The Narrow Road to the Deep North (1)

By Nobuyuki Yuasa


Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is the writer of Haiku poem in the Japanese poetry. We are pleased to offer the translation of his trip to north Japan, in the same year he died, as he himself described it as, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.”

The poem was translated by a Japanese academic researcher specialized in Haiku and Japanese culture, called Nobuyuki Yuasa.

Basho was born in Iga-ueno near Kyoto. He spent his youth as companion to the son of the local lord, and with him he studied the writing of seventeen-syllable verse. In 1667 he moved to Edo (now Tokyo) where he continued to write verse. He eventually became a recluse, living on the outskirts of Edo in a hut. When he traveled he relied entirely on the hospitality of temples and fellow-poets. In his writings he was strongly influenced by the Zen sect of Buddhism.


Station 1 – Prologue

Days and months are the travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling. There are a great number of the ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind- filled with a strong desire to wander.

It was only toward the end of last autumn that I returned from rambling along the coast. I barely had time to sweep the cobwebs from my broken house on the River Sumida before the New Year, but no sooner had the spring mist begun to rise over the field than I wanted to be on the road again to cross the barrier-gate of Shirakawa in due time. The gods seem to have possessed my soul and turned it inside out, and the roadside images seemed to invite me from every corner, so that it was impossible for me to stay idle at home.

Even while I was getting ready, mending my torn trousers, tying a new strap to my hat, and applying moxa to my legs to strengthen them, I was already dreaming of the full moon rising over the islands of Matsushima. Finally, I sold my house, moving to the cottage of Sampu, for a temporary stay. Upon the threshold of my old home, however, I wrote a linked verse of eight pieces and hung it on a woodenpillar.

The starting piece was:

Behind this door

Now buried in deep grass

A different generation will celebrate

The Festival of Dolls.

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