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Reader’s Den, Poetry Month

April in the Reader's Den: The Haiku of Matsuo Bashō

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The Edo period of Japan (1603 - 1868) was considered one of the most stable and peaceful eras in Japanese history. At this time Japan was a fuedalist state ruled by shoguns of the Tokugawa family, but there was simultaneously a significant flourishing of arts and culture. A revival of the principles of Confucianism, and an openness towards embracing Western science and technology characterized this period. It was the height of Kabuki theatre, geisha entertainment, and Ukiyo-e printmaking. One of the most prominent poets to emerge from the Edo period was Matsuo Bashō (b. 1644 - d. 1694).

The son of a samurai, Bashō discovered at a young age a love of haiku, the traditional Japanese verse with a 5-7-5 syllabic structure. He moved to Edo (now Tokyo) in 1672, became a renowned poet among fashionable urban literary circles, but eventually forsook the city for a rustic hut in Fukugawa. He began practicing Zen meditation, and his poems increasingly focused on naturalistic themes. He embarked on four major journeys throughout Japan during his lifetime, a dangerous undertaking in medieval Japan. Routes were often fraught with bandits... Bashō evenually returned to Edo, and became a saught-out teacher of haiku.

Here is a sampling of some of Bashō's verse:

A Shell of a Cicada

The shell of a cicada

Its body consumed, haply by crying,

There remains only the cicada's shell.

 

Don't Imitate Me

Don't imitate me

as the two halves

of a melon

 

The master of the profound within the form of simplicity, find more of Bashō's work at the library.

Questions

  • In this week's Reader's Den, we encourage participants to write and share their own haiku. Readers can submit their haiku using the form below.

 

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