Welcome, traveler, to a long ago time in a far away place.
The time is the 1600s, before America became a nation; and the
place is Japan. Our story is about Basho, a gentle poet who was
a master of a style of poetry called "haiku". Today he is much
revered in Japan, and around the world.
The Gentlest and Greatest Friend
Moon and Winds
Basho (1644 - 1694)
This story is from a children's book titled
Little Pictures of Japan, edited by author
Olive Beaupré Miller and beautifully
illustrated by Katharine Sturges. It was
originally published in 1925.
Many years ago there went wandering through Japan, sometimes on
the back of a horse,sometimes afoot, in poor pilgrim's clothes, the
kindest, most simple hearted of men...Basho, friend of moon and winds.
Though Basho was born of one of the noblest classes in Japan, and might
have been welcome in palaces, he chose to wander, and to be comrade
and teacher of men and women, boys and girls in all different stations of
life,from the lowest to the highest. Basho bathed in the running brooks,
rested in shady valleys, sought shelter from sudden rains under some tree
on the moor, and sighed with the country folk as he watched the cherry
blossoms in their last pink shower, fluttering down from the trees. Now
he slept at some country inn, stumbling in at its door at nightfall,
wearied from long hours of travelling, yet never too tired to note the
lovely wisteria vine, drooping its delicate lavender blossoms over the
veranda. Sometimes he slept in the poor hut of a peasant, but most often
his bed was out-of-doors, and his pillow a stone.
When Basho came upon a little violet hiding shyly in the grass on a
mountain pathway, it whispered its secret to him. "Modesty, gentleness,
and simplicity!" it said. "These are the truly beautiful things."
Glistening drops of dew on the petal of a flower had voice and a song
for him likewise. "Purity," they sang, "is the loveliest thing in life.
The pine tree, fresh and ever green amid winter's harshest storms,
spoke staunchly of hardy manhood; the mountains had their message
of patience, the moon its song of glory! Rivers, forests, waterfalls,
all told their secrets to Basho, and these secrets that Nature revealed
to him, he loved to show to others, for the whole of living of life was
to him one great poem, as of some holy service in the shadow of a temple.
"Real poetry," said Basho, "is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry
is better than to write it." And whenever he saw one of his young
students being rude, in a fit of anger, or otherwise acting unworthily,
he would gently lay his hand on the arm of the youth and say; "But this
is not poetry! This is not poetry."