Book Review - Narrow Road to the Interior

March 17, 2016


Narrow road to the Interior
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
Translated by Sam Hamill
Shambhala Press
Reviewed by Ray Zimmerman
“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

      Although this book will certainly achieve acclaim by scholars of literature and Japanese culture, I endorse it for the sheer beauty of the poetry and loveliness of the images. Some Japanese scholars say that haiku began and ended with Basho. He is often recognized as the author who perfected this form, but is also noted for his haiban, a form which includes prose passages with haiku. 

     The travel journal "Narrow Road to the Interior" is perhaps his best-known work in the West, although I have a personal fondness for another of his journals titled "The Knapsack Notebook." The Shambhala edition includes all four travel journals as well as an extensive selection of haiku. It is perhaps the most complete collection of his translated works.

     This is an important collection of works by one of the luminaries of Asian literature. Matsuo Basho served a Samurai household until the master of that house died. Then he studied Zen and became a poet. Sometimes referred to by his Zen persona, he never achieved the priesthood.

     He traveled widely, sometimes on horseback, but more often on foot. Basho recorded his travels in poems and journals. A number of followers studied poetry with him, some gaining students of their own.


     Translator Sam Hamill co-founded Copper Canyon press and is an influential poet in his own right.

Reviewer Ray Zimmerman may be reached at

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