On Love and Barley by Basho

I’m not somebody who goes out of their way to buy poetry. Sure, I have been bought some in the past or had to buy some for school or university, but I never could quite understand the appeal in the same way that I could understand the appeal of some regular old prose. It often seemed a little pretentious and didn’t really do a good job of making me feel anything… Now I realise I was reading the wrong poetry!

On Love and Barley is a selection of haiku written by Basho – a Japanese monk from the 17th century. He lived a very solitary life and wandered between different places, often passing through the most beautiful wilderness as he did so. I feel like this selection of haiku is kind of like a selection of snapshots from his life, except they’re much more emotive than any literal snapshots could ever have been.

With the majority of these haiku, I felt as though I had seen the world through his eyes for just a few seconds. It really did feel like I was seeing, hearing and feeling all of the things that he had seen, heard and felt as he wrote these poems. What’s so incredible is that he just captures such small, inconsequential moments (such as a quiet night out on the road, a spider making a web, rain starting to fall etc.) and he still makes them seem absolutely sublime – and they are.

I’m always been somebody who has appreciated the beauty of the world, but I could never capture it in quite the same way as Basho. It’s so uplifting to read these poems and it makes you think – with all of these natural beauties around us, why should we ever feel sad? Our lives are just fleeting moments on something so much bigger and so much more wonderful than we can properly comprehend and the thing is, we’re a part of that huge and incomprehensible, wonderful thing.

I’ll admit, one or two of them did depend a little on historical context (and thankfully, the footnotes cleared them up for me) but the large marjority of these haiku are truly timeless. So if you want to hear the sound of snow that fell four hundreds ago, smell rain that’s fallen and evaporated a thousand time or experience a brief moment in the life of a bird who would otherwise have left no record of his time on this earth, this is the book to buy. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Rating: 9.8/10

Buy it here.

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