Organized Panel Session
Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), the best-known haikai (popular linked verse) poet in Japan, is generally regarded to have been deeply influenced by Chinese literature and thought. This talk seeks to demonstrate that Bashō’s reception of Chinese texts was sometimes mediated by his friend Yamaguchi Sodō (1642-1716), who had profound knowledge in Chinese studies and was also a respected haikai poet.
Like Bashō, Sodō also sequestered himself on the outskirts of Edo (current Tokyo) in his 30s, seeking solitude and elegance in both real and literary worlds. The two poets had a deep bond, and they collaborated in, exchanged ideas about, and influenced each other’s poetic writings. While the trajectories of their haikai careers overlapped to a great extent, this paper focuses on their correspondence, in which Sodō wrote in literary Chinese (kanbun) and Bashō in vernacular Japanese. Sodō was fully capable of writing orthodox kanbun, as proved in his other works, but in his communication with Bashō he often wrote kanbun in what I call haikai-style. These haikai-style kanbun writings served as a bridge between Bashō and a Chinese world, often ingeniously linking Bashō and his surroundings to recluse tradition and Daoist concepts. In so doing, they contributed to deepening Bashō’s understanding of Chinese literature and thought, and sometimes even inspired Bashō to write haikai verses that resonate with Chinese literary precedents.