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“In Kyoto ...”

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In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.

Bashō, “In Kyoto,” translated by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the translator.
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“In Kyoto ...”

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  • The 17th-century Japanese haiku master Basho was born Matsuo Kinsaku near Kyoto, Japan, to a minor samurai and his wife. Soon after the poet’s birth, Japan closed its borders, beginning a seclusion that allowed its native culture to flourish. It is believed that Basho’s siblings became farmers, while Basho, at Ueno Castle in the service of the local lord’s son, grew interested in literature. After the young lord’s early death, Basho left the castle and moved to Kyoto, where he studied with Kigin, a distinguished local poet. During these early years Basho studied Chinese poetry and Taoism, and soon began writing haikai no renga, a form of linked verses composed in collaboration.
    The opening verse of a renga, known as hokku, is structured as three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. In Basho’s time, poets were beginning to take the hokku’s form as a template for composing small standalone...

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