Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374
Written by Matsuo Munefusa—or known by pen name, Matsuo Basho—The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a poetic diary or travel narrative. It is literature that was revered during the Edo Period, a time in Japan that was characterized by social order, enjoyment of culture and arts and economic growth. In this narrative, Basho writes this nonfiction based on his travels with another companion, Kawai Sora.
Relying on his talents as an essayist and a poet, Basho was known as a teacher of haikai, a special type of serious poetry. He travels to numerous historical destinations in Japan and then records it as poetry. His first of four adventures starts in the fall of 1684. Yet, it is his third sojourn that provides the basis for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It was here that he visits the under-developed areas of Japan, the northern area of Japan’s largest island, Honshu. Basho and Sora visit a well-known temple, mountains and numerous villages along their way.
As they visit these mostly historical sites, they write poetry that helps the reader to travel back in time and space. Basho and his friend also meet and visit with interesting people and record their adventures in poetry. They visit well-known castles, mountains, trees and stones that evoke a sense of wonder and the beauty of nature. In the fall of 1689, Basho’s companion could not continue the journey as he becomes ill. Yet, another student of haiku travels further down the road with Basho, and they attend a special ceremony at a newly built shrine.
Another key person in the travel narrative is Soryu, who is a priest and scholar who helps Basho create the final draft of his journal. These are the main characters in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but Basho was also known as having more than two thousand students upon his death. He is widely respected for popularizing the haiku poem and creating lasting interest in Japanese tradition. Basho and his traveling companions are remembered for translating their love of Japan’s natural beauty into poetry. The memorable sites that they travel together are recorded in history. “So I must take to the road again, farewell, my friends”.
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