Welcome, traveler, to a long ago time in a far away place. The time is the 1600s, before
America became a nation; and the place is Japan. Our story is about Basho, a gentle poet
who was a master of a style of poetry called "haiku". Today he is much revered in Japan,
and around the world.
The Gentlest and Greatest Friend
Moon and Winds
Basho (1644 - 1694)
Many years ago there went wandering through Japan, sometimes on the back of a
horse,sometimes afoot, in poor pilgrim's clothes, the kindest, most simple hearted of
men...Basho, friend of moon and winds. Though Basho was born of one of the noblest
classes in Japan, and might have been welcome in palaces, he chose to wander, and to be
comrade and teacher of men and women, boys and girls in all different stations of life,
from the lowest to the highest. Basho bathed in the running brooks, rested in shady
valleys, sought shelter from sudden rains under some tree on the moor, and sighed with
the country folk as he watched the cherry blossoms in their last pink shower, fluttering
down from the trees. Now he slept at some country inn, stumbling in at its door at
nightfall, wearied from long hours of travelling, yet never too tired to note the lovely
wisteria vine, drooping its delicate lavender blossoms over the veranda. Sometimes he
slept in the poor hut of a peasant, but most often his bed was out-of-doors, and his pillow
When Basho came upon a little violet hiding shyly in the grass on a mountain pathway, it
whispered its secret to him. "Modesty, gentleness, and simplicity!" it said. "These are
the truly beautiful things."
Glistening drops of dew on the petal of a flower had voice and a song for him likewise.
"Purity," they sang, "is the loveliest thing in life.
The pine tree, fresh and ever green amid winter's harshest storms, spoke staunchly of
hardy manhood; the mountains had their message of patience, the moon its song of
glory! Rivers, forests, waterfalls, all told their secrets to Basho, and these secrets that
Nature revealed to him, he loved to show to others, for the whole of living of life was to
him one great poem, as of some holy service in the shadow of a temple.
"Real poetry," said Basho, "is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to
write it." And whenever he saw one of his young students being rude, in a fit of anger, or
otherwise acting unworthily, he would gently lay his hand on the arm of the youth and
say; "But this is not poetry! This is not poetry."