Basho’s Narrow Road

First published in Woodnotes #29, Summer 1996, page 53.

Bashō’s Narrow Road, translated by Hiroaki Sato. Foreword by Cor van den Heuvel. Stone Bridge Press, 1996, 186 pages, paperback, 5½ by 9 inches. $15.00 in bookstores, or order from Stone Bridge Press, P.O. Box 8208, Berkeley, California 94707 [address no longer correct]. If you’ve read Basho’s Oku no Hosomichi before, you’re in for a treat with this new translation. Sato’s fresh version of Basho’s classic haibun/travel diary is augmented by 342 annotations to the text, plus 25 detailed endnotes, explaining contexts and allusions. The book is thorough, with a fine map of Basho’s journey and numerous illustrations that Buson made in 1779. In addition, the book includes a renga, “A Farewell Gift to Sora,” complete with commentary, revised from its previous publication in One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku to English (Weatherhill, 1983). All poems, incidentally, remain true to Sato’s preference for one-line translations. This is quite likely a landmark translation of Basho’s work. It is, as Sato notes in his introduction, “the first translation of Oku no Hosomichi that stresses the renga aspect of Basho’s literary activity in his exploration of the Interior.” Eagerly recommended.