Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho

SUNY Press
2
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Basho's Haiku offers the most comprehensive translation yet of the poetry of Japanese writer Matsuo Basho (1644–1694), who is credited with perfecting and popularizing the haiku form of poetry. One of the most widely read Japanese writers, both within his own country and worldwide, Basho is especially beloved by those who appreciate nature and those who practice Zen Buddhism. Born into the samurai class, Basho rejected that world after the death of his master and became a wandering poet and teacher. During his travels across Japan, he became a lay Zen monk and studied history and classical poetry. His poems contained a mystical quality and expressed universal themes through simple images from the natural world.

David Landis Barnhill's brilliant book strives for literal translations of Basho's work, arranged chronologically in order to show Basho's development as a writer. Avoiding wordy and explanatory translations, Barnhill captures the brevity and vitality of the original Japanese, letting the images suggest the depth of meaning involved. Barnhill also presents an overview of haiku poetry and analyzes the significance of nature in this literary form, while suggesting the importance of Basho to contemporary American literature and environmental thought.
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About the author

David Landis Barnhill is Director of Environmental Studies and Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. He is the coeditor (with Roger S. Gottlieb) of Deep Ecology and World Religions: New Essays on Sacred Ground, also published by SUNY Press, and the editor of At Home on the Earth: Becoming Native to Our Place: A Multicultural Anthology.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
Feb 1, 2012
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Pages
346
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ISBN
9780791484654
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Zen
Poetry / Asian / General
Religion / Buddhism / Zen
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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“In this, his final work, American senior Zen Roshi Robert Aitken lovingly ties together two threads, Zen practice and haiku.” —Spirituality & Health
 
Known to many as the study of quiet stillness and introspection, Zen Buddhism distinguishes itself through brilliant flashes of insight and its terseness of expression. In River of Heaven these concepts and pillars lend themselves to an exploration of Haiku, one of the most delicate and interpretive poetic forms in the world. The haiku verse form, with its rigid structure and organic description is a superb means of studying Zen modes of thought because its seventeen syllables impose a limitation that confines the poet to vital experience. In Haiku as in Buddhism, the silences are as expressive as the words.
 
In this volume, American Senior Zen Roshi Robert Aitken gives new insight into Haiku by poetic masters Basho, Issa, Buson, and Shiki. In presenting themes from Haiku and from Zen literature, Aitken illuminates the relationship between the two. Readers are certain to find this an invaluable and enjoyable experience for the remarkable revelation it offers.
 
“I am grateful for Robert Aitken’s enthusiastic sharing of poems in The River of Heaven, together with his rich personal and cultural perspectives. It is a book where the author joyfully calls each of us as readers to share in the transcendent joys of haiku.” —Juxtapositions
 
“Aitken mines the meanings in these brief gems about nature, impermanence, travel, awareness, silence, beauty, being present, the turn of the seasons, and much more.” —Spirituality & Practice
In Basho's Journey, David Landis Barnhill provides the definitive translation of Matsuo Basho's literary prose, as well as a companion piece to his previous translation, Basho's Haiku. One of the world's greatest nature writers, Basho (1644–1694) is well known for his subtle sensitivity to the natural world, and his writings have influenced contemporary American environmental writers such as Gretel Ehrlich, John Elder, and Gary Snyder. This volume concentrates on Basho's travel journal, literary diary (Saga Diary), and haibun. The premiere form of literary prose in medieval Japan, the travel journal described the uncertainty and occasional humor of traveling, appreciations of nature, and encounters with areas rich in cultural history. Haiku poetry often accompanied the prose. The literary diary also had a long history, with a format similar to the travel journal but with a focus on the place where the poet was living. Basho was the first master of haibun, short poetic prose sketches that usually included haiku.

As he did in Basho's Haiku, Barnhill arranges the work chronologically in order to show Basho's development as a writer. These accessible translations capture the spirit of the original Japanese prose, permitting the nature images to hint at the deeper meaning in the work. Barnhill's introduction presents an overview of Basho's prose and discusses the significance of nature in this literary form, while also noting Basho's significance to contemporary American literature and environmental thought. Excellent notes clearly annotate the translations.
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The Hyaku-nin-isshiu, or 'Single Verses by a Hundred People', were collected together in A.D. 1235. They are placed in approximate chronological order, and range from about the year AD 670. Perhaps what strikes one most in connection with the Hyaku-nin-isshiu is the date when the verses were written; most of them were produced before the time of the Norman Conquest (AD 1066), and one cannot but be struck with the advanced state of art and culture in Japan at a time when Europe was still in a very elementary stage of civilization. The Collection consists almost entirely of love-poems and what the editor calls picture-poems, intended to bring before the mind's eye some well-known scene in nature; and it is marvellous what effect little thumbnail sketches are compressed within thirty-one syllables. Some show the cherry blossoms which are doomed to fall, the dewdrops scattered by the wind, the mournful cry of the wild deer on the mountains, the dying crimson of the fallen maple leaves, the weird sadness of the cuckoo singing in the moonlight, and the loneliness of the recluse in the mountain wilds; while those verses which appear to be of a more cheerful type are rather of the nature of the 'Japanese smile', described by Lafcadio Hearn as a mask to hide the real feelings. Japanese poetry differs very largely from anything we are used to in the West. It has no rhyme or alliteration, and little, if any, rhythm, as we understand it. The verses in this Collection are all what are called Tanka which has five lines and thirty-one syllables, arranged thus: 5-7-5-7-7 which is an unusual metre for Western ears. For this translation the editor has adopted a five-lined verse of 8-6-8-6-6 metre, with the second, fourth, and fifth lines rhyming, in the hope of retaining at least some resemblance to the original form, while at the same time making the sound more familiar to English readers. A percentage of the net sale will be donated to charities specialising in educational scholarships. YESTERDAY'S BOOKS for TOMORROW'S EDUCATIONS
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