A frog jumps in— the sound of water. Tired with a sedentary life, in he embarked on the first of his many trips, traveling to Mount Fuji and Ise. His art reached its greatest form during his five-month trip to the Deep North in , during which he wrote his masterpiece The Narrow Road to the Deep North developing his concept of sabi, the identification of man with natural beauty. Basho died in shortly after leaving Kyoto on another trip, and is buried in the town of Otsu.
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Station 19 - Tsubo no Ishibumi Relying solely on the drawings of Kaemon which served as a guide, pushed along the Narrow Road to the Deep North, and came to the place where tall sedges were growing in clusters.
This was the home of the famous sedge mats of Tofu. Even now it is the custom of the people of this area to send carefully woven mats as tribute to the governor each year.
I found the stone monument of Tsubo no Ishibumi on the ancient site of the Taga castle in the village of Ichikawa. The monument was about six feet tall and three feet wide, and the engraved letters were still visible on its surface through thick layers of moss.
According to the date given at the end of the inscription, this monument was erected during the reign of Emperor Shomu , and had stood here ever since, winning the increasing admiration of poets through the years. In this ever changing world where mountains crumble, rivers change their courses, roads are deserted, rocks are buried, and old trees yield to young shoots, it was nothing short of a miracle that this monument alone had survived the battering of a thousand years to be the living memory of the ancients.
I felt as if I were in the presence of the ancients themselves, and, forgetting all the troubles I had suffered on the road, rejoiced in the utter happiness of this joyful moment, not without tears in my eyes. Station 20 - Shiogama Stopping briefly at the River Noda no Tamagawa and the so-called Rock in the Offing , I came to the pine woods called Sue no Matsuyama , where I found a temple called Masshozan and a great number of tombstones scattered among the trees.
It was a depressing sight indeed, for young or old, loved or loving, we must all go to such a place at the end of our lives. I entered the town of Shiogama hearing the ding-dong of the curfew. Later in the evening, I had a chance to hear a blind minstrel singing to his lute. His songs were different from either the narrative songs of the Heike or the traditional songs of dancing, and were called Okujoruri Dramatic Narratives of the Far North.
I must confess that the songs were a bit too boisterous, when chanted so near my ears, but I found them not altogether unpleasing, for they still retained the rustic flavor of the past. The following morning, I rose early and did homage to the great god of the Myojin Shrine of Shiogama. I was deeply impressed by the fact that the divine power of the gods had penetrated even to the extreme north of our country, and I bowed in humble reverence before the altar.
I noticed an old lantern in front of the shrine. According to the inscription on its iron window, it was dedicated by Izumi no Saburo in the third year of Bunji My thought immediately flew back across the span of five hundred years to the days of this most faithful warrior.
It was already close to noon when I left the shrine. I hired a boat and started for the islands of Matsushima. After two miles or so on the sea, I landed on the sandy beach of Ojima Island. Station 21 - Matsushima Much praise has already been lavished on the wonders of the islands of Matsushima. Yet if further praise is possible, I would like to say that here is the most beautiful spot in the whole country of Japan, and that the beauty of these islands is not in the least inferior to the beauty of Lake Dotei or Lake Seiko in China.
The islands are situated in a bay about three miles wide in every direction and open to the sea through a narrow mouth on the south-east side. Just as the River Sekko in China is made full at each swell of the tide, so is this bay filled with the brimming water of the ocean and the innumerable islands are scattered over it from one end to the other.
Tall islands point to the sky and level ones prostrate themselves before the surges of water. Islands are piled above islands, and islands are joined to islands, so that they look exactly like parents caressing their children or walking with them arm in arm. The pines are of the freshest green and their branches are curved in exquisite lines, bent by the wind constantly blowing through them. Indeed, the beauty of the entire scene can only be compared to the most divinely endowed of feminine countenances , for who else could have created such beauty but the great god of nature himself?
My pen strove in vain to equal this superb creation of divine artifice. Ojima Island where I landed was in reality a peninsula projecting far out into the sea. This was the place where the priest Ungo had once retired, and the rock on which he used to sit for meditation was still there.
I noticed a number of tiny cottages scattered among the pine trees and pale blue threads of smoke rising from them.
I wondered what kind of people were living in those isolated houses, and was approaching one of them with a strange sense of yearning, when, as if to interrupt me, the moon rose glittering over the darkened sea, completing the full transformation to a night-time scene.
I lodged in an inn overlooking the bay, and went to bed in my upstairs room with all the windows open. As I lay there in the midst of the roaring wind and driving clouds, I felt myself to be in a world totally different from the one I was accustomed to.
My companion Sora wrote: Clear voiced cuckoo, The silver wings of a crane To span the islands of Matsushima. I myself tried to fall asleep, supressing the surge of emotion from within, but my excitement was simply too great. I finally took out my notebook from my bag and read the poems given me by my friends at the time of my departure - Chinese poem by Sodo, a waka by Hara Anteki, haiku by Sampu and Dakushi, all about the islands of Matsushima.
I went to the Zuiganji temple on the eleventh. This temple was founded by Makabe no Heishiro after he had become a priest and returned from China, and was later enlarged by the Priest Ungo into a massive temple with seven stately halls embellished with gold. The priest I met at the temple was the thirty-second in descent from the founder.
I also wondered in my mind where the temple of the much admired Priest Kenbutsu could have been situated. Station 22 - Ishinomaki I left for Hiraizumi on the twelfth. I wanted to see the pine tree of Aneha and the bridge of Odae on my way.
So I followed a lonely mountain trail trodden only by hunters and woodcutters, but somehow I lost my way and came to the port of Ishinomaki. There were hundreds of ships, large and small, anchored in the harbor , and countless streaks of smoke continually rising from the houses that thronged the shore.
I was pleased to see this busy place, though it was mere chance that had brought me here, and began to look for a suitable place to stay. Strangely enough however, no one offered me hospitality.
After much inquiring, I found a miserable house, and, spending an uneasy night, I wandered out again on the following morning on a road that was totally unknown to me. Looking across to the ford of Sode, the meadow of Obuchi and the pampas- moor of Mano , I pushed along the road that formed the embankment of a river. Sleeping overnight at Toima, where the long, swampish river came to an end at last , I arrived at Hiraizumi after wandering some twenty miles in two days.
Station 23 - Hiraizumi It was here that the glory of three generations of the Fujiwara family passed away like a snatch of empty dream. Mount Kinkei alone retained its original shape. As I climbed one of the foothills called Takadate, where Lord Yoshitsune met his death, I saw the River Kitakami running through the plains of Nambu in its full force, and its tributary, Koromogawa, winding along the site of the Izumigashiro castle and pouring into the big river directly below my eyes.
The ruined house of Lord Yasuhira was located to the north of the barrier-gate of Koromogaseki, thus blocking the entrance from the Nambu area and forming a protection against barbarous intruders from the north. Indeed, many a feat of chivalrous valor was repeated here during the short span of the three generations, but both the actors and the deeds have long been dead and passed into oblivion. When a country is defeated, there remain only mountains and rivers, and on a ruined castle in spring only grasses thrive.
I sat down on my hat and wept bitterly till I almost forgot time. A thicket of summer grass Is all that remains Of the dreams and ambitions Of ancient warriors.
Of the frosty hair of Kanefusa Wavering among The white blossoms of unohana - written by Sora The interiors of the two sacred buildings of whose wonders I had often heard with astonishment were at last revealed to me. In the library of sutras were placed the statues of the three nobles who governed this area , and enshrined in the so called Gold Chapel were the coffins containing their bodies, and under the all-devouring grass, their treasures scattered, their jewelled doors broken and their gold pillars crushed, but thanks to the outer frame and a covering of tiles added for protection, they had survived to be a monument of at least a thousand years.
Even the long rain of May Has left it untouched - Aglow in the sombre shade. Station 24 - Dewagoe Turning away from the high road leading to the provinces of Nambu , I came to the village of Iwate, where I stopped overnight. The next day I looked at the Cape of Oguro and the tiny island of Mizu, both in a river, and arrived by way of Naruko hot spring at the barrier-gate of Shitomae which blocked the entrance to the province of Dewa.
The gate-keepers were extremely suspicious, for very few travellers dared to pass this difficult road under normal circumstances. I was admitted after long waiting, so that darkness overtook me while I was climbing a huge mountain.
A storm came upon us and I was held up for three days. Bitten by fleas and lice, I slept in a bed, A horse urinating all the time Close to my pillow. According to the gate-keeper there was a huge body of mountains obstructing my way to the province of Dewa, and the road was terribly uncertain. So I decided to hire a guide. The gate-keeper was kind enough to find me a young man of tremendous physique, who walked in front of me with a curved sword strapped to his waist and a stick of oak gripped firmly in his hand.
I myself followed him, afraid of what might happen on the way. What the gate-keeper had told me turned out to be true. The mountains were so thickly covered with foliage and the air underneath was so hushed that I felt as if I were groping my way in the dead of night.
There was not even the cry of a single bird to be heard, and the wind seemed to breathe out black soot through every rift in the hanging clouds. I pushed my way through thick undergrowth of bamboo, crossing many streams and stumbling over many rocks, till at last I arrived at the village of Mogami after much shedding of cold sweat. My guide congratulated me by saying that I was indeed fortunate to have crossed the mountains in safety, for accidents of some sort had always happened on his past trips.
I thanked him sincerely and parted from him. However, fear lingered in my mind some time after that. Station 25 - Obanazawa I visited Seifu in the town of Obanazawa.
He was a rich merchant and yet a man of a truly poetic turn of mind. He had a deep understanding of the hardships of the wandering journey, for he himself had travelled frequently to the capital city.
He invited me to stay at his place as long as I wished and tried to make me comfortable in every way he could. I felt quite at home, As if it were mine, Sleeping lazily In this house of fresh air. Crawl out bravely And show me your face, The solitary voice of a toad Beneath the silkworm nursery.
Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho