June 21st, 2006

Egrets Reading

Bashō's Narrow Road...

Today, I received the copy of Bashō's The Narrow Road to Oku which I ordered after looking through Michael Evans' copy in Washington.

It's translated by Donald Keene, but is published bilingually in both Japanese and English on facing pages. However, what makes this particular edition so wonderful in my mind are the fabulous illustrations by Miyata Masayuki! Each haiku is illustrated with a painting. One of my favorites is the one which illustrates:

turbulent the sea --
across to Sado stretches
the Milky Way

- Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)


Oku no Hosomichi was written in 1689 and is considered one of the great classics of Japanese literature. All Japanese students read at least a portion of it in high school. If you attended school in America, did you read it in high school? Neither did I. I think that's a shame.

It's not just the haiku, the prose in the text is lovely, too. Here's a taste from the opening sentences (from the Keene translation):

The months and days are the travellers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are where their travels take them...
-Bashō