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The Narrow Road

Here in Japan, the cherry blossoms appear, and with their arrival it is impossible not to think about the transience of one’s own life. Now that I am old, I find myself turning to “old age art”, art composed by people as they neared their end, Matisse’s strong, joyful cut outs, Beethoven’s richly complex late string quartets. And to Basho’s Narrow Road to the Far North. Basho writes:

That night there was thunder and a heavy downpour, and the roof leaked just above the place where we were lying. What with the mosquitoes, sleep was impossible. On top of that, my old complaint started up again, and I really thought I was about to breathe my last. 

When the short summer night was finally over and it began to get light again, we started on our journey once more. But the night’s agony remained, and my spirits were low. We hired horses to take us as far as the town of Kori. 

Having such a long way to go, I was filled with misgivings to think I might be taken ill again. But though I might die on the road – on this journey to far and remote places off the beaten track – I was resigned from the beginning to the evanescence of human existence; and if I fall by the wayside and die in a ditch like a beggar, it will merely be my fate. As I mused thus, I gradually regained my spirits a little and was able to tread the earth with firm and resolute steps, and we passed through the Great Gate of Date quite jauntily.

May we all, through an embracing of the evanescence of our existence, regain our spirits and tread this firm earth with resolute steps until we pass through the Great Gate.

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