Matsuo Basho


Matsuo Basho's "The Narrow Road To The Deep North"

the poet

[note: I’ve been reading an English translation.]

The story: in the late 17th century, Matsuo Basho, a Haiku poet who likes to walk around and compose poems, goes on several journeys through his homeland of Japan.

Sometimes he takes solo hikes, at other times he goes with friends; sometimes he wants to experience the wilderness, at other times  he is looking for a certain shrine or temple.

Matsuo Basho’s wandering mind

This book is a collection of short travelogues from Matsuo’s journeys. He walks around and shares his observations, sometimes in a rather poetic way (at least that’s what the English translation suggests), sometimes in a more matter-of-fact voice.

As it turns out not only is he a very keen observer of his environment, but also of himself and his own motivations:

“My only mundane concerns were whether I would be able to find a suitable place to sleep at night and whether the straw sandals were the right size for my feet. Every turn of the road brought me new thoughts and every sunrise gave me fresh emotions.”

Isn’t it magical how we can relate to the feelings of a person who used to live more than 300 years ago, in a land so different from one’s own?

who might want to read this

Matsuo’s feat of walking through Japan in the 17th century is cool. His storytelling is a bit scattered, but his style is beautiful. The observations and insights he shares have a fresh feel, even after all this time.

If you’re into Japan, into poetry, or into walking itself, this book is for you.

Also read: Heinrich Heine, for a poet’s account of walking through another country in another century.



Author: Matsuo Basho
Title: The Narrow Road To The Deep North
Time: 1689
Destination: Japan
Length: 6 months
Type: walking

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