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Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉, 1644 - November 28, 1694), the pseudonym of Mastuo Munefusa, was a Japanese poet. He is widely thought of as one of the greatest writers of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and is best remembered today for raising the haiku form to the highest level.

He was born in Ueno, near Kyoto, and was known as Kinsaku as a child - he took the name Basho, which means banana tree, in the 1680s when he moved into a hut alongside a banana tree and became a recluse. He was the son of a low-ranking samurai, and initially worked in the service of a local lord, Todo Yoshitada. He began writing poetry while there, but moved to Edo (now Tokyo) upon his lord's death in 1666. There he gained a reputation as a great poet and critic.

It was Basho who raised the haiku from a comic verse, often written for light relief, to a serious form, imbued with the spirit of Zen Buddhism. Many of his haiku were in fact the first three lines of longer renga (which some critics consider his best work) rather than standalone works, but they have been collected and published on their own many times and his work was a great inspiration to later writers such as Kobayashi Issa and Masaoka Shiki.

Basho travelled very widely during his life, and many of his writings reflect his experiences on his travels. His book Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道, The Narrow Road Through the Deep North), written in 1694 and widely seen as his finest, is an example of this. In it, prose descriptions of the landscape through which he travelled are interspersed with the haiku for which he is now most famous.

Basho died in 1694 in Osaka.

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