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Reader’s Den, Poetry Month

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


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.


  • 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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Don't Imitate Me: Original Translation

Hello! My name is Jenna, and I'm currently a sophomore in high school writing a research paper about the differences between traditional and Japanese poetry. If you have spare time, I was hoping that you could provide the original Japanese translation of "Don't Imitate Me" by Matsuo Basho. Thank you so much for your time!

Translation of Matsuo Basho's "Don't Imitate Me"

Hi Jenna, thanks for your question. The translation of "Don't Imitate Me" was done by Robert Hass - A U.S. Poet Laureate and translator of haiku. You can read more about him here.

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