Bashō (1644–94,) fully Matsuo Bashō, pseudonym of Matsuo Munefusa, was one of the greatest Japanese poets. The supreme haiku poet, he significantly enriched the 17-syllable haiku form and made it a serious medium of artistic expression.
Born in Ueno, Iga Province, he took his nom de plume from the banana tree, after settling down in his hermitage near Tokyo. Attracted to haiku from an early age, Bashō initially put his literary interests aside and entered the service of a provincial feudal lord. After his lord’s death in 1666, Bashō abandoned his samurai (warrior) standing to dedicate himself to poetry.
Bashō led a wandering life, partially documented in his book of travels, Oku no Hosomichi (1689; The Narrow Road to the Deep North, 1966,) written in a mixture of poetic prose (renga) and haiku. Moving to the capital city of Edo, present day Tokyo, he progressively acquired a reputation as a poet and critic.
In addition to formal elegance, Bashō’s verse has a modern and almost existential quality. This inspired the precision of imagery and clear, sharp language used by Ezra Pound and other exponents of the Imagism movement in Anglo-American poetry.