Mountain Literature Classics: Basho - Narrow Road to the Deep North

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More than a century before the romantic poets strode the British landscape in search of the sublime, a Japanese writer made months-long journeys on foot, motivated by remarkably similar urges. Basho's walks have everything we recognise from our own multi-day hikes, says Ronald Turnbull.

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 Norman Hadley 12 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Really fascinating read, to go beyond the western-centred conception of romanticism, where everything is traditionally viewed through a John Clare/Lakes Poets/Caspar David Friedrich lens. Thanks Ronald.

The horse pissing next to the pillow put me in mind of another C17th reference that modern backpackers might recognise themselves in:

"Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt; and Christian, because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the mire." 

In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Wonderful stuff! 

(Cheered me right up

Sitting in airport lounge 

Sad I cannot climb)

 8mileshigh 13 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Thanks for this article Ron.

I really enjoying this series (worked in a bookshop for 14 years and used to be in charge of the 'Outdoor' section amongst others). I've read many of the books you've featured but have just ordered this one. "Cold Mountain Poems" is another great one, this time from a Chinese writer from back in them there olden days, though you might have featured it already. I read Gary Snyder's translation.

Definitely related to several of the Basho quotes you included, although I've never chucked half my pack away part way through a trip .

Keep up the great writing.

 Richard J 14 Jan 2023
In reply to 8mileshigh:

.... "Cold Mountain Poems" is another great one, this time from a Chinese writer from back in them there olden days, though you might have featured it already. I read Gary Snyder's translation.

I very much second this.  Like you, I first read the Cold Mountain poems (by an anonymous 8th or 9th century Chinese hermit) in Gary Snyder's translations - in "Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems". (Gary Snyder of course a brilliant poet of mountains and wilderness in his own right).  There's another more recent translation, with many more poems than Snyder translated (more than 300, compared to Snyder's 24), by Red Pine (Bill Porter) that I'd recommend too.

I really enjoyed the Basho article too.

 sheelba 14 Jan 2023
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Chiao Jan


Inscribed on the wall of the hut by the lake

If you want to be a mountain-dweller...

No need to trek to India to find one

I have a thousand peaks

to pick from right here on the lake.

Fragrant grasses and white clouds

hold me here

What holds you there,


Han-Shan 9th century

Among a thousand clouds and ten thousand streams,

here lives an idle man,

In the daytime wandering over green mountains,

At night coming home to sleep by the cliff.

Swiftly the springs and autumns pass,

But my mind is at peace, free from dust or delusion.

How pleasant, to know I need nothing to lean on,

To be still as the waters of the autumn river!

In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Great to see this marvellous little book featuring in this highly enjoyable series. It's one I've returned to again and again since I was introduced to it by an inspirational teacher back in the mists of teenage-hood. It's had a profound influence on my own writing.

Gary Snyder has already received a couple of mentions: his Hitch Haiku is an excellent example of a modern road trip haiku sequence. But I guess the Beat author who made most use of the haiku form was Jack Kerouac. He abandoned the strict syllable counting but aimed to retain the essence in a modern context, calling them American Haiku or "Pops". Although Kerouac's road trips are famous in their four-wheeled form, in his novels he returned repeatedly to the theme of trying to find spiritual enlightenment in wild and remote places, particularly the mountains. Both Big Sur and Desolation Angels deal with this, and the contrast with his often dissipated city life. Dharma Bums features an ascent of Matterhorn Peak (in the Sierra Nevada) with Gary Snyder (aka "Japhy Ryder"), described in Kerouac's inimitable improvisatory jazz prose. It ends with Kerouac working as a fire lookout on the lonely Desolation Peak in the North Cascades. This gave rise to the haiku sequence Desolation Pops. Any plans to feature Dharma Bums as a  mountain classic in the series?

In reply to Andy Clarke:

There's a lot of things on the list – it rather depends on the patience of the UKH editor, there have been more than 40 of these already... Yes, Dharma Bums is in sight on my personal mountain panorama, and it would be grand to put Kerouac into the same series as Queen Victoria. Cold Mountain Poems is quite new to me. I should look into it, obviously. Although I don't have a pal who can transcribe Chinese characters so well as Uma's Japanese.

In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Thank you for featuring this book. As a consequence, I'm now reading it.

Post edited at 21:29
 pebbles 03 Feb 2023
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Agree. Never heard of him before, but  I want to read some Basho now. Really evocative but not longwinded (and some of the romantic poets really, really, needed to be told "less is more")

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