Promoting a Political-Cultural Renaissance
Traveling around Japan, Basho wanted to meet his poetic disciples and other poets, visit landmarks made famous in poetry, and celebrate his poetic predecessors. He was accompanied by a friend and poet, Sora, who also kept a travel diary and contributed poetry. Early in his journey, on the occasion of visiting a famous shrine, Basho composed a haiku that synthesized his allegiances to Buddhism, Tokugawa rule, national unity, and poetry (p. 33).
O holy, hallowed shrine!
How green all the fresh young leaves
In thy bright sun shine!
We can put the synthesis together in the following way. In the passage in which this poem appears, Basho had just praised Tokugawa rule as the sun. The name of the temple at Mt. Nikko meant "sun" and "light". The season of the year was spring. Basho himself sponsored a new form of haiku. It was a cultural springtime in Japan - a new beginning in politics, religion, and poetry. Basho's purpose was to promote the new cultural era.
On his travels, he met or referenced the poets*: Saigyo, Taira-no-Kanemori, Noin, Minamoto Yorimasa, Tokyu, Fujiwara-no-Sanekata, Kyohaku, Kaemon, Sodo, Hara Anteki, Zushi Sakichi (a disciple), Gyoson, Issho (a disciple), Teishitsu, Rotsu (a disciple). This was quite a literary retinue. Basho cited them as proof, so to speak, of the poetic renaissance now dawning in Japan.
When visiting Oishida, he had the opportunity to explain his new form of haiku to the villagers. One purpose of his travel was clear (p. 62).
The seed of the old-fashioned haikai linked verse had once been sown here [Oishida], and the people still practiced that style of verse, in love with it and unable to forget the days of its flowering. Their muse was as rustic as the sound of a reed pipe, and they trod the path of poetry with faltering step, hesitating at the crossroads, not knowing which way to take--the old or the new. They needed someone to guide them, so I left them a set of linked verse.
Who would have thought that on this, my own poetic pilgrimage, I would also be spreading abroad the Basho style!
Of course, humility masks his purpose.
I do not know nearly enough to offer a technical analysis of the relationship between poetic form and content and Basho's political loyalties and cultural ambitions. His general agenda, as I have discussed, seems clear enough on the surface of his narrative.
We have one more theme in Basho's travels to discuss - landscape; then we can ask how we might interpret Basho's narrative as a template for understanding Southern California.
* Again, I apologize for not using accents for the English characters.