji, Ueno, and Kyoto. [Notes 2] He met several poets who called themselves his disciples and wanted his advice; he told them to disregard the contemporary Edo style and even his own Shriveled Chestnuts, saying it contained "many verses that are not worth discussing". [29] Bashō returned to Edo in the summer of 1685, taking time along the way to write more hokku and comment on his own life:

年暮ぬ笠きて草鞋はきながらtoshi kurenu / kasa kite waraji / hakinagara
  another year is gone / a traveler's shade on my head, / straw sandals at my feet [1685]

When Bashō returned to Edo he happily resumed his job as a teacher of poetry at his bashō hut, although privately he was already making plans for another journey. [30] The poems from his journey were published as Account of Exposure to the Fields (野ざらし紀行, Nozarashi kikō). In early 1686 he composed one of his best-remembered haiku:

古池や蛙飛びこむ水の音furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto
  an ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the splash of water [1686]

Historians believe this poem became instantly famous: in April, the poets of Edo gathered at the bashō hut for a haikai no renga contest on the subject of frogs that seems to have been a tribute to Bashō's hokku, which was placed at the top of the compilation. [31] Bashō stayed in Edo, continuing to teach and hold contests, with an excursion in the autumn of 1687 when he traveled to the countryside for moon watching, and a longer trip in 1688 when he returned to Ueno to celebrate the Lunar New Year. At home in Edo, Bashō sometimes became reclusive: he alternated between rejecting visitors to his hut and appreciating their company. [32] At the same time, he enjoyed his life and had a subtle sense of humor, as reflected in his hokku:

いざさらば雪見にころぶ所迄iza saraba / yukimi ni korobu / tokoromade
  now then, let's go out / to enjoy the snow ... until / I slip and fall! [1688]

Oku no Hosomichi

A statue commemorating Matsuo Basho's arrival in Ogaki Basho in Ogaki.JPG
A statue commemorating Matsuo Bashō's arrival in Ōgaki

Bashō's private planning for another long journey, to be described in his masterwork Oku no Hosomichi, or The Narrow Road to the Deep North, culminated on May 16, 1689 (Yayoi 27, Genroku 2), when he left Edo with his student and apprentice Kawai Sora ( 河合 曾良 ) on a journey to the Northern Provinces of Honshū. Bashō and Sora headed north to Hiraizumi, which they reached on June 29. They then walked to the western side of the island, touring Kisakata on July 30, and began hiking back at a leisurely pace along the coastline. During this 150-day journey Bashō traveled a total of 600 ri (2,400 km) through the northeastern areas of Honshū, returning to Edo in late 1691. [33]

By the time Bashō reached Ōgaki, Gifu Prefecture, he had completed the log of his journey. He edited and redacted it for three years, writing the final version in 1694 as The Narrow Road to the Interior (奥の細道, Oku no Hosomichi). The first edition was published posthumously in 1702. [34] It was an immediate commercial success and many other itinerant poets followed the path of his journey. [7] It is often considered his finest achievement, featuring hokku such as:

荒海や佐渡によこたふ天河araumi ya / Sado ni yokotau / amanogawa
  the rough sea / stretching out towards Sado / the Milky Way [1689]

Last Years

Basho's grave in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture MatsuoBasho-Haka-M1932.jpg
Bashō's grave in Ōtsu, Shiga Prefecture

On his return to Edo in the winter of 1691, Bashō lived in his third bashō hut, again provided by his disciples. This time, he was not alone: he took in a nephew and his female friend, Jutei, who were both recovering from illness. He had many great visitors.

Bashō continued to be uneasy. He wrote to a friend that "disturbed by others, I have no peace of mind". [35] He made a living from teaching and appearances at haikai parties until late August 1693, when he shut the gate to his bashō hut and refused to see anybody for a month. Finally, he relented after adopting the principle of karumi or "lightness", a semi-Buddhist philosophy of greeting the mundane world rather than separating himself from it. Bashō left Edo for the last time in the summer of 1694, spending time in Ueno and Kyoto before his arrival in Osaka. He became sick with a stomach illness and died peacefully, surrounded by his disciples. [36] Although he did not compose any formal death poem on his deathbed [37] the following, being the last poem recorded during his final illness, is generally accepted as his poem of farewell:

旅に病んで夢は枯野をかけ廻るtabi ni yande / yume wa kareno wo / kake meguru
  falling sick on a journey / my dream goes wandering / over a field of dried grass [1694]

Influence and Literary Criticism

"Basho's Hermitage and Camellia Hill on the Kanda Aqueduct at Sekiguchi" from Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo 100 views edo 040.jpg
"Bashō's Hermitage and Camellia Hill on the Kanda Aqueduct at Sekiguchi" from Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

Rather than sticking to the formulas of kigo (季語), which remain popular in Japan even today, Bashō aspired to reflect his real environment and emotions in his hokku. [38] Even during his lifetime, the effort and style of his poetry was widely appreciated; after his death, it only increased. Several of his students compiled quotations from him about his own poetry, most notably Mukai Kyorai and Hattori Dohō. [39]

During the 18th century, appreciation of Bashō's poems grew more fervent, and commentators such as Ishiko Sekisui and Moro Nanimaru went to great length to find references in his hokku to historical events, medieval books, and other poems. These commentators were often lavish in their praise of Bashō's obscure references, some of which were probably literary false cognates. In 1793 Bashō was deified by the Shinto bureaucracy, and for a time criticizing his poetry was literally blasphemous. [39]

In the late 19th century, this period of unanimous passion for Bashō's poems came to an end. Masaoka Shiki, arguably Bashō's most famous critic, tore down the long-standing orthodoxy with his bold and candid objections to Bashō's style. [39] However, Shiki was also instrumental in making Bashō's poetry accessible in English, [40] and to leading intellectuals and the Japanese public at large. He invented the term haiku (replacing hokku ) to refer to the freestanding 5–7–5 form which he considered the most artistic and desirable part of the haikai no renga. [39]

Critical interpretation of Bashō's poems continued into the 20th century, with notable works by Yamamoto Kenkichi, Imoto Nōichi, and Ogata Tsutomu. The 20th century also saw translations of Bashō's poems into languages and editions around the world. The position of Bashō in Western eyes as the haiku poet par excellence gives great influence to his poetry: Western preference for haiku over more traditional forms such as tanka or renga have rendered archetypal status to Bashō as Japanese poet and haiku as Japanese poetry. [41] Some western scholars even believe that Bashō invented haiku. [42] The impressionistic and concise nature of Bashō's verse greatly influenced Ezra Pound, the Imagists, and poets of the Beat Generation. [Notes 3]

Two of Bashō's poems were popularized in the short story "Teddy" written by J. D. Salinger and published in 1952 by The New Yorker magazine. [43]

In 1979, the International Astronomical Union named a crater found on Mercury after him. [44]

List of Works

Haiseiden (Pai Sheng Dian , Poet's Memorial Hall) in Iga, Mie, which was built to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Basho's birth. Haiseiden.jpg
Haiseiden (俳聖殿, Poet's Memorial Hall) in Iga, Mie, which was built to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Bashō's birth.
Wall poems in Leiden: Basho Matsuo Basho - Een woedende zee - Rapenburg 75, Leiden.JPG
Wall poems in Leiden: Bashō
* Denotes the title is one of the Seven Major Anthologies of Bashō (Bashō Shichibu Shū) [46]

English Translations


  1. Ichikawa Danjūrō II's diary Oi no tanoshimi says "cook"; Endō Atsujin (遠藤曰人)'s biography Bashō-ō keifu "kitchen-worker". [11]
  2. Examples of Basho's haiku written on the Tokaido, together with a collection of portraits of the poet and woodblock prints from Utagawa Hiroshige, are included in Forbes & Henley 2014 .
  3. See, for instance, Lawlor 2005 , p. 176

Related Research Articles

<i>Haiku</i> Japanese poetry form

Haiku is a type of short form poetry originally from Japan. Traditional Japanese haiku consist of three phrases that contain a kireji, or "cutting word", 17 on in a 5, 7, 5 pattern, and a kigo, or seasonal reference. Similar poems that do not adhere to these rules are generally classified as senryū.

Renga is a genre of Japanese collaborative poetry in which alternating stanzas, or ku (句), of 5-7-5 and 7-7 mora per line are linked in succession by multiple poets. Known as tsukuba no michi after the famous Tsukuba Mountain in the Kantō region, the form of poetry is said to have originated in a two-verse poetry exchange by Yamato Takeru and later gave birth to the genres haikai (俳諧) and haiku (俳句).

<i>Kigo</i> Word used in Japanese poetry

Kigo is a word or phrase associated with a particular season, used in traditional forms of Japanese poetry. Kigo are used in the collaborative linked-verse forms renga and renku, as well as in haiku, to indicate the season referred to in the stanza. They are valuable in providing economy of expression.

<i>Oku no Hosomichi</i> Work by the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō

Oku no Hosomichi, translated alternately as The Narrow Road to the Deep North and The Narrow Road to the Interior, is a major work of haibun by the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, considered one of the major texts of Japanese literature of the Edo period. The first edition was published posthumously in 1702.

Japanese poetry Literary tradition of Japan

Japanese poetry is poetry typical of Japan, or written, spoken, or chanted in the Japanese language, which includes Old Japanese, Early Middle Japanese, Late Middle Japanese, and Modern Japanese, as well as poetry in Japan which was written in the Chinese language or ryūka from the Okinawa Islands: it is possible to make a more accurate distinction between Japanese poetry written in Japan or by Japanese people in other languages versus that written in the Japanese language by speaking of Japanese-language poetry. Much of the literary record of Japanese poetry begins when Japanese poets encountered Chinese poetry during the Tang dynasty. Under the influence of the Chinese poets of this era Japanese began to compose poetry in Chinese kanshi); and, as part of this tradition, poetry in Japan tended to be intimately associated with pictorial painting, partly because of the influence of Chinese arts, and the tradition of the use of ink and brush for both writing and drawing. It took several hundred years to digest the foreign impact and make it an integral part of Japanese culture and to merge this kanshi poetry into a Japanese language literary tradition, and then later to develop the diversity of unique poetic forms of native poetry, such as waka, haikai, and other more Japanese poetic specialties. For example, in the Tale of Genji both kanshi and waka are frequently mentioned. The history of Japanese poetry goes from an early semi-historical/mythological phase, through the early Old Japanese literature inclusions, just before the Nara period, the Nara period itself, the Heian period, the Kamakura period, and so on, up through the poetically important Edo period and modern times; however, the history of poetry often is different from socio-political history.

Haibun is a prosimetric literary form originating in Japan, combining prose and haiku. The range of haibun is broad and frequently includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem, short story and travel journal.

Fukuda Chiyo-ni was a Japanese poet of the Edo period and a Buddhist nun. She is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of haiku. Some of Chiyo's best works include The Morning Glory, Putting up my hair, and Again the women.

Renku, or haikai no renga, is a Japanese form of popular collaborative linked verse poetry. It is a development of the older Japanese poetic tradition of ushin renga, or orthodox collaborative linked verse. At renku gatherings participating poets take turns providing alternating verses of 17 and 14 morae. Initially haikai no renga distinguished itself through vulgarity and coarseness of wit, before growing into a legitimate artistic tradition, and eventually giving birth to the haiku form of Japanese poetry. The term renku gained currency after 1904, when Kyoshi Takahama started to use it.

Hokku is the opening stanza of a Japanese orthodox collaborative linked poem, renga, or of its later derivative, renku. From the time of Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694), the hokku began to appear as an independent poem, and was also incorporated in haibun. In the late 19th century, Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902) renamed the standalone hokku as "haiku", and the latter term is now generally applied retrospectively to all hokku appearing independently of renku or renga, irrespective of when they were written. The term hokku continues to be used in its original sense, as the opening verse of a linked poem.

Asian literature is the literature produced in Asia.

Haikai may refer in both Japanese and English to haikai no renga (renku), a popular genre of Japanese linked verse, which developed in the sixteenth century out of the earlier aristocratic renga. It meant "vulgar" or "earthy", and often derived its effect from satire and puns, though "under the influence of [Matsuo] Bashō (1644–1694) the tone of haikai no renga became more serious". "Haikai" may also refer to other poetic forms that embrace the haikai aesthetic, including haiku and senryū, haiga, and haibun. However, haikai does not include orthodox renga or waka.

Takarai Kikaku Japanese poet

Takarai Kikaku also known as Enomoto Kikaku, was a Japanese haikai poet and among the most accomplished disciples of Matsuo Bashō. His father was an Edo doctor, but Kikaku chose to become a professional haikai poet rather than follow in his footsteps.

Nozawa Bonchō Japanese writer

Nozawa Bonchō was a Japanese haikai poet. He was born in Kanazawa, and spent most of his life in Kyoto working as a doctor. Bonchō was one of Matsuo Bashō's leading disciples and, together with Kyorai, he edited the Bashō school's Monkey's Raincoat (Sarumino) anthology of 1689. He participated in numerous renku with Bashō and other members of his Shōmon school.

Kireji is the term for a special category of words used in certain types of Japanese traditional poetry. It is regarded as a requirement in traditional haiku, as well as in the hokku, or opening verse, of both classical renga and its derivative renku. There is no exact equivalent of kireji in English, and its function can be difficult to define. It is said to supply structural support to the verse. When placed at the end of a verse, it provides a dignified ending, concluding the verse with a heightened sense of closure. Used in the middle of a verse, it briefly cuts the stream of thought, indicating that the verse consists of two thoughts half independent of each other. In such a position, it indicates a pause, both rhythmically and grammatically, and may lend an emotional flavour to the phrase preceding it.

Miura Chora was a Japanese poet raised in Ise, in the Mie Prefecture of Shima Province on the island of Honshu, Japan. He traveled throughout the country composing poems and helped lead the Matsuo Bashō revival movement of the eighteenth century.

<i>Soras Diary</i>

The Sora Tabi Nikki was the memorandum of Kawai Sora in 1689 and 1691 when he accompanied Matsuo Bashō, on his noted journeys. By the time it was re-discovered in 1943, the presence of this diary had been doubted. This diary has proven indispensable in the study of Oku no Hosomichi by Matsuo Bashō.

Sarumino is a 1691 anthology, considered the magnum opus of Bashō-school poetry. It contains four kasen renku as well as some 400 hokku, collected by Nozawa Bonchō and Mukai Kyorai under the supervision of Matsuo Bashō. Sarumino is one of the Seven Major Anthologies of Bashō, and, together with the 1690 anthology, Hisago, it is considered to display Bashō's mature style (Shōfū) at its peak. Bashō's influence on all four of the kasen in Sarumino was profound and when he sat with Bonchō, Okada Yasui and Kyorai at Yoshinaka Temple to write "Kirigirisu", he extolled them, "Let's squeeze the juice from our bones."

Hori Bakusui 堀麦水 (1718-1783) was a major Japanese poet of the Matsuo Bashō revival, writing traditional style haiku poems.



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