Questing for Connections to the Past Waldo Ralph Emerson said “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. ” In Bash?I’s Narrow Road through the Backcountry, exactly this sentiment is realized in the literary capture of North Japan’s natural beauties on his Journey for poetic enlightenment and motivation.
This work is the story of the Journey that Basho began near the end of his life in order to attain inspiration for writing poetry, specifically in haiku-type forms. Bash? I’s chosen path mirrored that of Saigy?, a well respected monk and poet, which ran through the ocations of residence and inspiration of various other notable Japanese poets and writers. The travel tale has long been held in high public regard and is widely known as one of the most iconic pieces of Japanese literature.
Basho had a fascination with nature and a rare bond with his surroundings, but by pursuing the trail first blazed by Japanese poets of old, Saigy? in particular, Basho hoped to perfect his art and find inspiration by connecting to the locations of those poet’s inspiration from long before, and had a much greater impact than one could have predicted. One of the early encounters with a place formerly associated with a past figure that Basho describes poetically is the arrival to the Sunlit Mountain, Nikko.
Basho explains that the mountain was named Nikko by Master Kukai, a monk who started a temple on this mountain. Basho also explains the significance of the mountain’s name and tells of how he feels Kukai has in a way predicted and blessed their trip. Observing the mountain exemplifies what Basho is trying to accomplish on this journey as he quickly scribbles down a self-admittedly simple and quick verse. Though simple, this is exactly what Basho is looking for: an opportunity to observe hat inspired the poets of old, which gives him the motivation to write.
The works of Kukai had given him the basis for which to write upon. The haiku reads “yes, how brilliant! /green leaves, young leaves/luminous within” and without Kukai having named the mountain as the Sunlit Mountain, Basho would have never had the inspiration to write about the luminosity of the scene. Though no direct credit to Kukai or the mountain is mentioned in the poem, there is a direct link to both. At UnganJi, Basho is inspired to write about the hut of his former Zen meditation teacher, Butcho. A slightly melancholy haiku is written about the vacant, decrepit hut.
This is a deep and emotional example of the inspiration that Basho sought. Evident in his haiku is the sadness from the lost connection to his Zen master alongside the majesty of the place which he is writing about, which combine for a beautiful piece of poetry. By no other force than by physically being at the site of the hut could a poem like that have been composed. Travel not only allows Basho to connect with the site which he is describing, but also–in a more ethereal way–with his mentors and those ho preceded him.
Most renown of these predecessor poets is Saigy? It, whom Basho modeled his path after. Along the way, various of Saigy? It’s poetic inspirations and sites are mentioned and seen by Basho. Basho is particularly excited by one of these moving sites; the willow tree. In the eyes ot Bash? It, Saigy? It nas been immortalized in this tree and thus, standing in the shadow of the willow’s leaves and branches is like standing in the shadow of one of the great muses.
This is a particularly rewarding experience for him, as Saigy? It is his guide and truest predecessor. This is reflected in the excitement of his writing about the experience of standing in his shadow. Various other times throughout Bash? It’s text, Saigy? It’s writings are referenced to help describe scenes about which Saigy? did not specifically write, which speaks to Bash? It’s keeping of Saigy?It’s writings and path in his mind throughout his Journey.
A connection which is undeniably deeper than that with any other poet is made with Saigy? It because of this. Various other poets and their inspirations are mentioned throughout The Narrow Road Through the Backcountry: the Shirakawa checkpoint ritten about by Kanemori and Noin, and depicted in paintings by Kiyosuke and others, the twin pines in Takekuma, written about by Noin, the sites of old poetic inspiration which Kaemon tours Basho and Sora through, and a plethora of others.
All of these sites possess their own feeling and give Basho unique motivations. Some of the places provide morose poetic inspiration, for which Basho is commonly known, while others cause the poet to drift away from his common tone and write in a much more upbeat manner; a testament to the true power of the natural beauty of Japan and impact of historical poets on Basho. This variety calls to the different inspirations which Basho was seeking.
Instead of maintaining a stagnant style, as many of the less-travelled poets would have, Bash? It’s Journey allows him to not only write about sights that he would have never otherwise experienced, but it also allows him to connect with other writing styles that he ordinarily may not have explored, causing a stark development of his own writing style. A common thread in all of Bash? It’s inspirational writers, as pointed out by Haruo Shirane in the essay “Double Voices and Bash? It’s Haikai” in Kerkham’s Matsuo Bash?It’s Poetic Spaces: Exploring Haikai
Intersections, is that all of these writers are considered to be reclusive poets. Though the GenJi (“the famous lovers”), Ariwara no Narihira and Ono no Komachi were all well recognized and loved for their classical images in Japan, Basho aligned more with these less-renown, reclusive poets (Kerkham 1 11). This points to his history in Zen meditation and his monk-like lifestyle. Bash?It’s Journey connects several of the residences of the recluse poets that he idealized before and allows him to unite the poetic forms and pasts of these poets into his own.
By giving credit to these poetic redecessors in his works, Basho also changed the way that the “ancients” were perceived in Japan; causing the known poetic standards to shift from the classic writers of old to the reclusive writers Basho modeled (1 11). This shows the impact of not only the poets on Basho, but his effect on their legacies and the subsequent shift in future Japanese literature as a result. One of the major differences between Basho and the poets he follows is that Basho does not have the religious concerns of actually being a Buddhist monk, which allows him to write more freely.
The religious oets had to be concerned with the Buddhist principles of renouncing the phenomenal world in which we live, while that often times met with the conflict of their love for the splendor of nature; this is particularly true of Saigy? It (67-68). In a way, then, Basho was able to take up the task that the priest poets likely would have enjoyed taking on, in being able to truly describe the full impact of nature.
By the culmination ot the te xt, Basn? It provides haiku’s witn a much ditterent and generally upbeat tone, which speaks to his spiritual and intellectual enlightenment and overall hift in writing attitude and style. This enlightenment has been primarily generated by the writings of past poets and their inspirations, as evidenced by his poetry, which nearly always honors the writings and poets who wrote there before him, at some level.
Bash? It’s questing for inspiration had much larger implications than Just his self- development into a recognized poet, as it caused a dramatic change in the perception of classic Japanese literature and had a monumental impact on the future of Japanese texts. A path once blazed in the spirit of exploration and inspiration is gain used by Basho in the same means, but to a drastically different ends, largely due to the ability of the “ancients” to inspire and help him develop his art into a form that led to wide acceptance and yielded recognition for those “ancients. word count: 1,346 Poets long past-on The long, enlightening road An inspiration Works Cited Kerkham, Eleanor. Matsuo Basho’s Poetic Spaces: Exploring Haikai Intersections. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006. 66-68; 110-112. Print. Davis, Paul, et al. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Modern World, Present. Compact Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 122-155. Print.