Matsuo Basho

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Matsuo Bashō, drawing by Yosa Buson

Matsuo Bashō ( Japanese 松尾 芭蕉 ; * 1644 in Akasaka, Iga Province , today Akasaka, Ueno , Iga , Mie Prefecture ; † November 28, 1694 in Osaka ), actually Matsuo Munefusa ( 松尾 宗 房 ), was a Japanese poet. He is an important representative of the Japanese form of verse haiku . Bashō and his students renewed the humorous playful Haikai poetry and elevated it to the rank of serious literature.


Matsuo Bashō was born into a lower-ranking samurai family, whose world he opposed. Instead of pursuing the military career that was intended for him, he became a wanderer who studied the path and history of Zen and turned to classical Chinese poetry . Bashō's father died in 1656; it is possible that the 12-year-old Bashō was already in the service of Todo Yoshitada , a young relative of the ruling feudal lord. Bashō shared with him the passion for Haikai no Renga , a form of alternating, communal poetry mostly in 14 and 17 mores .

With the sudden death of Yoshitada in 1666, Bashō's service for the feudal lord ended and, at the age of 22, he probably retired to the solitude of a Buddhist monastery near Kyoto , where his earliest verses, still preserved, were written. From 1667 he probably lived in Fukagawa near Edo (today Tokyo ) with his friend Sugiyama Sampu , where he began to write haiku and immerse himself in poetry. Although Bashō's verses in 1667, 1669 and 1671 appeared in different anthologies , the biographical records of Bashō's life up to 1676 largely break off.

In 1676, together with another poet in Edo, he wrote renku a few hundred verses long . Bashō's poetry soon enjoyed great attention in Nihonbashi's literary circles. Subsequently he was tutored by Kitamura Kigin (1624-1705). In 1680 he already had 20 students whom he taught and whose best poems were published as Tōsei-montei Dokugin-Nijū kasen ( 桃 青 門 弟 独 吟 二十 歌仙 , German about the best poems of Tōsei's twenty students ). His students also built his first hut out of banana trees ( 芭蕉 庵 , bashō-an , especially Japanese fiber bananas ), which is where his poetic pseudonym comes from. Despite his success, Bashō was lonely, which served as an occasion to turn to Zen meditation.

Two years later, in 1682, Bashō's home burned down, and his mother died in Ueno the following year. Bashō traveled to Yamura in Kai Province (today: Tsuru , Yamanashi Prefecture ) for a few months . In the same year, his students built a new, second Bashō hut. The following year, 1684, his student Takarai Kikaku published the anthology Minashiguri ( 虚 栗 ). In the winter of the same year, Basho went on his first of four hikes, which lasted until 1685. The literary result of this hike was the "weathered skeleton". In addition, Bashō led a group of poets in Nagoya who wrote "The Winter Sun".

Returning from his trip, Bashō wrote the "Critical Notes on New Year's Renku" in 1686. After a short stay in Edo, he began his second hike to Kashima in 1687 , which he described in "A Visit to the Shrine of Kashima". He also took part as a judge in a haiku competition published in the "Wide Plain". His journey took him along the Tōkaidō , from which the famous works “The Notes of a Weathered Schoolbag” and “A Visit to the Shrine of Sarashina” emerged.

Again in 1688, after a year, Bashō returned to Edo, and a year later he began a hike again, his third, this time to the northern provinces of Honshū . On this hike, Bashō collected material for his “ Oku no Hosomichi ” ( 奥 の 細 道 , for example “The narrow path to the deep north” or “On a narrow path through the hinterland”), which became a classic in Japanese literature.

During the last ten years of his life, Basho traveled extensively. He drew pictures to stimulate his contemplative poetry. He also worked with local poets in the verse form of renga, which is closely related to haiku . In addition, Bashō also wrote Haibun , a short prose poetry in the form of travel diaries, such as B. the famous Oku no Hosomichi (1689). In 1690 he visited friends in Kyoto and spent a few summer months at Lake Biwa . During the following year he spent a few weeks in the "House of the Falling Persimmons", where he wrote "The Saga Diary" before returning to Edo towards the end of the year. The publication of “The Monkey's Coat” also dates from the same year.

In 1692 the third Basho hut was built, in which he locked himself and wrote the work known today as "Critical Commentaries on an Autumn Night". In 1694, "A Sack of Charcoal" was published, and Bashō embarked on another long summer trip. Seriously ill, he died in Osaka on November 28th.

The crater Basho on Mercury is named after him.

Bashō's haiku

The structure of his haiku reflects the simplicity of his meditative way of life. He endowed many of his verses with a mystical quality and tried to express the great, earth-shattering themes through simple images of nature, from the full moon in autumn to the fleas in his hut. Bashō gave the haiku a whole new grace. He deepened the zen idea in haiku and understood poetry as a lifestyle of its own ( Kadō , way of poetry). Bashō firmly believed that poetry could be a source of enlightenment. "Get enlightenment, then return to the world of normal humanity," advised Basho. And further: “Don't follow in the footsteps of the old masters, but look for what they were looking for”. His attention to the cosmos of nature developed the verse form of the haiku from a hitherto insignificant pastime of the court aristocracy to a main genre of Japanese poetry. Example: "There in the fisherman's basket - what fleeting moon dream - the octopus dreams".

The frog haiku

The so-called "frog haiku" is the most famous haiku bashō and is one of the most cited haiku ever:

Japanese transcription Translation variant Translation variant Translation variant

古 池 や
蛙 飛 び 込 む
水 の 音

furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

The old pond:
a frog leaps into it.
Oh! The sound of the water.

The old pond.
A frog jumps in -
the sound of the water.

Ancient pond.
A frog jumps into it.

Works in German translation

  • Matsuo Bashō, translated by Ralph-Rainer Wuthenow ; Illustrations: Leiko Ikemura . 111 haiku . Zurich: Ammann, 1987, ISBN 3-250-01047-2 .
  • Matsuo Bashō, translated by Ralph-Rainer Wuthenow ; Illustrations: Leiko Ikemura . Hundred and eleven haiku . Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2009, ISBN 978-3-10-005223-0 . (New edition December 2014).
  • Matsuo Bashō: Sarumino. The monkey coat . Edited and translated from Japanese by GS Dombrady. Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Mainz 1994, ISBN 3-87162-034-3 .
  • Matsuo Bashō: On narrow paths through the hinterland . Translated from Japanese and provided with an introduction and annotations by GS Dombrady. 4th, improved edition. Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Mainz 2011, ISBN 978-3-87162-075-1 .
  • Shōmon I. The gate of the hermitage to the banana tree. Haiku from Basho's master students Kikaku, Kyorai, Ransetsu . Edited and translated from Japanese by Ekkehard May. 2nd edition. Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Mainz 2005, ISBN 3-87162-050-5 .
  • Shōmon II. Haiku by Bashô's master students: Jōsō, Izen, Bonchō, Kyoriku, Sampû, Shikō, Yaba . Edited and translated from Japanese as well as with an introduction and annotations by Ekkehard May. Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Mainz 2002, ISBN 3-87162-057-2 .
  • Hoccus . Edited and translated by H.-C. Günther, Verlag Traugott Bautz, Nordhausen 2014, ISBN 978-3-88309-866-1 .
  • Haibun . Edited and translated by Ekkehard May, Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Mainz 2014, ISBN 978-3-87162-082-9 .
  • New Years Day . Edited by Elena Moreno Sobrino. German translation by A.Gerhard. Calambac Verlag, Saarbrücken 2016, ISBN 978-3-943117-90-5 .
  • Do not do for me . Edited by Elena Moreno Sobrino. German translation by A. Gerhard. Calambac Verlag, Saarbrücken 2016, ISBN 978-3-943117-91-2 .

Literary reception

Marion Poschmann : The Pine Islands : The private lecturer Gilbert Silvester travels to Japan in a professional and private crisis and visits stations on the Matsuo Basho's hike from Tokyo to Matsushima ( Oku no Hosomichi ): Blossoms in Ueno Park, Sumida River in Senju, Sue Berg the last pine and stone overgrown with cripple pines in the sea near Shiogama. He got to know other sanctuaries (Nikko, Ashino) through poetry. From these role models he draws his inspiration for haiku poems. At the destination of his journey, on Ojima, under the impression of the moonlit bay of the pine islands, he has a new experience of nature that could be the basis of his changed attitude towards life.


  • Yukio Kotani : Bashô, Goethe and symbolic thinking. In: Volker Zotz (Ed.): Interfaces. Buddhist encounters with shamanism and western culture. Festschrift for Armin Gottmann on his 70th birthday. Kairos Edition, Luxembourg 2013, ISBN 978-2-919771-04-2 , pp. 105–120.
  • Wittkamp, ​​Robert F .: The anti-landscape at Bashō . Additions to the criticism of the postmodern concept of landscape. In: Die deutsche Literatur / Doitsu bungaku (Kansai University), 48, pp. 107–126, 2004 (contained in: Wittkamp 2012, see entry Oku no Hosomichi )

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. clearing. No. 5, 1984, p. 60.
  2. ^ In the Suhrkamp translation by Roland Barthes : Das Reich derzeichen . Frankfurt am Main 1981.
  3. ^ In the DTV translation by Dietrich Krusche : HAIKU. Japanese poems. Munich 1994.
  4. Alan Watts: The Way of Zen.
  5. Suhrkamp Berlin, 2017.