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This report is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

Basho's Poetic Thoroughfares James Kirkup
It is now almost three hundred years since Basho started on his long epoch-making journey from Edo along "the narrow road to the deep north" - Oku no Hosomichi. These are more than just travel sketches such as we find in the poet's earlier haibun collections of mingled prose and haiku. After many years of loneliness, grief and constant struggle to find his true poetic voice, Basho had only five more years to live and to perfect his art. We can find perfection in the skill with which he balances prose and poetry in this great late work, so that the prose is not simply a bald commentary on the poems, but rather a broader reflection of their brief essence.

Like John Keats in his letters, Basho often expresses profound thoughts about the poetic life and the creation of poetry. That pond into which the famous frog jumped is like the mirror of the poetic mind, so calm, so still, yet capable of being suddenly animated by the inspiration of the unexpected event, the flash of new vision, or even some accident in composition. Basho wrote:


Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and your subject ...


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