Wise Poets, Wise Poets of the Past

The Japanese Haiku Master, Matsuo Basho

The Japanese Haiku Master, Matsuo Basho

Japanese Haiku Master, Matsuo Basho: Simply Natural

Simplicity, contrasts, and opposites in nature are what constituted the three-line poems of Japan’s most important bard, Matsuo Basho. Basho was born in 1644 near the Japanese town of Ueno. His family was of Samurai decent, however, his father was a low ranking Samurai who essentially made his living as a landowning gentleman farmer. As a young man, Basho served as a page for a high ranking Samurai before moving to Tokyo where he became a poet and a teacher, but he then became so disillusioned with urban life that he left the city to travel into the more distant parts of Japan’s wilderness where he connected to nature and hone his skills as a “hokku” poet. There he raised the writing of hokku (or first verse) to a fine art.

Hokku was originally the first verse, consisting of only three lines, in a form of poetry called a renga in which one poet writes the first verse and is followed by another two-line verse written by a second poet. Today the hokku is known as a haiku and has only three lines of five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables which rarely rhyme with the subject matter usually being about a real scene taking place in nature that has a deeper spiritual meaning for the reader.

Haiku is characterized by a having a strict form of containing only three lines of 5,7, and 5 syllables (or little units of sound in the Japanese language called moras) and being objective in nature, rooted in the reality of the natural physical world, rather than in the subjective in which the reader brings his own meaning to the poem. But, it is, in fact, the deeper truths in nature that illuminates the reader’s intuitive mind. Haiku also gives the reader a clear picture of the contrasts in nature. Basho wrote:

An old silent pond,

a frog jumps into the pond.

Splash! Silence again

I as a reader can hear the contrasting silence of the pond almost as dramatically as I can feel the motion of the frog and the sound of the splash on the water and with the silence being contrasted with the sound, the silence itself is loud in this little snippet of time

Autumn moonlight-

A worm digs silently

into the chestnut.

Here you have the contrast the closing of a year and of repose of night with the work of .the worm laboring for his food. Nature never stops. Nature never goes to sleep,

In the twilight rain

these brilliant hued hibiscus-

A lovely sunset.

This gives the reader a vivid image in the mind’s eye of the contrast of the brilliant-hued flower with the somberness of rain and twilight.

Basho died in November of 1694 and is today revered in Japan as their greatest poet of all times with his verses inscribed today on many public monuments.

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