What’s the use?: Basho’s Poetics


Bunjin is referred to as an intellectual who lives in literature, prefers creative solitude, appreciates arts and natural beauty. Basho was one of those bunjin but was painfully aware of their lack of practicality and asked himself and fellow artists the question: What’s the use of pursuing your artistic ambition? Basho cast a doubt on blind accolades to charming references to Chinese classics or natural beauty. He looked at the reality of human existence. 



You know how sadness comes over
When hearing a monkey scream
You know how autumn winds blow
On this poor little orphan child?

猿の声に悲しみを詠む人よ 捨子に秋の風が吹きつけている これはどういうことだ

Artist’s Way
He addressed a typical attitude of bunjin, who usually associates hearing monkey screams with sadness based on an old Chinese story. This association is a popular cliche, but he asked himself if the artist’s rhetorical references can ever give any insight to existential reality right in front of their eyes. You have nothing to offer to a poor little orphan on the street. He reminds fellow artists of the fact that being an artist is like a lamp in broad daylight. He refers to his own position as follows:



my artistic, stylistic efforts are nothing more than a warm stove in summer and a cooking fan in winter. 


Well aware of this fact, he lived a truly artistic life. He understood that being an artist is regarded as useless in the general sense of the bottom line of business, but it is beyond practicality that an artist survives by pushing boundaries and by exploring their own art form in the way that:


Saigyo explored  artistic horizons with waka; Sougi with collaborative poetry (renga); Sesshu with ink and wash painting; Rikyu with tea. They all devoted themselves to figuring out how their artistic insights manifest in their own art form.


Some people regard your efforts as useless and never appreciate what you’ve been doing, while others know how you make a difference and how you inspire people because you’re beyond the accepted. With this in mind, put a little more faith in what you devote yourself to.

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