Questing for Connections to the Past
Waldo Ralph Emerson said "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not." In Bashō's Narrow Road through the Backcountry, exactly this sentiment is realized in the literary capture of North Japan's natural beauties on his journey for poetic enlightenment and motivation. This work is the story of the journey that Bashō began near the end of his life in order to attain inspiration for writing poetry, specifically in haiku-type forms. Bashō's chosen path mirrored that of Saigyō, a well respected monk and poet, which ran through the locations of residence and inspiration of various other notable Japanese poets and writers. The travel tale has long been held in high public regard and is widely known as one of the most iconic pieces of Japanese literature. Bashō had a fascination with nature and a rare bond with his surroundings, but by pursuing the trail first blazed by Japanese poets of old, Saigyō in particular, Bashō hoped to perfect his art and find inspiration by connecting to the locations of those poet's inspiration from long before, and had a much greater impact than one could have predicted.
One of the early encounters with a place formerly associated with a past figure that Bashō describes poetically is the arrival to the Sunlit Mountain, Nikko. Bashō explains that the mountain was named Nikko by Master Kukai, a monk who started a temple on this mountain. Bashō also explains the significance of the mountain's name and tells of how he feels Kukai has in a way predicted and blessed their trip. Observing the mountain exemplifies what Bashō is trying to accomplish on this journey as he quickly scribbles down a self-admittedly simple and quick verse. Though simple, this is exactly what Bashō is looking for: an opportunity to observe what inspired the poets of old, which gives him the motivation to write. The works of Kukai had given him the basis for which to write...
Cited: Kerkham, Eleanor. Matsuo Basho 's Poetic Spaces: Exploring Haikai Intersections. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006. 66-68; 110-112. Print.
Davis, Paul, et al. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Modern World, 1650-The Present. Compact Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin 's, 2009. 122-155. Print.
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