Who was Basho?

Matsuo Basho was born at the beginning of the Edo period in 1644 in present-day Iga City, Mie prefecture. As a youngster he served the family of Todo Shinshichiro, a samurai general in charge of the Iga region. During this period he attended to Todo Yoshitada. Yoshitada, who acquired the haikai name of Sengin, enjoyed writing in verse, and as a consequence Basho also came into contact and grew fond of haikai.

However, it was only after Yoshitada passed away and Basho left the Todo family home that he decided to take the haikai path in earnest. The break from the service of the samurai family awoke Basho to the freedom of the haikai world as he set out on his new journey. At the age of 28, Basho compiled an anthology of verses in a book entitled the Kai Oi (Shell Matching), which he dedicated to the Ueno Tenjingu (Ueno Tenjin Shrine), place of the Ubusunagami (god that protects the land of one's birth).

After this Basho left for Edo (present-day Tokyo), and evolved his own haikai style. The trend at the time was to write in a comical and fanciful style, but Basho, dissatisfied with this kind of haikai, attempted his own style that would truly touch the hearts of all people, regardless of era. Subsequently, Basho began to reveal an entirely new world of haikai.

Basho began with the journey Nozarashi-Kiko (Records of the Weather-Exposed Skeleton) in 1684, followed by others, as depicted in Kashima-Kiko (Visit to the Kashima Shrine), Oi no Kobumi (The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel) and Sarashina-Kiko (A Visit to Sarashina). In 1689, Basho left his hermitage in Fukagawa and set out on another journey from the Tohoku region to the northern provinces of Honshu. It is this experience that provided material for his famous work Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North). Apparently, it was also during this journey that Basho began thinking in more philosophical terms about life, travel and poetry. The Narrow Road to the Deep North ended in Ogaki, Gifu prefecture, after which Basho returned to his beloved home in Iga. He moved back to Edo once more in 1691.
Three years later he set his mind once more on traveling, and set out for kyushu. Basho became ill on the way, and died in Osaka on 12th October 1694. He was 50 years of age.

On a journey, ailing- 旅に病んで (Tabi ni yande)
My dreams roam about 夢は枯れ野を (Yume wa kareno o)
Over a withered moor. かけめぐる (Kakemeguru)

This haiku, composed before his death, is thought to express the lifetime of the poet who loved to wander.