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The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 28, 1967

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Matsuo Basho (1644-94) was the greatest of the Japanese haiku poets. The vitality and flexibility his genius gave to the strict 17-syllable form brought haiku to a level of immaculate perfection.

In later life Basho turned to Zen Buddhism and the travel sketches in this volume reflect his attempts to cast off earthly attachments and reach out to spiritual fulfillment. The sketches are written in the haibun style--a linking of verse and prose. The title piece, in particular, reveals Basho striving to discover a vision of eternity in the transient world around him and is his personal evocation of the mysteries of the universe.

About the Author

Basho, the Japanese poet and diarist, was born in Iga-ueno near Kyoto in 1644. He spent his youth as companion to the son of the local lord, and with him he studied the writing of seventeen-syllable verse. In 1667 he moved to Edo (now Tokyo) where he continued to write verse. He eventually became a recluse, living on the outskirts of Edo in a hut. When he traveled he relied entirely on the hospitality of temples and fellow-poets. In his writings he was strongly influenced by the Zen sect of Buddhism.

Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (February 28, 1967)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140441859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441857
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Beatty on April 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
With the pressures and obligations that are present in today's fast paced world, it is important to enjoy life in all of its simplicity.
The master Haiku poet, Basho, lived in Japan during the late 1600's. Born into a noble class, he felt his life was more fulfilled living as a simple peasant. Valued for his inability to distinguish the difference between economic barriers, he was well respected and highly sought after as a teacher.
The 1000 Mile Pilgrimage
Travel and nature were very much a part of his life. During the spring of his 46th year, Basho set off on a 1,000 mile pilgrimage. Travelling by horse and on foot, he bathed in cool streams and rested in fragrant meadows. His amazing journeys are recorded in several journals and haiku collections called Back Roads to Far Towns and The Narrow Road to the Deep North. His philosophy was simple. Everything he needed to know about life was learned from nature
When he came upon a little violet hiding shyly in the grass on a mountain pathway, it whispered it's secret to him. "Modesty, gentleness and simplicity," it said, "these are truly beautiful things." Glistening drops of dew on a flower had words of wisdom for him as well, "Purity is the loveliest thing in life", they said. Basho once wrote, "Real poetry is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to write it".
Everyone who reads Basho's words will take away something different. Enjoying nature, the ability to look beyond social boundaries and living a simple life make Basho's writing an encouraging and pleasant way to meditate on what life has to offer.
"The months and days are wayfarers of a hundred generations, and the years that come and go are also travelers. Those who float all of their lives on a boat, or reach their old age leading a horse by the bit make travel out of each day, and out of each day their life is made." ....Basho
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jomo K on March 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
As an English teacher in Japan on and off for the past 20 years, I am always asked, on meeting new students, why I came to Japan. The answer, for me, is simple: this book. You see, as a college senior, I found myself drifting in no direction, with no roots or life plan. A slacker? Perhaps. But as I studied for my last final exam, I stood to ward off sleep, stretched, and wandered aimlessly through the library stacks until I found myself immersed, by chance mind you, in the Japanese poetry section. I took out the first volume I saw, Basho's classic Narrow Road to the Deep North: I was hooked from the first line.

Is this story important?

I think so. For, in all honesty, this "little book" changed my life - it really is THAT good!

Although this 17th century text is obstensibly a travel diary of prose poems and haiku gathered from Basho's peripatetic wanderings through nothern Tokugawa Era Japan, the "narrow road to the deep north" is merely a metaphor for our own, personal inward journey...and it was, for me, an epiphany. My dream, from that moment on was to move to Japan, study kanji, and ultimately read Narrow Road's original text. (Having accomplished my goal, I must admit I find this translation to be inferior to, say, The Narrow Road to Oku, translated by Donald Keene.)

Still, this penguin version (with a new cover, no less) remains a sentimental favorite, if for nothing else, its wonderfully clear, no nonesense approach to Basho.

Thus, I strongly recommend it for its psychological depth (belied by a disarming stark surface simplicity). I think that even readers with ZERO knowledge of Japan, haiku, or Buddhism (like me, years back) will find that Basho's profound and spare use of words strike - like a temple bell at dusk - at something deep inside, something universal.

Buy it today!
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62 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Ogara on November 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Poetry translation is a thankless task, and in the final analysis it is rarely successful. Even when it is successful, it is usually for the wrong reasons. Lessing's translations of Shakespeare into German are a case in point; they are something of a minor classic in German literature, but that's because Lessing was a good poet himself. That doesn't mean that his translations are faithful.
Oriental poetry in English has a similar fate. We are used to accepting translations of Chinese poetry into blank verse, which is the last thing it resembles structurally in Chinese. However, it is true that the sentiment that we expect in blank verse tends to resemble the sentiments expressed in Chinese poetry, although it would be a mistake to carry that too far.
Then there is haiku, of which Basho is probably the greatest master. We all think we know what haiku is supposed to be - seventeen syllables (5-7-5), no rhyme, and a "surprise" at the end. This has become so familiar that the haiku has actually become a genre in English poetry. It doesn't take into account the almost stream-of-consciousness sensibility that haiku normally express in Japanese, and it can't, due to the limitations on what is acceptable sentence structure in English.
What I feel Mr. Yuasa achieved in his translation was to bring some of the Japanese sensibility of wabi and sabi into Basho's work, not by his translations of the poems themselves, but in his translation of Basho's commentary. This was a stroke of genius on his part. Anybody who has attempted translations of haiku feels the frustration of not being able to convey the atmosphere inherent in the poems; after all, there's only so much you can do with seventeen syllables! By letting the intimate loveliness of Basho's own commentary shine through, he provides a proper setting for the poems themselves. An excellent bit of work.
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