Matsuo Basho – Japanese poet
Matsuo Basho was one of the greatest Japanese poets. He is associated with the celebrated Genroku era (ca. 1680-1730). He was an innovator in poetry. Basho elevated haiku, a traditional form of Japanese poetry, to a serious art.
The haiku became an independent form in the latter part of the 16th century. The haiku is a 17-syllable verse form divided into successive phrases or lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.
Basho (his real name was Matsuo Manefusa) was born in 1644 near Kyoto, Japan. He was one of six children in a family of samurai. Basho started out as a samurai warrior in the service of a local lord.
After his lord’s death in 1666 he wandered about Japan in search of imagery and is known as a traveler as well as a poet. Basho is an author of some of the most beautiful travel diaries ever written in Japanese. Basho wrote poems as he traveled. He wrote about the sights and landscapes he saw.
In 1672, at the age of 29, Basho went to Edo (modern Tokyo).
In 1680, he began his life as a hermit of poetry in a house built by his students. They planted a basho, or banana plant, in the yard. That plant was the source of his pen name. In winter 1682 Edo once again became the victim of a huge fire. The fire destroyed Basho’s house and he nearly died in the flames. In September 1683 with the help of pupils he built a new house and planted a banana again.
In 1683 he published the haiku collection entitled Winter Days.
In 1686 Spring Days was compiled by followers of Basho
In the autumn of 1688 Basho went to Sarashina to view the moon. He recorded his impressions in The Sarashina Trip (Sarashina Kiko).
In 1690 Basho lived for a time in quiet retirement at the Genju-an near Lake Biwa and wrote an account of this stay.
In the spring of 1694 Basho went to his birthplace, where he became ill. Basho wrote a final poem on his own death:‘‘Stricken while journeying/ my dreams still wander about/ but on withered fields.’’ He died on October 12, 1694 in Osaka.
A crater on Mercury was named after Basho.