Basho (Matsuo Basho) mätˈso͞oō bäˈshō [key], 1644–94, Japanese poet, critic, and essayist of the early Edo period. His literary name, Basho, is derived from the plantain trees [basho] near a hut built for him by a disciple. Basho played a central role in the development of haiku. He composed stanzas of haikai no renga (a sequence of linked verses, usually by a group of poets), whose opening, and most important, stanza (hokku) was later separated as the verse form haiku. A master of hokku and the integration of verses in a sequence, Basho imbued what was a social pastime with the spirit of Zen, creating a serious literary form capable of profound artistic expression. His poetry is noted for its sensitive exploration of nature of beauty, loneliness, suffering, and death. His later years were marked by several long and arduous journeys that provided the basis for his famous travel accounts. The Oku no hosomichi [narrow road to the interior], a reflection in poetry and prose on his travels through the northern hinterlands, is his masterpiece.

See M. Ueda, ed., Basho and His Interpreters (1992).

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