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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Matsuo Basho by Flashlight

How does one review travel writings and poems that were written in the late 1600s? Well, truthfully, you don’t. They’ve successfully shown the test of time and demonstrated why they are considered to be classics.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Matsuo Bashoreally is a prototype for top notch travel writing.

No matter where I fall
On the road,
Fall will I to be buried
Among flowering bush-clovers.
Haiku is prominently, and masterfully, used in all of four travel stories by Basho. The descriptions and accounts he gives in his poems draw a very vivid picture of what he is seeing and feeling and where he is on his journey.
Determined to fall
A weather-exposed skeleton
I cannot help the sore wind
Blowing through my heart.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North was by far my favorite story, but The Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton, above, was also quite good. I also enjoyed The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel and A Visit to Sarashina Village, but on a lesser extent.
In my mind, Narrow Road, had the best start of any of the stories:
“Days and months are travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind — filled with a strong desire to wander.”
Really, when it comes to travel writing, I’m not sure it gets much better than that.
And so, I endeavored to find a new way to talk about this superb collection. It’s really quite difficult to critique such fine writings and talk about how Basho should’ve done this or didn’t do that or whatever. It’s simple that this is top notch literature and a template that should be used for writers to come.
As I read the stories and thought to myself what could possibly be different about what I’d say about them, I realized that I was reading them at night by flashlight while I slept on my couch.
It isn’t normal for me to be kicked out to sleep on the sofa, particularly since I live by myself, but it was where I was most comfortable as of late, and I felt a certain sense of contentness as I lay there are read my Matsuo Basho by flashlight since I had no bed side lamp with which to use.
I was quite please with this arrangement and thought it a novel way to enjoy my book, especially considering Basho had much less than that many nights as he made his way on his travels. I really did quite enjoy it, but it was moreso due to the writings than my own surroundings.
Basho’s prose and poetry are some of the best travel writing I’ve ever read. But, to fully appreciate it, I know I need to read through the stories a few more times. And this is a prospect for which I am greatly excited.
As firmly cemented clam-shells
Fall apart in autumn,
So I must take to the road again,
Farewell, my friends.

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