Matsuo Bash (maht-suh-oh bah-shoh), poet, essayist, critic, and writer of travel journals, was born Matsuo Kinsaku in Ueno, in the Iga Province in the western part of Honshu, the largest of the Japanese islands, in 1644. His father, Matsuo Yozaemon, is thought to have been a low-ranking samurai, and Bash entered the service of Td Yoshitada with the idea of following in that tradition. His master enjoyed writing haikai, or linked verse; thus, Bash became interested in this form of poetry and began to write poems under the name of Sb. The earliest of his surviving verses, largely humorous and with clever wordplay, date from 1662. In 1666, his master died unexpectedly, and Bash resigned his service, abandoning his hope of becoming a samurai, and began to travel. He continued to write haikai and published a collection of poems in 1672.
Also in 1672, Bash moved to Edo (now Tokyo), where he gradually developed a literary reputation. Most of the early poems are of little literary value but are historically important. He acquired a large number of students, and this enabled Bash to publish a collection of poems by twenty of these students.
Before the end of 1692, Bash moved into a small hut in the Fukugawa district of Edo and began calling himself Bash (“banana hut”) because of the association that people made between the poet and the banana trees planted near his hut. He studied Zen Buddhism for a time; some believe that Bash, although now comfortable and fairly well known, was not spiritually at peace with himself during this period of his life. His poems changed in both style and form, suggesting that he wished to break down convention and add...
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