The Narrow Road to the Deep North Themes
Matsuo Basho utilizes haiku poetry when writing about his travels through the northern parts of Japan in the seventeenth century. Basho and his traveling companion, Kawai Sora, travel on foot through treacherous regions, recording the beauty of nature and revered historic sites. Basho’s best works are prose passages that are mixed with haiku. As stated in the title, the "narrow" road can be related to the difficult and dangerous trek that Basho and Sora attempt on foot. One possible theme here is the overcoming of hardships as you journey through life, but then seeing your way through to victory.
Basho and Sora travel to scenic mountains, rivers, villages, and even islands. When Basho visits Matsushima, some small Japanese islands, he shouts that it is “the most beautiful place in all Japan!” When he visits a famous lagoon, which he describes as bringing him a “sense of desolate loneliness,” he also believes it is beautiful—in its own way.
They also visit historical sites, including famous castles, like Castle-on-the-Heights, which he sees as reduced to ruins when he visits it. Basho is overcome with tears of sadness upon seeing it. Yet, he believes that the beauty of the land—the rivers and mountains—remains. The theme of the beauty of Japan’s landscape is evident here. Basho is known worldwide as a famous haiku poet who wrote about the inherent beauty in all nature.
At the time of Basho’s death, he had more than two thousand students. The theme of friendship is obvious here, but these students believed in his works and admired his ability to blend prose with haiku. The Narrow Road to the Deep North displays the fact that Basho was not only a friend to his students, but he was a mentor to them as well. His students also believed in the beauty of nature and the wondrous journey called life.