The Narrow Road to the Interior (Oku no Hosomichi)

Matsuo Basho

“Basho’s study in eternity”
“one of the major texts of classical Japanese literature”
“as if the very soul of Japan had itself written it.”
“Japanese Zen scholar D. T. Suzuki has described Basho’s philosophy in writing poetry as one requiring that both ‘subject and object were entirely annihilated’.”

Chapter I

The months and days are the travellers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.
Last year I spent wandering along the seacoast. In autumn I returned to my cottage on the river and swept away the cobwebs. Gradually the year drew to its close. When spring came and there was mist in the air, I thought of crossing the Barrier of Shirakawa into Oku. I seemed to be possessed by the spirits of wanderlust, and they all but deprived me of my senses. The guardian spirits of the road beckoned, and I could not settle down to work.
I patched my torn trousers and changed the cord on my bamboo hat. To strengthen my legs for the journey I had moxa burned on my shins. By then I could think of nothing but the moon at Matsushima. When I sold my cottage and moved to Sampu’s villa, to stay until I started on my journey, I hung this poem on a post in my hut:

kusa no to mo Even a thatched hut
sumikawaru yo zo    May change with a new owner
hina no ie Into a doll’s house.

This became the first of an eight-verse sequence.


Listen to the original Japanese

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You can listen to and download the entire poem at Librivox’s page

With many thanks to Japanese Classical Literature Podcast for the original reading.

This library item is part of our Mystical Poetry Collection.