Other literary forms

(World Poets and Poetry)

The literary works of Matsuo Bash (mah-tsew-oh bah-shoh) are difficult to classify, even for those acquainted with Japanese literary history. Bash is popularly known as the greatest of allhaiku poets, although the literary form was not defined and named until two hundred years after his death. Modern collections labeled “Bash’s haiku” are generally bits and pieces taken from his travel journals and renku (linked poems). In a sense, all Bash’s literary works are broader and more complex than the seventeen-syllable haiku for which he is remembered. The seven major anthologies of his school, listed above, contain hokku (opening verses) and renku composed by Bash and his disciples, as well as an occasional prose piece. Besides hokku and renku, Bash is known for his haibun, a combination of terse prose and seventeen-syllable hokku generally describing his pilgrimages to famous sites in Japan. His best-known travel journals include Nozarashi kik (1687; The Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton, 1966), Oku no hosomichi (1694; The Narrow Road to the Deep North, 1933), Oi no kobumi (1709; The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, 1966), and Sarashina kik (1704; A Visit to Sarashina Village, 1957). Bash’s conversations on poetry were preserved by disciples, and his surviving letters, numbering more than a hundred, are treasured today.