Traveling with Bashō

Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) in a Print by Hokusai

I cannot help but see myself in this haiku by the great Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō:

Another year is gone—
A travel hat on my head,
Straw sandals on my feet.

Two weeks from today, I will be in Mérida, Yucatán, reacquainting myself with the world of the Maya. In many ways, Matsuo Bashō is the poet of travel. His book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, is the ultimate vade mecum for a traveler. The record of a 1,500-mile journey through the main Japanese island of Honshu, it captures with great beauty and subtlety the joys and sorrows of a life on the road.

The sound of a water jar
Cracking on this icy night
As I lie awake.

The extreme conciseness of the haiku form can lead to poetry that is brilliant—or banal. One has to somehow put two ideas together (as the ice and the sleepless traveler) with an absolute minimum of embellishment. Ah, but when it succeeds!

On the withered grass
Shimmering heat waves rise
One or two inches high.

I will, as usual, travel with a blank notebook. I would love to compose haiku relating to my upcoming journey to Mexico. It’s possible, but, alas, not likely. Even though I don’t usually go out evenings (except in Mérida), I will probably find myself too busy reading from my Amazon Kindle, which is fully loaded with hundreds of works of literature and history.