Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Notes on Basho

Spent the afternoon reading Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North. Hard to know what to make of it. A lot is unsaid, or taken for granted. Here we have a wandering dilettante, unbelievable hyper-esthete, with his bushido code and an aristocratic disdain for commoners, but his trip, walking, often while ill or in bad weather, would be considered roughing it in any day and age. But still. He sets out claiming he has only the clothes on his back, and the clothes are made out of waxed paper at that. But then later he mentions in passing a considerable wardrobe, with things like "by the way I was wearing only my black robes", or, "I had only a hood against the rain," and he carries enough brushes, paper and ink for a daily production of poems which he leaves as often as not in desolate temples for the next hyperesthete traveler to read, should one come along.
I suspect he took along a manservant or two.

Were I to take a trip like Basho I would say stuff like,
ate pickled radishes,
wind pulled at my clothes, tatters like a beggar,
scorched breakfast pan, smoke filled the morning air,
the moon floats the dawn and rags of mist.
Broken tines. Ruined walls, coldwater chillbumps,
young white fish, blood taste, fire on the marches,
red eyes in the rising sun, cold rice in a broken bowl,
crazed slip. Song. Wept.

Basho actually said none of the above, exactly. He did say, when he got tired of writing stuff:

"To say more about the shrine would be to violate its holiness."
"I saw many other things of interest in this mountain, the details of which, however, I refrain from betraying in accordance with the rules I must obey as a pilgrim."

I like that. We bloggers could often go and do likewise.

He talks about a cricket under an old helmet which had been placed in a shrine, broken clam shells reminding him of the temporal, and singing fishermen too boisterous for his tastes. He and his party (at that time) of 2 other poets at one point turn down the tearful request of a couple of prostitutes who don't know the road, who want to follow along, but at a very respectful distance, almost out of sight, so as not to get lost. He makes up an excuse and puts them off.

But he then feels sorry for them later and composes some verses.

He ends up in the remote north and does not tell us how he gets home.

It's a different way of writing. I kind of like it. And making allowances for his being a man of his time and place, I kind of liked him as well.

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