Into the Interior

Poetry Ireland News November/December 2013

every day is a journey,
and the journey itself is home

I am reading the travel diaries of Matsuo Basho, Japan's most famous haiku master. I picture him sewing patches onto his already well-patched old cotton trousers, settling the battered straw hat on his head, pinning a poem to the door of his hut, then resuming his wandering.

wake butterfly
it's late, we've miles
to go together

On his journey to the interior, Basho trudges through deep snow, crosses mountains, wades into swollen streams: frail, ill, spirit-driven. All is hardship. And all is transformed into haiku.

By perfecting his craft he perfects his life; lives haiku through senses and the heart.

father and mother
long gone, suddenly return
in the pheasant's cry

Basho reduces life to its essentials. He enters the life of ordinary things, strives to produce poetry in simple, artless language, tires to capture the moment; each haiku a breath of freedom, each haiku simply elegant, elegantly simple.

I grow close to that man, Matsuo Basho, his love of things old, worn and simple.

His humour:

these winter showers –
even the monkey reaches
for a raincoat

His compassion:

an aging peach tree –
don't strip and scatter its leaves
cold autumn wind

On his deathbed he could joke: those flies like having a sick man around.

I weep for Matsuo Basho as he breathes his last breath on an autumn evening more than three centuries ago.

now a cuckoo's song
carries the haiku master
right out of this world

Michael Massey’s publication credits include Poetry Ireland ReviewThe Stinging Fly and THE SHOp. His most recent collection is Sifting Through Ashes (Lapwing Press). The haiku in this essay, written by Matsuo Basho, are translated by Sam Hamill.

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