Encountering the Japanese tradition of haiku when I was a teenager had a profound influence on my life. For years, much of the energy I devoted to writing was spent trying to craft haiku.
Here is a brief essay / tribute to the great haiku master, Matsuo Basho, which explores the gentle philosophy behind his art.
Bashō was an exceptional poet, but he did not believe in the modern idea of “art for art’s sake.” Instead, he hoped that his poetry would bring his readers into special mental states valued by Zen. His poetry reflects two of the most important Zen ideals: wabi and sabi. Wabi, for Bashō, meant satisfaction with simplicity and austerity, while sabi refers to a contented solitude. (These are the same mindsets sought in the well-known Zen tea ceremony defined by Rikyu). It was nature, more than anything else, that was thought to foster wabi and sabi, and it is therefore unsurprisingly one of Bashō’s most frequent topics. Take this spring scene, which appears to ask so little of the world, and is attuned to an appreciation of the everyday:
by peach blossoms
Bashō’s poetry is of an almost shocking simplicity at the level of theme. There are no analyses of politics or love triangles or family dramas. The point is to remind readers that what really matters is to be able to be content with our own company, to appreciate the moment we are in and to be attuned to the very simplest things life has to offer: the changing of the seasons, the sound of our neighbours laughing across the street, the little surprises we encounter when we travel.
Read the entire essay here.