Matsuo Bashō

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Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉?, 1644 – November 28, 1694), born Matsuo Kinsaku (松尾 金作?), then Matsuo Chūemon Munafusa (松尾 忠右衛門 宗房?)[1][2], was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. During his lifetime, Bashō was recognized for his works in the collaborative haikai no renga form; today, after centuries of commentary, he is recognized as a master of brief and clear haiku. His poetry is internationally renowned, and within Japan many of his poems are reproduced on monuments and traditional sites.

Bashō was introduced to poetry at a young age, and after integrating himself into the intellectual scene of Edo he quickly became well-known throughout Japan. He made a living as a teacher, but renounced the social, urban life of the literary circles and was inclined to wander throughout the country, heading west, east, and far into the northern wilderness to gain inspiration for his writing. His poems were influenced by his firsthand experience of the world around him, often encapsulating the feeling of a scene in a few simple elements.

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Early life

Bashō was born in 1644, near Ueno in Iga Province.[3] His father may have been a low-ranking samurai, which would have promised Bashō a career in the military, but not much chance of a notable life. It was traditionally claimed by biographers that he worked in the kitchens.[4] However, as a child Bashō became a servant to Tōdō Yoshitada (藤堂 良忠?), who shared with Bashō a love for haikai no renga, a form of collaborative poetry composition. The sequences were opened with a verse in 5-7-5 mora format; this verse was named a hokku, and would later be renamed haiku when presented as a stand-alone work. The hokku would be followed by a related 7-7 mora verse by another poet. Both Bashō and Yoshitada gave themselves haigō (俳号?), or haikai pen names; Bashō's was Sōbō (宗房?), which was simply the on'yomi reading of his adult name of Matsuo Munefusa (松尾 宗房?). In 1662 the first extant poem by Bashō was published; in 1664 two of his hokku were printed in a compilation, and in 1665 Bashō and Yoshitada composed a one-hundred-verse renku with some acquaintances.

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