Thursday, February 07, 2008

Haiku poet: Basho



National Geographic magazine has a feature article on the 17th c. Japanese poet Basho this month. Basho is often called the Shakespeare of Japanese poetry. Michael Yamashita, the photographer and author of this article, says, "My late friend Helen Tanizaki, a linguist born and raised in Kyoto, told me, “Everyone I went to school with could recite at least one of Basho’s poems by heart. He was the first writer we read in any exciting or serious way.” Today thousands of people pilgrimage to Basho’s birthplace and burial shrine and travel parts of Basho’s Trail. After three centuries his Narrow Road, in print in English and many other languages, still speaks to readers around the world."


My online name "cloudscome" is taken from my favorite Basho haiku:


clouds come from time to time
giving us a chance to rest
from looking at the moon


Basho wrote in the form of haibun, a narrative with haiku sprinkled throughout. The haiku nails the images and the prose tells the story of a place or a journey. Basho's most famous book is called The Narrow Road to Deep North. It is a travelogue of a walking journey he took through Japan. You can read an English translation of it here.


Yamashita has followed the route Basho took in this book. He photographed and kept a journal of his trip. You can read along and see his stunning photos at the site here. If you get the print magazine you'll enjoy reading the article, but the online version has greater depth and detail. I particularly enjoyed clicking on the map here and reading about each stop in his journey. The "Field Notes" link is great too because in it Michael tells the back story of how he took some of the photos, including the gorgeous little frog sitting on the lily leaf here.


I'll leave you with another of Basho's haiku paired with a photo I took last fall at my favorite nature center:


silence of a temple -
a cicada's voice alone
penetrates the rocks.

trees and pond

The Friday Poetry round up is at AmoXcali today.

20 comments:

laurasalas said...

I always wondered where cloudscome came from! Thanks for sharing background and amazing haiku from Basho--a master!

Jess said...

Thanks so much for posting this! My daughter and I just read about haiku--and Basho--a few days ago, so this is really timely!

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

"Clouds come..." is a beautiful haiku--thank you for sharing it, and the story of your name. You've probably seen the picture book biography GRASS SANDALS: The travels of Basho by Dawnine Spivak; illustrated by Demi. If you haven't, I think it's a lovely book--and where I first met Basho.

jama said...

As usual, your photo is simply stunning. Loved finding out how you got your name, too. Thanks for mentioning the Basho article in NG -- we just received our issue but I didn't realize it was in there.

writer2b said...

Lovely haiku, lovely photo, and I enjoyed finding out where your name came from, too. Thanks.

Kelly Fineman said...

I can just about hear that cicada, even in the cold of winter, because your photo and haiku evoke it so well.

SevenImpossible said...

Thanks for that NG link. I look forward to reading that later.

Beautiful haiku. Gorgeous photograph.

Jules, 7-Imp

TadMack said...

It's so interesting that Basho is the ONLY name I can rattle off of someone who wrote haiku... and he was in the 17th century!!! I so need to get with the program!! But thank you so much for posting that classic poem about the moon - gorgeous.

John Mutford said...

I wrote about William Carlos Williams' "Red Wheelbarrow" poem today. Before I did, I checked to see what Wikipedia had to say. One person said, "it holds more in common with the haiku of Bashō than with the verse of T. S. Eliot." Definitely true, though I still say Basho did it better.

Liz in Ink said...

I just love Basho. And the rest from looking at the moon?? Oh, that is SO delightful...

Sara said...

Now I know why your blog is always so lyrical...it begins with your name. How lovely.

Anonymous said...

Your online name is one of my favourites because it is a reminder that things aren't always clear and easy. Thanks for the poem!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Cloudscome,

Interesting post. So that's how you chose your blog name? I guess it's quite an appropriate choice as you're the blogging haiku master. Lovely photograph and haiku today. That nature center looks like a beautiful spot to commune with nature.

travelina said...

There are all kinds on hidden treasures on the map too, like crossing the Shurakawa Barrier, where the author meets a scholar-priest who insists Basho was a spy! The author was skeptical. His friend explained: “Well, some people like to dramatize Basho’s life in different ways. But who knows everything about a person—Basho or anyone? Everyone has shadows. Sometimes the shadows aren’t so closely attached to the person.”
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/2008-02/bashos-trail/bashos-trail-map.html
I work at National Geographic and I'm really happy that other people enjoyed this story, which I though was an especially good one.

Cloudscome said...

I am happy to share where I got my name with every one. That haiku reminds me that dark clouds can be a good thing. A break from staring at beauty can be refreshing. Looking down sometimes is what you need, when up gets too bright.

I always think of the time I was in China during the National Day celebration in 1983. The spectacular fireworks went on for a solid 45 minutes of amazing display. I've never seen another show like it. After a while you had to look away at the dark or the ground just to get your equilibrium back. Towards the end I couldn't even pay attention because it got to be too much.

I love those books too - Grass Sandals and Today and Today. I think they are award-worthy!

John - WCW has always shown a haiku influence in my eyes/ears. The Wheelbarrow poem was the first of his that really grabbed me. It has more depth the more you contemplate it.

I hope everyone will find time to go back and read the NG article and follow the links. It is really a fabulous article. I am not finished enjoying it yet.

Mary Lee said...

Thanks for the brief moment of summer in bleak February. Maybe because I looked away from Feb. for a moment, when I look back I will be able to appreciate it!

Karen E. said...

Beautiful! I agree about WCW and the haiku influence -- I've always loved WCW's vivid imagery.

Karen E. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
xacerb8 said...

My son was a big fan of the Magic Tree House series. "Dragon of the Red Dawn" features Basho, as Jack and Annie travel back to Japan and help rescue some ancient manuscripts!

Alan Summers said...

A good English-language version of Basho's haiku.

Now then, what's this about a poet loose in the library? ;-)

all my best,
Alan
With Words
.