Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

To what extent does the view of the world found in Matsuo Bash resemble Epicureanism?

What are the obstacles to translating a Japanese haiku effectively into English?

What poets writing in English have used synesthesia in Bash’s manner?

What forms of lyric poetry seem to come closest to haiku?

Explain the effect of the “cutting word” in haiku.

What does Bash mean by “lightness”?


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aitken, Robert. A Zen Wave: Bash’s Haiku and Zen. New York: Weatherhill, 1978. One of the few studies of Bash by a Western roshi, or master teacher of Zen. This overview evaluates the poet’s work in the context of Zen philosophy, offering the claim that Bash’s haiku transcend mere nature poetry and instead serve as a way of presenting fundamental religious truths about mind, nature, and cosmos.

Caws, Mary Ann, ed. Textual Analysis: Some Readers Reading. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1986. Earl Miner’s chapter on Bash has as its main thesis that Bash has not been known in the West as he would have wished to be known. The focus of his discussion is the fact that the Western concept of mimesis, what is real and what is fiction, differs from its Eastern counterpart, opening the way to misunderstanding.

Hamill, Sam, trans. The Essential Bash. Boston: Shambhala, 1999. The introduction to this work represents Bash as a consummate writer. In this work, religious issues are significantly downplayed. Instead Hamill presents his subject as a poetic and philosophical wanderer: someone engaged in a lifelong process of literary experimentation and discovery. Particularly fascinating is the overview of Bash’s transformation from a highly derivative stylist to a powerfully original poet.

Shirane, Haruo. Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bash. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998. This work puts the poet in the position of cultural conservationist, arguing that Bash’s poems drew upon deeply held concepts of nature.

Ueda, Makoto, editor. Bash and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992. This work is a chronologically organized anthology of Bash’s poems, each accompanied by the original Japanese text (transliterated into Western characters) and literal translations. Although this anthology offers little new insight into Bash’s life or interpretations of his work, this volume does demonstrate the tremendous influence of translation on the written word.

Ueda, Makoto. Matsuo Bash. New York: Twayne, 1970. This study offers a brief biography as well as general perspectives on the author’s major works. In addition to the expected focus on haiku, it treats Bash’s renku (long, collaboratively written poems) and prose works.