With just a few words, a haiku master can paint a picture so vivid that the reader was standing next to them – great travel writers have similar abilities. Matsuo Basho was both.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, by Matsuo Basho, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa.
“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” is a formidable collection of 17th century poems and illuminating travelogue, inspired by Basho’s travels through Japan as he immersed himself in Zen in search of peace. spiritual.
The Penguin Classics edition includes four more âtravel sketchesâ and a long but fascinating introduction.
Far from being an introspective and metaphysical quest, Basho’s travels were about connecting him to the world. He wrote about the people he met and the landscapes he encountered. He also read the literature of his day – and older ages – noticing with pleasure, for example, how a famous pine tree looked exactly as ancient poets described it. He featured poems written by his friends and companions, offering tantalizing glimpses of the artist community to which he belonged.
In 1694, priest and scholar Soryu wrote a postscript to “The Narrow Road”. He wrote that âeverything under the skyâ is included in the volume of Basho. Over 300 years later, it continues to touch and inspire readers. The honest sadness of the last lines – âSo I must get back on the road, farewell, my friendsâ – sings to all who feel the pull of the open road.
Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.
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