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The Greatest Japanese Haiku Poet - Matsuo Bashō: 1644-1694

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 28 days ago

Beautiful haikus about nature and mountainous scenery.
Matsuo Basho in an ancient paintingPhoto sourced from Wikimedia Commons

What do you think of when I say the word ‘poetry’? Maybe to you, it’s just a pretty bunch of words put together in an eloquent way. You see, the Western world varies from the East in terms of thinking about poetry.

In Zen Buddhist tradition, poetry is considered to be good for the ‘soul’. It is believed to make us more sensitive to the world around us, and wiser of course.

Matsuo Bashō is a 17th-century Buddhist monk and poet. Bashō believed poetry to be a medium that can help us become more calm and wise, ideas central to Zen Buddhist philosophy.

Matsuo Bashō, born in the Iga province of Japan, was a child servant of a local nobleman named Tōdō Yoshitada. This man taught him to write ‘haiku’ poetry.

A haiku is made up of three parts: two images formed by two lines, and a final line that juxtaposes them (contrasts the two opposites). The most famous haiku in Japan is called ‘Old Pond’ and it is by Bashō.

Old pond…
A frog leaps in
Water’s sound.
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Bashō’s simple poetry is extremely famous because he had an enchanting way with his words. He wished for his poetry to help his readers reach the two Zen states of mind: wabi and sabi. Wabi means satisfaction with the simplicity of the world around us. Sabi focuses on the contentment of solitude.

Bashō demonstrated these mental states through writing mostly about nature. In this poem below, Bashō focuses on an appreciation of the natural world.

First cherry
by peach blossoms.
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Another one of my favorites of his is this one, about little surprises whilst hiking in nature.

Violets -
how precious on
a mountain path.

Bashō sincerely hoped that his poetry would help the reader feel as though they were merging with the natural world, even if for a single second. Bashō’s poetry is important not because of language that will blow you away, but because of the reminder it give us to derive pleasure from the simplicity around us.