Evanescence and Form via Basho

Unfortunately I didn’t have a lyrical moment again this week.

This week, we dove deeper into the concepts of evanescence and form using Basho’s The Narrow Road to Oku. Not only does Basho’s poetry reflect the relationship between evanescence and form, but his style itself exemplifies the concepts. Basho’s style is a blend of evanescence and form in that it respects the old rules of poetry while still being innovative (Inouye 75). However, I must say that I don’t agree with Ueda’s idea that Basho’s poetry is “impersonal.” Basho’s goal was to “‘explore the relationship’ between the world of the road and his inner world of imaginings and memories” (Inouye 78). I understand that Basho was trying to be selfless, but I don’t think it’s possible to look at the world without imposing your own feelings upon it. In the poem on page 77 of Evanescence and Form about loneliness, Ueda claims that the loneliness Basho refers to is not his own, but “an impersonal atmosphere, a mood created by a natural landscape.” Again, I don’t agree with Ueda and I found that loneliness was a recurring theme throughout The Narrow Road to Oku. In the early stages of his journey, Basho visited a priest living underneath a “huge chestnut tree” (Basho 107). Although the tree clearly had a companion (so to speak) Basho wrote a poem of loneliness: “The chestnut by the eaves/In magnificent bloom/Passes unnoticed/By men of this world.” To me it seems that Basho was projecting his own loneliness onto what he saw. In my opinion, the best parts of The Narrow Road to Oku  were the ones where Basho was extremely moved by the relationship between evanescence and form. At one of the shrines he visited, Basho found a rock engraved with a memorial to an old castle. Moss had grown over the engraved letters, but the message was still legible and this moved Basho to tears. I related to Basho in this moment. The fact that this small message had withstood “the battering of a thousand years” and “this ever-changing world” is quite beautiful (Basho 113). That small piece of human history had withstood evanescence. Later on his journey, Basho wept again, but for the opposite reason: evanescence had prevailed over the form imposed by humans on nature. Basho came upon the ruins of an old castle and wrote: “A thicket of summer grass/Is all that remains/Of the dreams and ambitions/Of ancient warriors” (Basho 118).  Here I can also relate to the intense emotions Basho felt. We are helpless to evanescence, nothing we can do will stop things from ever changing. Overall, I quite enjoyed Basho’s tale. Although I did find it strange that he kept using the singular “I” when he had a companion for almost his entire journey.

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One Response to Evanescence and Form via Basho

  1. Hi Nina,
    I have to disagree with you. I found Busho’s poetry to be very impersonal, similar to Ueda. I used the poem about the concubines under one roof on page 132 as an example of this in my essay, and I see similar themes in other poems. This made the poems much more special though, I believe. It makes them timeless. Without imposing his ideas and feelings on his poetry, we can experience the same thing Busho did, unadultered, centuries after the fact. I found Ueda’s quotes striking at first too. But looking back I can definitely see where he was coming from.

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