Japanese Author – Matsuo Basho


Matsuo Basho was a 17th century Buddhist monk of Japan whose haiku poetry produced calmness as prescribed in Zen Buddhism.


Matsuo Basho was born in 1644 near Ueno in Iga Province and became a famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. He was born into a landed class and was introduced to poetry at a very young age. He worked as a teacher but soon renounced the urban and social life and wanted to travel all through the country. While teaching he had about twenty students and published his poems. He quickly became famous but he was not very happy. He was feeling lonely and started to practise Zen meditation. But even that did not find him the peace he was seeking. Having two houses also did not make him happy. His disciple TakaraiKikaku brought out a book which was a compilation of Basho’s poems and poems of other poets. Even that could not make him happy and he finally left Edo. It was in his travels that he began making friends, started to appreciate nature around him and soon his poems became journey inward into his soul. After his wanderings he came back to Edo in 1691 and stayed in another hut built by his disciple. In 1694 he left Edo and went to Kyoto, Uenoand reached Osaka. In a while he fell ill and passed away in Osaka peacefully with all his disciples around him. While Basho was alive his poems were popular but after his death it became more popular especially in the 18th century.


Kigo,the popular words of poetry even today in Japan, was prevalent during the 17th century. Basho did not use kigo words in his poems which were mostly haiku. Haiku is a form of poetry originally from Japan which traditionally has three lines, of which two lines are lines of imagery and third contrasts the two lines.  Basho’s poems are shockingly simple as far as the theme is concerned for he was just drawing inspiration from the nature around him. Not for him the complex relationships and politics. Changes in weather and time were his constant themes. Transience of life is heart-wrenching but it is for the same reason that every moment is valuable. He had told his disciples, “in my view a good poem is one in which the form of the verse, and the joining of its two parts, seem light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed.”

Popular works by the author:

All the works of Matsuo Basho are popular. Many of his poems have been translated into English and have been compiled into books. Some of his collections are ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ and Other Travel Sketches’, ‘The Monkey’s Straw Raincoat and Other Poetry of the Basho School’.