the wisdom of Basho


17th century Japanese poet and master of haiku.

I’ve learned of him and his art in Creative Writing class a few weeks ago, and I bow to the master of this simply complex art. Here is some of the wisdom he has passed on the subject of poetry to peons like myself:

Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo.

Mmm… let nature speak for itself, then translate it into poetry.

The secret of poetry lies in treading the middle path between the reality and the vacuity of the world.

Is there any good in saying everything?

(Because in the art of poetry, the poet must say what’s unsaid…without saying it.)

When we observe calmly, we discover that all things have their fulfillment.

So true. The keen and (keyword) calm observer will discover things in stillness that the more irrational, hyperactive

The bones of haikai are plainness and oddness.

That last one smacks greatly of plain, odd truth.

     still alive

and frozen in one lump –

the sea slugs


(I told you he was weird. So did Basho.)

Another point about haiku.

Basho was NOT (obviously) a Christian. Keep this in mind while reading the following advice…

There are three elements in haikai. Its feeling can be called loneliness (sabi). This plays with refined dishes, but contents itself with humble fare. Its total effect can be called elegance. This lives in figured silks and embroidered brocades, but does not forget a person clad in woven straw. Its language can be called aesthetic madness.Language resides in untruth and ought to comport with truth. It is difficult to reside in truth and sport with untruth. These three elements do not exalt a humble person to heights. They put an exalted person in a low place.

As a Christian poet, we can add a new element to haiku: praise to the Creator of marvelous creation. This will inevitably change the mood from sabi to joy. The elements of humility and true that Basho speaks of are already (or should be) parts of the Christian life.

Thus…haiku is the perfect medium for praise!

I will praise Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Thy marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in Thee: I will sing praise to Thy name, O Thou most High.

(Paslm 9:1-2)


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