Bashô's Narrow Road to the Deep North

Narrow Road to the Deep North is the most famous of Bashô's travel accounts and details his journey to the then remote reaches of northern Japan. In this diary, Bashô, through his highly accomplished mixture of poetry and prose, not only takes readers through the details of his actual journey but also takes them on a spiritual journey as well.

Excerpt from Narrow Road to the Deep North

Days and months are travelers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind — filled with a strong desire to wander.

In this little book of travel is included everything under the sky — not only that which is hoary and dry but also that which is young and colorful, not only that which is strong and imposing but also that which is feeble and ephemeral. As we turn every corner of the Narrow Road to the Deep North, we sometimes stand up unawares to applaud and we sometimes fall flat to resist the agonizing pains we feel in the depths of our hearts. There are also times when we feel like taking to the road ourselves, seizing the raincoat lying near by, or times when we feel like sitting down till our legs take root, enjoying the scene we picture before our eyes.

From The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, translated by Yuasa Nobuyuki (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1966), 97, 143.

Discussion Question and Classroom Exercise

  1. What is meant by the expression "journey through life"? How does Bashô use his trip to the north of Japan as a metaphor for the experience of life?
  2. Go on an excursion and write your own travel diary, mixing poetry and prose. You should not have to go far to find poetic or philosophical inspiration.