Basho and Wordsworth – more in common than you’d think

Basho and wordsworthIt’s a bit far for a day trip, but up in Cumbria there’s an exhibition on called Wordsworth and Basho: Walking Poets. It’s at the Wordsworth Museum, next to Dove Cottage where William Wordsworth wrote some of his greatest poetry. It features manuscripts and early printed editions of work written by Basho, Wordsworth, and Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy, who is now recognised as a significant writer in her own right, as well as new works by contemporary artists responding to the manuscripts and what originally inspired them. The theme, and the connection it makes between two such different poets, sounds fascinating.

The exhibition points out that Basho and Wordsworth both pioneered the use of everyday language in poetry, both used the natural world to express their ideas, and both composed their poetry as they walked. Each found creative inspiration in nature, and for each, the act of walking itself was a creative process.

Basho’s most famous walk was a journey he took in 1689, walking six hundred kilometres into Japan’s northern provinces, accompanied by his apprentice Kawai Sora. It took them a hundred and fifty days, and he described it in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, one of the great classics of Japanese literature.

Narrow Road to the Deep NorthWordsworth is most associated with the Lake District, which he called “A sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”. According to the Lake District National Park website, many places vie for the honour of being the daffodils of the famous poem, but the most likely place is between Patterdale and Gowbarrow by Ullswater.

Daffodils

Photo: Lake District National Park

Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere for eight years, beginning in 1799. You can visit Dove Cottage, where little has changed since Wordsworth’s day.

Dove Cottage Photo: Wordsworth Museum

Dove Cottage Photo: Wordsworth Museum

Basho had a number of retreats where he used to write. The only one that remains today is the Minomushian. To commemorate the completion of the Minomushian in March 1688, Basho wrote a haiku: “minomushi no ne wo kikini koyo kusa no io (come and listen to the sound of bagworms; thatched hermitage)”.

Minomushian Photo: Basho Memorial Musuum

Minomushian Photo: Basho Memorial Museum

The Minomushian is now part of the Basho Memorial Museum in Iga-Ueno in Mie Prefecture, which is between Osaka and Nagoya. Basho was born in Iga-Ueno, and his birthplace is also open to visitors.

Basho's birthplace Photo Basho Memorial Museum

Basho’s birthplace Photo: Basho Memorial Museum

Two Basho-related exhibits come from the museum; a replica of the manuscript of the Sarashina Kiko travel poetry diary in a scroll format, designated a national important cultural asset, and a replica of an early handwritten copy of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, bound in traditional Japanese style. Basho designed the cover and a 17th-century chirographer penned the pages of the original, which is also designated a national important cultural asset.

Basho: Sarashina Kiko Photo: Asahi Shimbun

Basho: Sarashina Kiko Photo: Asahi Shimbun

Basho: Early print of The narrow Road to the Deep North Photo: Asahi Shimbun

Basho: Early print of The narrow Road to the Deep North Photo: Asahi Shimbun

The exhibition continues until 2 November and the Wordsworth Museum is open daily 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Adult entrance £7.75.

PS If you’re interested in classic haiku, I post a new one every Thursday over on franpickering.com.

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