The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches
by Matsuo Bashō
Translated & Introduced by Nobuyuki Yuasa
Published by Penguin Classics
Copyright © 1966
Matsuo Bashō, a master of Haiku, was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan, but as this book shows his writing was not limited to poetry. The anthologies he produced are largely prose like travel diaries dappled with scattered poetry created by he and some of his companions.
The introduction presents a little bit of the background of Bashō, and the poetry scene of his day. It provides some depth for an understanding of the Japanese poetry to follow in his travel anthologies. Though maybe not necessary to understand the work, I did find myself reflecting on the introduction as I continued into his anthologies.
These diaries of the wandering poet give a good idea of the simplistic ascetic life he led. In parts physical descriptions in others emotional descriptions, these writings are a wonderful glimpse into a 17th century Japanese life even in translation. While I found some of the Haiku rather plain and unmoving, other pieces begged for examination and reflection such as this one:
“Coming home at last
At the end of the year,
I wept to find
My old umbilical cord.”
And fortunately for the reader, his prose explain his sentiment to some degree.
While not for the recreational reader, In all this is a captivating book for one who appreciates poetry and/or Japanese history.