The Stillness: Basho’s Poetics


Matsuo Basho, a haiku master in the 17th century, is famous for his travel journal, Oku no Hosomichi (The Back-country Trails). He is arguably the greatest master of all haiku literature. What makes him stand out is his focus on the creation of a unity of perception and expression, though he sometimes revised his poems over and over again. To be genuine you need to share in the life of an object.One of the most popular haiku is one he wrote when visiting a rustic temple at the top of the rugged mountain and finding himself in its serene and ethereal atmosphere.

閑かさや shizukasaya
岩にしみ入る iwa ni shimiiru
蝉の声 semi no koe

The stillness
Permeating the rocks
cicadas’ trill

The ideal of Basho’s poetics is to achieve “不易流行(Hueki Ryuko)”: standing the test of time while moving with the times. Seemingly contradicting but ideally integrated, his poetics has survived for ages. At the age of 37, he decided to retreat from snobbish salon society and to search for a way to incorporate poetry into everyday life, then he went on a journey to lend himself to soul-searching. After the journey he gradually added to his austere poetry some humor and a more down-to-earth, laid-back tone. Basho, as a spiritual seeker at the expense of urban, social, efficient life style, knew very well that life is compared to a journey and he lived out his principle.




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